Selecting Managers Who Understand the Value of Praise

When I do leadership/management workshops, the first topic is always motivation.  While I am a big believer that motivation must come from within, managers can impact performance, in the short term, by effectively using rewards.

Years of research tells us that cash and other extrinsic rewards can be effective motivators for tasks where individual effort leads to individual results.  However, the bigger the distance between effort and results, the less value these incentives have.  Oh, and they also lose their effect over time.

The wise manager knows that recognition, praise, and other behaviors that lead to intrinsic rewards are much more powerful. This article provides a good synopsis on how to use a combination of intrinsic and extrinsic rewards.

While there tends to be a strong focus on rewards, something that gets overlooked is how to select managers who already have this insight.  Sure, most can learn it. But, I would think that there are traits that predict how well a person rewards employees.  Three of these would include:

  • A person with a high level of agreeableness is usually warm, friendly, and tactful. They generally have an optimistic view of human nature and get along well with others.  People high on this trait are likely to want to make others feel engaged in their work.
  • Generous people are the ones who give more than is expected of them.  Giving a reward to another person is an act that provides praise or a reward to another person when it could be kept to oneself.
  • View of Employees. Managers who have a “your paycheck is your reward” mentality are not likely to give out a lot of praise.  Those who recognize people as individuals, and learn what their needs are, will be much more likely to provide meaningful motivators.

By making motivational skills part of the valid selection process, we are more likely to hire managers who will seek out opportunities to reward results.  Appropriate use of such techniques will lead to more engaged and productive employees.  They are less likely to turnover, which is critical in our current low unemployment economy.

Leadership on the Hot Fly

If you have been keeping track of the US Open, you know that the extreme heat and humidity has affected the players.  It has also tested the leadership and decision making skills of the tournament organizers as they try to keep the players safe, the competition fair, and the paying customers and TV partners happy.  But, there is a lot of bureaucracy to deal with, too.

The red tape comes from the rules of different stakeholder organizations: WTA (which runs the women’s tour), ATP (which runs the men’s tour), ITF (which runs the Grand Slam tournaments, of which the US Open is one of 4), and the USTA (which runs the US Open).  What could possibly go wrong?

The WTA established a heat policy in 1992 (a 10-minute break between the 2nd and 3rd sets if the heat and humidity reach certain levels).  The USTA has in the past issued heat guidelines for individual tournaments. Neither the ATP nor the ITF have any policies that speak to excessive heat.  However, the Australian Open (another Grand Slam tournament overseen by the ITF) does have one (though not without its critics).  During the US Open, the WTA policy has been implemented and the USTA decided to implement a modified version for the men where there is an optional (at the players’ discretion) 10 minute break between the 3rd and 4th sets.

The USTA showed some leadership to protect the male players and have not received much blow-back for it, other than, “What took you so long?”  Was it the BEST decision?  Maybe, or maybe not—I’m not a physiologist.  But, they made it before someone was seriously injured (or worse).

What I find most interesting here is that there are four stakeholders in running the tournament, but they have not gotten around to coming up with a standard policy to handle something that they have already had to address and is likely to come up again (both the US and Australian Opens are played in the summer).  One can easily imagine other areas where they should be working together (e.g., drug testing and match fixing).

Now, think about your organization.  Are your operational policies consistent across business units/locations where they need to be and also flexible to account for local realities?  Is it clear who makes on-the-spot decisions when these policies do not cover a particular situation?

It is impossible to come up with a policy for every possible scenario.  But, smart organizations develop structures where decision making responsibilities are clear and different parts of the organization can learn from others.  This leads to quicker decision making and smarter operations.

People–Can’t Profit With Them, Can’t Profit Without Them

So, in the same week that Tesla says that lack of people is a problem in their business (too many robots!), Starbucks comes to the conclusion that people are biased and are hurting its business, everyone gets training. So, which one is right?

Let’s start with Tesla. Their statement is not as much about how wonderful people are as it is that they haven’t quite (yet) gotten the engineering down for their new cars to be built completely by robots. So, it is not exactly an “Up with people” moment as a “Well, we guess we have to put up with them for a bit longer” one.

The Starbucks situation is a bit stickier. On one hand, they clearly felt as if they had to do something after a horrible incident involving African-American customers to maintain their brand image. But, I think they are setting themselves up for failure. Implicit bias training is well meaning, but correcting a lifetime of assumptions about people in a ½ day seminar is a pretty tall order. What will they do next time a racially tinged incident occurs? Do a full day of training? Validate a test that predicts levels of implicit bias?

