Today's post comes to us from Workforce Institute board member Alexandra Levit. In it she discusses why command and control management has outlived it's usefulness - and how to fix the leadership skills gap left in its wake.

As a business and workplace expert, I'm often asked about common leadership styles. I usually share that command-and-control, otherwise known as “what the boss says goes” is based on concentrating power over people and processes in a single person or group and is still the norm in most contemporary organizations.

The command-and-control style has its roots in the industrial revolution and is mainly based on two movements: Frederic W. Taylor's scientific management and Max Weber's bureaucratic management. Taylor's and Weber's everlasting pursuit for efficiency forced many organizations to squeeze out the most with the least amount of energy, time and money.

The command-and-control style can be a bit rigid. It often assumes that leaders always know best, that they must set a long-term strategy, and that no one must deviate from the plan thereafter. Cooperation may be forced, resistance silenced. If external conditions change or command-and-control leaders encounter obstacles, they cope with them expeditiously, with the goal of sticking as closely as possible to the original strategy.

You may have already guessed why command-and-control is not working for some organizations. My view is that it limits engagement and conversation and discourages autonomy and agility. It's also better suited to a stable environment, which the mid-21st century business world is often not.

The most effective workplace cultures connect individual goals to the organization's larger purpose, incenting employees to buy-in and commit to the vision versus communicating that they have no other choice.  A related style is transformational leadership, in which leaders encourage, inspire and motivate employees to innovate and create change that will help grow and shape the future success of the company.

The best transformational leaders, however, are often not born that way. Rather, they may need to learn the attitudes and behaviors that make this style effective. I believe there is a skills gap in leadership today because young managers are promoted at a faster pace, and to keep their heads above water, may be likely to default to the command-and-control style. Based on my work with dozens of organizations, I suggest closing the gap by advocating these four transformational leadership best practices.

Seek Alternate Viewpoints

It's a mistake for leaders to believe that the majority perspective mirrors theirs, even if a certain point of view seems obvious. For example, it's tempting to think that everyone would naturally support a certain initiative, but without polling and/or focus groups with groups in all functions and roles across the organization, a leader can't be sure of anything. Even if a company is in high-growth mode and is under pressure to act, it's recommended that leaders do their due diligence before pulling the trigger.

Persuade with Passion

It's helpful to build a bulletproof business case full of rational and objective arguments for a new strategy, but leaders shouldn't forget passion and story. Unless people can feel the problem a leader is trying to solve, they may not be motivated to help. There's a happy medium here, though. Leaders can create a sense of urgency without coming across as over the top. They can also communicate extensively, and solicit and take into account feedback without getting mired in dissenting opinions.

Learn to Negotiate

A leader's strategies may include specific rollout plans and timelines, but they can also incorporate wiggle room for managers and employees to customize their implementations and put their unique signatures on the effort. Acting like a dictator and micromanaging everything is not likely to endear a leader - or their initiatives - to the organization.

Consider a Measured Approach

If employees hear about things from outside the organization, it can undermine a leader's influence. Especially in a large or publicly traded organization, details may either be purposefully shared or accidentally leaked to external stakeholders such as analysts and journalists. Leaders may wish to emphasize discretion and confidentiality to start off on the right foot with a new initiative. They can also bolster excitement and commitment by continuously rewarding the accomplishment of shorter-term goals and accepting that the original plan may need to be adjusted.

If you'd like to read more about what these principles look like in practice, check out WorkInspired, by our own Aron Ain. Treating people with respect and leading with the belief that they have something to contribute gives them a reason to stay.


Today's post comes to us from board member Raciel Sosa and is based on an article he originally published in Forbes Mexico. Here he talks about why adopting an adaptive leadership model is critical to accomplishing your strategic goals. You can find the Spanish version of this article here.

