Baby Boom Leadership Gap

Identifying and cultivating key talent, employees with high potential or “rising stars” as tomorrow’s leaders will be important to fill the management void created by retiring baby boomers. Successful companies offer development opportunities, career goal planning and resources (training, compensation, coaching, recognition, etc.) to these employees.

It’s smart business to invest in top performers and rising stars. They are typically responsible for generating a significant percentage of a company’s innovation, improvement and bottom-line results. Bill Gates once said, “Take our twenty best people away from us, and I can tell you that Microsoft would be an unimportant company.”

Today’s managers require special skills and competencies to be effective. In a recent survey by the Center for Creative Leadership, more than 97 percent of senior leaders identified the ability to collaborate as essential to future leadership success. Yet many managers lack this key skill. Only 30 percent of respondents in the same survey believed leaders in their organization are skilled in collaboration.

Why the gap? The times have changed. Employees are under pressure to do more with less and working in environments of continual change.

Effective leadership today requires more than technical skills, expertise and solid work ethics. Collaboration (versus the old-school style of authoritative management) is essential for effective management of today’s cross-functional operating groups and teams.

Top performers and employees with high potential have high expectations: They want to be heard, have influence, receive constructive feedback and be engaged in meaningful work. They are generally intolerant of what they believe to be unreasonable or ineffective company policies, processes and leadership.

Stars expect companies to support and provide opportunities for their growth and development.

“If you don’t make an effort to provide an environment in which this generation can do their best, they’re going to find one where they can,” said Dan Black, Ernst & Young’s director of campus recruitment.

Companies concerned about creating that environment need a talent management program to identify, support and develop their current and rising stars. Most talent management programs include the following steps:

  • Defining the core business and/or position competencies that are required to meet current and future business objectives. These typically include (but are not limited to):

Emotional intelligence. People who can handle stress and conflict well, understand their impact (self-awareness), manage their emotional reactivity and have strong interpersonal and communication skills.

Leadership/team skills. The ability to collaborate, motivate and inspire others to achieve their potential while setting clear direction.

The “right stuff” or drive for excellence. Those who do their best every day. It’s about attitude — and, by the way, you can’t train a good attitude or initiative.

Adaptability. Being open to new ideas and change.

Vision. Being able to “see beyond the edge of the desk.” People with vision can effectively challenge and inspire others with “what could be” rather than accepting that “it’s always been done this way.”

Results-focused and innovative. These employees don’t get stuck in the muck of problems. They can find their way around obstacles and have excellent problem-solving skills and sound judgment.

  • Identifying employees who have both competencies and potential for future leadership positions.

Assessments and software programs are available to help evaluate employees’ suitability and skills for particular positions. Internal programs also can identify consistent or exceptional performers, and performance reviews can effectively measure core competencies.

  • Designing and executing programs to address career and employee development plans. Elements often include advanced education, skill and technical trainin, mentoring, and leadership development training and coaching.

Most senior managers recognize that new skills are required for leadership success in today’s workplaces. Investing in high potential and talented employees has never been more important. The best programs offer new job challenges and opportunities and actively involve employees in the creation of their own career plan.

The wisest business investment you can make is in yourself and your people’s leadership development.  I can help you identify, grow and develop your leaders. Call me:  360 682 5807 or email:

Develop Employees

Wise companies in today’s competitive marketplace invest in their most valuable asset — their people. Talent management and the looming shortage of qualified management personnel are hot topics. Most senior managers identify finding, developing and retaining high-performing employees as a key challenge and priority.

The most successful high-growth companies support and promote a culture of learning and development. High-performing employees understand they need to continuously improve to maximize job performance, grow into new roles and responsibilities, and move up the corporate ladder. They also understand their worth and often leave companies who fail to support their development and career path.

How can a company foster employee development? One way is by providing direction and a personalized development plan to support an employee’s career aspirations. These plans are commonly referred to as “employee development plans.” Their success hinges on effective sponsorship and resource support from the top down and whether or not the employee’s goals are aligned with the goals of the boss.

The best employee development plans include an assessment of the employee’s development needs (technical, managerial and interpersonal), specific performance goals for improvement, developmental strategies and a timeline for the manager and employee to assess progress.

