The Paradox of Feedback

This week I had the privilege of conducting leadership development training with a talented group of managers. One of the topics we discussed was feedback. It was one of our most robust discussions and I’ll share some of the ideas we discussed with you today.

Feedback is a paradox because we all want it…but only if we like it. This is why the question “Do you like my new haircut” is fraught with danger! If we respond with a ‘yes’, we usually tell the person what they want to hear. When we respond with a hesitant ‘no’ we can encounter their disappointment, anger or hurt. Our desire for honest feedback is often conditional.

In their book, Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well, Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen help us understand why this occurs. They note that people have two basic human needs:

  1. The need to learn and grow and,
  2. The need to be respected, accepted, and loved the way I am now.

Feedback is a great way to learn and grow. For example, my golf swing has improved lately because of some simple feedback that I was given related to my stance when I hit the ball. I want to improve my game (learn and grow) so this feedback was important, valuable and beneficial.

However, sometimes feedback conflicts with our second need. When I was fired by our new president I was given tremendous opportunity to learn and grow (see Why Getting Fired is a Good Thing). But I could not begin to understand this because I faced a wall that told me I was no longer respected or accepted by the organization I had given my all to.

In short, we want feedback unless it bumps into our need to feel respected, accepted and loved. Understanding these two simple needs can help us filter the feedback we receive. Feedback which only meets need number one is easy! However, when feedback bumps into need number two we must assess the causes of our anxiety. Not all feedback is good feedback. But even when it isn’t, we can use it to learn and grow.


Jeff Head Shot 3.jpgDr. Jeff Suderman is a lifelong learner, consultant, professor and pracademic who works in the field of organizational development. He partners with clients to improve culture, leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and organizational future-readiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman

The Class of 2019: What You Need to Know

Each fall, Beloit College provides an insightful overview of the incoming class of college freshmen. As the years fly by, it is easy to forget the unique worldview and history that shapes our students. A review of this list is a helpful read for all of us who will be interacting with this class in the year ahead.

I have edited Beloit’s list to 25 items. The original list can be accessed here.

Students heading into their first year of college this year are mostly 18 and were born in 1997.  Among those who have never been alive in their lifetimes are Princess Diana, Notorious B.I.G., Jacques Cousteau, and Mother Teresa.

Since they have been on the planet:

  1. Hybrid automobiles have always been mass produced.
  2. Google has always been there, in its founding words, “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible.”
  3. They have never licked a postage stamp.
  4. Email has become the new “formal” communication, while texts and tweets remain enclaves for the casual.
  5. Hong Kong has always been under Chinese rule.
  6. They have grown up treating Wi-Fi as an entitlement.
  7. The announcement of someone being the “first woman” to hold a position has only impressed their parents.
  8. Cell phones have become so ubiquitous in class that teachers don’t know which students are using them to take notes and which ones are planning a party.
  9. Their parents have gone from encouraging them to use the Internet to begging them to get off it.
  10. If you say “around the turn of the century,” they may well ask you, “which one?”
  11. They have avidly joined Harry Potter, Ron, and Hermione as they built their reading skills through all seven volumes.
  12. Kyoto has always symbolized inactivity about global climate change.
  13. When they were born, cell phone usage was so expensive that families only used their large phones, usually in cars, for emergencies.
  14. The therapeutic use of marijuana has always been legal in a growing number of American states.
  15. Teachers have always had to insist that term papers employ sources in addition to those found online.
  16. Surgeons have always used “super glue” in the operating room.
  17. Fifteen nations have always been constructing the International Space Station.
  18. 32. The Lion King has always been on Broadway.
  19. At least Mom and Dad had their new Nintendo 64 to help them get through long nights sitting up with the baby.
  20. CNN has always been available en Español.
  21. Splenda has always been a sweet option in the U.S.
  22. Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic have always been members of NATO.
  23. TV has always been in such high definition that they could see the pores of actors and the grimaces of quarterbacks.
  24. The proud parents recorded their first steps on camcorders, mounted on their shoulders like bazookas.
  25. Vote-by-mail has always been the official way to vote in Oregon.