Leaders undoubtedly develop leadership styles that tend to be particular and unique. Each one adopts the leadership style that makes sense to them. If a leader is working with an employee who is capable of executing a requested task and has the necessary competencies to do it, the leadership style can be based on trust. If, on the contrary, the employee is still developing the skills to understand what needs to be achieved and how to do it, then the style of leadership has to be more directive, and oriented to provide more clear and precise instructions.

An adaptive leader:

The capability to foster teamwork and collaboration has a direct influence on the relationships between team members and, as a consequence, on the company's organizational climate.

The positive effects on employees when they are led by an adaptive leader are many but primarily, I would mention two:

  1. Decreased frequency of mistakes. When the leader manages their team appropriately, the mistakes that they can make are reduced by definition.
  2. The relationship between the leaders and their collaborators improves.

It is worth mentioning that a company's results are directly related to the strategic decisions of their leaders. Meaning that, for a company to be successful, the decisions made by the management team have to be correct. Not only must the decisions be correct, they then must be carefully executed.  

Adaptive leadership is an important competency for leaders at all levels of an organization.

Today's post comes to us from board member, China Gorman.  

I've been thinking and speaking about organization culture for a long time. If you look at the longitudinal data collected by Gallup (whether or not you agree with their definition of engagement), it's easy to see that despite billions and billions of dollars invested in improving engagement, the needle isn't moving at all.

So, I've come to the conclusion that “engagement” is a red herring.

Engagement is short-hand for a great corporate culture that attracts and retains the exact right talent that is needed to acquire, serve, and retain the desired customer set. Engagement is created by leadership behaviors and practices - some unique, some not - that make up the foundation of your organization's culture and the heart of the relationships you have with your talent. It really isn't a thing unto itself.

Let me give you an example. No matter how many wonderful services and perks you offer your employees at their worksite or office (think any Silicon Valley employer), if your leadership isn't trustworthy and believable, there's no way a majority of your employees will be engaged enough to make a long-term commitment to stay. Perks do not create engagement. Truth telling and trust create engagement.

Traditional top-down, hierarchical organization dynamics are blockages to engagement. Leaders who are not personal and approachable create impersonal and, in some cases, fear-based environments. Employees need to feel personally recognized by their bosses and by the organization's leadership. Recognized as real people, not just skill sets. Approachable and personable leaders create engagement.

If employees don't understand why what they do has meaning to the end user (internal or external), they'll look for other organizations that will help them feel connected to the work and to the mission in a way that gives definition to their lives. When employees feel connected to the outcomes of their work and the work of the organization, they feel engaged in the mission. But supervisors and managers have to help employees make those connections. Meaning creates engagement.

Some organizations believe that engagement is all about the money. There are a great many organizations with truly horrible, demeaning cultures that have to overpay their employees in order to attract them. Hazard pay, I believe it's called. But the second another employer that treats employees like living, breathing human beings makes an approach - even with less money but more respect - they're gone in a heartbeat. Loyalty works both ways and organizations known for being fair - in all things, including compensation - win the talent attraction and retention game nearly every time. Compensation fairness creates engagement.

These are just four components - of many - that create an engaged workforce. There's no single silver bullet. Engagement is not just one thing. It's the outcome of many things - beginning with consistent, fair leadership behavior that values human beings.

So maybe the goal isn't engagement, after all. Maybe the goal should be fair, trustworthy, meaning-focused leadership. Until that is achieved, employee engagement is not possible.

The following post is contributed by Joyce Maroney, Executive Director of the Workforce Institute at Kronos.  It was originally published on

I'm going to go out on a limb here and make a claim: Not all people are alike, and not all people want the same things at work, including senior leadership positions. Doesn't sound so controversial, right? But what if I replace "people" with "women"? Did you start making some assumptions about what might be different for women at work?

Global research conducted by Grant Thornton in 2016 determined that just 24% of senior management roles were held by women, with 33% of responding organizations having no women in senior leadership at all. With so many decades of progress behind us when it comes to civil rights and women's educational attainment, why do these differences persist? Given the evidencethat more diverse leadership generates better results for organizations, why don't they try harder to move women into management?

