Why Leaders Should Be Learners

By Steve Graham

View original publication on www.cornerstone.edu

What comes to mind when you think of a leader? You may think of certain characteristics or personalities that good leaders tend to have.


A key characteristic for leaders to have is the willingness to learn and grow in their own professional development. This readiness to learn may not always come easy. You may think you know the right answer and unwilling to hear of other perspectives. Here, we share four steps in the value of having the willingness to learn as a leader and how it has an influence in your company culture.


The Commitment

Leaders set the tone for an organization. As a leader, you must be agile in your responses to the ever-changing marketplace and business climate. You’re charged with growing organizations. Learning is a huge part of this growth process.

This growth-focused learning can take various shapes within an organization. It can be organic, formalized, personalized or on-demand. Whatever the shape, learning needs to be part of a leader’s commitment to improving both personally and professionally.

One big lesson of learning is how to use failure. Sorry, but the old saying, “failure is not an option” is not realistic. Even though failure is not something we desire, it is always a reality.

Part of the commitment for leaders to be learners is being comfortable with vulnerability. As a leader, you don’t have to have all the answers. Being able to admit that you don’t know, with confidence, makes you more of an authentic leader.

Leaders must lead the way in this commitment to vulnerability. You’ve got to go first. According to Patrick Lencioni, in his book, “The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business”: “The only way for a leader of a team to create a safe environment for his team members to be vulnerable is by stepping up and doing something that feels unsafe and uncomfortable first.”

Take the first step and be comfortable with vulnerability.


The Example
n addition to showing a commitment to learning, it’s important to remember that as a leader, you act as an example in your organization.

Leaders who value the impact of learning on growth and talent retention drive an organization where learning is part of the organizational DNA. When you set the example in your commitment to learning, you create organizations that are serious about learning. How you are able to use failure to learn can set a good example for others to use these important lessons for improvement. It’s about how you view failure is what can either encourage progress or hinder future success.

In the field of academic medicine, M&M conferences (morbidity and mortality conferences) are used to examine failures and medical errors. These are powerful sessions in being able to learn what went wrong in a particular situation and find practical answers to correct problems and improve medical care. The key objective of a well-run M&M conference is to identify adverse outcomes associated with medical error, to modify behavior and judgment based on previous experiences and to prevent the repetition of errors leading to complications.

If the medical field can find immense value in learning from failures, shouldn’t more organizations do the same? Yes! Leaders who are learners set an example and establish the value of learning within an organization.


The Investment
There’s a reason we call it “lifelong learning.” Learning should never end. It is an investment in time and money.

Many leaders give excuses of why they cannot take time to learn. Learning should be a priority, not an option. Professional development is an investment that successful leaders embrace.

According to Dr. Brad Staats, associate professor of operations at the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler School of Business says, “Today’s fast-paced, ever-changing, global economy requires us to never stop learning or we risk becoming irrelevant. Savvy leaders recognize this means investing in their own learning journey, so they can develop the processes and behaviors required for ongoing success.”


Learn to Listen as a Leader
Like showing commitment and being an example, coaching is also an important part of the learning process learning. It enhances your ability to be a better active listener as you lead others.

Listening is a fundamental part of success as a leader. In his bestselling book, “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There,” well-known executive coach Marshall Goldsmith states: “80 percent of our success in learning from other people is based on how well we listen.”

But there’s a difference between hearing the words that come out of someone’s mouth and actually listening and understanding what he or she says. Are you hearing more than listening? Listening takes practice. Listening is a skill to learn and focus on to become a better, more successful leader.

When looking for ways to become a better listener, executive coaching can be a great practice to begin. Executive coaching is part of sound leadership development and can help you become a better leader. Coaching can be incorporated to help you become more self-aware and learn to be more approachable and authentic in your influence in your professional and personal life.


Learn to Lead
When coaching is used with other learning initiatives, it helps to develop a deeper purpose for you as a leader. Developing the complete leader involves being committed, setting an example and making an investment in self and others. Focus on learning as a strategic resource in personal and professional development.