Jeff Head Shot 3.jpgDr. Jeff Suderman is a lifelong learner, consultant, professor and pracademic who works in the field of organizational development. He partners with clients to improve culture, leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and organizational future-readiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman


Global Leadership: Do You Have These 3 Cultural Agility Skills?

I like to spend time with people who have lived in other cultures. They are interesting. They have great stories. And they usually possess an exemplary set of interpersonal skills. The ability to be successful in other cultures – personally or professionally – is not an accidental ability. It is something that is developed.

As we encounter different cultures, we subconsciously use one of three methods to make intercultural relationships work. Understanding these three strategies can help us be more effective in becoming culturally agile.

Strategy 1 – Cultural Minimization. You standardize or control cultural differences in order to create consistency. Your goal is to limit cultural differences.

I teach in both North America and in Europe where grading norms differ. In order to provide a consistent standard, grading is defined by a rubric. A grading rubric outlines exactly how a grade is calculated. This minimizes differences in grading standards, something that is important when you have courses taught by people from different nationalities.

Strategy 2 – Cultural Adaptation. You adjust to cultural differences and respond in a way that is expected in that culture. You adapt to the norms of others.

My friend who lived in Indonesia was driving us through the busy streets of Jakarta. To a North American, the driving norms resembled chaos. However, as he spoke of traffic he stated, “In Jakarta, you need to drive like you are in a river. You just have to go with the flow and the currents of traffic and you’ll be fine”. Cultural adapters learn to accept and thrive within existing cultural norms.

Strategy 3 – Cultural Integration. You create a new set of norms and respond with collaboration to find solutions acceptable to all cultures affected (Caligiuri).

A friend of mine is a North American Expat living in the Middle East. In this prevailing Muslim culture, women are expected to wear abayas to cover themselves completely when in public. However, inside their expatriate camp women are theoretically free to dress as they please (they could wear their athletic workout gear at the commissary!) In practice, most women wear clothing that isn’t revealing and is deemed acceptable. Long dresses or loose clothing is worn to provide some cover yet not offend. Discretion and discernment result in an integration strategy that finds acceptable middle ground. 

An easy way to understand these skills is with the following continuum:

Cultural Competency Strategies

When you minimize, you seek to make differences insignificant. Conversely, when you adapt, you decide to let the prevailing culture dictate your behaviors. An integration approach combines the two and seeks to find a middle ground or a new norm.

However, knowing these three strategies is only the first step in being culturally effective. The key is knowing when to use each one at the appropriate time (Caligiuri). There are times when minimizing will be effective and times when it will be offensive. Similarly, integrating or adapting are not always the right solutions.

Therefore, effective leaders must first equip themselves with knowledge about these three unique skills. Secondly, they must develop know-how that helps them know when each is most effective (or inappropriate). Research shows that these three skills are not optional for global workers. They are of utmost importance if you seek to be effective.


Head Shot

Dr. Jeff Suderman is a global apprentice, consultant and professor who works in the field of organizational development. He partners with clients to improve culture, leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and organizational future-readiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman


Paula Caliguriuri (2012). Cultural Agility: Building a Pipeline of Successful Global Professionals.

20 More Quotable Quotes from the Global Leadership Summit 2015 Part II

Today’s post contains 20 more great quotes from speakers at the Global Leadership Summit last week. If you missed the first post you can access it here.

