A Framework for Leadership

Are leaders born or made? I could argue for both positions. In the work I do corporate coaching, I’ve seen some naturally gifted leaders, and some who’ve simply worked hard and grown into excellence.
The real issue is that all leaders can improve. Whether you’re a seasoned executive or a high-potential team member, you can boost your performance in five crucial leadership areas. I’ve seen this happen. I’ve been working with high potential people who’ve made some amazing improvements through executive coaching.
More than half a million business books deal with leadership acumen, but studying the most respected experts’ ideas reveals a consensus on the foremost functions required for effectiveness.
In The Leadership Code: 5 Rules to Lead By, (Harvard Business Press, 2011) Dave Ulrich, Norm Smallwood and Kate Sweetman have synthesized current thinking on leadership and developed a framework that blends idealism with realism. They’ve distilled leadership into five core roles, regardless of one’s industry or business environment:

  1. Strategist Leaders shape the future.
  2. Executor Leaders make things happen.
  3. Talent manager Leaders engage today’s talent.
  4. Human-capital developer Leaders build the next generation.
  5. Personal proficiency Leaders invest in their own development.

Having a framework for the most essential leadership skills will help you avoid quick fixes and business-book fads. While the scope of leadership may seem overwhelming, these five golden rules provide much-needed focus.
Leaders must excel in many areas: innovative strategies, long-term customer relationships, quality execution, high-performing teams and accountability. They need to manage people, communicate well, engage and inspire others, exercise keen judgment and decision-making, excel at emotional intelligence and demonstrate ethical integrity. It’s easy to get lost if you pursue the wrong priorities.
With a clear and concise framework that covers the entire leadership landscape, you can concentrate on how to become more effective and determine the best ways to develop talent. The Leadership Code offers five pivotal rules that lay out how the game is played. Knowing them enables you to modify your behavior and ultimately succeed.
There’s no doubt that people can grow and develop their leadership talent; I’ve seen it happen in the work I do as an executive coach. But what’s needed is focused, deliberate practice on the things that count, that really contribute to a leader being effective. These five areas pinpoint the most essential things to concentrate on.
What do you think about these concepts? Do they encapsulate all of the areas required for a leader to be effective? I’d love to hear from you, leave a comment.

Foresight: Survival of the Optimists

“Optimists have a sixth sense for possibilities that realists can’t or won’t see.” ~ Warren Bennis, leadership professor.

There is a dramatic difference between people who react to roadblocks with a sense of futility and pessimism and those who react with determination and optimism.

Psychologist Martin Seligman has validated that the most successful business leaders are inspired by a sense of optimism. I can say that of the corporate coaching clients I’ve worked with , the ones who succeed most often display a sense of realistic optimism. They are grounded in reality, but see things in a positive light. Setbacks are temporary, impersonal, and challenges to be overcome.

Those who learn to be optimistic about life and work are far more likely to be successful than those who view a current event through the pessimist’s lens. Being optimistic doesn’t mean ignoring reality or the hardships required to get great results. Leaders can define a business reality, yet defy a negative verdict. By being optimists, leaders give people the hope, energy and strength needed to carry on.

The more you understand reality, the more prepared you are to endure hardships and adversity. Optimism, and a vision for what’s possible, supplies the energy to keep going, persist through challenges and come out on the other side.

One of the best ways to expand your potential leadership abilities is to work with an executive coach, who can help you see what you don’t yet see. An experienced coach will stimulate your thinking and conversations about what’s possible.

You Can See Forever

To become a better leader, or to be seen as a high-potential leader, spend more time in the future. At some point, a future focus will permeate your thinking and saturate your communications.

Everything you do and say will remind people of the future you want to create – for yourself, your colleagues, your customers and the organization. You will draw upon your past experiences, your core values and your guiding purpose.

You will become well-read about trends as you study the future and talk with other people about the exciting possibilities. There’s no doubt that we live in interesting times, and game-changing ideas, products and services are popping up all the time.

Being part of the future allows you to contribute to its creation. You can’t do that without taking time to develop your capacity to be future-focused. And you can’t become future-focused without discipline and action.

