Are You a Manager or a Leader?

Administrators have the greatest impact on employees’ careers and well-being, as work remains a significant aspect of people’s lives. Administrators determine whether employees enjoy or detest what they do. They’re also responsible for the organization’s prosperity.

A flood of content cites two broad administrative categories: manager and leader. Is there a distinction, or are the terms one and the same? The designations are sometimes used interchangeably; other times, people draw a significant distinction.

Why does it matter? After all, everyone has to report to someone, and people want to make the best of what they’re given.

But the distinction is important because employees’ impressions of their administrators can spark or sink both parties’ careers. It’s therefore important to recognize the conspicuous and more nuanced differences and similarities between managers and leaders.

The definitions are far from straightforward, and they’re the subject of much debate. If you’ve categorized yourself as one vs. the other, you’ve likely been influenced by specific definitions you’ve read and the ones you prefer. You’ll rarely be told what others make of your administrative style. You’re riding on the impression you have of yourself, which ultimately determines how you lead people.

Any complex comparison reveals a definite overlap between managers and leaders. Both have people to oversee. Both want to make a difference and be successful, as guided by their definition of success. Each will deal with ups and downs, with people who are helpful and those who obstruct progress. Many managers and leaders assume their roles without much formal training or preparation. Though some common ground exists, there are numerous dissimilarities.

Mindset is the primary distinction, business executive and philanthropist Vineet Nayar states in a 2013 Harvard Business Review article, "Three Differences Between Managers and Leaders." The way you tackle administration helps decide whether you manage or lead. Do you focus on yourself (the manager’s focus) or on others (the hallmark of a leader)?

Differences in Purpose

The purpose behind your actions defines your legacy. Each of us has a purpose, regardless of whether you fully recognize it, and it manifests as specific priorities.

An old adage applies:

  • A manager makes use of people to benefit the organization.
  • A leader makes use of the organization to benefit people.

Other views are more specific:

  • A manager is driven by an immediate purpose, revolving around self.
  • A leader is driven by a purpose higher than self.
  • A manager executes a vision by assigning work.
  • A leader sets the vision by encouraging ideas.

Nayar prefers the following distinctions:

  • A manager counts value by tracking tasks, checking boxes and expecting others to add value.
  • A leader creates value by empowering people, making them better and helping to add to the value.
  • A manager accomplishes a goal through people.
  • A leader achieves success with people.

Alan Murray, author of The Wall Street Journal Essential Guide to Management (HarperBusiness, 2010), offers another view:

  • Managers plan, organize and maintain.
  • Leaders inspire, motivate and develop.

Differences in Focus

Focus describes areas of concern and targeted centers of attention. Your focus reveals what’s important to you and, by default, what’s not as important. Factors that influence focus include your qualifications, experience, fears, opinions and priorities.

The following distinctions apply to managerial vs. leadership focus:

  • Managers tend to be more short-term oriented, looking for quicker paybacks.
  • Leaders tend to have a longer-range outlook, looking for future paybacks.
  • Managers make use of others’ skills.
  • Leaders want to develop others’ skills.
  • Managers focus on systems and procedures.
  • Leaders focus on people and possibilities.
  • Managers are keyed into efficiency.
  • Leaders are keyed into unity.

Differences in Authority

Authority is one of the clearest distinctions between managers and leaders. How you oversee, direct and assess completion of staff activities radically affects your direct reports. As with other aspects of administration, authority can take dramatically different tracks:

  • Managers reserve authority for themselves. Subordinates submit by requirement.
  • Leaders push authority down to the farthest possible level. Followers join in by choice.
  • Managers assure compliance by following an authority map.
  • Leaders develop trust by charting the authority map.
  • Managers enforce the pace.
  • Leaders set the pace.

Nayar offers an interesting observation:

  • Managers create circles of power, where people are required to comply politically.
  • Leaders create circles of influence, where people desire to follow.

Differences in Behavior

Everyone notices your behavior, and it takes only a few actions to reveal your character traits. People watch your behavior and discern who you are, looking for patterns that indicate what kind of support they’ll receive. Behavior always signals to employees how difficult or easy their work experience will be.

The following behaviors distinguish managers from leaders:

  • Managers tend to operate under a separate set of rules, with little concern for people’s impressions.
  • Leaders exemplify a noble set of rules that others attempt to emulate.
  • Managers prioritize their personal needs.
  • Leaders prioritize other’ needs.
  • Managers seek notoriety for themselves.
  • Leaders seek notoriety for their people.
  • Managers’ notoriety is based on their technical attributes.
  • Leaders’ notoriety is based on their interpersonal attributes.

The Proper Blend

After reviewing the distinctions between managers and leaders, should we assume that one administrative model is superior to the other? Should you adopt a purely managerial or leadership model?

Murray asserts that the two models go hand in hand, so trying to separate them is detrimental. You must blend the two approaches to create an optimal administrative strategy. One approach, on its own, is insufficient for success.

Today’s world of commerce presents greater pressures and shorter deadlines than ever before. As technology continues to accelerate, we’re conditioned to expect instant results, and tolerance for excuses has dropped sharply. People often joke that faster processes cause mistakes to happen faster, and there’s some truth to this.

There’s little, if any, slack for workers to step back and catch their breath. Such conditions require more of the manager model, with an administrator who takes the reins and keeps everyone on track. In the heat of the moment, we need pragmatic solutions more than inspiration or vision. We rely on managers who have established short-term strategies and confidence in their own abilities.

Conversely, Murray points out, we face a new economy, where workers have developed perspectives that differ greatly from those of previous generations. Employees are prioritizing personal growth over project effectiveness, meaningful contribution over meeting standards, and a sense of purpose over organizational goals.

New administrative approaches are required to make the most of available talent and keep people engaged and productive. Every employee must grow professionally, regardless of level. Managers must therefore have the right leadership skills and know how to develop people.

A widely accepted management framework, based on Henri Fayol’s early 20th-century model, calls for four administrative functions:

  • Planning
  • Organizing
  • Leading
  • Controlling

Planning has short- and long-term aspects. Short-term planning accounts for the process, manpower and timing needed to meet organizational objectives (what effective managers do). Long-term planning accounts for the vision and strategy needed to grow the company and enhance its purpose (what successful leaders do).

Organizing utilizes management skills to plan projects, provide resources and initiate processes.

Leading comprises four additional building blocks:

  • Communicating
  • Motivating
  • Inspiring
  • Encouraging

Each component is driven by a leader’s interpersonal skills and emotional intelligence—the softer skills that draw people to a cause. Well-rounded managers hone these skills and demonstrate an optimum blend of leadership and managerial efficiencies.