Three Strategies to Strengthen the Bench of Next Generation Leaders

By Ryan Jenkins

View Original Publication on chelseakrost.com

You measure the value of one’s life by how much time they give away. The title, status, or accolades one achieves is not celebrated at the end of life; rather it’s the selflessness we admire. Selflessness makes life much bigger than an individual. If you practice a self-centered leadership style, your teachings will die with you. If you understand the mark of a true leader and focus on others, your life’s work will live far beyond your time on earth.

It’s no secret that seasoned leaders tend to look back on their work and then look forward to the leaders emerging today, fearful that these new leaders may have more talent, education, and innovative ideas. It can be terrifying to be faced with these new generation leaders who are asking questions of you that you should be asking them.

There’s a great reference in an episode of The Andy Stanley Leadership Podcast. In this particular podcast that aired on August 1, 2014, Stanley talks about being a “beyond you leader.” He explained that someone who’s a beyond you leader thinks about others and generations outside of his/her own. They aim to empower others selflessly, with no fear.

They aim to empower others selflessly, with no fear.

Beyond you leaders do not see emerging leaders as a threat. Beyond you leaders see the selfless opportunity in working with emerging leaders. They are able to leverage their influence which, in turn, enhances the organization and leaders around them. We all know, after all, that the merit of an honest leader is in how many others grow into leadership because of them.

Because we all tend to be busy, fear something, or just have too much pride, investing doesn’t come easy. We have to invest on purpose. Andy gives us 3 practical ways to become a beyond you leader, increasing the strength of your next generation leaders.

Make as few decisions as possible.

Give the next generation leaders some power by letting them make decisions. Use as little of your authority as possible. When leaders start climbing the organizational ladder, they take on responsibilities that may, initially, know nothing about. This is the exact reason the seasoned leaders should make less decisions. Leaders who don’t know their strengths and weaknesses, delegating when necessary, will be too involved – taking up time that could be better used in other areas.

Don’t be afraid to unleash the Millennials. They’ll be thrilled to contribute, create, and have a true place to make a difference.
Work for your team.

It may take a little practice, but you’ll see great things when you being to serve your team instead of waiting for them to serve you. The next generation needs what you have. Ask them how you can help, and mean it. Be sincere in your asking, and follow through with their requests.
Empty your cup.

As a leader, your main objective should be to share knowledge. Pour out your expertise. It’s true that: we don’t know how much we know until we’re talking to someone who doesn’t know what we know. (That’s a mouthful, but it makes sense. I promise.) Look for opportunities to share what you know with next generation leaders. You’re not responsible for what they retain, but you can offer the knowledge anyway. (For more on this very topic, check out the related article: Reverse Your Stagnation with Reverse Mentoring.)

A word of caution: You don’t have to wait to become a beyond you leader, no matter whether you’re a seasoned leader or a Millennial leader. If you wait to begin, chances are that you won’t start – ever. The land of later is where well-meant intentions die. Later has a reputation of building bad habits, making you think that you got to where you are because you can find information, versus the truth of the matter – your servitude elevated you. Hoarding information will stall influence. Sharing will always increase your influence.

“True success comes only when every generation continues to develop the next generation.”

– John C. Maxwell

Give the next generation a good model of a beyond you leader and each generation will emulate the like for generations to come.

Ponder this: How will you intentionally and selflessly help to develop the next generation of leaders?

Fuel your happiness: three things happy people do

By Dan Cable and Anna Johnston

View original publication on London.edu

We spend most of our waking hours at work – an average of 47 hours a week in the US. We’re working for longer – half of us will work beyond their mid-sixties, according to a 2015 Gallup survey. Are we happy? Globally, 87% of employees are less than fully engaged, according to Gallup’s 142-country study on the State of the Global Workplace.

If you employ or lead people, you want them to be happy too. A happy, engaged employee is a productive employee.

But the sad reality is that true, meaningful happiness often eludes us. Many modern workplaces exemplify this. At one retailer, the chief executive sometimes downs vodka shots with his interviewees. If you get in, on particular days, you can dress as your favorite animal. If you’re still down in the dumps after donning your squirrel outfit for your KPI review, you can go see their full-time chief happiness officer.

