Losing our bloody minds over bald leader bias

What is wrong with us?! Have we lost our bloody minds?

As leaders, we’ve worked long and hard to stamp out overt bias in the workplace. Then we fawn like star-struck finders of the holy leadership grail over a ridiculous Wharton School study revealing baldness to be a business advantage for males. Talk about replacing overt stereotypes with covert ones! Continue reading


7 questions for figuring out your tolerance for risk taking

While discussing the push/pull polarities of influence styles at a workshop on Power, Persuasion and Influence I facilitated for a group of Fortune 100 executive women, one woman shared a moving observation with the group:  while knowing which style of influence is best to use depending upon the situation is important, the real issue is one’s willingness to take the risk to influence, especially if the status quo is in question.

Her courageous workshop action item was to take that risk.  She said she owed doing so to her colleagues, the organization and herself.

What a powerful moment.

The person who risks nothing, does nothing, has nothing, is nothing, and becomes nothing. He may avoid suffering and sorrow, but he simply cannot learn and feel and change and grow and love and live. ~Leo F. Buscaglia

Sometimes the risk is being the square peg in the round hole, wearing kelly green when your colleagues are wearing charcoal grey, daring — albeit politely — to be the corporate contrarian, and/or dancing with the elephant in the room.  Risking your secure place in the corporate food chain by questioning new practices that run contrary to stated values is a high stake gamble.  Will you be rewarded, take a small hit or lose it all?

According to Julie J. McGowan, professor at Indiana University, “Risk taking is hard to adopt among leaders, because recognized leaders have the most to lose and aspiring leaders may be discounted as lacking in knowledge or common sense.”  Risk-taking can yield great rewards and possibilities for learning provided you’ve done your homework ahead of time.

7 questions for assessing your leadership readiness for risk taking

You must have high EQ, PQ (political quotient) and a thorough knowledge of your work culture to assess your tolerance for workplace risk-taking.  Consider:

  • Historically, how has your corporate culture reacted to those who challenged the status quo?  Are you prepared to accept possible negative outcomes?  Are you willing to see your credibility erode? Are you equipped to lose your job?
  • Is this an issue that’s important to you alone, or do others share similar concerns? Will others who think/feel/believe the same speak up after you’ve led the charge, or will your voice be the only one that’s speaking? Are you ready to forge ahead regardless?
  • Are you able to be the center of attention if your topic goes viral within the company?  Are you primed to be a role model and/or attacked?
  • Do you have solid solutions already in mind?  Are you disposed to collaborate with others and devise a solution that integrates the views of many?
  • Have you brainstormed possible unintended consequences, both positive and negative, of the stand you’re championing?
  • Are you OK, mentally and emotionally, with the possibility of failure?  Will your self-esteem survive the hit?  Can your ego resist the adulation of success?
  • Do you have the will to see it through? Do you have a support system that will nurture you throughout, regardless of the outcome?

Risk tolerance is extremely personal.  Only you can decide if high risk/high reward is your métier or if low risk/low reward represents the boundaries of your comfort zone.  Either way, be prepared, be thoughtful and do what’s right for you.




Is Your Workplace Hijacking Your Values?

Today’s guest post is by David Gebler, founder and president of the Skout Group, which fixes ailing organizations and improves corporate productivity, reputation, and success by focusing on value-based ethics and culture risk management. A sought-after speaker and panelist, he is author of The 3 Power Values: How Commitment, Integrity, and Transparency Clear the Roadblocks to Performance (Jossey-Bass, May 2012). You can contact David Gebler at : [email protected].

The majority of managers and employees are good people who believe they are balancing their values — such as honesty and responsibility — with what’s needed to get the job done. But this belief is often far from the truth.

While we would like to think that we control our decisions and actions, social norms and expectations significantly influence our behavior. Research shows that a person’s behavior isn’t a result of personality and character alone — our environment plays a big role, and this includes the workplace.

