11. Getting to the Next Level

“Invest in yourself before you expect others to invest in you.”

—Chip Espinoza

Our hunch is that you didn’t pick up this book just to be a better manager at your present position. You read it because it is a part of your master plan to get to the next level. That is what we love about you. Know this: You do not need a position or title to start leading at the next level.

A Baby Boomer assistant manager from an organization we consulted asked to meet for lunch. His boss had recently resigned, and he wanted an endorsement for the position. When asked what would make him a viable candidate, he responded with a litany of things he would do. Though awkward, we had to ask, “Why aren’t you doing all of this now?” He said he didn’t have the title to lead—it wasn’t his job. He didn’t get the endorsement or the position. Ironically, a Millennial who was already going above and beyond his responsibilities received the promotion. Don’t promote people for what they say they are going to do; promote them for what they are doing.

Back Where We Started

It has now been over 10 years since we began our work on understanding Millennials in the workplace, and we have stayed true to committing to a discussion with Millennials rather than a conversation about them. It has been a humbling experience to speak all over the world and address what is perceived to be one of the hottest, if not sexiest, management topics in years. In this chapter, we want to take you back to the classroom and discuss thoughts and perspectives that can be career differentiators. Although we have attempted to create a nice readable flow for the chapter, it is meant to be an imaginary Q&A with you about managerial leadership.

First, let’s revisit some results from our survey. We asked employees over age 35: “What is the downside of being managed by someone under 35?” According to our survey, a perceived lack of experience is still the number-one challenge you will face as a young manager (see Table 11.1).


Table 11.1 The Downsides of Being Managed by Someone Under 35

Don’t worry. We are not going to throw lack of experience in your face again. We bring up the survey result to point out that immaturity, lack of long-term vision, and being too focused on the next career step can be signs of impatience.

Perhaps the biggest challenge in getting to the next level now is learning patience. A lack of patience almost cost a former student her dream job. Kelly had bounced around the country, trying different jobs, until she landed at one of the world’s hottest designer brand companies. After about three years of being with the organization, her boss resigned. At the suggestion of her former boss, she applied for the position. Much to her disappointment, the company brought in someone from a different region to fill the position. Kelly knew that getting the position had been kind of a long shot and accepted the decision. A year later, her new boss was reassigned back to where she had come from. Kelly applied again, only to be passed over once more. This time a person who had been at a higher level elsewhere in the company filled the position. Kelly decided that she may have hit a dead end and decided to look for a new job. She loved her company and could see herself there for a long time, but she didn’t want to wait forever to be considered for the position for which she had been applying. She checked the job sites, but it took about a year before she found something worth pursuing. The week before she was going to interview for the new job, her boss asked her to lunch. It was at the lunch meeting that Kelly discovered that the two managers who were hired over her (each for one year) were brought in to help groom her for the position she desired. She had become so frustrated at what she perceived to be rejection that she failed to see the plan to advance her. She is still with the company and still moving up.

Okay, in a perfect world, Kelly knows all of this up front, and she is able to throttle her emotions and frustration back and patiently await her promotion. Companies have reasons for what they do, and actions are not always transparent. It’s not a perfect world, and sometimes you have to wait. Don’t sabotage yourself by being too impatient.

Managing Your Impatience

One of our Millennial managers commented, “From a cognitive perspective, I know that I am relatively young and shouldn’t have such grandiose expectations of how fast I will move up, but emotionally it makes me crazy that I have to wait for waiting’s sake.”

Waiting is something Millennials are not accustomed to. They have grown up in a world in which they can get virtually anything from anywhere within 24 hours. More importantly, they have learned that they can advance at the pace they want. They master video games from level to level on their own clock and take Advanced Placement classes in high school to accelerate their education. They are—to some degree—in control of the speed of their own progress until they hit the workplace.

The ambiguity and the loss of control contribute to a lack of patience. We like to say that ambiguity is to Millennials what kryptonite is to Superman. Practicing patience when you are not completely in the “know” is an important skill if you desire to continue to advance.