Despite corporate efforts, most of us still don’t like our jobs. Forced fun doesn’t work. What does work is activating our best selves. What does that mean? Put simply, when you’re at your best, you live up to your fullest potential. You’re more resistant to stress and disease. You’re better at creative problem-solving. You perform well under pressure and you have stronger relationships with your friends, families and co-workers. Of course, we’re all different, and so is the potential we possess and work towards. Still, there are universal traits of happy people.

1. They play to their strengths

If you’re working more than 40 hours a week, work is better described as life. As I wrote in my book Alive at Work: The Neuroscience of Helping Your People Love What They Do, a friend once told me, “Sure work sucks… that’s why they call it work.” But happy people have a habit of incorporating what they’re good at and what’s meaningful to them. People who feel they can play to their strengths at work are more energized, feel a greater sense of purpose, and are less likely to quit. To be clear, strengths-based work does not mean that you think you don’t have weaknesses to work on. We can always improve, and it’s wrong-headed to assume that your past successes will ensure future wins. In other words, happiness doesn’t have to be a competency trap. The point is that some people focus on using their signature strengths a little bit every day, instead of placing limitations at the center of their focus, which activates positive emotions and creates personal energy.

If playing to strengths works so well, why isn’t it more common? The way we work today is largely based on a model that was invented alongside the industrial revolution. When working in large organizations became more common than farming, management made jobs very standardized and well-defined. Employees were told exactly what to do and when and how to do it. This allowed for quick scaling up of the labor force, and control over the work process. Today, the demands on organizations are changing so fast that employees must be flexible in order to stay relevant. Employers need and expect constant innovation. The people at the top who write the job descriptions might not be the best people to write them anymore. The best people to craft roles – shape them, challenge them, reinvent them – are often employees themselves, because they are closest to the work.

A while ago when I was teaching a group of leaders I met Charles, whose story illustrates this point. A born salesman, he had quickly climbed the ladder and after only a few years had 20 people to manage. Despite tripling his salary, he hated the endless meetings and missed talking to customers. So Charles tried an experiment. Every week, without the intention of selling anything, he would go and talk to his customers – about trends, what was selling, what wasn’t – with the sole purpose of just connecting with them. He learned two things. One: he found his tasks took on new meaning. For example, in product meetings, he could link the product to the experiences of the people he talked about it with. Two: he sold more. In this way, he made more sales simply by enriching his customer view. He was happier and work felt more meaningful because he played to one of his strengths: connecting with people.

2. They continually experiment

Heard of the 10,000-hour success formula popularized by Malcolm Gladwell? It’s the notion that 10,000 hours of focused practice will help you achieve world-class performance, in any field. Arguably – and as emerging research shows – 10,000 experiments may serve you better. In one interview, for example, Mark Zuckerberg said, “One of the things I’m most proud of that is really key to our success is this testing framework… At any given point in time, there isn’t just one version of Facebook running. There are probably 10,000.” Similarly, Jeff Bezos has suggested that Amazon’s success is a function of how many experiments it does a year, a month, a week, a day.

Fear is kryptonite to experimentation – and to happiness. It’s well known that fear narrows our attention and closes us to the broader environment. In times of crises we return to safe, old habits. A more promising track to experimenting, and to happiness, is to dial down fear and anxiety by activating positive emotions. This means that rather than inspiring fear, leaders should inspire creativity, innovation and higher engagement in their teams. They need to offer their people freedom to experiment, and label “mis-takes” as learnings rather than failures.

Experimentation is easier said than done when you’re working for a corporate with tightly-wound processes. So what can you do to take control? Make it a habit to be curious. When you’re curious you’re more likely to step outside your comfort zone. You’re more likely to push the boundaries and collaborate with others in new ways. Be open to ideas and changes. When you cherish other people’s ideas as much as your own, you absorb a bank of information like osmosis that can be recombined in novel ways. Think about stress in terms of excitement and challenges, rather than anxiety and threats. Research shows that mentally framing change as a chance to try something new rather than a chance to spectacularly fail reaps better results.