I've been thinking about this for a few days, since I read this article by Heidi Kasevich, Ph.D., titled "Gender & Temperament: The One-Two Punch That Can Hold You Back." In it, she says that "although 50 percent of the workforce self-identifies as introverts, 96 percent of leaders and managers self-identify as extroverts. Whether we acknowledge it or not – whether our biases are conscious or implicit – we are living in society that privileges the male extroverted leader: masculine, alpha, gregarious, and bold." Kasevich goes on to discuss how women are less likely to achieve leadership positions because women who exhibit take-charge behaviors may be labelled in negative ways (bossy, demanding, rude) while their male peers demonstrating the same behaviors are more likely to be seen as leadership material. She concludes that organizations need to nurture quiet leaders as well as they do those who fit the prevailing extroverted model.

There is much of her argument that I agree with, but I believe also that the things that can hold us back at work are more nuanced than gender and temperament. I don't disagree that organizations need to cultivate talented female employees for leadership positions. As a woman in the workforce for the last 40 years, I understand the special challenges that women face at work. I firmly believe, however, that the path to leadership begins with the individual –and not with the organization coaxing him or her out of their shell.

There are lots of reasons that people who aspire to leadership don't advance to leadership positions. Some are legitimate: The next step position isn't available in the organization, or the person hasn't acquired sufficient skills yet. Some aren't: Bias, favoritism and other factors certainly hold some people back. Men and women can struggle to position themselves as leaders among their peers for a variety of reasons.  I think there are lots of things that organizations can do to identify, support and develop leadership talent, but I don't think anyone becomes a leader by waiting for somebody else to make that happen.

For those who do want to position themselves to develop as leaders, here are my recommendations:

• Start by getting clear on your goals when it comes to leadership. Talk to people inside and outside of your organization to understand the implications of assuming bigger leadership roles. Does the time and effort required fit into your overall work-life plan?

• Make your aspirations clear to your manager and other stakeholders who might be able to help you progress. Be specific about the work you want to do.

• Do an outstanding job in your current role – and be prepared to demonstrate your ability to take on additional responsibilities. I've seen plenty of people get frustrated by this one, feeling it was unreasonable to assume more responsibility without a title change and/or pay increase. You need to look at this as a pilot period to prove your ability to make a bigger impact.

• Make sure you get credit for your results. I've done plenty of projects where my focus on achieving the best team outcome didn't include promoting my personal contributions. There can be a fine line between confidence and hubris, but you have to navigate that path if you expect to be rewarded for your contributions.

• Know your worth in the market. Join professional organizations that help you understand what other professionals in your role are doing – and how they are compensated. Keep your LinkedIn profile current, and if you are contacted by a recruiter, do a little probing to understand the value of your skills.

• Be prepared to make big changes. Your next step may not be within your current organization. And no matter how much you love your current job, you may have to go elsewhere to acquire new skills and responsibilities.

I'm interested in your recommendations.  What have you done to ensure your career is on a track that works for you?

Today's post comes to us courtesy of our newest board member, Raciel Sosa, the CEO of Leadex Solutions, a leadership development firm based in Mexico. Raciel is a coach and consultant focused on building healthy working environments, strong leadership and high performance teams.

Para ver la versión en español de este post, haga click aquà­.

The great economic eras documented in Universal History are hunting and gathering, farming/agriculture, the industrial age, and the digital era, in which we now live.

Each of these eras has been accompanied by different tools, distinct paradigms, and models of leadership.

The end of the twentieth century clearly framed the beginning of the digital age, and although the tools were already ready (computers, cell phones, tablets etc.), neither the paradigms nor the models of leadership have been suitably updated.

Early 21st century leaders were educated by the Traditionalist and Baby Boomer generations, whose beliefs about leadership tended to be vertical, authoritarian, and based on control. Leaders looked for well-defined processes and repetitive programming of tasks to generate consistent results.

The digital age presents new challenges. Technology allows immediate access to unlimited amounts of data and connectivity between human beings at an unimaginable speed. Many economic models that were successful in the twentieth century, are in decline - as are old ideas about what makes a good leader.