Controlling keeps projects on time, monitors the quality and quantity of work performed, and adjusts to scope changes or setbacks.

Applying the Blend

Administrators who cling to a sole managerial or leadership approach handicap their organizations. Ask yourself: Do I lean too heavily on one approach or the other?

If you’re too management oriented, you’ll have difficulty building trust. People will see that your priority is to get work done, not to benefit them. Your personal goals will seem to override anyone else’s. You’ll be regarded as uncaring or disinterested—unworthy of being followed.

You’ll witness a spiral, as your heavy emphasis on tasks breeds resentment, thereby reducing employee effectiveness. You’ll fail in the long run, surrounded by a staff that backs away from or leaves you.

If you’re too leadership oriented, you won’t be able to maintain order. Tasks will be performed incorrectly or late, and productivity will plummet. Crises will overtake your people, who lack guidance on immediate issues. Your boss will assume you’re unable to handle the job, and you’ll lose your staff’s respect.
 
The ensuing frustration will cause people to lose faith in your ability to lead the organization. Confidence in their future will drop, along with hope, positive attitudes and motivation. Employees may believe you’re a great person, but not a good enough administrator.

Administrators who work toward achieving both managerial and leadership capabilities excel in the workplace. Their employees are engaged and motivated, willing to give of themselves because they know their leader is willing to give to them. Trust and morale are high, as people know they can depend on their leaders’ relational and technical skills. They can count on their leaders to bring everyone through any trial, while valuing each team member’s contributions. In this ideal workplace, nothing can stop the team from achieving success.

Evaluate your leadership and management skills. Have you successfully blended both arenas? Can you shore up shortcomings in either area?

Call upon a trusted colleague, trainer or management coach to help you spot the areas that require enhancement. Your organization will benefit greatly—and so will you.

Discovering Your Life’s Purpose

Discovering your life’s purpose can be likened to embarking on a treasure hunt where new paths unfold in mysterious and surprising ways. Are you ready to become curious, to see what you will discover in order to  live a purposeful, well-lived life? All it takes is a willingness to begin.

Knowing why you’re here, and who you want to be, isn’t a part-time job. The challenge is to live out what you stand for, intentionally, in every moment. ~ Tony Schwartz, author

People enjoy being engaged in meaningful work. Humans, by nature, are a passionate species, and most of us seek out stimulating experiences.

Having a purpose provides context for all of one’s efforts, and it’s a chief criterion for “flow”—the energy state that occurs when one’s mind, body and entire being are committed to the task at hand. Flow turns mundane work into completely absorbing experiences, allowing us to push the limits of skills and talents.

On some level, everyone wants to live a purposeful life, yet we are distracted by societal pressures to achieve wealth and prestige. There are indications, however, that this is changing. Just as Gross National Product (GNP) fails to reflect the well-being and satisfaction of a country’s citizens, a person’s net worth has little to do with personal fulfillment.

There are benefits to having a sense of purpose other than the emotional and psychological ones. For example, having a strong sense of purpose can help you live longer.

  • A 2009 study of over 73,000 Japanese men and women found that those who had a strong connection to their sense of purpose tended to live longer than those who didn’t.
  •  Additionally, in his study of “Blue Zones” (communities in the world in which people are more likely to live past 100), Dan Buettner identified the factors that most centenarians share, one of them being a strong sense of purpose.
  • In 2014, researchers used data that tracked adults over 14 years and found that "having a purpose in life appears to widely buffer against mortality risk across the adult years."

Purpose can also positively affect pain management. A study in The Journal of Pain found that women with a stronger sense of purpose were better able to withstand heat and cold stimuli applied to their skin.

Purpose can also contribute to better relationships. In 2009, Richard Leider teamed up with Met Life to assess the purpose of over 1,000 adults. They found that those with a high sense of meaning in their lives spent more time and attention on their loved ones and communities. On the whole, people with purpose tend to be more engaged with their families, colleagues, and neighbors, enjoying more satisfying relationships as a result.

If the above reasons aren’t enough, purpose can also help prevent Alzheimer’s disease. In studies of thousands of elderly subjects, Dr. Patricia Boyle, a neuropsychologist at the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center in Chicago, found that people with a low sense of life purpose were 2.4 times more likely to get Alzheimer’s disease than those with a strong purpose. Further, people with purpose were less likely to develop impairments in daily living and mobility disabilities.

Writer Tor Constantino of Entrepreneur reviews The Art of Work, a book by Jeff Goins, who offers some unconventional advice to help one ditch the status quo and begin a life work that’s filled with passion and purpose. Goins explores three actionable tactics that one can use to identify calling:

  1. Listen to your life.

    The best place to begin charting your future is by taking a look at your past. Goins writes, “Before I can tell my life what I want to do with it, I need to listen to my life to tell me who I am.”

  2. Accidental apprenticeships.

    No one can achieve success or realize their life purpose by themselves. The process works best with a team of mentors providing guidance. That kind of help is all around us – we just don’t always see it.

  3. Prep for painful practice.

    There’s a myth that once you know what it is that you’re supposed to pursue, achieving that purpose will be easy because it plays to your strengths and passion. That’s not always the case. "The paradox is it’s difficult to achieve the level excellence that your calling should merit, but that struggle for mastery is also invigorating and fulfilling. It’s tough and not everybody realizes that until they’re in it," says Goins.

The author notes that the key is finding where your abilities and personal drive intersect with the needs of others. He believes that you can find that juncture by answering the following three questions:

  • What do I love?
  • What am I good at?
  • What does the world need?

Once that key is identified, you won’t have a job or even a career, but a life purpose.

How does discovering your purpose play out after retirement? Here’s what one university study reports:

  • A study of retired employees of Shell Oil found that men and women who retired early (age 55) were more likely to die early than those who retired at age 65.
  • A similar study of almost 17,000 healthy Greeks showed that the risk of death increased by 51% after retirement.

These studies suggest that there may be some risk in finding meaning only in a career, and stresses the importance of reshaping life’s big questions while finding ways to continue serving purpose even after retirement to improve chances of a longer, healthier life.

Where your talents and the needs of the world cross, there lies your calling. ~ Aristotle

Midcareer Crisis …or Opportunity?