3. They explore playfully

We are set up to seek through evolution. Searching for information and resources is our basic fight for survival. Neuroscientist Jaak Panksepp was an authority on the science of emotions, and he focused on affective neuroscience: the neural mechanisms of emotion. He labelled the part of the brain that is responsible for mammal’s insatiable curiosity the “seeking system”. It creates our natural impulse to explore. When we follow these urges, our seeking system rewards us with a hit of dopamine – a neurotransmitter linked to motivation and pleasure – that makes us want to explore more and more.

Unless you’re experiencing threat and anxiety, that is. Exploration and playfulness is inhibited by negative emotions such as fear in all species. What’s more, the fear system is much harder to switch off than it is to switch on.

In order to encourage employees to be more curious, leaders need to create “sandboxes” – experimental safe zones – where employees can explore without anxiety. This releases dopamine, activates positive emotions and creates intrinsic motivations, which are much more powerful than extrinsic motivations because they unleash creativity. As an employee, instead of working hard, say, for fear of losing your job (extrinsic), think about being fuelled by your own enthusiasm and curiosity (intrinsic). Instead of being skeptical at the start, lean into exploration and push experiments further.

Unfortunately, millions of dissatisfied employees show up to work each day and leave their best ideas at home. Remember, they don’t do this by choice. It’s a rare university grad that signs up to a boring workplace where curiosity and playfulness are punished.

Curiosity leads to experiments, and experiments create action. Our brains like action. Dan Gilbert makes a salient point, garnered from robust research in his book Stumbling on Happiness. Broadly, we can learn from our mistakes, but we almost always regret inaction. Our brains are wired to make things look better in hindsight. Which would you regret more: going on holiday to a campsite with broken showers and a mosquito problem, or not going on holiday to the hostel on the beach that upgraded all their guests to a private chalet for the month of July? Gilbert tells us it’s the latter. We’re very good at explaining away unpleasant experiences to feel better. We tell ourselves that it didn’t matter about washing every day with baby wipes, the experience added to the fun. But our brains have a hard time finding the positives from inaction. While most people believe that they will regret bad actions much more than bad inactions, the reverse is true. Many people are hesitant to try things we’re unsure about, but when we do them, we usually see them positively, even if it didn’t work out. Seize the day and remember how much you’ve learned from your mistakes.

The Benefits of having An Executive Leadership Coach

By Gord AkerPCC

View original publication on Millenial Magazine

There is an age old fable of a traveller who, upon attempting to enter a walled city, is challenged by a sentry who asks him: “Who are you, where are you going and why is it important for you to go there?” The traveller asks the guard, “How much do they pay you to ask me those questions?” The guard, somewhat taken aback, answers the question at which point the traveller says: “I will pay you twice that amount to ask me those questions every day for the rest of my life.”

While there are many versions of this story and its origin is somewhat murky, there can be no denying the underlying message. It is simply that human beings have both a drive and a hunger to know who they are, grow to their full potential and be inspired by living a life of contribution, purpose and meaning.

Indeed, it is through the passionate pursuit of our purpose that happiness emerges and personal fulfillment results. It could be argued that the sentry in this fable was the first Executive Leadership Coach because these questions are the foundation for any Professional Coaching relationship.

Where did my life go?

The unfortunate reality is that while we may have these aspirations, few of us actually act on them. The day-to-day transactions of routine living end up taking over our lives and before we know it, we are floating down the river of our life, staring zombie like into the distance, waiting to be dropped off the end into the bucket of bliss known as retirement.

Wait…what? Where did my life go? Is this it?

The truth is that living a fulfilling life is a radical act. The river flow of societal inertia is extraordinarily powerful at sweeping us along in an unrelenting current of “’Must Dos’, ‘Should Dos’ and ‘Not ready yets’”. It takes both a rebel and a leader to stand in this torrent and choose to step into something more meaningful, more inspiring and more worthy of their time on this earth. So difficult are these steps, that few can do it alone. So daunting is the prospect of failure, that few will seek help. And this is a travesty. A colossal waste. And completely unnecessary.