So what does it mean to practice patience? In their research, Blount and Janicik suggest that patient people differ from impatient people in three key areas: the ability to evaluate why they are having to wait, understanding other people’s responsibility for the delay, and taking responsibility to adapt to the situation.1

You may not be thrilled about it, but it is of paramount importance to make the effort to understand why you have to wait for advancement opportunities. That being said, understanding why managers are not more proactive in sponsoring advancement opportunity is difficult. As we said earlier, Millennials are accustomed to moving at their own pace. In order to practice patience, it’s important for you to take responsibility for adapting to the situation in which you find yourself.

Patience requires the ability to see waiting as a necessary step toward a desired end. Here are three pieces of advice we learned in our research from the early wave of Millennials who are now finding themselves advancing at a much more tolerable pace: (1) Try to understand your manager’s perspective, (2) keep being persistent in your effort, and (3) consider the waiting period as time for mastering your current responsibilities. Make the wait matter. It can be disadvantageous to your career to move at the pace that you want rather than the pace you need—which is the case when you ascend too fast.

Avoiding the “Too Much, Too Soon” Mistake

In their book Breaking the Code of Silence, Mitch Kusy and Louellen Essex share seven critical mistakes executives make and strategies for rebounding from them. One of the mistakes is too much, too soon.2 In essence, it is accepting a position for which you are not ready. There is something very seductive and flattering about being young and being presented with opportunities normally reserved for people senior to you. Not unlike marveling at a 90-year-old who skydives, we revere a young professional who is wise beyond her years. It is a sociological phenomenon.

A former student called and wanted to have lunch. He had started with a midlevel investment firm out of college and diligently worked his way up the ladder. The CEO of the firm was stepping down and told him he was a candidate for the position. The two other candidates were 15 and 20 years older than our former student. The topic of our lunch centered on his readiness to be a CEO at age 31. The work of Kusy and Essex was helpful for the discussion. They offer the following warning signs about those who may not be ready for promotion:

Image They desire success at any cost.

Image They overestimate their own abilities.

Image They lack emotional maturity.

Image They lack self-awareness.

Image They cannot self-regulate their behavior.

The fact that the student solicited and listened to feedback from a former professor and mentor was a very positive sign. He was practicing “exploring your autobiography” (refer to Chapter 5, “Be True to Others”). He easily listed his liabilities in light of the strengths of the other candidates without minimizing his own readiness. His self-critique and willingness to accept critical feedback showed his emotional maturity. Oh, by the way, he is killing it as the new CEO. He epitomizes the phrase wise beyond his years, but his real strength is demonstrating emotional maturity beyond his years.

Being Self-Giving Rather Than Self-Protecting

In an environment that is stressful, you will see self-protecting behaviors from all parties. Self-protecting is primarily a defensive posture aimed at protecting self-integrity. It is quite appropriate and healthy to protect the self when there is a threat. However, self-protecting can become maladaptive to the extent that it inhibits learning from important, though threatening, experiences and information. A continual effort to protect self-integrity threatens the ability to have relationships with others—particularly those with whom we may disagree.

Some signs of self-protecting behavior are refusing to listen to a perspective that is different from your own, reframing events to put yourself in a better light, projecting blame onto others, being unwilling to make apologies, and failing to take responsibility for one’s own actions.

Conversely, self-giving behavior is placing attention on, and working toward, the interests of others. It involves things like being willing to listen to a different point of view, being vulnerable, and taking ownership for your actions.

If you find yourself in self-protecting mode a lot, you may be taking yourself too seriously. Here is the litmus test:

Image Do you always have to be right?

Image Do you argue points you are not sure of?

Image Do you insist on having the last word?

Image Do you find it painful to apologize?

A clear advantage that self-giving leaders have over those who self-protect is the ability to embrace resistance or people who think differently from them.

Embracing Resistance

Change is the dance between the people with the most responsibility in an organization and those who feel most vulnerable or dependent.3 You have heard it said that leadership is influence. A particular instance of a leader applying influence is known as an influence attempt. Gary Yukl defines an influence attempt as the process by which a leader influences attitudes, perceptions, behaviors, or some combination of these. He shows that there are three possible qualitative outcomes of an influence attempt: commitment, compliance, and resistance.4

It is obvious that the desired outcome of an influence attempt is commitment. Commitment engenders devotion and dedication that is self-sustained. It’s not about leaders keeping people fired up but about people keeping themselves fired up. Norman Shawchuck captures the concept: “People tend to support what they help to create.” In essence, your followers are influenced by both your thinking and their own. Commitment takes time. That is why leaders need to be committed to their people before their people are committed to them or to their ideas.

