December 30, 2009

Resilience: Yes, Despair: No

New Year celebrations are almost here, yet 2009 has been an enormously difficult year and a real challenge for the Resilient Leader. What have you done to ensure your success and that of your company, family, community? It is easy to despair or blame others during difficult times, but out of crisis often comes new opportunities.

Resilience is about bouncing back in the midst of adversity, demonstrating flexibility and adaptability. It's about managing change and not just surviving but thriving. The real danger is to give in to hopelessness or mediocrity, to assume a passive stance in the world.  But these are the times when real leadership is demonstrated. And it starts by making a commitment and taking action.
  • What does Leadership mean to you? 
  • What steps can you take in 2010 to be a better leader?

December 15, 2009

Am I my Avatar?

My Avatar, Dora Felisimo, has been gradually coming out of the closet. Why has she been so reluctant to announce herself? Shouldn't there be some sort of debutante ball or something? The reason "She", I mean "I", or I guess, "We" are hesitant is because within my circle of family, friends and colleagues, Second Life is still something way too weird. I frequently find myself  being an evangelist for a cause I am not entirely sure I want to embrace. Yet I keep getting drawn back into this virtual world as it seems to  offer interesting opportunities. Or maybe its just fun.

So I find myself flying around, visiting various islands, and walking through walls.  I recently held a meeting of like-mined OD consultants in Second Life and we agreed 3D technology and virtual worlds have interesting applicability for our work...especially for learning and development and collaboration.

However, there is a major stumbling block for most people and as a psychologist I think a primary issue is the difficulty in identifying with your avatar, especially given:  (1)The visuals--the avatar does not realistically look like you, and  (2)The name--you have a fake name.  Of course those are also factors which can add value to the experience in a virtual world--you can be anyone you want to be, including anonymous, which allows for unique learning experiences not possible elsewhere.

But for most people, the silliness of the avatar is going to detract from the seriousness of what you can accomplish in this medium. Am I my avatar? Well, no, I do have a "real life". But I find my alias, Dora, can be quite helpful at times.

November 26, 2009

Thanks !

Today is Thanksgiving, a holiday I really enjoy because it is centered around two of my favorite things: food and my family. It is traditional to "Give Thanks" on this day and though it may seem a bit hokey, what the heck, why not? So I give thanks for the following things--

  • I am healthy and happy
  • I am engaged in work I really enjoy
  • My kids are not in jail, but are actually gainfully employed, healthy and appear to be happy
  • Contrary to popular mythology, the empty nest is a good thing, really, trust me on this one
  • I have many wonderful friends and family I can count on
  • I just had another birthday which means though I am getting older (dread!) it beats the alternative!

 So what are you thankful for?

November 25, 2009

Stop discriminating against victims of downsizing!

The Boston Globe had an article today which got me fired up, "Amid high unemployment, some positions still hard to fill"

Now, I don't deny that there are highly technical positions which require very specific areas of expertise that are hard to fill with good candidates.  But what irked me about this article was the presumption that laid off employees are Damaged Goods. Not said explicitly, but certainly implied in many of the quotes including:

"...Of course, plenty of high-quality workers have lost their jobs, but recruiters say still being employed suggests stability - and ability"  according to Katie Johnston Chase, author of the article. 


'"There is a stigma with people who have been laid off, with good reason or not' Hux said. " (That is, Ben Hux, Director of Legal Recruiting at Boston Group).

October 26, 2009

When a Strength is no longer a Strength....

I am currently reading the book The Perils of Accentuating the Positive, edited by Robert Kaiser. Now, talking about being "too positive" is not particularly endearing. How does one argue for negativity? And it is clear that Positive Psychology and the Strengths-based Movement have made significant contributions to the management field, especially in clarifying the need to help successful leaders become even more effective through coaching and development programs. But this book puts forth a compelling, research-based argument that too much emphasis on strengths can be a problem and there is a need for greater balance.