It is a travesty because all of us possess sufficient leadership talent to lead our own lives. We may not discover, develop and deploy this talent, but it is there. In its more advanced form, many of us have the leadership ability to influence positive change in the people around us and in the world that surrounds us.

Failing to do this, is a colossal waste of humanity’s collective potential. And it is completely unnecessary because the very resources we can use to escape this river of predefined expectations and help us to discover the path that is right for us, is readily available. This resource is an Executive Leadership Coach.

If You Want More, Get An Executive Leadership Coach

The good news is that an Executive Leadership Coaching is neither new nor unproven. It has been used successfully by business leaders for well over two decades to breakdown insecurities, challenge assumptions, provide focus, and support exceptional growth in themselves and their organizations. Readers interested in learning more about Professional Coaching are invited to visit the International Coach Federation (ICF).

So what is Executive Leadership Coaching and how does it work? Many people believe that Professional Coaching is about providing assessment and giving advice. But being told what is wrong with you and what to do about it is a role that most bosses, many parents and some spouses are happy to fill. So thankfully that “need” is well looked after! Professional Coaching on the other hand is about as far from that experience as you can get.

An Executive Leadership Coach is trained to create a “safe space” where you can explore your challenges, perspectives, beliefs, values, assumptions and aspirations with complete candor and without fear of judgement. The coach does not have an “agenda” nor an “answer” for you but rather supports you in discovering who you are and where you would like to go.

Coaching is a process that inspires wide ranging exploration of possibilities, encourages deep personal reflection and enables personal insight and truth telling. This is why coaching is the single most powerful mode of personal growth and professional development available today – because the insights and answers come from you, the client, NOT the coach. And that insight, once unearthed, can not be denied or discounted. It is real. It is yours and it matters.

But just knowing is not enough. Insight is just the planted seed. For that seed to grow, it needs to be nurtured, nourished and supported. An Executive Leadership Coach will challenge you to translate your insight or idea into action and that action will result in real growth.

A Professional Coach will support you when you falter or when you aren’t growing as fast as you would like. When your internal critic shows up to yell in your ear that you are failing and that you are “not good enough”, it will be your coach that distracts him while you get back to the important work at hand.

What Is Your Truth?

What is the experience of being coached? For many people it is the first time in their lives that they feel completely seen and heard. It is also incredibly affirming to be unconditionally accepted for who you are. It can also be exciting and terrifying!

When you first articulate your truth – that you are unhappy in a relationship, that your career is faltering, that your staff or employees are unengaged, that your leadership capability is not producing the results you want, that you want to feel more alive and vital – it can cause a feeling of vulnerability and be quite intimidating. Thankfully, the safe space created by you and your coach pushes back the fear and drains the insecurity.

When your coach asks: “What do you want to do about that?”, it can be a pivotal moment in your life – full of anxiety and trepidation and yet at the same time, energy and anticipation. And when you commit to taking that first step into the future you want for yourself, something rather difficult to explain happens.

It starts with you feeling more grounded, centered and real. And then other people start to notice that you are more calm, focused, determined and authentic. And then within two to four weeks, you see your actions start to have an effect and your situation starts to improve. Soon your confidence grows and your courage is more present and the “dream” you started with seems a little bit closer. And soon, you are leading your life instead of being a victim to it.

You are taking charge and moving in a direction that inspires you and creates the energy you need to carry on. You may be tired but you will be amazed at how quickly your “tank” is refilled when you are on the path that is right for you, worthy of you and aligns with who you are and how you see yourself in the world.

Now that you have used Professional Coaching to escape the river of mediocrity, you are undoubtedly looking for that sentry at the city wall, because now you have the answers he was looking for!

Generation X — not millennials — is changing the nature of work

By Stephanie Neal and Richard Wellins

View original publication on CNBC.Makeit

The generation that is quickly occupying the majority of business leadership roles is one that’s grown up playing video games, spends the most time shopping online, and uses social media more habitually than any other generation.

If you were thinking it’s millennials, that’s probably because they’ve dominated the media’s focus for the past decade. But it’s actually Generation X, which covers those born between 1965 and 1981 by our definition.