Gary Yukl argues there are three possible outcomes when a leader makes an attempt to influence: commitment, compliance, and resistance.5 We often ask clients to rank desirable outcomes of their influence attempts. The responses usually rank (1) commitment, (2) compliance, and (3) resistance. In reality, resistance is a better outcome than compliance. Unfortunately, however, it is far too common for leaders to settle for compliance. Compliance is characterized by a passivity that lends no energy to a change initiative or vision and leads to organizational paralysis. Resistance is a form of engagement. When handled properly, resistance can lead to commitment.

Celebrated organizational psychologist Edgar Schein contends that 80% of people negotiate change passively; they just go with the flow.6 We recently had the privilege of working with a group of government employees who worked for elected officials but were not politically appointed. We asked, “How do you negotiate the change of leadership every four years?” We were intrigued by their responses:

“Never talk about what worked before.”

“Don’t offer your opinion about what you think.”

“Smile a lot, and just keep doing what you have always done.”

“I don’t do anything. I know I’ll be here longer than them.”

“Tell the new leader you like her or him better than her or his predecessor.”

While passivity may allow one to survive leadership change ad infinitum, it does not create energy or creative tension. It certainly does not lend itself to collaboration or constructive conflict. Compliance is the last thing you want as a leader unless it is more important to get your way than it is to succeed.

For the true influencer, resistance is far more desirable than compliance. A good percentage of our work involves helping leaders to not just tolerate resistance but to actually embrace it. In most cases, the mind-set behind commitment is similar to the mind-set behind resistance: It reflects an attitude of wanting to do something about the position in which one finds oneself. However, unlike compliance, resistance is the precursor to breakthrough.

Breakthroughs bring a fresh perspective. Personal breakthrough is a pattern we see repeated over and over in life: Resistance leads to breakthrough, and breakthrough leads to acceptance. Think about dear friends in your life who were once adversaries.

Resistance is a natural phenomenon. As Abraham Maslow observed, the human condition does not improve through contentment; it only improves through discontent. Consequently, great leadership is not characterized by compliance or the absence of resistance but rather by the ability to embrace resistance. Resistance is necessary to clarify and refine plans and ideas. In some cases, resistance is necessary to get true commitment or breakthrough.

Ironically, the passion of conviction that makes us believable can also make us unapproachable or rigid. We become so passionate about our ideas or vision that there is no room for collaboration or disagreement. Resistance can seem like a distraction or the muse of malcontents. But it can also make you a better leader.

How do you respond to resistance?

Image Do you ignore it?

Image Do you marginalize the resistors?

Image Do you predominately surround yourself with compliant people?

Even entire companies can embrace resistance. A large multinational company was being targeted by a nongovernmental organization (NGO) that was critical of its environmental policies. Those in the company were feeling the pain of what they considered to be exaggerated claims by the NGO. They decided to fight back the negative publicity, and they started interviewing public relations firms to represent them. One executive suggested inviting the NGO for a conversation instead of spending the money on a PR battle. The company ultimately benefitted from what turned out to be free consulting from the NGO. Embracing the resistance allowed the company to satisfy the concerns of the NGO, address its own processes, and shore up its public image.

Once you address or satisfy one level of complaints, be prepared for the next.

Contentment Breeds Discontent

If the people you manage are discontent, it does not mean you are a bad leader. It sounds paradoxical, but contentment breeds discontent. Abraham Maslow suggests that once people satisfy lower-order needs (physiological), they become discontent and begin to pursue higher-order needs (psychological). The phenomenon is what he refers to as the theory of rising expectation. He cautions leaders against evaluating their effectiveness based on whether people are complaining or not; rather, he recommends looking at the quality of discontent. If people don’t feel safe in the building or get paid in a timely manner, that is low quality of discontent (not good). It is no secret that Millennials want to find meaning in their work and become discontented if not given the opportunity to contribute (high-quality discontent). Do not get flustered when people are not happy with something. Listen for the quality of their discontent.