Have you ever had a midcareer fantasy where you quit your job and go do something new?
Many executives secretly admit to their coaches that they’re contemplating midcareer shifts. They may not actively seek change, but they certainly start imagining it.
Of LinkedIn’s 313 million members, 25% are active job seekers; 60% are passive job seekers (not proactively searching for new jobs, but seriously willing to consider viable opportunities). There’s also been a steady increase in self-employed and temporary workers over the last two decades. Entrepreneurship may sound lucrative every time a startup goes public.
Regardless of your age, background or professional accomplishments, you’ve probably dreamed about a new career at some point. Midlife is often a time when we reevaluate our goals, aspirations and what truly matters to us in life.
In “5 Signs It’s Time for a New Job” (Harvard Business Review, April 2015), Columbia University Professor Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic examines what happens to many people at midcareer. Few of us actually shift to something different. As he explains, complacency often trumps transformation:
Humans are naturally prewired to fear and avoid change, even when we are decidedly unhappy with our current situation. Indeed, meta-analyses show that people often stay on the job despite having negative job attitudes, low engagement and failing to identify with the organization’s culture. So, at the end of the day, there is something comforting about the predictability of life: it makes us feel safe.
Chamorro-Premuzic cites five signs that indicate it’s time to seriously consider a career switch:

  1. You feel undervalued.
  2. You’re not learning.
  3. You’re underperforming.
  4. You’re just doing it for the money.
  5. You hate your boss.

Yet, who hasn’t experienced these feelings periodically? Do they mean you’re headed for a full-fledged midlife or midcareer crisis?
The Stereotypical Story
Hearing the phrase “midlife crisis” evokes the cliche of a successful man, between 40 and 55, who wakes up one day and decides he’s been chasing all the wrong things: his career, family, wife, car and possessions. Nothing provides him with the satisfaction he craves. He demands more.
Suddenly, he divorces, changes career or organization, dresses differently, gets a young girlfriend and buys a red sports car. Years later, he finds himself with the same unfulfilled yearnings, having metaphorically changed seats on the Titanic.
While this scenario has become today’s hackneyed midlife-crisis narrative, the concept of middle age as a distinct life stage dates back to the 19th century, according to Patricia Cohen, author of In Our Prime: The Invention of Middle Age (Scribner, 2012). The term “midlife crisis” was first coined in 1965 by psychologist Elliott Jaques. In 1974, journalist Gail Sheehy famously depicted the midlife crisis as a life stage in her bestselling book Passages: Predictable Crises of Adult Life.
Roughly a quarter of Americans reports experiencing a midlife crisis, according to research published in 2000 by Cornell University sociologist Elaine Wethington. Many who disclaim the notion regard midlife crises as a lame excuse for behaving immaturely.
The term crisis also contributes to stigmatization, as it suggests a shock, disruption or loss of control. But the actual data on midlife experience and the relationship between work and happiness points to something different: an extended and unpleasant – but manageable – downturn.
The Happiness U-Curve
The average employee’s job satisfaction deteriorates dramatically in midlife, according to a British survey conducted by Professor Andrew Oswald of The University of Warwick.
Midcareer crises are, in fact, a widespread regularity, rather than a few individuals’ misfortune.
But here’s the good news: In the second half of people’s working lives, job satisfaction increases again. In many cases, it reaches higher levels than experienced early in one’s career, essentially forming a U-shaped curve depicted in the following graph:
(Source: Crisis, The Atlantic, December 2014)
Subsequent research revealed this age-related curve in job satisfaction is part of a much broader phenomenon. A similar midlife nadir is detectable in measures of people’s overall life satisfaction and has been found in more than 50 countries.
The U-curve tells a more accurate tale of what happens midlife and midcareer. It’s not a story of chaos or disruption, but of a difficult – yet natural – transition to a new equilibrium.
Just knowing the phenomenon is common can be therapeutic. Princeton University health economist Hannes Schwandt cites a feedback effect: “Part of your disappointment is driven by the disappointment itself.”
Understanding the U-shaped curve allows us to recognize midlife as challenging, yet ultimately gratifying. We should resist judging ourselves harshly for feeling disappointed. We can avoid making bad decisions that potentially lead to midlife divorces and career catastrophes.
The Other Side of Midlife
Fortunately, most people avoid upending their lives at the first signs of midlife dissatisfaction. As noted earlier, only 25% of us even admit to experiencing a crisis. So, what happens to the75% who may feel dissatisfied at midlife, but who don’t do anything about it? Are they in denial or simply more mature?
Freud described two requisites for sanity: work and love. What happens when work and love lose their sparkle, as often occurs in midlife?
Work carries a large, invisible burden: the presumption that it will provide our lives with meaning and energize our spirits. Sometimes it does. By midlife, however, we may find that work drains us.
The ego tends to prefer security over development. Heeding it too closely means you may wind up with neither.
At midlife, most of us feel the need to rethink our priorities. Unfortunately, we avoid this task. It’s much easier to succumb to fear. We view change as threatening, and we don’t want to risk losing our hard-earned stability.
In Search of Meaning and Wisdom
Psychologists have not yet determined why people in 50+ industrialized nations experience midlife crises. It’s certainly a major reason why executives hire executive coaches. “What’s next?” is one of life’s most worrisome questions. A coach can help you reevaluate your cherished convictions, morals and guiding principles.
Experiencing disappointment doesn’t necessarily mean something is wrong. It signals that something is missing.
There’s a mental shift at midlife from “time since birth” to “time left until death.” We begin to feel time is running out and, more crucially, question whether what drove us in the first half of life is worthy enough for a fulfilling second half.
Being aware of the pitfalls associated with the midlife experience can prevent you from committing irreparable errors. If you know you’re vulnerable to doubts, anxieties and mood swings, you can stop yourself from storming out of a meeting or acting out of desperation. If you feel trapped, midlife can become a truly dangerous life passage. Perhaps Carl Jung said it best:
We cannot live the afternoon of life according to the program of life’s morning – for what was great in the morning will be little at evening, and what in morning was true will at evening have become a lie.
Midcareer Coaching
Consider retaining a professional coach to guide you through self-examination and reflection on what truly matters most to you. The process often entails reconnecting you to what you love about your life and career.
Clinging to the status quo may, on the surface, appear to be a safer, more mature choice. Nothing could be further from the truth. Redoubling your efforts to achieve happiness based on what drove you in the first half of life is foolish.
In the second half of life, facing our failures and losses facilitates course corrections. We are rewarded with deeper, more fulfilling life and career experiences. Avoiding life’s natural progressions prevents you from broadening consciousness and becoming your authentic self.
Midcareer is a time to examine regrets and accept mistakes. A coach can help you turn failures into meaningful learning opportunities. You won’t need to bury bad memories. Greater self-acceptance opens new avenues.
Unfortunately, most of us work so hard to obtain an identity that it becomes very hard to let it go. What worked earlier in your career is nearly always inadequate to meet the challenges of your mature years, as Marshall Goldsmith proved in What Got You Here Won’t Get You There (Hachette Books, 2007).
Acknowledging midcareer dissatisfaction opens a window to exploring your options. Ask yourself:

  • What steps must I take to transition to the next stage of my journey?
  • Can I give myself permission to explore new paths?
  • How does fear keep me in a reactive stance, constrained by outmoded routines?
  • Am I content to live partially, or am I ready and willing to explore new ways of thinking and feeling?
  • Can I gather the energy needed to realize my unlived potential?
  • How can I take one small step?