As Pew Research unflatteringly referred to them in a 2014 report, Gen X is “America’s neglected ‘middle child,'” and we don’t hear much about the group. It seems that all eyes are on the slowly retiring baby boomers or the ascending millennials, now the world’s majority generation. But our recent study revealed that Gen X is playing a critical — and underappreciated — role in leadership as organizations grapple with digital transformation.

In our Global Leadership Forecast 2018 — published by DDI, The Conference Board and EY with support from CNBC — we took a look at more than 25,000 leaders spanning 54 countries and 26 major industry sectors. We found that Gen X now accounts for 51 percent of leadership roles globally. With an average of 20 years of workplace experience, they are primed to quickly assume nearly all top executive roles.

Our research revealed that, although they aren’t typically considered digital natives to the extent that millennials are, Gen X leaders are just as likely to be comfortable leveraging technology in the workplace: Some 54 percent of Gen X and 56 percent of millennials reported that they are digitally savvy.

That finding is backed up by research by Nielsen, which revealed that Gen X is the most connected generation. Nielsen found that Gen Xers use social media 40 minutes more each week than millennials. They were also more likely than millennials to stay on their phones at the dinner table and spend more time on every type of device — phone, computer, or tablet. And, as it turns out, Gen X is bringing this connectivity to work.

While Gen X may be equally capable at digital tasks as millennials, they also show a mastery of conventional leadership skills more on par with leaders of the baby boomer generation. That includes identifying and developing new talent at their organizations and driving the execution of business strategies to bring new ideas to reality.

Sixty-seven percent of Gen X leaders are also effective in “hyper-collaboration,” and are working relentlessly to break down organizational silos. Gen X leaders’ strength for working with and through others is enabling them to shape the future of work and generate faster innovation by getting people working together to solve customers’ and their organization’s issues.

Despite their growing influence and responsibilities at work, Gen Xers are most overlooked for promotion and have been the slowest to advance. We found Gen X leaders on average had only 1.2 promotions in the past 5 years, significantly lower than their younger millennial counterparts (1.6 promotions) and more senior baby boomers (1.4 promotions) during the same period of time.

While Gen X leaders are often under-recognized for the critical role they play in leadership, they are typically expected to take on heavy workloads. On average, Gen X leaders have 7 direct reports, compared to only 5 direct reports for millennials. While their advancement rate is slower and their teams larger, Gen X remain loyal employees. Only 37 percent contemplate leaving to advance their careers — five percentage points lower than millennials.

Demonstrating loyalty, a willingness to take on a heavy workload, and a powerful combination of digital and traditional leadership skills, Gen X is producing highly capable leaders that are in danger of being overlooked. Organizations that want to retain and develop their Gen X leaders should:

– Provide leaders with more external guidance. While Gen X leaders are loyal, they are craving insight and knowledge from mentors outside of their organization. In fact, 67 percent of leaders said that they would like more external coaching, and 57 percent wanted external development. Employers should invest in helping Gen X leaders participate in outside professional organizations, industry conferences and other groups to foster relationships with external peers and mentors who can provide coaching.

– Encourage leaders to challenge the status quo. Many organizations may look to millennials to lead innovative projects, particularly those that are tech-based. But Gen X leaders are likely to thrive when given the opportunity to experiment with new approaches and challenge existing methods. Ideally, a cross-generational team — perhaps led by a Gen Xer — may deliver the most innovative solutions.

– Leverage technology to support traditional development. Like those in other generations, Gen X leaders said they still want traditional learning methods, such as formal workshops, training courses and seminars. However, they also enjoy the personalization and convenience offered by technology-based tools. Blending traditional learning methods with tech-enabled tools to enhance and solidify learning will help them make the most of their development opportunities.

The oldest Gen X workers will likely still be in the workforce for at least 10 years, and the younger members of the generation may still be working for more than 30, meaning that Gen X will be forming the backbone of organizations’ leadership for quite some time. Those that overlook Gen X in favor of focusing only on the youngest generations entering the workforce will miss out on a deep and valuable source of leadership potential.

Now is the time to focus on strengthening the skills of Gen X and further developing their broad range of skills.