2015 – A Year in Review

As I conclude my second year of blogging I wanted to reflect on the topics that interested you, my readers. In fact, many of my musings are inspired by you – so thanks!

Here are three of your favorite posts from 2015 and one of mine!

  1. The Best Jobs for All 16 Myers-Briggs Personality Types. This simple infographic is a wonderful reminder about the enduring truth of Socrates ancient advice – know thyself!
  2. Four things Star Wars Teaches Us About Cross-Cultural Leadership. This excellent post by one of my students will teach you The Chewie Principle, The Jar Jar Lesson, The Ewok Strategy and The Yoda Factor.
  3. 19,739 Definitions of Leadership (or Baking a Cake with One Ingredient). This article reminds us of the wonderful complexity of leadership – one which defies simplistic definitions!
  4. The WOW Factor: Increasing Employee EngagementThe Blue Jays Manager, John Gibbons, teaches us a valuable lesson about leading others.

As I look at the above list I realize that the most read content is re-purposed ideas from others. In fact, this is a wonderful lesson to close the year with! Most of my (and your) moments of brilliance are found in the DNA of others ideas! Here’s to many more re-purposed ideas in the year ahead!

Happy New Year!


 

Head ShotDr. Jeff Suderman is an educator, futurist, consultant 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

 

Linking Personal Success & Organizational Culture

If you read my blogs you know that I am a firm believer in Peter Drucker’s adage that “organizational culture eats strategy for lunch”. In other words, having the best people is more important than having the best strategy (a premise that Patrick Lencioni outlines well in his book called The Advantage).

When we apply this principle personally, it also means that we need to ensure that our personal cultural preference fits the organizational culture where we work. No matter how great a company is, a misalignment between your preferred culture and you organizations culture will create challenges.

So how do we determine this fit?

Adam Grant, a professor and NY Times columnist recently tackled this issue in an excellent article. He begins by suggesting that we ask a simple question when we interview at a company:

Tell me one thing that makes your organizational culture unique.

Research shows that the responses to this question are going to be unique but will also fit into one of several broad themes”. Here are four of the most common themes to watch for.

“Story 1: Is the Big Boss Human?

The plot involves an authority figure who has a chance to act as if she’s better than everyone else. The insurance company president who takes his turn fielding calls on the company’s switchboard throughout the year: He’s one of us. The executive who doesn’t let anyone use his parking spot — even when he’s on vacation — maintains an air of superiority. This is one of the big debates about Steve Jobs: Was he a narcissist who felt entitled to special treatment or a leader who sought to bring out the excellence in all his employees?

Story 2: Can the Little Person Rise to the Top?

The uplifting version of this story is a Horatio Alger tale. Colleen Barrett begins her Southwest Airlines career as a secretary and lands in the presidency; Jim Ziemer starts at Harley-Davidson as a freight elevator operator and rides all the way to the corner office. In the more depressing variation, a low-status employee achieves great things but is denied promotions.

Story 3: Will I Get Fired?

The organization may need to conduct layoffs: What does the leader do? Contrast the former Walmart chief executive Michael Duke, who slashed more than 13,000 jobs while raking in $19.2 million, with Charles Schwab executives’ taking pay cuts to avoid downsizing — and giving employees who lost their jobs a bonus when they were rehired.

Story 4: How Will the Boss React to Mistakes?

In many organizations, employees are fired for errors. Some stories point to a different culture, like the famous one at IBM in the 1960s. After an employee made a mistake that cost the company $10 million, he walked into the office of Tom Watson, the C.E.O., expecting to get fired. “Fire you?” Mr. Watson asked. “I just spent $10 million educating you.”

Grant goes on to point out a very interesting lesson; “Take a close look at these stories, and you’ll see that they deal with three fundamental issues:

  1. Justice: Is this a fair place?
  2. Security: Is it safe to work here?
  3. Control: Can I shape my destiny and have influence in this organization?”

Understanding your own preferences for these three things will help you understand what is important to you. Some of us thrive amidst injustice. Others require a high level of security. Still others are looking for jobs where they can just do their work and clock out – they don’t need high levels of control.