The age-old Serenity Prayer comes to mind:
“Grant me the courage to change the things I can, to accept the things I can’t, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Strength-based Leadership


Which leadership style will prevail in the future?
If you want to improve employee engagement and productivity while reducing turnover, your organization must build on individual and team strengths.
Nearly a decade ago, Gallup unveiled the results of a 30-year research project on leadership strengths. More than 3 million people have since taken the StrengthsFinder assessment, which forms the core of several noteworthy books:

  1. Now, Discover Your Strengths by Marcus Buckingham and Donald Clifton (Free Press, 2001)
  2. StrengthsFinder 2.0 by Tom Rath (Gallup Press, 2007)
  3. Go Put Your Strengths to Work: 6 Powerful Steps to Achieve Outstanding Performance by Marcus Buckingham (Free Press, 2007)

In Strengths Based Leadership: Great Leaders, Teams, and Why People Follow, New York Times-bestselling author Tom Rath and leadership consultant Barry Conchie reveal the results of extensive Gallup research. Based on their analyses, three keys to effective leadership emerge:

  1. Know your strengths – and invest in others – strengths.
  2. Hire people with the right strengths for your team.
  3. Understand and meet your followers’ four basic needs: trust, compassion, stability and hope.

3 Keys to Effective Leadership
1. The most effective leaders continuously invest in strengths.
When leaders fail to focus on individuals’ strengths, the odds of employee engagement drop to a dismal 1 in 11 (9%). But when leaders focus on employees’ strengths, the odds soar to almost 3 in 4 (73%).
That translates to an eightfold increase in the odds of engaging individuals in their work, leading to greatly increased organizational and personal gains. Employees enjoy greater self-confidence when they learn about their strengths (as opposed to focusing on their weaknesses).
Emphasizing what people do right boosts their overall engagement and productivity. They learn their roles faster and more quickly adapt to variances. They not only produce more, but the quality of their work improves. Gallup has also found powerful links between top talent and crucial business outcomes, including higher productivity, sales and profitability, lower turnover and fewer unscheduled absences.
2. The most effective leaders surround themselves with the right people and maximize their team.
The best leaders needn’t be well rounded, but their teams are. Strong teams have a balance of strengths in four specific leadership domains:

  • Execution: Great leaders know how to make things happen. They work tirelessly to implement solutions and realize success.
  • Influence: Leaders help their teams reach a broader audience by selling ideas inside and outside the organization.
  • Relationship-Building: Leaders are the glue that holds a team together. They create an environment in which groups perform harmoniously for optimal results.
  • Strategic Thinking: Leaders keep everyone focused on the possibilities for a better future.

3. The most effective leaders understand their followers’ needs.
A leader is someone who can get things done through other people.” ~ Warren Buffett, business magnate
People follow leaders for very specific reasons. While researchers have spent the bulk of their time and funding on analyses of leaders’ individual traits, the follower’s point of view has gone largely unexplored.
As noted earlier, Gallup’s study of 10,000 followers reveals four basic needs. They want their leaders to display:

  • Trust: Respect, integrity and honesty
  • Compassion: Caring, friendship, happiness and love
  • Stability: Security, strength, support and peace
  • Hope: Direction, faith and guidance

Measuring Strengths
Gallup’s new online StrengthsFinder assessment helps you identify which of 34 theme-based strengths you have and they fit into the four domains of leadership strength: execution, influence, relationship-building and strategic thinking.
You can also take advantage of similar free online tools.
Defining Strengths
Strengths development requires you to understand several key terms:
A strength is your ability to consistently produce positive outcomes through near-perfect performance in a specific task. It is composed of:

  • Skills – your ability to perform a task’s fundamental steps. Skills do not naturally exist within us; they must be acquired through formal or informal training and practice.
  • Knowledge – what you know, such as your awareness of historical dates and your grasp of the rules of a game. Knowledge must be acquired through formal or informal education.
  • Talents – how you naturally think, feel and behave (i.e., the inner drive to compete, sensitivity to others’ needs, being outgoing at social gatherings). Talents are innate and unique to each of us.

Finding Your Strengths
We display our strengths each day, and we don’t necessarily require a formal assessment to discover where we excel.

  • Our yearnings can reveal the presence of a talent, particularly when we recognize them early in life. A yearning can be described as an internal force – an almost magnetic attraction that leads you to a particular activity or environment time and again.
  • Rapid learning also signals talent. Your brain may light up when you undertake a new challenge. You’ll feel a whole bank of switches flick to the “on” position and feel invigorated.
  • If you feel great satisfaction (psychological fulfillment) when meeting new challenges, you’ve likely identified a talent. Pay close attention to situations that bring you these energizing feelings. If you can identify them, you’re well on your way to pinpointing some of your dominant talents.
  • If you’re so engrossed in an activity that you lose track of time (timelessness), you’re engaged at a deep, natural level – another indicator of talent.
  • Glimpses of excellence are flashes of outstanding performance observed by you or others. In these moments, the task at hand has tapped some of your greatest talents.