At work, we shape our reality to feel good about ourselves, even if our actions are less than honest. Most people engage in small dishonesty up to the point when they can no longer delude themselves. For example, we might not steal from the petty cash drawer, but we take some pens home. Managers may claim that a tough (and questionable) action was simply a “business” decision, not an “ethical” one. Or, to reach insurmountable sales goals, managers and employees may come up with the “perfect” solution: raising prices instead of production.

In a toxic corporate environment, your values can be hijacked one of three ways:

1. Self-deception: “I think it’s okay to do this.” Sometimes, we look at the world through rose-colored glasses: we see things as more positive or less risky than they actually are. When this rosy view helps us to avoid a sure loss, it can seem like a win‐win for everyone. In this context, actions and behavior that are less than savory seem okay, even when they truly are not.

2. Rationalization: “I know it’s wrong, but I have a good reason for doing it.” Under the pressure to meet short-term goals, bad decisions may look like great decisions — especially when people feel they don’t have a choice. For example, many people say “family” is their number-one value, and they will do whatever it takes to keep their families financially secure. If this means performing an unethical act, so be it. And if speaking up increases the chance that a person might lose their job, they’ll remain silent.

3. Disengagement: “I know there’s something wrong here, but it’s not my problem.” Disengaged employees can “fly under the radar” for a long time if they’re not involved in outright misconduct or overtly destructive behavior. Instead of taking ownership of problems and situations, they are leaving critical issues unresolved because they no longer care. As one manager once said: “Success and failure feel the same here. Why should I care?”

Do you see such signs of a toxic corporate culture at your company? If so, don’t dismiss them as normal employee behavior. When employee values erode, the results can be catastrophic for your business, ranging from lower productivity and profits, to ethical violations and workplace accidents.




3 incorrect notions about power

We’re guest posting over at the Lead Change Group blog today (a place where you’ll regularly find lots of good insights, especially into character-based leadership) so you’ll find this article there, too!

Like love, power is one of those words rarely uttered in the workplace.

And, when it is, those conversations happen in whispered tones, usually following a flagrant example of power gone wrong.

  • A CEO believing what leadership ethicist Terry Price defines as “something that’s wrong for others but OK for me.”
  • A newly promoted manager intoxicated with authority who bosses everyone about.
  • A quiet someone with a dissenting view who refrains from speaking up, believing they lack sufficient influence to affect outcomes.

Power gets a bad rap. It’s misunderstood or used improperly. Some say it corrupts. Others believe it to be evil and self-serving. Truth is, in and of itself, power is none of these things. It’s simply the neutral capacity to deploy resources to generate change and achieve results. It’s only in how one chooses to use, or not use, power that it becomes good or bad.

Looking back, no one ever taught me about power: what it was or how to use it effectively. No college class curriculum or leadership workshop addressed it. Bosses didn’t bring it up in performance reviews or staff meetings. As with many things that exist in the shadows, incorrect assumptions loom large.

3 incorrect notions about power

1) Because I am the boss, I am all powerful. It’s not quite true that absolute power corrupts absolutely. That only happens if you let it happen. Research shows that people who believe they have power become less compassionate, less connected, and see others as a means to an end. They view themselves as above the law and adopt an all wise mentality.

Rather than embrace such a kingly position, it’s best to remember that all work gets done by and through people, so staying connected and open to the input of others should remain high on a leader’s priority list. Resist the siren song of believing you’re above the law and better than others simply because you have a high responsibility, high authority position. Stay self-aware.

2) Because I’m not a boss, I don’t have any power. Au contraire! Just as one can be a leader even if one isn’t the leader, the same holds true for power. Power is readily available from a multitude of sources provided you have the courage and foresight to take it and use it.

You don’t have to sit in the corner office job or even supervise others to have power. Power can flow from your expertise, connections, access to information and strong interpersonal communication skills. Personal power is a state of mind in which you confidently believe in your own strength and competence. Character-based leaders walk the talk as defined by Rosabeth Moss Kanter when she writes “powerful leaders rely more on personal power than job title, or credentials, to mobilize their resources, inspire creativity, and instill confidence among subordinates.”