Some of the issues they raise--
  • Not all strengths are created equally--some matter more than others to the success of individuals and companies;
  • Strengths overused become weaknesses;
  • Weaknesses really do matter--how many people fail or derail because of their strengths?
  • Sometimes your personal strengths are not what is needed to get the job done--For example, strengths in one context may be weaknesses in another;
  • We are in danger of developing Lopsided Leadership. As the saying goes "If you are a hammer everything looks like a nail".

Today we need well-rounded leaders who are versatile, adaptable and agile. Yes, understanding and fully developing one's strengths is important. But addressing weaknesses as well creates a more balanced approach to leadership and is a greater recipe for success. Positively!

October 19, 2009

Assessment Challenges Across the Globe

I just returned from the Society for Industrial/Organizational Psychology (SIOP) Leading Edge Consortium which was on the topic of Global Assessment and Selection. There were many interesting issues raised and the short answer is: There is definitely more work to be done.

The biggest challenge global organizations are facing is coming up with methodologically sound assessment and selection tools and practices that are implementable across cultures. Aside from the obvious need for assessment tools in multiple languages, companies face additional problems in determining whether the translated tools are indeed valid in another language and culture. Other issues include: cultural acceptance of selection and assessment practices, data privacy concerns, legal variability and risks across nations and cultural competency of assessors.

The consortium is SIOP's "practice"oriented conference which provides an interesting mix of professionals from academia, research, HR and consulting practices. One key note speaker, Kristie Wright of Cisco Systems captured the attention of many with the approach that integrates Industrial/Organizational and Clinical Psychology practices, which to some in the audience must have seemed blasphemous given the frequency with which she apologized to her I/O colleagues. However, like many Consulting Psychologists, I found this presentation refreshing and the approach sound. According to Dr. Wright it primarily involves extending their Interviewing Methodology to integrate the I/O Methods of: standardization, volume, norming, and focusing on the "what" with Clinical Methods which emphasize: uniqueness, depth vs. volume, being individually driven and a focus on the "why".

Its nice when two branches of psychology can talk to each other. Maybe more cross-disciplinary collaboration will lead us closer to solving the global assessment and selection issues. As we say in psychology, "Hope springs eternal"!

September 28, 2009

Executive Coaching--what you don't know may hurt you

Executive Coaching is now a billion dollar industry. One can hope that is because it is found to be the most effective learning strategy for developing leaders. One might also worry that it is instead because of effective marketing techniques.

As the field of coaching develops, we are seeing a surge in research. Much of this research has serious limitations because it is conducted by those trying to sell their services. But there is a trend toward "Evidence-based Coaching" and here coaching is being put to the litmus test. This weekend I had the opportunity to hear Anthony Grant from the University of Sydney speak on his research on coaching and it was refreshing. Why? for the following reasons:
  • He is actually conducting randomized, controlled experimental studies on coaching effectiveness.
  • His studies are aimed at examining whether coaching is indeed effective, and if so, in what context.
  • He overtly challenges the coaching profession to develop more critical thinking and rigorous empirical evidence.
  • He acknowledges that much of the public (and academic) perception of coaching is (to paraphrase) conducted by happy-faced people led by gurus and is lacking any kind of scientific base.....( Seen Penn and Teller's parody of Life Coaching?)
  • His research finds that INSIGHT is necessary for change, and;
  • He proposes that Coaching is essentially Applied Positive Psychology.
Some may argue with this last point but if you scratch the surface of most coach training programs you see at the core a psychologically-based curriculum emphasizing enhanced communication, listening skills, relationship building, goal-setting and behavioral change.

I applaud this effort to apply scientific rigor to the coaching field. I am also confident the research will confirm the benefits of this learning approach and provide us a better roadmap for conducting effective leadership development programs.

September 11, 2009

Healthcare Reform Craziness--Part 2

The battle continues with politicians acting out and I would say not modeling mature Leadership behavior for their constituents. Joe Wilson, Representative from South Carolina, shouts out and calls the President a liar while Louie Gohmert, Rep from Texas sits in the audience with a protest sign hanging around his neck.