If you are already employed, this is still a good question to ask yourself; what is one thing that makes your organizational culture unique? How does your organizational ‘story’ match up to your personal need for justice, security and control? The alignment of your organizations dominant story and your own needs is where you will find your employment sweet spot.


Head ShotDr. Jeff Suderman an educator, futurist, consultant 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

Reference

Adam Grant (Dec. 20, 2015). The one question you should ask about every new job. The New York Times on-line.

FutureWatch: Understanding the Implications of Big Data

As a futurist, I have been watching the trend of big data for some time. In fact, it has become so commonplace that it is not technically a trend anymore. However, while the practice of big data is becoming unremarkable, a common understanding of what it really means is not. Somewhat like the idea of ‘the cloud’ ten years ago, big data is just beginning to form its definition in mainstream culture. Furthermore, the effects of this shift are becoming apparent.

Today’s blog provides insights about the implications of big data. The examples below find their origin in a recent LA Time article which provides fascinating insights about how big data is changing the banking lending industry. Let’s begin with a quick overview of how we have traditionally awarded consumer credit before we look at how big data is changing things.

We all have credit scores. In fact, how much credit we are granted is based on your score. These numbers are created from a combination of several factors and include things such as how much you owe, how well you pay back what you owe and the length of your credit history. Together, these factors are used to provide creditors with an indication about how safe or how risky your loan request is.

So what happens when big data impacts the lending industry and the traditional credit request process? In short, the industry begins to innovate!

As a reminder, big data refers to using the vast amounts of information that is available as a result of living in an information age. This includes data about which web sites you visit (and when), your social media profiles and your on-line purchasing habits. While you knew that Amazon uses this type of information to customize your buying experience, you should also be aware that this data is now being analyzed by credit companies.

In his LA Times article, Koren pointed out big data ingredients are now being used by some lending companies to assess credit applications. Your credit application may not include reviews of things such as;

  • Your college major,
  • The reviews on Yelp about your business (your good business balance sheet can be negated by negative customer reviews!), and,
  • Whether you type your application in ALL CAPS (people who do are a much higher credit risk).

If these things surprise you, listen to the most shocking one! Facebook recently secured a patent that “would assess a borrower’s creditworthiness based on the credit scores of Facebook friends” (Koren).

So is the application of big data to credit a good thing or a bad thing?

Yes (meaning it’s both)!

At its worst, big data can be invasive and based on algorithms that don’t fully reflect the way real-life works (e.g. – A degree in Russian Language may not seem highly employable until you understand that this person works as a translator for the Russian Embassy). At its best, big data can move us beyond credit assumptions that are antiquated and inadequate. For example, Mr. Brigham was recently given a loan for a $700,000 condo by a lender who uses big data. After being turned down by many banks, Brigham was granted a loan because non-traditional assessments deemed him loan-worthy. In fact, he was even assessed with low enough risk to also waive the costly mortgage insurance (Koren).

Welcome to the era of big data banking. Whether you acknowledge it or not, big data is impacting your life. In and of itself, it is a neutral issue. However, how we use it will create our future Jekyll and Hyde’s! In fact, look for the ethics of big data to become a dominant issue in the next decade.

So how should you respond to big data? The company ZestFinance’s slogan summarizes perfectly – just remember that, “All data is credit data”.


 

Head ShotDr. Jeff Suderman an educator, futurist, consultant and pracademic who works in the field of organizational development. He can’t wait to ask his banker how they assessed his line of credit! He partners with clients to improve culture, leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and organizational future-readiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman

Is Leadership a Noun or a Verb?

We often use the words ‘leaders’ and ‘leading’ interchangeably. However, I believe there is a significant difference between these two terms. So what is this difference? At the heart of this answer lies a simple lesson in grammar.

You see, one of these words is a noun (leader) and one is a verb (to lead). If you are rusty on your grammar (as I am), here is a quick reminder:

A noun is the name of a person, place, thing, or idea.

A verb is a word used to describe an action, state, or occurrence.

When we bestow the title of ‘leader’ on someone, we are referring to a person which makes it a noun. The noun leader describes a role, a position or an office. When we use the word leader as a noun, we focus on the title of leadership. This may be earned (such as a President), it may be bestowed by others (when you are asked to be a team leader) or it may even be inferred (when everyone at the boardroom table looks to you for an answer). Leader is a noun.