3) I don’t want power because it will corrupt me. Only if you let it. Formal and informal leaders influence others. Influence goes hand-in-hand with power (whether one wants to admit it or not). Shying away from any position or personal power leaves you powerless, without the ability to shape outcomes or make a positive difference.

“Power is required if one wants to get anything done in any large organization,” says Stanford University professor Jeffery Pfeffer. “Unfortunately, power doesn’t just fall into one’s lap: one will have to go after it and learn how to use it.” Positive use of personal power helps a business effectively realize its mission and goals.

Ready to get some positive power?!



5 Lessons for Leaders

Today’s guest post is from Mark Miller, co-author with Ken Blanchard of Great Leaders Grow: Becoming a Leader for Life.  Mark is vice president, training and development, for Chick-fil-A. During his career he has served in corporate communications, restaurant operations, quality and customer satisfaction, and numerous other leadership positions. For more information on the book please visit Great Leaders Grow.

Some of you are Tim Tebow fans and some of you are not – got it. Regardless of your feelings, let’s not miss the chance to learn something here about leadership. Here are a few things I’ve observed watching Tebow this season that may help you on your leadership journey.

Leadership matters.  Team sports require leadership. In the NFL, there is an expectation that the quarterback will provide that leadership. Business, ministry, government and academia are all team sports. If you are going to win, someone must lead. Tim provided leadership for the Broncos.

Passion matters. The intensity of the team is always a reflection of their leadership. If the leader is not passionate the team won’t be either. Tim gets this. This was a critical ingredient in six fourth quarter or overtime victories this season. How high is your passion for what you lead?

No style points on the scoreboard. Winning is the ultimate measuring stick in the NFL. Pretty or ugly, it doesn’t matter. Tim knew the goal was winning – not his QB rating. What does a win look like for your team? Is everyone on the same page?

Leadership is a platform for influence. When you and I lead well, our influence will grow. What we do with that influence matters. One of the things Tim does is host disabled young people to attend both home and away games. He says that it inspires him to see their courage and helps him keep the game in perspective. How will you steward your influence?

Skills still matter. Tim has a lot to learn as an NFL quarterback. His skills are not where they need to be. Heart, passion and drive are huge – but insufficient over the long haul without the skills. Tim knows that. That’s why he’s so excited about the off-season. He plans to grow before next year. What’s your plan to grow this year?

Tim Tebow is not perfect – as a football player or as a human being. However, I know he can teach me a lot about leadership. I look forward to learning from him for years to come.




Research: Women in Business & The Paradox of Power


Researchers Also Detail What Corporations Must Do To Be Part of The Solution

A new paper, WOMEN AND THE PARADOX OF POWER, based on research by Jane Perdue of Braithwaite Innovation Group and Dr. Anne Perschel of Germane Consulting, reports that corporations are leaving money on the table and forgoing future success by failing to move more women into senior leadership roles. Perschel and Perdue also claim that businesswomen must prepare themselves to take on these executive roles by understanding and using power more effectively.

In their study, which involved hundreds of senior level businesswomen, Perdue and Perschel find that many women relate to power in ways that prevent them from attaining senior level positions, be it lack of confidence; cultural conditioning; or simply not understanding what power is. In-depth interviews with women who have attained the highest-level positions of influence reveal that they understood and used different approaches to gain power and make important changes to business culture and leadership practices.

Reshaping a male-dominated business culture, changing the ratio of women to men, and thereby improving bottom line results, requires a very specific set of actions by those currently in leadership positions as well as by women themselves.

What Women Must Do

Know power and be powerful: Perdue and Perschel define power as the capacity to get things done and bring about change. Not so for many of the research participants who think of power as “being in control at all times,” or “deciding and announcing,” among other misconceptions. Sixty-one percent of survey participants hold mistaken views about how to advance their power (and themselves). The authors emphasize that women must study power, understand power, and use their power to change the culture of business.