Talents are the foundation for developing your strengths. Use your StrengthsFinder report or another assessment tool to identify them. Hone them for a more fulfilling life.
34 Personal Strengths
The Gallup Organization identified 34 distinct personal strengths after interviewing 1.7 million professionals over 40 years:

Gallup’s 34 Strengths
StrengthsFinder 2.0 by Tom Rath (Gallup Press, 2007) 
1. Achiever Constantly driven to accomplish tasks
2. Activator Sets things in motion
3. Adaptability Adept at accommodating changes in direction/plan
4. Analytical Requires data/proof to make sense of circumstances
5. Arranger Enjoys orchestrating many tasks/variables
6. Belief Strives to find ultimate meaning in everything he/she does
7. Command Embraces leadership positions without fearing confrontation
8. Communication Uses words to inspire action and education
9. Competition Thrives on comparison and competition
10. Connectedness Seeks to unite others through commonalities
11. Consistency Treats everyone the same to avoid unfair advantage
12. Context Reviews the past to make better decisions
13. Deliberative Proceeds with caution and a planned approach
14. Developer Sees others’ untapped potential
15. Discipline Makes sense of the world by imposing order
16. Empathy In tune with others’ emotions
17. Focus Has a clear sense of direction
18. Futuristic Eyes the future to drive today’s success
19. Harmony Seeks to avoid conflict and achieve consensus
20. Ideation Sees underlying concepts that unite disparate ideas
21. Includer Instinctively works to include everyone
22. Individualization Draws upon individuals’ uniqueness to create successful teams
23. Input Constantly collects information/objects for future use
24. Intellection Enjoys thinking and thought-provoking conversation; can compress complex concepts into simplified models
25. Learner Constantly challenged; learns new skills/information to feel successful
26. Maximizer Takes people and projects from great to excellent
27. Positivity Injects levity into any situation
28. Relator Most comfortable with fewer, deeper relationships
29. Responsibility Always follows through on commitments
30. Restorative Thrives on solving difficult problems
31. Self-Assurance Stays true to beliefs; self-confident
32. Significance Others to see him/her as significant
33. Strategic Can see a clear direction in complex situations
34. Woo Can easily persuade

 
Each of these strengths contributes to the four leadership domains:
Gallup Leadership Strengths
Strengths Based Leadership: Great Leaders, Teams and Why People Follow,
by Tom Rath and Barry Conchie (Gallup Press, 2013)

EXECUTING
 
ACHIEVER CONSISTENCY FOCUS
ARRANGER DELIBERATIVE RESPONSIBILITY
BELIEF DISCIPLINE RESTORATIVE
INFLUENCING
 
ACTIVATOR COMPETITION SIGNIFICANCE
COMMAND MAXIMIZER WOO
COMMUNICATION SELF-ASSURANCE
RELATIONSHIP BUILDING
 
ADAPTABILITY EMPATHY INDIVIDUALIZATION
DEVELOPER HARMONY POSITIVITY
CONNECTEDNESS INCLUDER RELATOR
STRATEGIC THINKING
 
ANALYTICAL IDEATION LEARNER
CONTEXT INPUT STRATEGIC
FUTURISTIC INTELLECTION

 
Growing Strengths for the Future
“People have several times more potential for growth when they invest energy in developing their strengths instead of correcting their deficiencies.” ~ Tom Rath
Many people fall into the trap of trying to “fix” their deficits and flaws instead of expanding their strengths.
Use the Gallup data to identify your talents and convert them into strengths. You can then increase your leadership effectiveness and build stronger, balanced teams.
Remember: Leaders stay true to who they are. They make sure they have the right people around them. Those who surround themselves with similar personalities will always be at a disadvantage, as they’re too insecure to enlist partners and team members with complementary strengths.
 

The Quest for Leadership Purpose

?Great leadership has the potential to excite people to extraordinary levels of achievement. But it is not only about performance; it is also about meaning.? ~ Robert Goffee and Gareth Jones, Why Should Anyone Be Led by You? (Harvard Business Review Press, 2006)
Great leaders have a profound impact in their communities, families and key societal realms (i.e., sports, politics). Nowhere is good leadership more important than at work, where we devote considerable time and energy.
If you want to drive a high-performance organization, you must find ways to make employee performance meaningful. Sadly, many executive teams focus on numbers instead of words when trying to motivate people to achieve more. Carrots and sticks may work in some situations, but leaders must engage hearts and minds to truly excite people to give their all.
There is a deepening disenchantment with traditional-style management. We are increasingly suspicious of the skilled and charismatic boss who echoes corporate mission statements and jargon. The search for authenticity in those who lead us has never been more pressing.
While concepts such as quiet leadership and servant leaders are popular in business bestsellers, corporations are slow to change selection criteria. Leadership continues to be about results. Organizations are not immune to the lure of the heroic CEO.
While great results aren?t achieved by inspirational leadership alone, they may not be possible without it. Employees choose to come to work and give their best?or not. Leaders who excel at capturing hearts, minds and souls provide purpose, meaning and motivation.
Know Your Leadership Purpose
How can we expect our leaders to provide a sense of meaning and purpose when they themselves struggle with self-knowledge, purpose and identity?
?We?ve found that fewer than 20% of leaders have a strong sense of their own individual purpose,? confirm Nick Craig and Scott A. Snook in ?From Purpose to Impact,? published in the May 2014 issue of Harvard Business Review. ?Even fewer can distill their purpose into a concrete statement.?
When interviewed at work about what gives their lives meaning, executives parrot the latest corporate propaganda:

  • ? ?Increasing shareholder value?
  • ? ?Delighting customers?
  • ? ?Becoming the best in product innovation?
  • ? ?Delivering worldwide more ?X? than our competitors?

When asked the same questions at home, executives admit to profound symptoms of meaninglessness, work-related stress and dysfunctional family lives. They typically fall back on generic and nebulous catchphrases when asked to describe their purpose:

  • ? ?Help others excel?
  • ? ?Ensure success?
  • ? ?Empower my people?

Just as problematic, hardly any have clear plans for translating purpose into action.
Defining ?Purpose?
Most of us go to our graves with our music still inside us, unplayed. ~ Oliver Wendell Holmes
?Your leadership purpose is who you are and what makes you distinctive,? note Craig and Snook. ?Whether you?re an entrepreneur at a start-up or the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, your purpose is your brand, what you?re driven to achieve, the magic that makes you tick.?
It?s not what you do, but how you do your job and why?the strengths and passions you bring to the table, no matter where you?re seated. While you may express your purpose in different ways and contexts, it?s what everyone close to you recognizes as uniquely you.
At its core, leadership purpose springs from your identity: the essence of who you are. Purpose is not a list of the education, experience and skills you?ve gathered in life. It?s definitely not some jargon-filled slogan.
Purpose should be specific and personal, resonating with you, and you alone. It doesn?t have to be aspirational, cause-based or who you think you should be. It?s who you can?t help being.
Find Your Purpose
Finding your leadership purpose is not easy. If it were, we?d all know exactly why we?re here and be living it every minute of every day.
You can begin to find your purpose by:

  1. 1. Developing Your Stories. Mine your life story for common threads and major themes. Your goal is to identify your core strengths, values and passions?the pursuits that energize you and bring you joy. The following prompts may prove helpful:
  • ? What did you especially love to do when you were a child, before the world told you what you should or shouldn?t like or do? Describe how a key moment made you feel.
  • ? Identify two of your most challenging life experiences. How have they shaped you?
  • ? What do you enjoy doing now that brings out the best in you?
  1. 2. Working with a Coach or Mentor. It?s almost impossible to identify your leadership purpose alone. You need help from people who act as mirrors. Retain the services of an experienced executive coach, or find a qualified mentor. You can also seek feedback from a small group of trustworthy peers.
  2. 3. Writing a statement of purpose. After completing the first two steps, take a shot at crafting a clear, concise and declarative statement of purpose: ?My leadership purpose is _______.? The words in your statement must be your own. Don?t pull buzzwords or clich?s from a business book or article. Your statement must capture your essence and call you to action.