Some best practices:

  • Assessment. Before embarking on an action plan, the employee and boss need to identify strengths, skill gaps or challenge areas. There are numerous tools to help assess management or other skill sets, including technical or emotional intelligence. One popular tool to find challenge areas is the 360-degree review, or “multirater” assessment, used to gather performance feedback from those who work closely with the employee (the boss, direct reports, customers and peers). The objective is to gather feedback from all around the employee (hence the 360 degree).
  • Establish employee “ownership.” Personal development ultimately depends on the employee’s commitment to the plan and goals. The boss’s role in the process is to help the employee design his or her plan, identify what specific educational and development needs or new task assignments they are willing to support and identify any “must dos.”
  • Identify the “non-negotiable” — those tasks or performance development activities required to keep one’s job. It astonishes me how many people who have been let go say they “never saw it coming.” As the boss, it is your responsibility to make clear any “must dos” (vs. “would be nice to develop”) as well as “cannot happen” (vs. “maybe not the best idea”). Be clear and straightforward.
  • Provide clarity. The best plans include clear goals and establish what success looks like.
  • Utilize “SMART” goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound. Too often, managers identify very general goals such as “improve writing skills.” Instead, specify the criteria for measuring accomplishment of the goals (i.e., “Improve analytical accuracy to include zero mathematical errors in the management quarterly result report effective first quarter 2008.”) Equally important: plans need to include specific actions and development activities (like taking on new task assignments or educational/training activities) to achieve the goal.
  • Frequent feedback, support and follow-up. Identify what the company is willing to provide in support of development (i.e., training, coaching, mentoring and tuition reimbursement). Empower the employee to identify new assignments or activities that he or she finds motivating. Communicate your commitment to regular feedback and follow-up — and your expectation for follow-through on the employee’s part. Plans and forms are worthless if they stay buried in a drawer until next year’s review. Best intentions don’t produce change. CNN reporter Anderson Cooper wisely said covering Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, “Hope isn’t a plan.”

One of the most rewarding aspects of leadership is helping others achieve their potential. When properly leveraged and managed, the employee development tool can be a highly effective and strategic advantage in attracting, retaining and developing valuable talent and resources.

I can help you grow your people with my executive coaching services (and I have clients all over the world with Skype).  Call me:  360 682 5807 or email:


Onboarding New Hires

IT’S IMPORTANT FOR bosses to get off on the right foot with any new hire. When an employee’s orientation and training for a new job are done well, it can lead to improved employee job satisfaction, morale, performance and retention.

Hiring someone is the first step, but it’s what a boss does from that point forward that matters.

I cringe when I hear stories of new hires who arrive on their first day only to find their new boss and workplaces totally unprepared for them. For example, a receptionist looking perplexed at the new arrival, saying, “No one told me you were coming.” As a result, the new person’s first impression can range from, “I’m not important,” to, “Uh oh, this company doesn’t have its act together.” These initial judgments can turn into self-fulfilling prophecies, which most companies can’t afford with new talent.

Here are a few tips to help you get off on the right foot with a new hire.

Communicate. Send out an advance e-mail notice informing staff of the new hire’s arrival date and the requested “to do” actions. These include typical detail items such as setting up the new hire’s workplace station (computers, phones, etc.) and laying out expectations for communication. Offer some background information about the new hire so staff will be better prepared to offer a sincere, “Welcome, we’re glad you’re here.” The hiring manager should personally escort and enthusiastically introduce the new person to staff.

Coach’s tip: An intranet photo board listing names and positions can help new employees understand how the organization is structured and learn all those new faces.

Provide all new employees with a company orientation covering your unique workplace HR policies and procedures. Consider creating an FAQ, or “frequently asked questions,” intranet Web page as a resource. Include details such as casual Fridays. (You don’t want the new person embarrassed having shown up in a suit on a casual Friday.) Orientation should address employee basics, such as insurance and holidays. There are Web-based options available to provide a “hub” for accessing, navigating and completing required paperwork. Standardizing this can facilitate a smoother entry process.

Plan. Bosses and key staff should set aside designated time to sit with the new hire during the first week to answer questions and explain processes. Bosses particularly need to be available to support the new hire — avoid scheduling vacations or outside office commitments.

Train. New employee training should be provided by someone with the necessary people, training and specific job knowledge/experience to train effectively. I hear too many tales from frustrated employees who never received adequate training (and who inevitably don’t meet their employer’s expectations). The best trainers adapt to people’s preferred learning styles. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to learning. Some people learn best by doing (driving rather than hearing someone describe the process or reading it in a manual). Simply throwing a new hire a thick employee handbook rarely works.