People are clearly very passionate about the issue of healthcare reform but what we are seeing is not a constructive effort to resolve this complex contentious issue but politicians throwing tantrums and exhibiting entitled behavior.

Would you tolerate this in your company? Is this helping to move us closer to a resolution on the issue? I doubt it.

August 13, 2009

The Healthcare Reform Craziness

The attempts at overhauling our healthcare system are bringing to light some of the serious problems in our political and social system today. Heaven help us!

There are serious financial, quality and fairness issues that require healthcare reform. But I fear the polarizing political situation around this issue may prevent rational discourse and a reasonable solution. Resolving the problem requires engagement, honesty, integrity, collaboration, compromise and innovation. What are we seeing? Politics as usual; or worse.

Most disturbing is the campaign of disinformation and bully tactics occurring at the town hall meetings. Senators and Congressmen are getting shouted down from hysterical people who seem, in many cases, completely misinformed. For example, the whole euthanasia thing...people actually believe the healthcare overhaul solutions being supported will lead to euthanasia. Or the "government takeover" mantra. There are people at these meetings who don't even realize that Medicare is a government program. Is there anyone who would like to do away with Medicare? Probably, but not many. The government backed healthcare option being offered is similar to a Medicare program. Now reasonable people disagree as to whether this is a viable option ...but claiming it represents a government takeover is inaccurate at best and flagrantly dishonest at worse.

We must defuse the emotionality and clarify the real issues. Responsible politicians, healthcare providers and administrators, the insurance industry, community leaders, lobbyists and others need to avoid the incendiary rhetoric and focus on informing people of the facts. We as citizens also need to take responsibility for understanding the issues. Yes, smart people will disagree on what solution is needed. But we require and deserve Leaders with Integrity from all sides of the debate to support a rational process of reform; only then will we move closer to what most of us want--affordable, accessible high quality healthcare for all Americans.

July 19, 2009

Education and the bumpy road to personal success

I am preparing to attend a high school reunion and shall I say, its been a few years. So thanks to Facebook I am reconnecting with people I knew in high school and haven't seen in quite awhile.
I recently had a telephone conversation with a former classmate, Fernando Nunez aka "Chick" who asked a simple question, "Tell me does a girl who grew up in West Tampa, Florida end up getting a doctorate from Harvard ???". Any readers out there from West Tampa will understand.

While in high school I probably could have been rated "least likely to succeed". I was not the least bit interested in school. I did what I needed to do to get by. I didn't grow up in a house full of books and parents who pushed you to succeed and offered music lessons, tutoring for SATs, etc. College was not an expectation, though it was considered a plus if it happened. So as I entered my senior year of high school and started to look toward the next step I decided maybe college was the best alternative and I enrolled in St. Petersburg Community College. It started out slow; I was taking "general studies" courses that bored me to tears but something clicked when I discovered philosophy and psychology courses and the rest is history. I developed a love of learning that inspired me and led eventually to a doctorate from Harvard.

We have a dilemma: psychology research tells us the best predictor of future behavior is past performance. But how do you account for qualitative leaps or major changes in behavioral patterns? How do you know when a late bloomer is emerging? How do we sift through the economic, class and cultural issues that may mask our ability to detect personal potential?

Obama is putting new emphasis on funding for community colleges and I applaud this effort. However, I recently heard a story on NPR about Houston Community College in which a college administrator commented "....we don't get the best and the brightest here but.....". It bothered me. I thought to myself, how do you know the best and brightest are not lurking within your midst waiting for the opportunity to shine? Who is more impressive, the kid given an admissions coach to get into the elite schools, who attended impressive foreign programs and internships, and had extensive tutoring to get that math SAT score up? Or the less privileged kid who beats the odds by getting through community college while working fulltime and then goes on to excel?

Predicting future performance is not easy but one thing we can do is continue to level the playing field: supporting our community colleges is one way to do this.

June 8, 2009

The Use and Abuse of 360 Degree Feedback

Multi-rater feedback surveys, also known as 360s, are now standard in many corporations. People are receiving large amounts of feedback from fellow workers on their leadership, management and work style behaviors. These come from peers, direct reports, bosses, sponsors and even clients and customers. The number of 360 assessments available for commercial use is staggering and indeed choosing among them can be a challenge.