 
As you review your stories, you?ll likely find a unifying thread. Pull it to uncover your purpose, and then begin to share it with others. Your payoff will be an increased comfort level as you articulate your purpose. You?ll build trust by creating the authenticity that followers seek in their leaders.
The Quest for Authenticity
The demand for authentic leadership has never been more evident. As hierarchies dissolve, only truly authentic leaders can fill the void. Power, trust and followership depend on leaders who know their purpose, express it in words and deeds, and help others find and implement their own raison d??tre.
We are beginning to realize that we need personal meaning and purpose to guide us. No corporation is going to provide it for us. We must also communicate our purpose more openly if anyone is going to follow us.
Without a clearly articulated purpose, meaning is elusive. People may know what?s expected of them, but they may not recognize why they should care. Leaders who know themselves and what truly matters express authenticity and inspire others to follow suit. Authentic leadership has become the most prized organizational and individual asset.
While these truths may seem evident, little training and development are devoted to helping leaders discover their sense of purpose. Instead, leadership training encourages conformists or role players with an impoverished sense of what really matters.
If leaders fail to express what they stand for, followers aren?t going to join them. Leadership can never be taught as something we do to people, but rather the way we interact with people. Leadership must always be viewed as a relationship between leader and follower.
As Goffee and Jones state: ?Effective leaders have an overarching sense of purpose together with sufficient self-knowledge of their potential leadership assets. They don?t know it all, but they know enough.?
Unique Leadership Qualities
While theories abound about good leaders? characteristics and traits, our search for the right qualities may be all wrong. There may not be any universal leadership characteristics. What works for one person may not work for another.
Instead, we need to pinpoint each aspiring leader?s distinctive assets and effectively mobilize them. What?s special about each leader? How can individual strengths be deployed as powerful leadership skills?
Three Leadership Axioms
Goffee identifies three fundamental axioms about leadership:

  1. 1. Situational. What?s required of leaders will always be influenced by the situation. An effective leader observes and understands existing situations, a skill called situation sensing. Great leaders excel at this. They?re in tune with what?s going on beneath the surface, adapting and selecting their skills to form the most effective response. At times, they may choose to conform; in other situations, they?re unafraid to risk being different. They deploy their best personal assets according to context. Not only do they reframe situations; they influence and reshape them to benefit the organization and the people they lead.
  2. 2. Nonhierarchical. Authority alone is neither a necessary nor sufficient condition for exercising leadership and driving performance. Effective leaders exist at all levels, and successful organizations seek to build leadership capability widely.
  3. 3. Relational. Leadership is always a social construct created by relationships. You cannot lead without followers. Followers, in turn, want their leaders to express feelings of excitement, meaning and personal significance; they want to be part of something bigger. That?s why we seek authenticity from our leaders. We need to be able to trust.

12 Vital Questions
Developing as a leader isn?t easy; there aren?t any secret recipes. In fact, all the leadership books, theories and volumes of material may confuse people who attempt to expand their leadership skills.
You?re better served by taking time to reflect on the following questions from Why Should Anyone Be Led by You?:

    1. 1. Which personal differences form the basis of your leadership capability?
    2. 2. Which personal values and vision do you hold for those you aspire to lead?
    3. 3. Which personal weaknesses do you reveal to those you lead?
    4. 4. In which ways do you develop authentic relationships with those you lead?
    5. 5. How well are you able to read different contexts?
    6. 6. When influencing others, do you conform enough?
    7. 7. When influencing others, do you differentiate yourself enough?
    8. 8. Do you know when to hold back and when to connect with others on common ground?
    9. 9. How well do you manage social distance?
    10. 10. How well do you express tough empathy, offering people what they need rather than what they want?
    11. 11. How well do you communicate your personal differences, your weaknesses, your values and vision?
    12. 12. Do you consistently express authenticity across different roles, situations and audiences?

Toxic Leadership

A New Look at Solutions

Much has been written about toxic leaders with psychopathic traits and narcissistic personality disorders. Bad leaders leave a trail of diminishing returns, ruined reputations, failed products, employee litigation and disheartened staffs.
But applying labels doesn’t solve any problems. Leadership is relationship-driven, and organizational toxicity involves all levels – from followers to executive boards. Chopping off the rotting head won’t do the trick when the entire organizational system has been infected.
Companies that replace one dysfunctional leader with another often run through a series of CEOs in an attempt to find the right savior. They’re effectively changing seats on the Titanic.

Signs of Toxicity

There is no precise definition of toxic behavior. Most people recognize it as displays of arrogance, selfishness, manipulation, bullying, callousness and control. Toxic bosses may be smooth and polished with people they need, but disrespectful and harsh with subordinates.
Many toxic bosses achieve spectacular results and wind up in the limelight, so their transgressions are forgiven or tolerated. They use their ability to manipulate people to further their own careers, no matter the cost to the organization or its people.
In the short term, they act like heroes and create loyal followers who produce great results. In the long term, they create enemies, bend rules, and push the limits of ethics and relationships.When business results are positive, toxic behaviors may go unchecked. But when the bottom line takes a dip, CEOs lose their patience.

Resisting External Help

Unfortunately, companies often call in coaches or consultants only after reluctantly acknowledging the scope of their problems.
Even when they do ask for help, many CEOS have already chosen a culprit, and they try to dictate their agenda. When entrenched in defensive behaviors, leaders often resist attempts to change established patterns of negative organizational behavior.
Experienced coaches and consultants anticipate and push through this resistance. They are usually adept at evaluating toxic dynamics and preparing an honest, accurate evaluation.