What are you doing to express a future orientation in your communications? Where can you interject more forward-thinking and anticipatory thinking? How are you asking your people to think about the future, for your products, services and customers? I’d love to hear from you.

What People Want from Leaders

Leadership professors Barry Posner and Jim Kouzes, after surveying thousands of people on ideal leadership qualities, reveal that the ability to look forward is second only to honesty as the most admired trait.

On average, 70 percent of workers worldwide select “forward-looking” as a key leadership competency. Think about the leaders you’ve followed or admired. The great ones are visionaries who serve as custodians of the future. You want to partner with leaders who can create a better future.

As we age, gain more experience and move up the organizational hierarchy, our desire for a forward-looking leader increases, according to Posner and Kouzes. While only about one-third of undergraduate college students ranked “forward-looking” among their most important leadership attributes, more than 90 percent of senior executives had added it to their lists.

Some leaders are naturally future-oriented strategists; many others excel as executors or talent managers. Still others shine at getting things done and making things happen; others bring out the best in people.

While achieving great results with people is always rewarding, it’s not enough for promotion to higher levels of responsibility and leadership. To take that step, you must expand your ability to communicate a vision for the future. Forward-looking leaders can spot opportunities in their day-to-day work, and they excel at anticipatory thinking.

How Far Can You See?

It’s easy to get caught up in the urgency of each moment. Do you look beyond what’s in front of you – especially when daily tasks take up so much time and energy?

How do you become future-oriented and still handle day-to-day challenges? This is something we work on frequently with clients through leadership coaching.

While the ability to focus on the future separates leaders from the rank-and-file, many of us fail to understand and appreciate its importance. We devote almost no time to developing this vital quality, which then becomes a huge barrier to future success.

The challenge of being forward-looking escalates with each managerial level. Front-line supervisors are expected to anticipate events about three months ahead. Mid-level managers have timelines for more complex projects and need to look three to five years into the future. Those in the executive suites must focus on goals that are often 10+ years away.

Leaders Are Future-Focused

What do you think is the single quality that distinguishes and differentiates high-potential leaders from ordinary contributors in an organization?

It’s their ability to be forward-looking and focus on the future. There’s a lot of research on leadership development and this single quality stands out.

What do you need to develop in yourself if you want to be perceived as a high potential C-office candidate? To become a better leader or distinguish yourself as primed for promotion, you’ll want to develop your capacity to envision the future.

In the work that I do in corporate coaching, we spend time working on developing a future-focus. Some people are naturally predisposed with a future-orientation. But even if you’re not, you can still learn to expand this skill.

Focusing on the future sets leaders apart. The capacity to imagine and articulate exciting future possibilities is a defining competency – perhaps the most important one, next to honesty.

In The Leadership Code (Harvard School of Business Press, 2009), Dave Ulrich, Norm Smallwood and Kate Sweetman reviewed leadership theory and distilled leadership competencies into five overarching roles:

  1. Strategist Leaders shape the future.
  2. Executor Leaders make things happen.
  3. Talent manager Leaders engage today’s talent.
  4. Human capital developer Leaders build the next generation.
  5. Personal proficiency Leaders invest in their own development.

While leadership has evolved over time, these five areas of focus have remained constant as key functions of effective leaders, across all industries. Leaders must be able to answer the question, “Where are we going?”

We look to our leaders to envision a future, figure out where the organization must go to succeed, evaluate ideas for pragmatism and determine if they fit the company’s core mission. Leaders focus on how people, money, resources and organizational capabilities will work together to move from the present to a desired future.

To become a strategist, your thinking must be future-oriented. You’ll need to become intensely curious about trends, both inside and outside your organization’s field. You’ll need a systematic way of staying informed and tracking changes. This requires you to engage everyone in the organization and collect new ideas from various sources. Invite everyone to participate in creating a better future.

My question to you is what are you doing to develop more forward-looking thinking?