  1. Art isn’t about drawing; it’s about learning to see. What organization doesn’t need this ability? Ed Catmull (Pixar Pictures)
  2. Talent can get you to the top but only character will keep you there. Craig Groeschel
  3. We don’t hire people we select people. This is the first step to employing caring people. Horst Schultze
  4. In a growing company you are under-qualified every day. Liz Wiseman
  5. When God asks you a question, remember that it’s not because he doesn’t know the answer. Sam Adeyemi
  6. I don’t want a job I am qualified for because then I’d have nothing to learn! Work satisfaction increases as our level of work challenge increases. Liz Wiseman
  7. Whenever we delegate tasks we create followers. When we delegate authority we develop leaders. Craig Groeschel
  8. No one can claim superiority over another human being. Horst Schultze
  9. When we professionally linger too long on a plateau a little part of ourselves dies. Liz Wiseman
  10. You cannot do leadership without a source of regenerative strength. What is your source? Bill Hybels
  11. It is immoral to hire people to perform a function. I hire them to join my dream. Horst Schultze
  12. The rookie zone is powerful because we don’t like it. As a result, we work hard to reduce the tension. This produces great results, ones which are often beyond the expected capacity of a rookie. Liz Wiseman
  13. As an organization changes your mindset as a leader also has to change. This becomes the lid to you organization. Whenever my organization starts to settle I believe I have to lift my lid, my capacity I have to think and act in a different way to achieve different results. Craig Groeschel
  14. Signs that your performance is at a plateau | the remedy to your plateau:
    – Things are running smoothly | Throw away your notes.
    – You already have the answers | Become the one who asks the questions.
    – You get positive feedback | Admit what you don’t know to others.
    – You’ve become the mentor | Let someone else lead.
    – You’re busy but bored | It’s time to disqualify yourself and put yourself at the bottom of a learning curve.  Liz Wiseman
  15. The five C’s of expanding your capacity.
    Build your confidence.
    2. Expand your connections.
    3. Improve your competence.
    4. Strengthen your character. If character is not strengthening your capacity is weakening. We need to check our leadership for leaks.
    5. Increase your commitment.

Sheila Heen, co-author of the book Thanks for the Feedback provided my favorite session. I have grouped her quotes as they flow best together.

  1. We each have two human needs: To learn and grow & to be respected, accepted and loved the way you are. Even though feedback facilitates learning and growth, it conflicts with our need to feel respected. This is a key reason we resist feedback. Sheila Heen
  1. The fastest way for an organization to improve feedback is for the leader to personally model it. Sheila Heen
  2. There are three kinds of feedback and organizations must utilize all three to be effective:
    Evaluation. This rates you against standards and peers. It lets you know where you stand.
    2. Coaching. This information helps you get better and learn. It is an engine for learning.
    3. Appreciation. Most desire for feedback is usually for appreciation. It motivates us. Sheila Heen
  3. 93% of employees feel underappreciated. When work gets difficult, appreciation is the first thing to drop. Sheila Henn
  4. Evaluation and coaching get tangled together. When this occurs, the noise of evaluation drowns out coaching efforts. Think of this like a term paper. When you get your assignment grade back (evaluation) you tend to tune out the professor notes in the margins (coaching) if the grade is higher or lower than expected. Sheila Heen


Head Shot

Dr. Jeff Suderman is a leader-in-process, consultant and professor who works in the field of organizational development. He partners with clients to improve culture, leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and organizational future-readiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman

20 Quotable Quotes from the Global Leadership Summit 2015 Part I

Last week I had the privilege of attending the annual two-day Global Leadership Summit (via video feed). I was impressed by the depth of speakers, the quality of the content and the level of personal challenge that I encountered. In order to pass along the goodness, today’s blog contains 20 of my favorite quotes.

  1. True leadership only exists if people follow what they have the freedom to not follow. James McGregor Burns.
  2. If you show me who you are being influenced by I will show you what you are becoming. Craig Groeschel
  3. Dissatisfied customers are reputation terrorists. Horst Schultze
  4. I am not failing – I am growing! Do you have the ability to reframe failure as growth in order to achieve your goals? Jim Collins
  5. We all have strengths, weaknesses and blind spots. In fact, an average person has 3.4 blind spots. Bill Hybels
  6. Other people have all kinds of information about you that is invisible to you. How do you get feedback? Sheila Heen
  7. Complacency is a stealthy thing. It enters our house as a guest and then it acts as the host before it becomes our master. Liz Wiseman
  8. If leaders don’t have an antidote for fear they will be crushed by it. What is your antidote? Bill Hybels
  9. The consequence of following you should hold the promise of positive life change for those who do so. Sam Adeyemi
  10. Many leadership problems are driven by low self-awareness. Bill Hybels
  11. Creative leadership impact increases in your 50’s. When I turn 50 I want to say, “Nice start!” Jim Collins
  12. It is not the absence of money that makes you poor. It is the absence of vision and ideas. Sam Adeyemi
  13. If you have a charismatic cause you don’t need to be a charismatic leader. Jim Collins
  14. How can you succeed by helping others succeed? We succeed at our very best only when we help others succeed. Jim Collins
  15. Effective leaders have grit. Grit development demands difficulty. The archenemy of grit is ease. Billy Hybels
  16. Be rigorous about your HR decisions. There is a difference between rigorous and ruthless. Jim Collins.
  17. Sometimes our organizations don’t grow because our leader fails to believe in the abilities of their followers. Liz Wiseman
  18. Leadership grit begets grit. Lead by example. Bill Hybels
  19. Your brain does not understand what you are capable of. There is way more inside of you than you can imagine. Craig Groeschel
  20. Don’t take care of your career. Take care of your people. They will take care of your career. Jim Collins