Where I think the training will have the most impact is on their new hires. It sets a cultural norm of what is and is not OK. Yes, this will require management support and some way of recognizing employees for being decent human beings. But, in reading the comments on their social media pages after the announcement that may not matter as a lot of people were pretty bent out of shape of having to go one whole afternoon without their Starbucks. Ah, the downsides of selling a legal, but addicting, product.

Service sector organizations will always face the challenge of directing the activities of people in a way that is consistent with their values. Manufacturers are always challenged with introducing technology (which improves efficiency), but also understanding its limits (for now). We are not quite at a point where people can be engineered out of business. So, we still need to lead them in productive ways.

Flexibility, Bench Strength, and Leadership

An attribute associated with leadership is determination. The idea that once a goal has been established and a plan laid out, effective leadership involves sticking to it and absorbing the inevitable bumps that come along the way. This may involve coaching or training, but requires confidence in the team.

But, what if things get really bad? Should the leader have faith in the plan and work harder on execution? Or, does effectiveness require that things get “blown up” and change on the fly?

There was an interesting example of this in the college football national championship game earlier this week. The University of Alabama (Bama) was playing the University of Georgia (UGA). Bama’s coach had won 5 national championships (6 was the most) going into the matchup, so he knows something about winning big games. While renowned for his success, he is also thought of as being a bit humorless and someone who has extraordinary attention to detail, the latter being a trait shared with other successful coaches, regardless of the sport. This is a person who meticulously plans practices and expects nearly flawless execution.

So, in the championship game, UGA took a large lead into halftime. Bama’s coach was faced with a choice: Conclude that his team was executing poorly and stick with the plan (with some adjustments) or decide that the plan was not working and implement a different one. The coach chose the second option, including replacing many of his star performers, and they won the game in dramatic fashion. What can we learn from this?

1) A plan is not destiny. If leaders view them as the ONLY path, then they will be blind to other opportunities to succeed.

2) Changing approaches requires bench strength (which is literally true in this case). When Bama changed their game plan they also replaced some key players. This was only possible because they had a reservoir of talent with a variety of skills. If they had recruited (the college athletics equivalent of employee selection) players with the same skills, they would only be able to execute one type of plan. Since they had more variety, it gave the coach more flexibility. Think about that when someone says, “We need to hire more people like so-and-so.

3) Effective leaders establish criteria for success and failure. We often here about measuring when we have achieved goals. Less frequently talked about is when it is time to rethink our approach. While perhaps not explicit before the game, Bama’s coach knew when it was time to change to Plan B and made the decision.

Do effective leaders need determination? Of course they do. No plan is ever going to be executed perfectly and without adjustments. But, they also need the humility to know when their plans are failing and the talent available to them to change directions.

Inviting Introverts to Lead

Whenever I teach about leadership the participants and I talk about the value of charisma. Not surprisingly, most of those in the workshop feel that the most effective leaders are these larger-than-life figures. That is, until we start talking about ones that are not (and often one of them is the CEO of their company). So, what gives?

This article delves into the issue. Note that the author sometimes confuses behavior (which can be changed) with personality (which is VERY stable, despite her claim and her link that is not associated with any research). The real issue is what can introverts do to be effective leaders?

For many, what it comes down to is the expectations of the situation. If I think any task is going to be painful, of course I am going to avoid it. This is how introverts feel about an assignment that involves a lot of group interaction.

This study looked at potential barriers to introverts being effective leaders. What they found was that negative thinking about assuming the role inhibited performance (as measured by emergent leadership). However, and this is important, positive thinking did not lead to more emergent leadership. So, in working with high potential introverts, this data (and it is only one study) suggests that removing undesirable thoughts about the role (e.g., your fears are not accurate, you will not be a failure, etc.) will lead to more leadership behaviors than selling the role (e.g., you will be fabulous, there is no doubt that you will be successful, etc.).

This is important because it shows that those who lack the extroversion trait associated with charisma may still be effective leaders. This increases your pool of leadership potential in your company. It also provides a road map for encouraging introverts, who are otherwise qualified, to take on leadership assignments in way that allows them to be successful.

From a selection perspective, understanding this nuance would be valuable to determining who you choose to be leaders. Rather than assessing introversion/extroversion, you can look at a person’s attitudes towards leading groups as potentially a more valued predictor.

Leadership, Strategy, and Championships

Like many other businesses, baseball has undergone a significant change in how it uses data to evaluate talent (see Moneyball).  As with all paradigm changes, this has encountered a fair amount of resistance, but now every team in the league uses some form of analytics to better understand their players’ strengths and weaknesses.