Toxicity Prevention Plan

Perhaps what’s needed is a counterintuitive approach. Instead of viewing toxic leaders as liabilities, think of them as potential assets, innovators and rebels, urges management professor Alan Goldman in Transforming Toxic Leaders (Stanford University Press, 2009).
Working on the premise that “toxicity is a fact of company life,” Goldman offers 10 ways to prepare for its impact:

  1. Take a proactive, preventive approach to detecting and handling dysfunctional behaviors. Articulate strategies for identifying problems throughout the company.
  2. Find innovative ways to solve identified toxicity problems.
  3. Engage external consultants and coaches as helping partners, when necessary.
  4. Provide leadership and employees with emotional-intelligence training, which will improve relationships and toxin detection/management skills.
  5. Provide negotiation and conflict-resolution training for management and HR leaders.
  6. Develop organizational protocols for preventing, assessing and treating toxic behaviors. (Hiring an outside management consultant may be warranted.)
  7. Designate managers or HR leaders to function as toxin detectors and handlers. Companywide training in toxicity and counterproductive behavior is appropriate.
  8. Review your organization’s and leaders’ orientation toward workplace problems. How do you handle personnel and relationship conflicts? Toxin detection?
  9. Review your current grievance, mediation, arbitration and/or ombudsperson policies to determine compatibility with, and support of, other toxin-related initiatives.
  10. Use 360-degree feedback for early detection of interpersonal problems and dysfunctional behaviors.

Readiness for Change

Sometimes a situation has to deteriorate before people shout “Enough!” By the time HR, the executive board, the senior team and employees start using the “toxic” label, conflicts likely abound.
If top leaders or managers disagree about solutions, organizations may postpone making decisions and allow toxic behavior to continue. When the people at the top engage in power struggles, the consequences reverberate throughout the company: profit dips, layoffs, increased absenteeism and turnover, poor performance and abysmal customer service.
But fear and urgency are often good motivators, prompting leaders to face facts and do something. As Goldman notes, “Any transformation begins with a change in thinking and vocabulary.”
When coaches or consultants interview personnel about what’s wrong, they’ll listen for roadblocks and obstacles to readiness. They want to determine:

  • Where are the openings for change?
  • In which areas can there be a shift from negative to positive?
  • In spite of everything that’s wrong, where are the successes?

The coach or consultant will identify potential areas for success, shifting everyone’s language and thinking from deficits to opportunities.

Toxicity Correction Plan

Start with the following steps for lowering your organization’s toxicity levels:

  1. People must believe that change is possible and a realistic goal.
  2. Everyone must accept personal accountability and abandon the use of labels and finger-pointing. Employees at all levels should identify their role in a given problem and find ways to help instead of hinder.
  3. Everyone must agree to limit the use of negative language and focus instead on the organization’s overarching vision and goals. Consider training in positive leadership and the language of appreciation.
  4. Key parties must attend coaching sessions to improve their interpersonal relationships process and eliminate toxic stories. Coaches can help them identify their strengths and develop coping skills that address their deficits.
  5. Make training in emotional and social intelligence available throughout the organization.
  6. Prioritize social and emotional intelligence in frequent performance reviews.
  7. Consider recognizing small wins in project management to encourage appreciative communication.
  8. Hire or designate toxin detectors and handlers who are trained in early detection of dysfunctional behaviors. Establish a program for early intervention.
  9. Senior teams and executive boards should be charged with finding innovative solutions to their personal leadership deficits (i.e., appointing dual leaders for some positions, implementing collaborative leadership policies).
  10. Leaders should be encouraged to identify an expanded vision for the future – one that inspires people to work collaboratively.

Plan Your Life

“If you don’t design your own life plan, chances are you’ll fall into someone else’s plan. And guess what they have planned for you? Not much.”
– Business philosopher Jim Rohn

“Life is what happens to you when you’re making other plans,”according to John Lennon’s lyrics for “Beautiful Boy.”If you’re not the one to map out your life, someone else will.
Of course, you can listen to Woody Allen, who famously said: “Half of life is just showing up.”Per this philosophy, you get ahead simply by being present – a concept that certainly relieves a lot of pressure. It allows you to live in the moment, responding to what is rather than trying to shape your life. It also requires a hefty dose of passivity and abandonment of future possibilities. (Let it be, to quote Mr. Lennon again.)
But most of us want to influence the path our life takes to ensure we have enough freedom to express our strengths and talents. We want to control our own destiny when planning for our careers, partnerships and families.
Experts generally agree that you cannot achieve your goals without a plan or road map. Given the unpredictability of love, work and the lottery, exactly how much of your life can you plan?
What does a life plan look like?
A Google search yields millions of results. Myriad life-planning experts and coaches are advertising their services. But let’s simplify things and use a classic planning model you’ll likely recognize. It’s frequently used in business organizations and can easily be adapted for personal use.
One caveat before we start: Just because the plan is simply stated doesn’t imply it’s easy to implement. You must invest several hours of thought, and it may prove beneficial to discuss your ideas with a trusted mentor, coach, friends and family.

  1. Identify your purpose (mission statement). Describes your life’s focus. If you’re young and just entering adulthood, this step may be challenging. Imagine you’re approaching the end of your life, and figure out what you’d tell people about a life well lived. Your statement should reference your values and explore how you intend to spend your time at work, at home and in leisure pursuits. Outline the needs you intend to meet (community involvement is sometimes mentioned). Recognize that your mission statement will change over the years.
  2. Establish a vision statement. Describes your life at various points in the future.
  3. State the goals you must reach to achieve your vision. Goals are general statements that (a) define what you need to accomplish and (b) cover major issues. Your vision and goals may be mid-range (for example, 3-5 years into the future). Break them down into short-term steps, as well.
  4. Identify strategies you must implement to reach each goal. Your specific approaches will change as you engage in more robust strategic thinking – particularly as you closely examine external and internal environments.
  5. Identify strategic action plans or goal objectives. State the specific activities or objectives you must undertake to effectively implement each strategy or achieve each goal. Use clear language so you can assess whether objectives have been met.
  6. Compile the mission, vision, strategies and action plans into a Life Plan document.
  7. Monitor implementation of the plan; update it, as needed. Regularly reflect on the extent to which goals are being met and whether action plans are being implemented. Use a spreadsheet or graph to monitor your progress, adjust your plan and remain challenged.