If not familiar with the process, it goes something like this: you complete an assessment of your own leadership or management style (or other specialized topic such as emotional intelligence), usually online. You identify a number of other folks such as peers, direct reports, managers, etc and they also complete the survey. You then receive a report which includes mostly anonymous ratings (except for the managers) and you are able to compare your own perceptions to those of others which can give you a good view of your strengths, needed areas of improvement, and potential gaps. 360s can also be administered as customized interview-based assessments.

When administered properly, 360s can be of immense value--you receive feedback that you normally don't get which can help you become a better leader. We all have blind spots and getting the perceptions of others in a confidential format can be highly motivating and instructive. However, if not delivered appropriately, there are dangers. These include: political ratings, negative bashing from someone with an agenda, artificially heightened scores, which feel good but may be misleading, and "data dumps" an overwhelming amount of data delivered without personalized implementation to help you interpret and apply the information.

There are pros and cons to using 360s for performance reviews and I personally do not use them in this way because of the aforementioned potential problems. However, for DEVELOPMENT of your leadership skills, when delivered confidentially, a 360 can be an excellent resource.

BAD feedback can be worse than NO feedback, so before administering any assessment in your company you should consider these questions:
  1. What is your ultimate goal? What do you hope to accomplish?
  2. Is this the appropriate assessment tool to use?
  3. Are you using the right implementation strategy ---which includes the process, assessment choice, format and professionals involved in administering the 360.
A clear and thoughtful approach to implementing multi-rater feedback surveys ensures the integrity of the process and the value of the information received.

May 15, 2009

The social etiquette of social networking

New technologies require new ways of behaving. So it is not surprising that there will be a learning curve. Twitter is my newest adventure and I am still trying to figure out the proper etiquette.

For example, a member of one of my Linked In groups posted a notice "Hey, you can follow me on twitter if you want...we have lots of good info, articles, etc.". So I went to his twitter account to check it out and saw that he was a fairly new member with hundreds of followers (wow), yet he was only following about 12 people. So I thought to myself, this guy obviously thinks he is more interesting than most other people in the world. He goes in search of people to follow HIM, secures a slew of enthusiastic followers, but decides he is really too busy, important, or whatever, to follow them in return. Are you following me here ?

So it seemed a bit arrogant and I said so on the LinkedIn discussion group which, of course, is the wrong thing to do because it made me look like a mean person (as some people seemed to think). And for those of you who are not on LinkedIn or Twitter, you are excused from trying to figure this whole thing out.

So what exactly is the proper etiquette? I am learning. For example, I am learning that every time I Tweet, I pick up a follower or two. And many of these are very interesting and I follow them back; but some aren't, so I don't. And some are just down-right weird, like the guy who's twitter updates consisted of comments such as "I love you" and "oooh baby" and stuff like that. Needless to say, I blocked him, which is another thing you can do in Twitter which seems rude but in some cases, like with this weirdo guy, is probably a good idea.

Don't get me wrong, I really enjoy being on Twitter and have met very interesting people who I am now following. And I frequently locate a person or group of interest who I decide to follow and I am not at all offended if I don't get a follow back (I really don't expect the Ellen Degeneres Show or NPR to be interested in my tweets).

There is also the situation where you are "invited" into someone's LinkedIn, Facebook, Myspace, or whatever connection and you think---I really don't want to be connected. I'm not talking about total strangers, but people you know but just don't want in your network.

What do you do now? You can reject them, but that seems awfully harsh, or not respond, which seems to be what most people do. That is hard for me since I am one of those people who prides herself in being responsive. So I have found myself contacting people directly and letting them know I keep my connections to others I know well or have worked closely with....

Yes, new technologies require a new etiquette, so as a guide I think I will just follow the social rules I use in "live" communications and hope for the best.