However, a person who is a leader (noun) does not necessarily lead (verb). Just because you have been granted a title does not mean you are actually leading. When we use the verb ‘leading’, we focus on the actions of leadership and not the role. Leading may be through our words (Jesus telling his disciples “come follow me”), our actions (standing up to a bully) or our thoughts and visions (Martin Luther Jr. stating “I have a dream”). Leading is a verb.

This means that a leader may not necessarily be leading (because a title and our actions are different). It also means that leading will not always occur by someone who is a leader (because our actions and our title may be different).

As I brushed up on my grammar, I discovered another interesting lesson;

Any English noun can be verbed, but some are more resistant than others.

I cannot read this statement without thinking of the names of people that I have worked with over my lifetime. Some of them seemed to effortlessly use their roles of leadership to accomplish amazing things. They were very good and verbing their noun! However, I can also think of others who held wonderful positions but were inadequate at acting on their duties. They had difficulty verbing their noun. Their verbing process was resistant.

This simple reminder about nouns and verbs, leaders and leading, boils down to the important practice of execution. No matter what title they hold or how knowledgeable they are, the only way a person can lead is by verbing their noun. Effective employees become leaders by verbing their noun! In other words, a title does not make a leader a leader – the act(s) of leading make a leader a leader!

So is leadership a noun or a verb? You can make the choice. But in my world, I know that I look for the verbing process!


 

Head ShotDr. Jeff Suderman an educator, consultant and pracademic who works in the field of organizational development. He is actively working to verb his noun. He partners with clients to improve culture, leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and organizational future-readiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman

 

A Zuckerberg Sized Conundrum: Assessing a Leaders Motive

If you pay attention to pop culture you will have noticed that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla, recently gave birth to their first child (a daughter named Max). Along with this life-changing event, Mark and Priscilla also decided to announce another momentous decision – the donation of approximately 99% of their wealth to a charity.

Sort of.

This is where the story gets interesting and complex. The donation was not given to the place we expect donations to go – a charity – something with official government status and a bevy of regulations and guidelines to keep ensure ethical operations. Instead, they created another company by which to accomplish their noble goals of improving global education, health and community development. This technically means that this charitable gift is free from any of the guidelines that we typically consider – well, charitable!

As you have likely noticed, the media has jumped all over this issue and turned it into something that feels scandalous. I’m sure you also have your own opinion about the Zuckerberg’s decision (and I trust it is informed by more than your Facebook feed!).

Wherever you stand on this unusual event, I believe there is an important principle at work. At the heart of this issue is one of the most important matters of leadership. It is called motive. If Aretha Franklin believes that love boils down to R-E-S-P-E-C-T then leadership boils down to M-O-T-I-V-E. Most of the media stories about the Zuckerberg’s are simply guessing at the motive behind this decision.

So how does one measure motive? Initially, by our words. But more importantly, over time, our motive is measured by our actions. This is why I believe that most of the diatribe about this donation is premature. Over time, Mark and Priscilla’s actions will reveal the true motives of this decision. It will be shown through choices about how they establish accountability, who they place on their board, how they prioritize efforts and how they manage operating costs.

A leader’s motive can be stated but their true measure is best discovered in practice. Mother Theresa is appreciated because she told us that we need to love the poor. Mother Theresa is loved and honored because she spent her life doing it. Her actions revealed her motive.

The Zuckerberg conundrum should also make us look at ourselves and ask some hard questions. While it may be easier to point your finger and judge others, what are you doing with your money that isn’t simply for your own good? During this Christmas season, a time for giving, where are your gifts directed? Are you using a charity to channel your giving or are you donating directly to your own priorities (as the Zuckerberg’s did).

So Mark and Priscilla, I laud your donation gesture. It is a wise first step to wealth management. I strongly believe that wealth is entrusted to us rather than bestowed upon us. However, time will tell whether this non-traditional approach is effective. Because, over time, the motives of our leaders will become clear. And in the same way, yours will too!