We know of a person who was hired as an administrator at a private preschool. She had recently earned her master’s degree in early childhood education and was excited to put her ideas to work. It was not long until some of the moms started to become discontent with her philosophy. She taught her teachers to refrain from using the word no with the children and instead focus on redirecting behavior. Before the end of her first year, several mothers lobbied that she be fired and called for a meeting with her boss. Her boss listened intently to their displeasure with the administrator’s philosophy. He then asked if the classrooms were clean, whether the playground was safe, whether the teachers were well prepared, whether the curriculum was age appropriate, and whether the children were cared for. The mothers realized that their children were attending a great school, and the philosophy of redirection was not worth losing an effective leader over.

The point is not to get discouraged if people are complaining. We are not suggesting that high-quality discontent excuses you from listening to or resolving complaints. Rather, it should give you the emotional lift and desire to embrace criticism and work to make things even better.

Recognizing Sabotage

Since we just told you about the story of the preschool administrator experiencing a mutiny, it is fitting to talk about how leaders get sabotaged by others. Edwin Friedman argues that leaders are sabotaged in three ways: by mutiny, by seduction, and by over-functioning.7

Mutiny is the easiest of the three to understand. It is when a group gets together and throws you overboard. It happens in the largest corporations on Wall Street to the smallest congregations in the Bible Belt. Seduction is a far more subtle strategy. People tell you how great you are and what an incredible improvement you have been over the last manager. They are quick to point out things about you that you want to believe about yourself. Their praise comes with a caution: “Don’t do anything that is going to disrupt the status quo.” Over-functioning is the hardest of the three sabotage strategies to identify but probably the most common.

The goal of getting leaders to over-function is to get them so busy that they cannot possibly lead. If they are busy putting out fires or reacting to crises, then they have no time for reflection or to do what matters most for the organization. That coupled with the fact that leaders are getting shorter and shorter windows of time to actually lead compounds the effect. A Chief Executive magazine study revealed that the average tenure of a Fortune 500 CEO is 4.6 years.8

A good percentage of over-functioners get something out of doing other people’s jobs for them. Avoid the temptation of feeling indispensable by saving the day.9 When you are doing someone else’s job, you are not doing your own. The sooner you learn that, the better.

The following story illustrates the benefit of not over-functioning. The course Organizational Behavior 325 was set up two ways: Students could opt to take the course as individuals or as part of a team. The professor prepared two syllabi, and students voted on which option they wanted. The catch was that in the team scenario, each person was awarded a team grade and not an individual grade. There was a clause in the syllabus which stated that a student could petition for a different grade from that of the team but had to write an argument that was both read and signed by teammates. Every time the course was offered, students opted for the team approach. Teams had to design fictitious organizations that became the subject for many projects throughout the semester.

One year, an accounting major, who was destined to be the school valedictorian, signed up for the management elective. She was not excited about having to depend on others for her academic accomplishment but decided to not drop the class. By midterm, she was stressed out at the lack of participation from her other two team members. She met with the professor and said, “The only reason I took this course was because I heard you were the easiest A on campus.” The professor told her not to worry because there was a clause in the syllabus that allowed for a grade change. The student argued that it was the professor’s job to confront her teammates and not hers.

When it came to finals, her team had a solid C. She knew her golden rope was slipping away. The professor insisted that if she wanted more than a C, she needed to confront her teammates. She ultimately did and was granted her well-deserved A. Her teammates agreed with her assessment, signed off, and thanked her for the C, with which they were happy. Years later, the student reached out to the professor through LinkedIn. She stated that she hated him for the stress he caused in the final semester of her college days but then went on to thank him for the class. As it turns out, accounting came easily to her, but being interdependent with other people did not. She was hired by a Big Three accounting firm, and her career went vertical rather quickly. She credited her ascension to having the ability to hold other people accountable for their work and not do it for them. She learned that over-functioning is a fast path to mediocrity or failure. You may want to ask yourself:

Image Do I enjoy rescuing people?

Image Do I take pride in doing more than others?

Image Do I love saving the day?

Image Do I avoid confrontation?