Many organizations are unable to retain talented workers long-term. Millennials and the generation coming up behind them have a new way of seeing life that is incomprehensible to Baby Boomers and Generation X. There is an authentic Tower of Babel in the organizational world and this, coupled with the advance of newer, small companies, is putting large corporations in crisis and in danger of extinction.

Today, traditional leaders often do not know how to operate within these new protocols surrounding work-life balance and accuse the new generations of being egocentric and unproductive. The younger generation responds by judging those Baby Boomers and Gen Xers to be old fashioned and insensitive.

Fortunately, new research gives guidance on where we must evolve as leaders. Putting a focus on respect, trust and admiration is fundamental. Creating a happy work environment for all employees is compulsory and finding answers to the work-life-balance conundrum can't just be a talking point - it must be backed up with concrete strategy and policy.

The leadership of the 21st century is in crisis and must be renewed.


Today's post comes to us courtesy of board member China Gorman, who was also kind enough to join me for a podcast on the same topic.  Read the post, then listen in on my conversation with China at the bottom of this post!

Leadership is tough. No matter how you look at it, you're responsible for the performance of your department, your location, your division, your subsidiary, or your company. And you're responsible for the people. The humans who, under your leadership, have to exceed customer expectations, collaborate with each other, achieve performance metrics, and represent your brand wherever they go.

There are a great many studies, books, courses, websites, publications, and coaches - all dedicated to helping leaders get the most out of their employees. But I look at it another way.

I think leadership is about being human in a world of humans. It's not about getting the best from your employees. It's about creating human relationships that enable the best with your employees. You might accuse me of wordsmithing here, but it seems very clear: leadership is most effective when it creates real human relationships, not just boss/subordinate “work” relationships. And this isn't a generational thing. It isn't about catering to snowflakes. It's about performance. More effective personal, human performance leading to more successful corporate, business performance.

Every consultant in this arena has a formula. Every author in this arena has a formula. Every researcher. Every guru. And, of course, I do too. It's simple. It's doable. It's proven. And it works. In order to be a leader of humans, you need to do three human things unfailingly:

1. Be fair and trustworthy
2. Be approachable and personal
3. Provide and acknowledge meaning

Be fair and trustworthy
Your employees - and all other stakeholders - need to know that you are completely fair and politically free when making decisions. And they need to be able to rely on your word: you mean what you say and you say what you mean. You follow through on commitments. You are reliable and honest. Period.

Be approachable and personal
Your employees - and all other stakeholders - need to be able to connect with you. Don't be that leader in the elevator who looks uncomfortable, doesn't know anyone's name, and won't look anyone in the eye. Introduce yourself to people you don't know - in elevators, meetings, hallways, employee parking lots, cafeterias, etc. And be in those places. Don't be invisible. Be accessible. And be personal. Know peoples' names. Ask about their families - and remember their answers so that when you see them next time you can ask follow-up questions. Smile. Look your colleagues in the eye with a pleasant expression on your face. Make yourself available by walking the halls. Keep your office door open. (I save some time on my calendar every week to “walk around” and just bump in to colleagues and check-in to see how they are doing.) Being approachable means making yourself available for random and unscheduled interactions. And when those interactions happen, be present, be open, and listen.

Provide and acknowledge meaning
When stakeholders know the big picture - “what we're fighting for”, when they know how what they do contributes to the whole, how customers respond to their products and/or services, when things are on track or when they aren't, when they are connected humanly and emotionally to their work and their colleagues - good things happen for them, for the business, and for your customers.

None of these are new ideas. They aren't revolutionary. But they produce the kind of outcomes that include higher quality, fewer mistakes, higher engagement, lower turnover, higher sales, higher profitability, greater competitiveness, more innovation… this list goes on and on. Everything you measure that you want to go up will go up; everything you measure that you want to down will go down.

To be clear, I'm not advocating returning to dated management models that cast leaders in the role of “parent” and employees in the role of “children.” Not at all. I'm advocating creating personal, human, adult relationships. Relationships based on trust, openness and shared meaning. Ultimately, unfailing commitment to these behaviors will transform your own leadership effectiveness as well as your organization's performance.

Listen in on my conversation with China about building trust in the workplace using the player below.

The following guest post is courtesy of our board member, David Creelman.

A recent Harvard Business Review online article written by myself and two colleagues, Peter Navin and John Boudreau, titled “Why More Executives Should Consider Becoming a CHRO” has attracted a lot of attention. Many CEOs have thought of bringing in business leaders without HR experience to run HR; and it's a tactic that is rich in both opportunity and risk. However, it's not the tactic that grabbed people's attention, it was the experience business leaders had when they moved into HR.

The experience is captured in an observation by executive search leader Phil Johnson: “When a CEO asks a business leader to run HR, the most frequent response is _What did I do wrong?' It's not seen as a desirable role; it's seen as punishment. Of course, they haven't had a chance to think it through, but that's the first reaction.”

That first reaction is not entirely unfair, HR has a reputation as a bureaucratic backwater. Never mind that research by Dave Ulrich and Ellie Fisher shows that the CHRO's competencies closely match those needed for a CEO; joining HR isn't usually seen as a great career move. No wonder most business leaders are surprised if they are offered the role.

But wait, that was not the big surprise.

The big surprise for business leaders is that the CHRO role is absolutely the best one they've ever had. It has unparalleled scope and freedom. It has massive impact across all elements of the business–and it's fun. Let's imagine you have a problem with too many bugs in your new fintech app. Maybe the solution is to change the incentives. Maybe it's improving hiring or re-working the job design. Perhaps training needs to be better or you need a fix to the corporate culture in terms of collaboration. Almost all the levers for solving these business problems lie within HR; no wonder business leaders found running HR to be the best job ever.

The lesson for CEOs is to stop thinking of HR as an administrative support unit. See the CHRO as one of the top two or three roles in the company and set expectations accordingly. An unleashed HR department, staffed by the right people, is a massive competitive advantage for firms willing to think differently.

One can't help but be reminded of Kronos which is now a $1.3 billion-dollar company, that has delivered 9% compound annual growth over the last 5 years while also successfully transforming from an on-premise to a cloud technology provider. How did it do that? Well, a big part of it was elevating the HR function so that it could deliver the impact it is capable of. Kronos's HR function focuses on the business and makes its decisions based on the best available data and evidence. As a result, HR has played a big role in the organization's success, and the company regularly shows up on best places to work lists.

Here's one final lesson. David Almeda, Chief People Officer at Kronos says, “I don't think we're doing anything exceptional.” We got the same feeling from everyone we interviewed. No one was boastful about the cool or innovative or important things they were doing. Their successful deployment of the HR function was just a natural part of applying their best intelligence and business savvy to the issues facing the enterprise–and doing so in tight collaboration with the other business leaders.

CEOs need to change their expectations of HR; and business leaders from all functions should be fighting it out for a chance to get the best job in the C-suite: the job of CHRO.

I had a great conversation this week with our board member, Andy Brantley.  Andy is the CEO of CUPA-HR, and spends a lot of his time helping HR professionals in higher education by providing the knowledge, resources, advocacy and connections they need to achieve organizational and workforce excellence.

Andy contributed a chapter to our latest book, Elements of Successful Organizations, regarding what organizations can do to find and develop the leaders they need now - and in the future.   In it, he discusses the challenges that organizations face in a VUCA world; i.e. one characterized by volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity.  He posits that leaders who can manage successfully in the VUCA world need not only time-tested skills like the ability to learn, assimilate and build, but also the ability to embrace new technologies and techniques like smart mob organizing to unleash the power of their teams and organizations.

Of course you should read the book.  But if you'd like to hear from the author himself, you can listen in on our discussion here: June 11 Discussion with Andy Brantley

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