 

Head ShotDr. Jeff Suderman an educator, consultant and pracademic who works in the field of organizational development. He regularly donates to charity but has not yet set up his own company to do this. He partners with clients to improve culture, leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and organizational future-readiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman

4 Things Star Wars Teaches Us About Cross-Cultural Leadership

As a professor I often tell my students that we will engage in learning and teaching together.  I am consistently influenced by the work and insights of my students. Today’s guest blog is an example of some great lessons by Christina, a student in my Global Leadership class. I know you will enjoy it!

…IN A GALAXY FAR, FAR AWAY…

As more and more organizations become global, leaders are faced with an increasing need to engage followers from differing backgrounds and cultures. Culture plays a significant role in how leaders interact with those around them. Behaviors and traits that are valued in one culture may not be acceptable in another. Developing the skills needed to effectively lead individuals from multiple cultures can be challenging. Therefore, it is important for leaders to understand how to relate to their followers while still doing what is best for the organization.

Star Wars has been a pop culture phenomenon for decades, inciting internet memes, fan fiction, merchandise, costumes and theme park attractions. Although I’m no Star Wars expert, our family recently watched the movies and as we did, I began to observe connections between cross-cultural leadership and this blockbuster series. Here are the four things that Star Wars taught me about how to engage followers from different cultures.

THE CHEWIE PRINCIPLE: LOVE TRANSLATES

You might assume that I learned this lesson by watching the main love interests, Princess Leia and Han Solo, interacting on screen. However, I believe that the real romance is found between Han and his loyal sidekick Chewbacca. Despite grunts and throat gurgles that only they can understand, the audience knows exactly what they mean to each other and are privy to their heartwarming bromance. They clearly demonstrate that the power of love transcends cultural boundaries.

Love translates into any language. No matter where you are from, you just know when someone loves and respects you. Even when there is a cultural gap, followers instinctively understand when their leader loves and cares about them. Leaders who operate in the global environment must demonstrate their affection through agape love which is unselfish, self-giving, not self-seeking, and does not expect love in return [1]. In fact, love (and belonging) is one of Maslow’s basic necessities [2]. This can be attributed to our deep-rooted need to feel affirmation by those we work, live and interact with. Love is an important aspect of leadership that works as a motivator to individuals from any nation. Especially in global environments, research shows that employees who feel loved, valued and respected tend to work harder [3].

THE JAR JAR LESSON: SOFT SKILLS CAN BE LEARNED

Star Wars also taught me that the ‘softer’ skills which contribute to effective leadership can be learned (like emotional intelligence, personality and cognitive intelligence). In the newer films, supporting character Jar Jar Binks is just plain annoying! He lacks the social skills and personal discipline which often results in trouble. However, there is one scene where Jedi Master Qui Gon Jinn carefully corrects Jar Jar because he believes him to be capable of changing.

I once worked on the same floor as Dave, a manager of a different department. Dave was brilliant. Technically adept at a wide variety of skills, he was often put in charge of large projects that had nothing to do with his job description just because of his extensive knowledge. The only downside to Dave was his lack of what researchers call ‘soft skills’, those skills that focus on emotional intelligence, leadership, and inspiring others. After a particularly difficult meeting with his superiors Dave was frustrated and took his anger out on his assistant (something he had done several times in the past). His behavior was noted by another manager on our floor named Louis who pulled him aside. Louis took the time to sit with him and explain why yelling at his assistant was, to quote Louis, “not nice”. The simplicity of the statement struck a chord with Dave. He was embarrassed that his actions had been seen around the office and had resulted in his reputation of being a mean boss. He went to his assistant the next day and apologized, something he would have never done in the past. He also apologized to others on the floor who had experienced his outbursts. There was a noticeable transformation in Dave over the next few months. Even though he occasionally had minor mishaps with colleagues and his personality was still a little abrasive, there was a definite change in overall behavior and attitude.

Soft skills are often learned through personal experience and reflection [4]. One-on-one coaching and mentoring are also valuable ways to further develop the leadership skillsets necessary in the global environment [5]. Leaders can sharpen their global leadership abilities by asking others for feedback and being open to constructive criticism. Vulnerability and respecting other’s opinions are keys to learning soft skills.