If you haven’t already mapped out your life plan, take the first step now. Start with the foundation: your values, purpose and life’s focus. List all of the realistic ways to achieve your ideal life. Break down these steps into short-term goals, and make an action plan.
Write down your goals and action steps, and convert them into graph form so you can track your progress. Share your Life Plan with the important people in your life. Anticipate obstacles, and make adjustments. Never give up, even if you run into formidable obstacles.
Of course, changing circumstances and desires mean any life plan will need to be amended over time. The goals you have in your 20s are considerably different from those in your 40s – and vastly different from those later in life.
Don’t let life just happen to you. Shape it into your ideal version – and have a nice life!

Mentoring Vs. Coaching

At its most basic level, mentoring is the simple act of helping someone learn. But the relationship between the helper and ‘helpee’ changes significantly when performed as a learning partnership. Today’s competitive organizations need ‘learning entrepreneurs’, whose curiosity is valued over conformity.

“Mentoring magic cannot be a solo performance. It is not a one-way, master-to-novice transaction. To be effective and lasting, it must be accomplished through a two-way relationship – the synchronized efforts of two people.” ~ Chip R. Bell and Marshall Goldsmith, Managers as Mentors, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Third Edition, 2013

Words like ‘mentor’ and ‘coach‘ are sometimes used interchangeably, but there’s an important distinction:

  • Coaching is specifically aimed at nurturing and sustaining performance.
  • Mentoring focuses on learning; its primary outcome should be competence, proficiency, skill, know-how and/or wisdom.

Coaching is practiced by managers who are responsible for meeting performance goals and by executive coaches who are hired to boost personnel development. Mentoring can be practiced without the supervisory constraints imposed by the organizational hierarchy.
While coaching and mentoring are similar, this article will assume that a mentoring partnership:

  1. Exists between two people (usually one more experienced than the other)
  2. Is dedicated to promoting self-directed learning and development

What do we need to understand about mentoring, and how can this relationship be most helpful? How do you know when it’s the right time to find a mentor? What’s the best way to start a mentoring relationship?
In the work I do with clients, you’d be surprised at how many assumptions people make about mentoring. Because there are so many misconceptions about what goes on in mentoring and coaching, it makes sense to clarify expectations before any such relationship is started. In the end it doesn’t matter what you call it, but everyone should be clear on the intended outcomes.
Setting up a partnering relationship to improve performance goals is different from one designed to enhance learning and personal development qualities. Unless you, your boss, and your mentor or coach clarify desired outcomes, there may not be any.
In this series of blog posts about mentoring, I’m using the word mentoring for a relationship in which two people (one more experienced than the other) focus on learning what’s needed for improved competency, know-how, and wisdom within the context of the organization.
What’s been your experience working with a mentor or a coach? I’d love to hear from you.

The Magic of Mentoring

When people think of mentoring, they often associate it with an older executive who counsels a promising newbie. The senior leader advises the junior employee on his career, navigating office politics and what’s needed to get ahead. But mentoring has dramatically changed over the last few decades.

“Mentors focus on the qualities of wisdom and judgment. By sharing what they have learned from experience, they provide perspective. They tell us the unspoken rules and point out the imaginary lines one should not cross. They help us explore the consequences of our decisions.” ~ Shirley Peddy, The Art of Mentoring: Lead, Follow and Get Out of the Way, Bullion Books, 2001

Maybe you find yourself stuck in a career rut or itching to broaden your skills and take on new challenges. Perhaps you’re eyeing a higher-level management role or other professional advancement. If you wait for senior managers to notice you and “bring you along”, you’ll be disappointed with the wait – assuming a promotion ever happens.
Effective mentoring is essential for leadership development. Done right, it’s one of the most powerful tools for gaining wisdom, reaping the rewards of job growth and achieving a strong competitive advantage in today’s job marketplace. Successful leaders mentor, coach and partner with their employees instead of practicing command-and-control management. Top organizations are more adaptive, innovative and smart about bringing out the best in their people. Employees are always learning, and managers are always teaching.
That said, it’s up to you to cultivate a beneficial mentoring relationship – and to pursue it with rigor and commitment. Don’t wait for an official mentoring program opportunity. Seek out someone with the kind of leadership wisdom you admire, and ask them questions. Explore with them a possible mentoring relationship, one that might be mutually interesting. Then request a trial mentoring period so you both can evaluate the benefits.
In my work with high potential people [link], almost all benefit from a relationship with someone more skilled and experienced in their organizations. A good mentor can save you time and energy by pointing you in the right direction.
What’s been your experience with mentoring? I’d love to hear from you.

Leaders: How Fit Is Your Brain?

We’ve known for some time that leaders require higher levels of emotional intelligence as they pursue career advancement. There’s now accumulating evidence that cognitive fitness is becoming a focal area for high-achieving leaders.
Until recently, busy executives could find few guidelines for increasing mental fitness on the job. There are thousands of books about the brain’s function, but only a handful focus on how leaders can harness its powers in a business world that’s increasingly complex.
I think that’s the real challenge. At least that’s what I hear from the busy executives I coach. We now know a lot more about how the brain functions, and that we can keep it healthy and even strengthen it in the face of stress and crises. But how exactly do leaders become more mentally fit on-the-job?

Neuroscientists began to understand the brain’s intricacies after conducting imaging techniques in the 1990’s. But how can the concept of “brain fitness” be applied in real time, to real people, in real organizations? What types of brain exercises or mental push-ups can we do to stave off the loss of memory and analytic acuity that accompany stress and normal aging?
Socrates, Copernicus and Galileo continued to stretch their intellectual muscles well into their 60’s and 70’s. So have modern thought leaders like Alan Greenspan, Warren Buffet, and Sumner Redstone.
As more of us remain in the labor force past age 65, either by choice or necessity, what can we do to boost our brain power?

By the close of the 20th century, the brain had come to be envisaged as mutable across the whole of life, open to environmental influences, damaged by insults, and nourished and even reshaped by stimulation – in a word, plastic.
~ Sociologist Nikolas Rose and graduate student Joelle M. Abi-Rached, Neuro: The New Brain Sciences and the Management of the Mind (Princeton University Press, 2013)

It turns out that a lot of what we previously thought about the brain isn’t true. We’ve discovered, for example, that the brain continues to grow well into our later years through a process called “neuroplasticity.” It accommodates learning by producing new neurons, the cells that help transfer information.
With physical training, your body responds to demands by strengthening muscle groups. Similarly, the brain will expand (or not) depending on the challenges you tackle. That’s the good news.
The bad news? If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it. Unless, of course, you take measures to strength your brain fitness. And that’s what this series of posts is about: how leaders can improve their brain fitness.
Does this idea of brain fitness for leaders resonate with you? I’d love to hear from you.