April 24, 2009

Listening 101

Sometimes the simplest things are the most difficult. Like active listening. We often think of ourselves as good listeners; but are we really? Or, are we distracted, or disengaged, or just waiting for our turn to speak.

Listening is more than hearing. Consider this: have you ever had the experience of talking to your teenager (or dare I say, spouse) who does not appear to be listening ? You comment "You haven't heard a word I said" only to get the response, "Yes I did you said blah blah blah etc. etc.". Of course, he or she just repeated your words verbatim. Yet, you did not FEEL the person was listening.

Listening is not just about content, but it is about process. It is about making an emotional connection, showing the speaker you are engaged, genuinely interested and involved. Yet in today's world, especially the business setting, we find it difficult to listen as closely as we should. There are many distractions, too many priorities to attend to, and a pace that is hard to keep up with. When we try to listen, we are bombarded by emails, IMs, telephone calls, tweets and all sorts of other stimuli that take our attention away from the human activity we call listening.

Maybe its time we all took a course in Listening 101. It is likely to improve our work productivity and may just make our spouses a little happier too.

March 30, 2009

Tired of the Generational Wars? Me too!

It is very common to hear these days about the war between the generations. You know, how the Boomers can't deal with the Millennials, and how Generation X is misunderstood, while Generation Y (unlike everyone else, apparently) wants "work life balance" and on and on. This so-called generational conflict is itself generating enormous billable hours and white papers from consultancies. Well, frankly, I'm a bit tired of the whole thing. I'm tired because these discussions are based upon such gross generalizations and they do not seem to move us any closer toward a shared understanding. On the contrary, they seem to fuel an "US vs. THEM" attitude in the workplace. I also think there are major misconceptions inherent in the discussion; for example:

March 18, 2009

What does a Leader look like?

I've been engaged in a recent discussion on an online HR group on age discrimination. Though most people acknowledge it exists, many prefer to avoid the discussion as it seems too negative to dwell on.

So its my blog and I'll cry if I want to (a baby boomer reference...get it?)

Age discrimination is alive and well. So is discrimination based on gender, race, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation and any number of other issues. The reality is, we all hold biases, many we don't even realize. I think its important to acknowledge these biases--in a sense, surface them so we can deal with them. The first step toward change is always awareness.

March 6, 2009

Are you a Techno-phobe?

Techno-phobia---noun...meaning fear, anxiety, pounding heart, sweating profusely or downright dread in regard to learning new technologies.

OK, its not a real diagnosis, but one I just made up. (See, some advantages to being a card-carrying Psychologist).

Many people simply dread the notion of having to learn a new application or call the IT guys who are going to make you look foolish, so its easier to avoid the whole thing. Unfortunately, like any other phobia, avoidance only makes the fear and trepidation stronger. So why not embrace it?

I am one of these Baby Boomers who buck the stereotypes---I love technology, love learning how to use new apps and really enjoy the IT guys, even if they sometimes drive me crazy with their lingo. But really, if you are avoiding learning and using new applications, you are missing out on some really great opportunities, especially for marketing, networking and collaborating. The reality is that with technology, the more you use it the easier it gets... it may take some time up front, but once you get over the hump, there is smooth sailing.

Also--there is so much help out there on the web that you can learn practically anything for free. There are online discussion groups, free self-tutorials, and lots of gurus willing to help. So you don't even have to call your brother-in-law and hassle him with your questions.

If you are reading this blog, you can't be too technology-risk-averse. So go out and try something new, even if it involves weird and crazy concepts like twittering and dancing avatars. Life is short.

February 13, 2009

Personality, Leadership and Organizational Performance

Just back from the Society of Consulting Psychologists (APA, division 13) conference in San Diego entitled, "Excellence in Leadership". As I make my re-entry from the land of palm trees and sunshine into the cold and chilly New England climate I have some time to reflect on more than the question "How is it a Florida girl ended up in this wintry mess?". I think also of the big questions raised at the conference.

One particularly thought provoking seminar was delivered by Eric Nelson and Robert Hogan (Hogan Assessments) entitled, "Personality, values and employee engagement". There were many good nuggets of information and unlike some of the ideas circulating around the literature on leadership, their work is clearly grounded in solid research.