Ditch Cinderella: Over sixty percent of the participants preferred passive approaches to gaining power, opting to be granted access, rather than actively taking it. Unlike Cinderella, women cannot passively wait on the business sidelines, hoping business culture will change and hand them the most powerful decision making positions. Instead, they must seek power, advancing both the change agenda and their careers. As one executive vice-president who heads a $300 million dollar business advised, “The success police will not come and find you.”

Show up. Stand Up. Voice Up: Fifty-two percent of the barriers to power that participants identified are personal and internal, e.g., “what I need is a constant drip-feed of confidence.” With women comprising nearly forty-seven percent of the entire workforce, holding forty percent of all management jobs, and earning sixty-one percent of all master’s degrees, they are uniquely positioned to work towards dismantling legacy organizational barriers and stereotypes.

Forge strategic connections: Relationships are the currency of the workplace, yet sixty-seven percent of the women in Braithwaite & Germane’s study are not taking charge of building their networks. To fill more than the three percent of the Fortune 500 CEO positions they currently hold, women must become masters of strategic networking as well as building alliances and coalitions.

Unstick their thinking: Thirty-eight percent of participants opted for being well-liked rather than powerful. Perschel and Perdue contend this need not be a choice. Based on research conducted at Stanford University, women are uniquely capable of moving beyond such an either/or mindset. Leaders, both male and female, too often limit solutions by framing problems as a choice between two mutually exclusive options.

What Corporations Must Do

Make gender balance real: Having more women in senior leadership roles is correlated with a substantial increase in total return to shareholders, which is a performance metric for most CEOs. Why, then, do so many heads of companies fail to hire, develop, and promote women for clout positions on senior leadership teams? Executives at the highest levels must move beyond positioning gender balance as politically correct and giving it perfunctory lip service on the corporate agenda. If they are serious about gender balance, they must position it as a business imperative.

Remake leadership: Despite decades of efforts to increase the number of women in senior leadership roles, the needle on this corporate metric has barely moved. Gender bias is prevalent in the very way leadership is defined – a take charge, have all the answers, aggressive style. Corporate leaders must change both the definitions and practices of leadership. Women will help them do so.

Walk the talk. Develop women leaders: Seventy-one percent of firms responding to a survey conducted by Mercer, the world’s largest human resource consultancy, do not have a clearly defined strategy or philosophy to develop women for leadership roles. As some of the approaches that work for men do not work as well for women, corporate leaders must invest in modifying these programs to develop women and then follow up with promotional opportunities.

About the authors. Jane Perdue is the Principal of Braithwaite Innovation Group, a female-owned professional development organization, and the creator of the new Women’s Leadership Institute for the Charleston, S.C. Center for Women. Dr. Perschel is known as “an unstoppable force advancing women leaders.” She is president of Germane Consulting – an executive coaching and organization development consultancy. Both have been featured as leadership and women’s issues experts in newspapers and magazines, as well as on television and radio.

Utilizing their research and relative corporate experience, Perschel and Perdue lead and advance aspiring professional women through mentoring, sponsorships, coaching, and development programs. By identifying key obstacles such as those uncovered in WOMEN AND THE PARADOX OF POWER, they help women and organization leaders identify the issues they must resolve to ensure cultural change and enable women to reach the highest pinnacles of success.



6 ways to get your leadership big on

The team at BIG isn’t big on new year’s resolutions. They’re gone faster than the time it takes for us to munch our way through a bag of gumdrops. We are big, however, on commitment. Commitment to personal improvement, ongoing learning, exploring, making a positive difference that lasts, and developing others. Why? Because when people feel confident, involved and valued…magic happens.

People build connections, character and confidence to lead BIG. They learn, take risks and work BIG. They inspire themselves as well as others to grow wings and embrace possibilities beyond what they thought or dreamed possible. They give back, believe in themselves and live BIG.

This kind of BIG has nothing to do with size and everything to do with heart…with meaning…with caring…with thinking more about we and less about me. 

Daniel Maher said “confidence is courage with ease.” Achieving this level of personal grace requires getting your BIG on. That means:

  • Understanding your strengths and knowing how to use that knowledge for leading, guiding, teaching and encouraging others
  • Knowing that the small things do make a BIG difference, so don’t be afraid to start small. The important thing is getting started
  • Recognizing that you may be holding yourself back from BIG things because you’re thinking small. Don’t be afraid to take the BIG leap forward toward your dreams - jump and grow your wings on the way up

Audrey Hepburn once said that “the best thing to hold onto in life is each other.” To help others get their big on,

  • Let them know that it’s OK to fail, but it’s not OK to hold back from trying because they’re afraid of failing.  That’s a lot like spending your life in a rocking chair. The ride may be comforting but you won’t get very far
  • Agree to be their accountability partner. Meet up periodically to learn what they’ve done, then encourage them to keep going
  • Help them embrace and practice the polarities of life: things like being both confident and humble or focused on both task and relationship

Grab some big, bold, brave thinking and start living your best life, full of confidence and courage…and help others do the same.

Here’s to you!



Women: 3 ways to master the positive power of speaking up

As a woman in business, have you heard yourself saying these things?

“I just hate it when an interviewer asks me to tell them about what I’ve done. It makes me so uncomfortable to talk about myself.”

“I couldn’t possibly put that on my resume. It’s bragging.”

“I know my work is better than several of my colleagues, but ask for a raise – no way!”

A University of Arizona study showed that both men and women speak an average of 16,000 words a day. Yet getting most women to use some of those daily words to talk about their accomplishments and abilities is, well, darn near impossible. Linda Babcock, professor of economics at Carnegie Mellon, observes “I saw women accept the status quo, take what they were offered and wait for someone else to decide what they deserved because…as a society, we teach little girls that it’s not nice or feminine or appropriate for them to focus on what they want and pursue self-interest.”

Learned behaviors can be unlearned, relearned and applied in positive ways. As part of their Centennial Women in Leadership Series, Ashley Hall (an all-female educational institution in Charleston, SC) presented a panel discussion on women’s compensation in which I participated. Emily Hollings, a 2005 Ashley Hall graduate was in the audience. Moved by the messages shared that evening, she took a hard look at her professional situation, prepared her case, asked for a raise – and received it!

Emily offers this advice to women in similar circumstances, “I can relate to those polite, modest girls, especially when it comes to money, but it’s important to realize and to keep telling yourself it’s not rude to ask for more and to play up your strengths. Be relentless about your strengths because that’s the ultimate factor in getting your raise.”

Making your voice heard is learning how to be your own tactful and professional PR firm. Clay Shirky, an associate professor at New York University, observes, “Self-promotion is a skill that produces disproportionate rewards, and if skill at self-promotion remains disproportionately male, those rewards will as well.” Remember, we’re talking assertiveness here – clear, direct, calm, truthful and thoughtful discourse – not aggressiveness or arrogance.

Amp up your personal courage and learn a few techniques to make your voice heard:

  • Say you’re sorry when you truly have something to apologize for instead of making statements like “I’m so sorry to take up your valuable time with this” or “please forgive me for having to bother you with this.” Instead be direct and say “Let’s schedule some time to talk” or “There’s an issue we must discuss.”
  • Lose the wimpy words that weaken your message and/or diminish your authority, e.g. saying things like “I think I have a question” or “hopefully I’ll be able to get the job done.” Demonstrate your confidence in your abilities by simply declaring “I have a question” or “I can get this job completed, and completed well!”
  • Make a list of your accomplishments: every successful project you’ve handled at work, praise your boss has given you, awards and recognition, processes you’ve improved, money that you’ve made for the company, promotions, etc. This list isn’t bragging. It is simply facts – facts about your performance that you must be comfortable discussing in job interviews, at work and while networking. A key element of many jobs is promoting the organization. If you can’t promote yourself, a prospective employer is right to doubt your abilities to promote them.

Jill Muti, Head of School at Ashley Hall, sums it up best, “When a woman enters the workforce today, it’s imperative that she be confident and capable of advocating for herself.”

What other advice would you offer?


3 ways to make sure compromise isn’t a 4-letter word

Gosh, I didn’t get the memo. Did you? You know, the one that says compromise isn’t an acceptable option? I’ve always thought compromise is a natural part of life, love and leadership.

Somewhere along the line, it seems to me that compromise (defined by Merriam-Webster as a settlement of differences by consent reached through mutual concessions, one of those “playing well in the sandbox” skills my mom taught me) got confused with capitulation or collusion.  Today, compromise is portrayed as selling-out or being a weakling.

Life (and my mom!) taught me to know what’s illegal, immoral and unethical. Not compromising one’s values and beliefs there makes perfect sense, yet many of the situations we face every day don’t reach that status. Expecting to get one’s way all the time, on everything especially on things that aren’t illegal, immoral and/or illegal, is a recipe for gridlock and an unhappy life. Aren’t most things about give-and-take? Isn’t life richer that way?

So the next time you’re faced with a situation when you aren’t the sole decision-maker, and you feel your spine getting stiff and you attitude getting rigid, stop and reflect on what real compromise is.

Real compromise is…

Sharing in both the process and the result. Compromise isn’t about domination and/or submission. It’s about an informed and intentional process in which two parties put everything on the table, have a frank dialogue, and jointly discover and/or create a solution that serves the best interests of both.

He who knows when he can fight and when he cannot will be victorious. ~Sun Tzu

Being flexible on what’s a “must have” versus what’s nice to have. I once had an employee who went to the mat on using Times New Roman font in a training manual when the rest of the project team preferred Arial!  Being willing to collaborate with others, to play in their sandbox and they in yours, usually results in a richer outcome than one could have produced on their own. Plus there’s an added benefit of broadening your horizons based on learning from others.

Every human benefit and enjoyment, every virtue and every prudent act, is founded on compromise and barter. ~Edmund Burke

Willingness to think in broader terms of “we” and “others” rather than  just “me” or “I.” Most of us bring distinct ideas of how we want things to be. Yet it’s important to be able to distinguish between “mission critical” components where’s little to no wiggle room and those items on which there’s space to flex.

A project manager who is willing step back from the team and allow others to add their ideas, as well as their labor, to make the project come along may sacrifice her own pet ideas for the good of the whole. That is compromise of the highest order. And it is also known by another name – leadership. ~CIO Magazine

What say you?


Klout - An Absence of Heart

I Am Not A Number by Michael Tompsett

We’re a nation, a world, in love with numbers. If it can’t be measured, the pundits say, it’s not worthwhile.

So, I have to give props to Klout for its sheer genius in playing into this love of numbers and formulating its influence scoring system. How cool, there’s now a way to quantify online influence, folks exclaimed as they raced to use klout scores for event invitations, advertising, social media ROI, job searches (hello?!), prestige and self-esteem.

People forgot (overlooked?) the fact that a klout score is an arbitrary one-dimensional number seeking to quantify something that’s qualitative.

I left corporate America because of the prevailing mindset that one is only as good as their last set of numbers. Not everything can be reduced to a single totally informative metric. Some matters of the heart, the intuition, or the gut just can’t be quantified.

To those who are unnerved by the reformulated klout algorithms, please repeat after me: I am not a number.

I am not a number.

I won’t let a number determine my circle of contacts.

Like this over-the-top and frankly heartless advice on how to improve one’s klout score: “Make sure you’re engaging with people who have a relatively good to a higher Klout score,” says Klout expert Amy Schmittauer. “When you engage with people who have like no Klout or a really low score it’s reflects poorly on you. Even spam bots have a score of 25 or something, it’s crazy.”

Let it “reflect poorly” on your klout score to share with an up-and-comer, engage with someone who’s lonely and has few online connections, and to show some heart to those in need. It’s good for you and for them. The last I checked, there wasn’t much soul in an algorithm.

I am not a number.