Coach’s tip: Don’t let your naysayers or company downers conduct new employee training. The last thing you want is your new employee getting brainwashed by a disgruntled or unhappy staff member.

Keep it simple in the beginning. Flooding new employees with minute details or noncritical paperwork is a common mistake. Focus and explain the “big picture.” Remember, for a new hire, everything is new and overwhelming. Try to keep the first day more personal than paperwork or process driven. You want it to be a positive experience. Like the first day at school, it leaves a lasting impression.

Keep checking in often. Take him or her out to lunch the first day. Use this time to get to know the new employee better and ask how things are going. Encourage the employee to bounce questions, concerns and observations off you, and listen carefully. A simple, “How are you feeling?” can shed light on how you should proceed.

Don’t kid yourself thinking the “sink or swim” approach for a new hire will work. Be realistic with your expectations around how quickly he or she should be assimilating information, processes and procedures. Learning takes time and repetition. One standard rule of thumb — don’t expect a new hire to be fully functioning in a new role until at least three to six months.

Be specific describing responsibilities. Communicating clear expectations around behavior and tasks is important for any successful boss/employee relationship.

Have a discussion about preferred communication styles; yours as the boss and theirs. For example, are you OK with yelling over the cubicle wall or do you want them to schedule an appointment? Should they address issues as they come up or in regular one-on-one meetings? Do you prefer text, e-mail or IM-ing, and what level of detail do you desire? How will you work out differences?

Bosses should do everything in their power to set an expectation for open communication. The wisest bosses assure new people that their mistakes will be viewed as “learning opportunities.”

Hire me as a coach to help you with identify, leverage and growing your most important resource -your people!  Phone me: 360 682 5807 or email:  I coach clients all over the world with Skype!


Great Leaders Coach

While most managers have the skills required to “get work done,” many lack the skills required to effectively coach others. But increasingly, managers are being asked to use coaching as a preferred management style and, as a result, are being required to develop entirely new skill sets.

Learning coaching skills is a process — it requires role-modeling, training, practice and feedback. It often involves “unlearning” old methods and styles that are no longer effective in today’s workplace.

In trying to define what makes a great coach, think about the last time someone coached (or helped) you to achieve something important to you. What did he or she do that helped? Most people might list qualities such as the following:

  • Listening well.
  • Believing in me.
  • Providing feedback to help me improve my skills.
  • Being willing to show me the way.
  • Giving me a new task or responsibility that was a learning opportunity.

The list is always long as there are many components of effective coaching. That’s because coaching is an art — a balance between the softer relationship skills (empathy, caring, listening and interpersonal competence) and business skills (process expertise, setting clear expectations, giving direction and offering constructive feedback).

Here are a few of the traits and skills of great leaders with coaching skills:

The ability to build genuine trust, respect and rapport. This is the foundation for coaching success — it’s what fuels the coaching partnership. Employees who distrust or are uncomfortable with their coach find it easy to dismiss the coach’s message. Effective coaches convey sincere interest and concern for workers’ well-being and growth. They are credible; their audio matches their video; and they demonstrate integrity and personal respect.

They are active listeners (versus passive observers). The leader-as-coach is in tune with the person’s story, intentions and feelings (the emotions behind the words). If you have ever had someone listen to truly understand you, you have no doubt experienced the difference. This interaction can be truly profound and inspirational.

They demonstrate genuine empathy. While not everyone is naturally empathetic, empathy is a skill that can be developed. Empathy means trying to understand how an experience affects the other person — what it’s like to walk in their shoes. An important distinction: Empathy is not agreement; it’s understanding and acknowledging the feelings and experience of the other.

They have personal authority and credibility. Great coaches are adept at challenging and suggesting or demonstrating new behaviors. Their personal authority, confidence and competence allows them to challenge, reward success in a meaningful way and treat errors as learning opportunities while employees learn new skills.

The best leader/coaches establish clear direction and protection, and create a motivating environment. They are persistent regarding the need for follow-through on commitments.

They ask powerful questions. They encourage learning by asking questions to raise the employee’s awareness, level of performance and accountability. The questions are open-ended (i.e., those that cannot be answered with a simple yes or no).

This approach is very different from “telling” employees what to do or giving them the answers to their problems. Here are a few examples:

  • What resources are needed?
  • What obstacles might get in the way?
  • What has not been tried?
  • What will you commit to doing and when?