Discover Your Inner Work Life

Have you ever examined your own inner work life? In the work I do corporate coaching, some have good self-awareness of their perceptions, emotions and motivations. Some don’t. Emotional intelligence is something that is developed in coaching relationships and through leadership coaching.
Management responsibilities can take a toll on day-by-day perceptions, emotions and motivations. Most managers are both superiors and subordinates, sandwiched in between different personalities, often with limited power.
Recognizing small wins is the best way to motivate your team – the key principle revealed through rigorous analysis of daily journal entries by Amabile and Kramer in The Progress Principle.
Every day events affect our inner work lives, and managers are certainly not exempt. As a leader, you must tend to your staff’s inner work lives by providing support each day. You, too, will perform best when your inner work life is positive and strong.
You can do what the team members did for The Progress Principle research study to improve your ability to recognize and harness your perceptions, motivations, and emotions to your advantage. You can keep a daily journal.
As used for the study, it only takes five to ten minutes at the end of each day to review significant events. In my previous post A Progress Checklist, I shared questions you can ask to review your day.
A regular review of your day’s events can help you sustain good inner work life or improve bad inner work life for yourself. James Pennebaker, a psychologist at the University of Texas, is a pioneer in research on the benefits of writing in a journal.
Be sure to use the Daily Progress Checklist to review the day’s events and how much you’ve accomplished – no matter how difficult or disappointing. Even if gains seem relatively miniscule, you’ll benefit from an honest assessment. Remember: Setbacks are inevitable, but they serve as learning opportunities.
Progress triggers a positive inner work life. To boost yours, focus on providing your people with catalysts and nourishers. Buffer them, as much as possible, from inhibitors and toxins. This sets the stage for progress in your managerial work, as well as a positive progress loop.

Inner Work Life
Did I see any indications of the quality of my subordinates’ inner work lives today?
Perceptions of the work, team, management, firm?
What specific events might have affected inner work life today?

Action Plan
What can I do tomorrow to strengthen the catalysts and nourishers identified and provide ones that are lacking? What can I do tomorrow to start eliminating the inhibitors and toxins identified?

Source: T. Amabile & S. Kramer, The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work (Harvard Business Press, 2011)

A Progress Checklist

I’m amazed by the research done for the book The Progress Principle. The authors, Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer, used daily diaries to collect the thoughts about work from teams of knowledge workers in seven diverse companies.
What they found makes so much sense, yet it’s not being applied by most managers. They showed that above all else, people were motivated when they got support for progress. That’s not the same as recognition for good work. People want to accomplish meaningful work, and even small wins, for themselves or their team mates, boosts their energy and motivation.
Here are some questions that can walk you through using small wins and progress to motivate your team or work group.


Which 1 or 2 events today indicated either a small win or a possible breakthrough? (Describe briefly.) Which 1 or 2 events today indicated either a small setback or a possible crisis? (Describe briefly.)


Did the team have clear short- and long-term goals for meaningful work? Was there any confusion regarding long- or short-term goals for meaningful work?
Did team members have sufficient autonomy to solve problems and take ownership of the project? Were team members overly constrained in their ability to solve problems and feel ownership of the project?
Did they have all the resources they needed to move forward efficiently? Did they lack any of the resources they needed to move forward effectively?
Did they have sufficient time to focus on meaningful work? Did they lack sufficient time to focus on meaningful work?
Did I give or get them help when they needed or requested it? Did I encourage team members to help one another? Did I or others fail to provide needed or requested help?
Did I discuss lessons from today’s successes and problems with my team? Did I “punish” failure, or neglect to find lessons and/or opportunities in problems and successes?
Did I help ideas flow freely within the group? Did I or others cut off the presentation or debate of ideas prematurely?
Nourishers Toxins
Did I show respect to team members by recognizing their contributions to progress, attending to their ideas and treating them as trusted professionals? Did I disrespect any team members by failing to recognize their contributions to progress, not attending to their ideas or not treating them as trusted professionals?
Did I encourage team members who faced difficult challenges? Did I discourage a member of the team in any way?
Did I support team members who had a personal or professional problem? Did I neglect a team member who had a personal or professional problem?
Is there a sense of personal and professional affiliation and camaraderie within the team? Is there tension or antagonism among members of the team or between team members and me?

Source: T. Amabile & S. Kramer, The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work (Harvard Business Press, 2011)
Learn more about management tactics like this through our work in healthcare coaching.

Facilitating Progress

When you focus on small wins and facilitate progress, your employees will find the energy and drive required to perform optimally. Teams will be more cohesive and collaborative. You’ll get high performing teams.
In the work I do in leadership coaching and team responsibility, I find that some naturally know how to spark best performance, some don’t.
According to the latest research done by Amabile and Kramer for the book The Progress Principle, two key forces enable progress:

  1. Catalysts Events that directly advance project work, such as:
    1. Clear goals
    2. Autonomy
    3. Resources, including time
    4. Reviewing lessons from errors and success
    5. Free flow of ideas
  2. Nourishers Interpersonal events that uplift workers, including:
    1. Encouragement and support
    2. Demonstrations of respect
    3. Collegiality

Dealing with Setbacks
Three events undermine people’s inner work lives:

  1. Setbacks The biggest downer, yet inevitable in any sort of meaningful work
  2. Inhibitors Events that directly hinder project work
  3. Toxins Interpersonal events that undermine the people doing the work

Negative events carry a greater impact than positive ones. We pay more attention to them, remember them, and spend more time thinking and talking about them.
That’s why it’s so important for managers and team leaders to counteract negative events with positive perceptions and comments. Research shows it takes three positive messages to balance a negative one.
The Daily Progress Checklist
To better manage your people, use the Daily Progress Checklist (below) to review today’s and plan tomorrow’s managerial actions. After a few days of checklist use, you’ll be able to save time by scanning for the italicized words:

  1. Focus first on the day’s progress and setbacks.
  2. Next, think about specific events: the catalysts and nourishers that affected progress.
  3. Finally, prepare for action: What’s the one step you can take to best facilitate progress?

Is Your Place of Work “The Office?”

So much of what we call management consists of making it difficult for people to do work.” ~ Peter Drucker
As any fan of The Office or Dilbert can attest, negative managerial behavior severely affects employees? work lives. Managers’ day-to-day and moment-to-moment actions also create a ripple effect, directly facilitating or impeding the organization’s ability to function.
In the work I do in corporate coaching, I find the best managers are very aware of their power to influence. They know how much even small wins can boost the performance of their people. They strive to build teams with great inner work lives.
In ‘The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work‘ (Harvard Business Press, 2011), Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer describe how people with great inner work lives have:

  • Consistently positive emotions
  • Strong motivation
  • Favorable perceptions of the organization, their work and their colleagues

Unfortunately, the worst managers do the opposite: they undermine others’ inner work lives, often unwittingly. Through rigorous analysis of nearly 12,000 diary entries provided by 238 employees at seven companies, Amabile and Kramer found surprising results on the factors that affect performance.
What matters most is forward momentum in meaningful work – in a word, progress. Managers who recognize the need for even small wins set the stage for high performance.
But surveys of CEOs and project leaders reveal that 95 percent fundamentally misunderstand the need for this critical motivator.
What Really Motivates Us?
If you lead knowledge workers, you likely employ these conventional management practices:

  • Recruit the best talent.
  • Provide appropriate incentives.
  • Give stretch assignments to develop talent.
  • Use emotional intelligence to connect with each individual.
  • Review performance carefully.

Unfortunately, you may miss the most fundamental source of leverage: managing for progress. Recognizing even the smallest win has a more powerful impact than virtually anything else.
In a survey by Amabile and Kramer, 669 managers ranked five factors that could influence motivation and emotions at work:

  1. Recognition
  2. Incentives
  3. Interpersonal support
  4. Clear goals
  5. Support for making progress in the work

Managers incorrectly ranked “support for making progress” dead last, with most citing “recognition for good work” as the most important motivator.
Your ability to focus on progress is paramount. Video-game designers excel at this mission, hooking players on the steady pace of progress bars.
What have you noticed in your own work place? Do managers facilitate or impede work progress? I’d love to hear from you.