Sports teams in the U.S. are somewhat unusual in the business world in that success with the product (wins and losses) does not exclusively determine whether the franchise is viable.  This is due to a variety of factors, including shared revenue from national TV contracts, caps on salaries (with the notable exception of baseball), and the emotional bond that teams have built with their fans over many years that leads to consistent revenue from game attendance and the sale of merchandise.  For many years, the Boston Red Sox and the Chicago Cubs benefited most from the latter.  Now, both are also winning on the field after decades of futility.  What changed?

One could argue that the biggest factor for both teams was Theo Epstein.  Mr. Epstein became an executive with the Red Sox when they broke their championship drought in 2004.  He then moved on to the Cubs in 2011 in a similar role and they just won their first World Series in 108 years.  The cultures of the two teams were very different.  The Red Sox were forever chasing their rivals the New York Yankees and had some World Series heart breaks.  The Cubs were forever chasing a good time and were OK perpetually being bad on the field because they were making money.

Epstein made the case to both teams that they needed to spend their resources in different places (identify and invest in upcoming talent and less on purchasing experience), identify the most critical resource on the team (“Find Pitching” has been his mantra with the Cubs), and apply other resources more wisely (change the batters’ approaches to hitting).  He is not the first baseball executive to preach these things.  But baseball organizations are bigger than the 25 players on a major league team.  They are made up of managers, coaches, talent scouts, analysts, front office staff and hundreds of players competing to make the team in the minor leagues.  In that sense, changing a culture in a sports organization is not that different than doing it in other industries.  He managed to do it twice.

The lesson is one that we may know but sometimes fail to internalize: The best ideas need both good execution and the buy-in from the organization to be meaningful and successful.  Or, as was attributed to Peter Drucker, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

Is It Better to Lead Apart or Within?

Happy New Year!

Today I came across a specialized leadership development program for LGBT executives. It’s offered at Stanford, and it ain’t cheap, so I’m thinking it’s not a fly-by-night kind of thing. But, it did get me thinking about the wisdom of leading by identity.

If nothing else, leaders need to be authentic. I never bought into the idea that women needed to be more like men (whatever that means) in order to be effective executives. Rather, leadership effectiveness is a combination of desire and developed talent, regardless of (fill in the demographic variable).

White men have had their own networking group since the beginning of the industrial age, so I don’t see specific groups for LGBT, women, Asian, etc executives as any sort of reverse discrimination. There’s great comfort and learning to be had from sharing with those who have had similar experiences to you. And just because Tim Cook of Apple came out doesn’t mean that challenges facing LGBT executives have disappeared any more than President Obama’s election eliminated racism in the U.S.

But, I would caution against leaders overly “branding” themselves in a category other than that of their organization. It is almost like when you hear someone in your organization refer to “you” rather than “us” when describing an issue. Aren’t we all in this together?

I support leaders developing their skills where they can and universities making extra money. But, consider this: Wouldn’t there be more benefit of these programs if the attendees were 50% LGBT and 50% straight? I’d like to hear your thoughts about this, or similar programs.

For more information on leadership development, please contact Warren Bobrow.


Are Good Leaders Born or Developed?

If the former, then we shouldn’t even bother with leadership development. We usually think of leaders as those who can inspire and motivate others to put out discretionary effort and effective managers as those who ensure that things get done consistently well. Of course, they are not mutually exclusive and when we talk about leadership development we are usually talking about both concepts.

There is plenty of research on what techniques work in this arena. But, because there are so many over-hyped programs out there, let’s start with what doesn’t work:

1. Job shadowing for senior managers
2. Outdoor activity-based programs (rope climbing, white-water rafting, etc.)
3. Paper-based self-study leadership modules
4. Executive MBA”s and web-based self-study modules when implemented late in the persons career

The second one is most interesting as those team-building weekends sound so attractive. But, they are a waste of time and money. Note that the companies that put these on don’t back up their claims with data.

So, what does work?
1. Mentoring
2. In-house universities
3. Job rotations, executive MBA and web-based programs when started early
Note that these listed above don’t rely on quick fixes. Leadership and good management skills are difficult and complex, so you should expect that they take some time to develop. The successful techniques are interactive. Leadership is a skill practiced in the presence of others. It should be learned that way.

As with other employees, it’s less expensive to make a good hire than to train. In the meantime, be a careful consumer of leadership development products and services.

For more information on leadership, skills assessment, and talent management, please contact Warren at 310 670-4175 or

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