Later this week I will post part II. Stay tuned for 20 more great quotes…


Head Shot

Dr. Jeff Suderman is a leader-in-process, consultant and professor who works in the field of organizational development. He partners with clients to improve culture, leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and organizational future-readiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman

How to Predict Successful Business Mergers & Acquisitions

Mergers and acquisitions (M&A’s) are an important part of our business landscape. In America, about 10,000 of them occur each year. While organizations celebrate these acquisitions, their excitement may be short-lived as statistics reveal that most are doomed to fail. So is there a way for organizations to ensure success as they merge with another?

The Big Picture

Globally, there were about 30,000 M&A’s in 2011. In the United States alone, the volume of M&A activity was 9,923 transactions (2011). These acquisitions were valued at $1.59 trillion (Weber, Oberg & Tarba). This data demonstrates that the ability to predict M&A success is a significant issue.

However, while M&A’s are a popular strategy, they are often unsuccessful. Research studies show that 50% of M&A’s fail (Weber, Oberg & Tarba) and some believe that the failure rate is as high as 70%-90% (Christenson, Alton, Rising & Waldeck). This means that organizations need to become adept at recognizing the key issues which will foster M&A success.M&A Success

Figure 1 outlines 12 factors which have been found to influence M&A success or failure.  However, one of the factors on this list predict M&A success with an accuracy of 96%! What is this key factor?

The answer is culture.

Organizational culture compatibility is a huge determinant in the success of an M&A. This supports Peter Druckers famous statement that “culture eats strategy for lunch”. The greatest strategy can be derailed by a team that is not aligned.

Research by Cameron and Quinn reveals that 96 percent of the time, successful mergers and acquisitions can be accurately predicted based solely on cultural match As the old adage notes, a house divided cannot stand.

I utilize Cameron & Quinn’s research to conduct cultural assessments which help clients understand their cultural norms. It also provides a blueprint to develop healthy and aligned cultures. As the above research highlights, the insights from this process can also reveal whether the merging cultures are best described as a house divided or one that can be unified.

The importance of culture is a valuable insight for those involved in M&A’s. Investors, bankers, entrepreneurs and business owners can all benefit from the cultural assessment tool as it helps avoid some of the pitfalls involved in failed M&A’s. Please contact me if you would like to explore how this tool can help your organization.


Head Shot

Dr. Jeff Suderman is an organizational culture specialist, consultant and professor who works in the field of organizational development. He partners with clients to improve culture, leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and organizational future-readiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman


Cameron, K.S,  Quinn, R.E. (2011). The Competing Values Culture Assessment.

Clayton M. Christensen, Richard Alton, Curtis Rising, and Andrew Waldeck The Big Idea: The New M&A Playbook. Harvard Business Review. (MARCH 2011 ISSUE

Straub, Thomas (2007). Reasons for frequent failure in Mergers and Acquisitions: A comprehensive analysis. Wiesbaden: Deutscher Universitäts-Verlag (DUV), Gabler Edition Wissenschaft.

Yaakov WeberChristina ObergShlomo Tarba (YEAR).  Comprehensive Guide to Mergers & Acquisitions, A: Managing the Critical Success Factors Across Every Stage of the M&A . Published Dec 19, 2013 by FT Press. Process .