They set clear goals and expectations. Have you ever seen the words “Vince Lombardi” and “wishy-washy” in the same sentence (until now)? A key to effective coaching is the ability to clearly communicate goals, define specific action plans and foster ownership of or commitment to the attainment of these goals.

They are realists who can hold others accountable for activity, action and results. The SMART acronym is a useful guide for coaching — it defines setting goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound.

Coaching is an activity that always involves the question, “What’s the next step?” Great leaders with coaching skills hold people accountable for taking action and achieving results.

They provide clear, effective and challenging feedback. This coaching skill is so critical that it deserves its own column (see next week).

The challenge for many organizations is how to establish an effective program for managers to learn and master these skills. Most organizations require outside expertise to accomplish this.

Invest in yourself by hiring me as your coach! I can help you learn, develop and grow your leadership and coaching abilities.  I coach leaders all over the world via Skype.  Call me:  360 682 5807 or email:

Leadership is about skill, not talent

How did your boss get to be a great boss?

While some believe that leaders are “born, not made,” research shows that great leaders are, in fact, made. They gradually acquire effective leadership competencies throughout their careers through experience, training, mentoring and typically a lot of hard work.

Perhaps as important are the natural gifts, talents and traits that help a potential leader realize his or her leadership potential. Personal traits like integrity and character are more on the born, not made, side, as well as drive and cognitive/problem-solving ability. However, without experience, training and mentoring, personal traits are not enough. No one is born with a natural ability to effectively lead. Traits like business acumen, coaching/mentoring skills, persuasiveness and emotional intelligence are learned and developed, often over a lifetime.

So how did your great boss develop leadership competencies? Here are a few of the common characteristics we find in most successful leaders today.

They had great leadership role models. Most great bosses identified someone along the way whose skills and behaviors they wanted to emulate. They found or made opportunities to learn and grow from them, even changing jobs so they could work with a great boss (or leave a bad boss). These “great bosses” helped them see their potential greatness. They cared about and supported their development, providing focus, challenge and reinforcement.

They took on new and challenging job assignments. Research on thousands of top executives (by the Center for Creative Leadership) directly links leadership success to learning from critical on-the-job experiences. Most of us learn best by experience, rather than simply reading or hearing it taught in a course.

They learned from critical hardships and events. Experiences like turning around an organization in trouble or starting a new project, product or team from scratch are often instrumental in leadership development. Most successful leaders will tell you they learned the most from their greatest mistakes. Effective leaders set an expectation that mistakes will happen; what is important is how mistakes are resolved and what we can learn from them.

They are adaptable. Great bosses aren’t rigid. They got to be “great bosses” by being self-aware, reflecting on behavioral choices, learning from mistakes and modifying behaviors to positively impact relationships and organizational performance.

They encouraged feedback. The best bosses continually seek feedback and develop systems to make it safe for people to give it to them. When told what they are (or are not) doing well, they genuinely reflect and, as required, make behavioral changes.

They understand the value of continual learning. John F. Kennedy said, “Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.” To climb the corporate ladder in today’s dynamic workplace requires a commitment to continual learning. Great bosses actively encourage ongoing training and education in their organization and for themselves. They participate in and support higher education as well as recognize the value in specialized training in the “soft” leadership skills (i.e., personnel management, facilitation, conflict resolution and team leadership skills). They utilize the various tools and applicable theories and behaviors that translate to more effective leadership.

They have stayed connected — to themselves and to those they lead. Great leaders can stay connected to others even in conflict or difference (i.e., they have high emotional intelligence). They are authentic, true to themselves and models for what they believe in (and ask for from others). They are clear about their core values, avoid pretense and own their truth without blaming.

They have developed personal authority and integrity. These are the leaders that you will “go to the line” for without hesitation. For those of us lucky to have worked with one of them, we understand the value of their leadership is immeasurable.

The greatest waste of all is not to realize your full potential.

What to do?

  • Invest by hiring a coach (I can help!).
  • Expand your horizons (go back to school, go to a training or seminar).
  • Take on a new job assignment.
  • Ask your management, “What can I do?” as a step toward being the next great leader.

Leadership development is a continuous process, not a one-time event. It’s a lifelong journey.

Invest in yourself by hiring me as your coach! I can help you learn, develop and grow your leadership and coaching abilities.  I coach leaders all over the world via Skype.  Call me:  360 682 5807 or email: