Emotional Life of Leadership Matters Deeply To Performance

emotions, Goleman, leadershipEmotions…those pesky things that keep showing up. For many leaders, they are to be contained or masked but not really spoken about, particularly those emotions that reveal fears or vulnerability. Yet, in much of the most recent leadership development literature, there are exhortations to be more authentic, more human. At the very least, be better understood so they don’t adversely affect the leader’s performance as well as the behavior of  the employees/ followers.

What we’re beginning to learn about emotions and performance

While it’s true that psychological research has connected emotions and behavior, there has been some insights gleaned from neuroscience.There are neurochemicals that affect how positively or negatively we view things and act. Edward M. Hallowell writes about how feelings of disconnect and reconnecting are tied into certain parts of the brain. Our neocortex, amygdala and hormones like cortisol and dopamine not only influence our behavior but also our physical health.

Leaders’ expression of emotions infect their employees/ followers

There’s a  saying that “if mama ain’t happy, then nobody is happy” which points out how influential a leader’s mood can be. There have been studies done in which strangers can “infect” each other with their mood without even speaking one word. If you’re familiar with Daniel Goleman’s work on emotional intelligence, then you know he has been talking about this concept for a number of years. More recent studies are able to point to how leaders influence their followers’ emotions and consequently their engagement. As Goleman identified in 2001, even if a leader is masking his/her feelings, they are still communicated. It seems that whether the leader is feeling calm, anxiety, exhilaration or anger, there is an impact on the employees.

When we believe our emotions are facts, we handicap ourselves

In a Harvard Business Review article, Susan David and Christina Congleton wrote about how leaders “stumble not because they have undesirable thoughts and feelings—that’s inevitable—but because they get hooked by them, like fish caught on a line.” In cogntive-behavior therapy, this is called emotional reasoning. But we do it all the time. Sometimes it’s positive because it reinforces our confidence and ability to perform. Other times, well, it results in attacking oneself for being inept.

Could the disconnect workers feel be related to how their leaders manage their emotions?

In the 2013 State of the American Workplace survey produced by Gallup, it was discovered that 70% of workers are disengaged. Some of that is a result of how they are led. According to David and Congleton, there is a need to develop emotional agility which is recognizing “…your patterns; label your thoughts and emotions; accept them; and act on your values.” By developing these behaviors, leaders are able to perform well and inspire others to follow suit.

With all of the leadership development literature pointing to raising emotional intelligence, what keeps leaders using dominance and fear?

What are the implications for performance if we learn more about how the brain works?

What responsibility do followers have to manage their response to the leader’s mood?

How does mindfulness support developing emotional agility?



Check These Headlines: Ignoring Failing Projects, Unsafe Cloud Computing and Mindfulness

Twitter, Twitter chat, KaizenBiz Every few months we change things up a bit on the Twitter chat, #KaizenBiz and go for a more lightning round style with our topics. Have you come across any interesting posts or new stories that make you stop and think? This week we are going to borrow from those talk shows that move from topic to topic and see what big ideas are popping up. So, check out these stories and bring your own this Friday to the live Twitter chat, #KaizenBiz at 5pm GMT/12pm ET/9am

Dangers of ignoring failing projects

If you haven’t experienced them, you’ve witnessed them. It’s the project that has so many missed deadlines, glitches and conversations about what to do that you might wonder why people keep trying to make it work. In an interesting post on the HBR Blog Network, Gretchen Gavett talks about what can make projects work better. These are her suggestions:

  • Check and revise your business case regularly
  • Pay attention to what really happens in meetings
  • Cast a wide knowledge net
  • Monitor what’s not being spent
  • Have an entrepreneurial project manager

The underlying connection with all of her recommendations is the human element. It seems that many of the usual things that derail a project – missed deadlines, scope creep, lack of resources and the like – are often more due to human judgement and relationships.

Discussion questions:

  • What do you believe really derails projects?
  • What contributes to the blindness/deafness experienced by team members of failing projects?
  • How could an entrepreneurial-style project manager be more effective than any other project manager?

Think twice about cloud computing?

So much is run on the cloud now that due diligence makes a lot of sense. Although it was quite clumsy for Ben Fried, CIO for Google to say publicly that there may be an inherent security risk to putting an organization’s information on someone’s data center, it does bring up some interesting questions. As was noted in the OPEN Forum post by Kelly Spors, much of what Google provides is, in fact, on cloud-based technologies.

Discussion questions:

Spors asks a great question so we’ll borrow it “If the cloud isn’t secure enough for Google, should any business trust the cloud to store important documents and data?

What kinds of things should a business look for in data security measures?

What other options do businesses have for data storage?

 Mindfulness is gateway to emotional agility

One of the big trends right now is mindfulness. Every Monday, Scott Eblin has a post every week from his series “Mindful Mondays” and  many leadership development programs are including mindfulness is their training. MIndfulness is essentially keeping your focus on the here and now while acknowledging your thoughts and feelings without judgement.

One of the areas that stymies novice practitioners of mindfulness is that negative or unpleasant thoughts and emotions continue to occur. In the Fast Company post “4 Important Things About Mindfulness You Didn’t Realize“, Drake Baer identifies how we can experience our own negativity and still remain mindful:by using Acceptance and Commitment Therapy:

  1. You recognize your patterns
  2. Label the thought or emotion
  3. Accept the things that are happening in your mind
  4. Act on your values

Discussion questions:

Are we spending too much time trying to fix ourselves instead of recognizing that thoughts and emotions happen anyway? Why/why not?

How could our negative thoughts and emotions be addictive?

What affect could using mindfulness have on our performance, particularly in times of stress?

Time for your suggestions

The above topics are my suggestions for our lighting roundtable discussion on the Twitter chat, #KaizenBiz. If something caught your attention this week, bring it the discussion on Friday, October 28th at 5pm GMT/12pm ET/9am PT. Remember to include the link and even  one or two discussion questions.


Are Success Stories Really Legends Or Meaningless Stories?

business, success stories, legends, narrative fallacyWhat does Trump U, Jim Collins’ book, Good To Great, this list of unorthodox success tips and these successful businesses have in common? There seems to be this mindset that if you just get the right habits, the right strategies or the right kind of derring-do, you will be successful in business. It is as if you could be legendary if you just did the same things as the protagonists in success stories.

Could these stories really be the hero (and heroine) legends of our times?

We’ve all grown up with a series of legends. Some of them are handed down to us from stories told by our grandparents while others are stories we discovered in books. Whether they are tales of heroes facing a monster or heroines going into battle to defend her land and people, these stories captured the imagination and inspired people to strive to live well and/or feel pride.

Our archetypes may have changed over the years from the traditional ones of self-sacrificing hero, guardian of secrets or clever child. Perhaps the twenty-first century archetypes are the rags-to-riches character or the visionary entrepreneur.

So, what could possibly go wrong if we believe these stories to hold possibility and value for us?

There are other factors in play. Some of them are based in geography, social class, access to wealth and social norms. Where and how we are born also plays a role in how we can live these stories. It is likely that an entrepreneur from a developed country will have a smoother path. We forget sometimes that these other factors can be seen as privileges, earned and unearned. Plus, they are oversimplified explanations of how someone like Richard Branson, Steve Jobs or Dhirbubhai Ambani rose to prominence. It is easy to overlook that every day our business heroes and heroines had to do something that kept them on their upward trajectory.

But there may be another perspective that could lower the meaning of any business success story. In an intriguing post, Drake Baer asks, “What Are Success Stories Really Good For?” and answers that we put so much meaning into these stories because of the narrative fallacy.

Narrative fallacy

This cognitive bias was made famous in the book, The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. In a nutshell, it is how people create explanations for extraordinary and unpredictable events. Taking the narrative fallacy into consideration, business success stories may not reflect truth at all. Baer writes, “the causes that bring together a successful career or venture are so varied, complex, and mysterious that to capture them in a feel-good memoir is pretty damn difficult.”

The value of these “legends”

The value of these legends might be the biggest question of all. If the people writing these business success stories are trying to make meaning of how someone went from having an dream to it becoming reality, what are they leaving out? Humans follow stories which have an arc of characters facing adversity and coming to a successful conclusion. We are mystified at times why one person rises up to become the leader of a multimillion (or billion) dollar company while others remain in obscurity. Like the ancient legends, there must be something educational, inspirational or cautionary in these tales. Or maybe, like Baer said in his post, we are trying to learn how to cooperate with serendipity or simply train for mastery.

Join us this Friday, October 18, 2013 at 5pm GMT/12pm ET/9am PT on the Twitter chat, #KaizenBiz to discuss “Are Success Stories Really Legends Or Meaningless Stories?

What makes one entrepreneurial success story more engaging or powerful than another?

There are so many examples online. Why do we look for more stories about business success?

What do we really learn from reading stories about successful businesses?

What, if any similarities, do these success stories bear to the ancient legends of heroes and heroines?

What if these legends are nothing more than stories about particular people who proscribed meaning to behaviors and events that are not connected?

Who inspires you?




Beyond Leadership – What If Decision-Making Is More Than Data and Options?

leaders, decision-making, leadereshipIt is easy to forget how multilayered decision-making actually is. We are not always conscious of how our personality, culture, experience and circumstances combine when we are faced with choices. You can find, at any time, several blog posts and media reports of good decision-making and bad decision-making. (Although we hear more about bad decision-making).

Current reports

If you have been following the news lately, you are well aware that the US government has been shut down due to a major impasse between the two political parties. There was a mega-deal between two semi-conductor companies (Applied Materials and Tokyo Electron) which is awaiting anti-trust approval. Sears, an large American retailer, has sold off a number of its more successful locations to raise cash. Finally, there is an interesting review of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Knowledge@Wharton blog.which asks if culture may have adversely affected how decisions were made.