More Generational Clash Points: Meetings

Older workers expect a phone call or a visit on important issues and will immediately schedule and plan a meeting to involve significant stakeholders. This frustrates younger workers, who want to meet on the spur of the moment, as soon as possible.
Through corporate coaching, I listen to their complaints and they have a point. But so do younger workers.
For example, they see nothing wrong with texting superiors and peers instead of scheduling face-to-face meetings, and they like to communicate and solve problems virtually. When faced with a need to meet, they try to contact everyone immediately and begin videoconferencing, chatting, texting, talking and tweeting – often all at the same time.
Older colleagues prefer to find a time and day that fits everyone’s schedule – which can delay meeting for days or weeks. They fit things into their routines and calendars. To Gen Y, the ritual of workplace scheduling is stifling, unproductive and a waste of time.
The younger people may have a point. But to older colleagues, a seat-of-the-pants approach is irritating. They also have a point: It doesn’t give them enough time to think things through, nor to adequately prepare for a politically influential outcome.
Clash Point #4: Learning
Older generations are linear learners, comfortable sitting in classes, reading manuals and pondering materials before beginning to implement new programs.
Newer workers learn “on demand”, which to Boomers means they just want to “wing it”, figuring things out as they go. Gen-Y learning is interactive, using the Internet, Wikipedia and blogs. They rely on Google and web searches to find answers.
Gen Y doesn’t hesitate to call a friend or send an email directly to the CEO. They ask questions and get their information instantaneously. They are easily bored by training sessions, manuals and programs that spoon-feed information over time.
Issues You Can’t Ignore
Here’s why your company can’t afford to keep doing things the way they’ve always been done, hoping people will work out the details among themselves:
Gen X is a smaller generation, almost half the size of the Boomer generation. Gen Y is large – very large. This newer generation is much larger than the 77 million Boomers. Combined, Gen X and Gen Y already outnumber the Boomers and Seniors, making the 40 and younger crowd the largest segment of the workplace. Boomers no longer hold the majority vote, although most hold positions of power and responsibility.
This transition in power and influence is not something organizations can avoid or ignore. Managers must learn to leverage each generation’s strengths for the benefit of all, or risk becoming less efficient and productive because of the inherent conflicts.
There is no room to allow tradition and convenience to hinder changes that boost performance and productivity. There’s also not much room for generational judging or complaining.
Managers must create opportunities for a multigenerational work force to share its differences. To hire and retain high performers, leaders must also provide flexible options. Look for ways to benefit from each generation’s assets to inspire understanding, collaboration and creativity.
Learn more about leadership coaching.

A Not-So-Perfect Labor Storm

In 1999, leadership expert Ira S. Wolfe coined the term “perfect labor storm” to describe a convergence of demographic and socioeconomic developments that would result in an unprecedented shortage of skilled workers in 2011 – the year the first Baby Boomers hit 65 and start to retire.
But a severe and prolonged recession has delayed Dr. Wolfe’s predicted storm. Economic uncertainty has caused many Boomers to remain on the job, amid the highest unemployment rate in more than 30 years.
Until we see the inevitable changing of the guard over the next decade, the workplace will be inhabited by a multigenerational stew of younger and older workers.
Baby Boomers are lingering in the workplace. The younger Gen X and Gen Y (New Millennials) are growing impatient to ascend to leadership responsibilities. New graduates are knocking at HR’s door in record numbers. And technology, including social media, is transforming the mode and pace of communication. These trends are creating new opportunities, but not without foreseeable generational clashes.
In the work I do in corporate coaching, I hear about new generation clashes often. This workplace environment will provide real opportunities and significant technological problems, Dr. Wolfe notes in his latest book, Geeks, Geezers, and Googlization: How to Manage the Unprecedented Convergence of the Wired, the Tired, and Technology in the Workplace (Xlibris, 2009).
Eighty percent of polled adults believe Gen X and Y have a distinctly different point of view – the highest perceived disparity since 1969, when generations clashed over the Vietnam War and civil rights. Younger adults (18 to 29) report disagreements over lifestyle, views, family, relationships and dating. Older adults criticize their “sense of entitlement”. Gen X and Y tend to be more tolerant on cultural issues, while Boomers cite manners as the greatest source of conflict.
New information technologies also divide the generations. According to research by the Pew Charitable Trust, only 40% of adults ages 65-74 use the Internet daily, while 75% of those ages 18-30 go online daily. The gap is wider when it comes to cell phones and text messages.
Click to learn more about leadership coaching.