THE EWOK STRATEGY: OBSERVATION BEFORE ACTION

Leaders cannot charge head first into a new situation without first observing the behaviors and culture of those they are working with. It is key (especially in global leadership) to carefully scrutinize new environments before interacting. We learned this lesson when Han, Leia, and Luke battled the primitive Ewoks. When they are first sighted by their enemy, Han decided there wasn’t enough time to think up a plan and instead impulsively ran out to attack them. He believed that the Ewoks would be easily defeated due to diminutive size and lack of technology. However, the furry little creatures surprised everyone with their cunning traps and aggressive fighting style.

Research has shown that observation is a key component of learning socially accepted behaviors [6]. As we look around in nature, we learn that most behavior is learned from observation. In order to fit in with the other kids at school, a child will watch the others before acting. The same principle applied to leaders operating in other cultures. Before leading a group of individuals from different cultures, leaders should take the time to observe and learn about their values, norms, accepted practices, and behaviors.

THE YODA FACTOR: HUMILITY IS KING

The greatest example of a humble leader in the Star Wars saga is Yoda. The little green alien with strange speech patterns is beloved by fans everywhere. It’s not his venerated position or incredible fighting skills that earned him this reputation. Rather, it is the simple way that he unobtrusively serves those he teaches. With bowed head and a soft-spoken voice, this Jedi master guides those he leads with their best interests at heart.

One of the most common misconceptions about leadership is that those who lead are always attractive, strong-willed, and charismatic. However, some of the best leaders are made of the most unassuming individuals. Servant leadership is based on the theory that a leader’s primary concern should be to serve followers while helping them achieve their fullest potential [7]. This means leaders put the needs and desires of their followers before their own, and seek to encourage and promote followers instead of themselves.

MAY THE FORCE BE WITH YOU

Star Wars may be a sci-fi fantasy but the lessons learned from the series are applicable in real world scenarios. Leaders who add these principles to their repertoire will be able to better interact with followers despite cultural differences. Communication will be richer because leaders are focused on the needs of their followers. This selfless abandonment of pride allows leaders to effectively guide those who live in cultures that are different from their own. Star Wars teaches us that engaging in cross-cultural leadership requires sacrifice, humility, love, respect, vulnerability, observation, and patience. Leaders who work in a global environment have the choice to focus on sharpening these skillsets in order to be more effective across cultures.

As Yoda reminds us, “Do. Or do not. There is no try.”


 

Princess Leia

Christina Angelakos is a student at Regent University in the Doctor of Strategic Leadership program. She works for a church in Orlando helping people connect in Small Groups and Volunteering. Christina spends her extra time with her family, playing music and watching old movies (Star Wars when her Dad has the remote!). Twitter: @ChristinaAngel

Head ShotDr. Jeff Suderman an educator, consultant and pracademic who works in the field of organizational development. He has not yet pre-purchased his tickets for the new Star Wars movie. He partners with clients to improve culture, leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and organizational future-readiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman

References

[1] Hoyle, J. (2002). Leadership and the force of love: Six keys to motivating with love. Thousand Oaks, Calif: Corwin Press.

[2] Maslow, A. H. (1943). A theory of human motivation. Psychological Review, 50, 370–396.

[3] Kinyanjui, S. (2013). Innovative strategies for managing workforce diversity in kenyan leading corporations in present global scenario. International Journal of Business and Management, 8(15), 20-32.

[4] Dixon, J., Belnap, C., Albrecht, C., & Lee, K. (2010). THE IMPORTANCE OF SOFT SKILLS. Corporate Finance Review, 14(6), 35-38.

[5] Baron, L., & Morin, L. (2010). The impact of executive coaching on self-efficacy related to management soft-skills. Leadership & Organization Development Journal, 31(1), 18-38.

[6] Almeida, F. (2011). Vicarious learning and institutional economics. Journal of Economic Issues, 45(4), 839-855.

[7] van Dierendonck, D., & Patterson, K. (2015). Compassionate love as a cornerstone of servant leadership: An integration of previous theorizing and research. Journal of Business Ethics, 128(1), 119-131.