Experience vs inexperience

One would think that more seasoned leaders would be more competent in their decision-making processes. Certainly, inexperienced leaders might miss pieces that need their attention. According to a post written by Wendy Lea on Venture Beat, there are two areas that could cloud or outright prevent the most effective decision-making:

  • Fixating on the grand vision
  • Focusing more on the valuation or exit strategy and not the product

For more experienced leaders, there are other possible interruptors:

  • Too much reliance on past experience or honed skills
  • Politically motivated factors
  • Disengaged from value system
  • Mismanaged resources
  • Inability to recognize opportunity
  • Lack of trust in self

Are we ignoring underlining influencers?

Most of the time, a leader’s focus is on the available data, question and possible choices. But there are other influences at hand which may need to be recognize. In the Knowledge@Wharton post, “Lessons in Leadership from the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster“, there is an interesting discussion that culture, a strong desire to make sure the plant got built and a lack of attention to long-standing historical records identifying the dangers of earthquakes and tsunamis. While the Fukushima disaster occurred in Japan, it raises the question when one looks at leaders in other parts of the world as well. The potential for a sort of social blindness or deafness coupled with ambition, greed, enthusiasm, desire and other emotions exists.

While there is much written about best leadership practices and leadership styles, it is clear that people continue to make lousy decisions. Fortunately not all of these decisions result in scandals, disasters or failures. However, questions remain…what if decision-making is more than the immediate data and options?

 Join us on Friday, October 11, 2013 at 5pm GMT/12pm ET/9am PT on the Twitter chat, #KaizenBiz to take a closer look at “Beyond Leadership – What If Decision-Making Is More Than Data and Options?”

What are the primary elements in the decision-making process?

When do you keep the focus on the question at hand vs when to look at larger picture?

How could culture actually set up environment for bad decisions?

How do we encourage leaders across industries and organizations to expand their self-awareness?

Bonus question: How could game theory support more effective decision-making?


How is Funding For Small Business Changing?

In the startup world, funding is a prominent part of every day business. In the small business world, it is understood in a slightly different way. Small businesses tend to look for funding in more traditional ways but this is changing. By using a more entrepreneurial mindset, smaller organizations are developing products, targeting a particular customer and/or expanding into new markets. This leads to the conundrum of how to find enough capital to not only stay viable but to also fund expansion.

The global economy and many more localized economies are showing growth

You might say the entrepreneurial mindset is a response to the financial meltdown of 2008 which led to a severe international recession. Currently there are indicators that things are getting better, albeit at a very slow pace. The improvement seen in economies has been hard fought in many ways. For the Eurozone and the US, there is a great deal of damage leftover from the recession and a pervasive sense that nothing will ever be the same again. So, now small and large companies are starting to venture forth again to expand their operations. Just this past week, there was a blockbuster deal in the semiconductor industry between Applied Materials and Tokyo Electron. But what about smaller companies? How are they going to continue competing?

There is money to be made

Regardless of the economy, there is always a company recognizing an opportunity and acting on it. And…the company needs capital to act on this opportunity. However, one of the last results of the recession is that banks are more skittish to lend money.

What are the options?

Banks: Banks are still one of the primary sources of funding for smaller organizations. In a Businessweek article, the bigger US banks reported that lending is up. However, the European Central Bank continues to report shrinking lending to businesses.

Investors:  Pitching to angel investors or venture capitalists can be a way for small businesses to raise money for a product launch or other type of expansion.

Small Business Administration (SBA) and govermental agencies: There is always rhetoric about how small businesses are the backbone of a nation’s economy. Agencies like the SBA in the US and enterprise boards can be a good way for small companies to get both advice and funding at reasonable rates.

There is a growing need for alternative funding for established small businesses. Here are some of the other options:

Peer lending: This is a growing trend in investing and business lending. Rather than putting money in a mutual fund, stocks, bonds and the like, investors put small to larger amounts of money into a fund that becomes a loan for small businesses. The loan is managed just like any other loan with interest and a payment schedule.

Crowdfunding: Basically, it is similar to peer lending but it is more of an investment model than a loan model. The difference here is that contributors are looking for something in return. This can be early access to the product(s) and a return on the investment.

If not banks, who?

As small businesses seek ways to grow, they are going to need capital. Investors and lenders still want to know you are worth the money, no matter what. There is great frustration for those applying for bank loans and unfamiliarity with approaching the alternative funding sources. In some places, there are community based funding (like community development financial institutions in the US) that also support small business growth.

When we look at our own towns or visit other cities, we witness how small businesses are coping. Without making sure they have access to capital, we are creating an environment that cannot support the mom-and-pop stores, lawyers, dentists, specialty firms and the like. So, what options do they have for funding and how useful are they for growing companies?

What, if any, effect did the recession have on how small businesses seeking funding?

What types of funding do you see small business accessing in your locale?

Which funding sources are likely to provide the best financing for growing companes?

Which types of alternative funding do you see as becoming the norm?

What advantages does an established small company have in looking at less traditional forms of funding?