Some of the key points delivered:
  • Leadership Matters---a person in charge can make or break a company
  • Good Leadership (and Bad Leadership) is a function of Personality
  • Senior Leaders establish the organizational culture
  • 47% of Employees distrust Senior Leaders of their companies
  • Personality predicts Leadership Performance better than IQ
  • High Employee Engagement leads to positive business outcomes
And, my all time favorite (which you may recognize from my earlier blog postings)....
  • People don't quit organizations, they quit their bosses.
As a Leadership Consultant I am sometimes asked what a Psychologist has to do with business, or given suggestions to "disguise" my psychological credentials to avoid scaring away potential clients who don't see the connection between business and psychology in the workplace.

Yet the research is clear, whether it comes from the Organizational, Personality or Business Management field: Leadership is Personal; and ignoring that reality is costly !

January 19, 2009

In celebration of a great leader--Martin Luther King

What are the qualities of a great leader? What I look for most is Moral Character...which means the willingness to stand up for what you believe in, even in the face of adversity. The link below takes you to a brief video of MLK speaking on his morals in reference to his stand on the Vietnam War, in which he received criticism from many.....How can we encourage moral leadership today?

January 14, 2009

If the layoff happens to you....

National unemployment rates hit 7.2% in December according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and in some states it is even higher, approaching double digits. These are scary numbers but still a bit abstract; when the layoff happens to you, or a family member, then the abstraction becomes reality real quick.

Before going into a panic (or after the panic has subsided) recognize that you are not alone, the economy will recover, and so will you.

Here are some tips for keeping your focus and moving forward in your career....

1. Leave your job graciously. And by that I don't mean in the style of Miss Manners but simply don't burn your bridges. People are sometimes called back to work after layoffs and if you create a major disruption, explode in anger or use it as an opportunity to get back at those folks who always bugged you, you will likely not be called back.

2. Exchange contact info with those you really want to keep in touch with. They may be helpful during your job search.

3. If your company provides Outplacement Services, by all means, take advantage of it. Many professionals, especially executives, assume these services are too low level and not likely to be of help. However, this is when you need all the help you can get. Even if you consider yourself great at interviewing, you may not have done it for awhile and the rules may have changed. Interviewing today might include: interviewing by phone, even by video conferencing, group interviews, stress interviews, behavioral interviewing, work simulations, psychological interviews....the list goes on and on. Any practice, advice or assistance you can get in this area will be helpful. And besides, these services are provided for free, so what is there to lose?

4. Network, network, network. Still the best way to find a position, especially for higher level jobs. Refine your networking skills. Hopefully you will have kept up with it while working, but if not it is time to re-connect with people who might be helpful. Former colleagues, professional associations, networking meetings, friends, family, strangers on the street...OK maybe not strangers on the street, but you will be surprised at the information you can get when you start talking with people. The Dad or Mom at the hockey game standing on the sidelines could be a valuable contact. Social networking via the web can also be very valuable, especially sites like Linked In: It is basically facebook or myspace for professionals. I have found it particularly helpful for getting back in touch with people. Set up a profile, join a group, start a discussion and get your name out there.

5. Prioritize your job hunting time. The internet is invaluable but it can consume all your time if you're not careful. Find some reliable search engines and check them regularly but beware of the tendency to waste hours upon hours checking over job boards and bumping into the same jobs at different sites.

6. Keep your perspective. Unfortunately, finding a new job can take a while---sometimes you are lucky and find something immediately. Often it takes many months. If finances are really an issue it may be worth taking a "bridge" job. Expect that there will be ups and downs and the process can be stressful.

7. Get support. This is the time to be open to support from colleagues, friends, and family. If things get real tough even professional counseling to help with the transition may be in order. Career coaching may help if you are stuck or in need of greater focus in your job search. Networking groups can be a great source of support because you will be with people who are experiencing some of the same ups and downs as you and it is a reminder that the process is tough.