Image Do I feel like I am the only one who cares?

One way to quit over-functioning is to develop a leadership-centric perspective.

Leadership-Centric Rather Than Leader-Centric Thinking

Before empowerment, diversity, and team, there has to be an understanding that leadership is not a person but the collective effort of everyone at every level of your organization. Thinking leadership-centric means that you see the leader as a part of the leadership of the organization but not the whole of it. It is a perspective that is extremely important to getting the best out of the Millennials. The academic term for the concept is distributed leadership theory. N. Bennett et al. define distributed leadership as “not something ‘done’ by an individual ‘to’ others, or a set of individual actions through which people contribute to a group or organization...[it] is a group activity that works through and within relationships, rather than individual action.”10 Distributive leadership is the counterbalance to the concept of heroic leadership. We use the term leader-centric as a synonym for heroic leadership and the term leadership-centric when talking about distributive leadership.

In a leader-centric organization, most of the energy and power in the organization is accessed through the CEO, principal, or coach. In a leadership-centric organization, the leader does not have to be the smartest, most talented person in the organization. Nor does she have to have the answer for every challenge that lurks around each corner. Rather, she has to nurture an environment in which other leaders are prepared to collaborate and allowed to lead when the opportunity arises.

Organizations that are overly dependent on a heroic leader will not be prepared for the future. There is a medical term for an illness caused by a physician: iatrogenic. The dysfunction of many organizations is iatrogenic in that it is caused by the leader’s inability to think leadership-centric.

Some signs that an organization is leader-centric:

Image The organization adapts to the weakness of the leader.

Image Key people mimic the behaviors of the leader.

Image Decision making is highly centralized.

Image Meetings get canceled when the leader is unavailable.

Moving from being leader-centric to leadership-centric is not an easy transition. It may sound counterintuitive, but the best leaders trust and follow their followers.

Following Your Followers

Ronald Heifetz asserts, “Leadership must not only meet the needs of followers but also must elevate them.”11 Following your followers is one way you can elevate a follower to leadership. The concept of following your followers is not to be confused with delegating, getting out of the way, or giving credit. It requires your attention, skills, and influence to be available for assignment.

Peter Guber, director of the movie Gorillas in the Mist, tells of the nightmare of shooting on location in Rwanda with 200 animals that wouldn’t “act.” The screenplay called for the gorillas to do what was written, and when they didn’t, the only option was to fall back on a flawed formula that had failed before: using little people in gorilla suits on a sound stage. It was during an emergency meeting that a young intern asked, “What if you let the gorillas write the story? What if you sent a really good cinematographer into the jungle with a ton of film to shoot the gorillas? Then you could write a story around what the gorillas did on the film.” Everyone laughed and wondered what the intern was doing in a meeting with experienced filmmakers. But ultimately they did exactly what she suggested, and the cinematographer “came back with phenomenal footage that practically wrote the story for us,” Guber says. “We shot the film for $20 million, half of the original budget.”12

Guber’s example is powerful in that for the betterment of the project or company, you can follow anyone at any level of your organization. Choosing when to let your followers lead is not as difficult as it may seem. Let them lead when they have a better idea, more expertise, or greater passion or when you are stuck. A vacuum of leadership has been identified in every strata of society, and a telltale sign of a vacuum is a leader being reluctant to be a follower.

If you can’t follow your followers, ask yourself:

Image Am I hiring the right people?

Image Am I insecure?

Image Am I egocentric?

Image Am I really a Millennial?

Not unlike the concept of following your followers, delegation and empowerment are also leadership-centric tools.

Being an Empowering Leader

You have already seen the data in Chapter 8, “The Reasons You Will Be a Great Leader.” The numbers show that Millennials are naturals when it comes to empowerment! Though empowerment and delegation are useful tools to a leader, it is important not to confuse the two. Ken Blanchard and his co-authors offer a great definition for empowerment: “The real essence of empowerment comes from releasing the knowledge, experience, and motivational power that is already in people but is being severely underutilized.”13 The goal of empowerment is to create an environment in which an individual’s belief in his or her self-efficacy is enhanced. Complex, challenging, and autonomous assignments nurture a “can do” attitude in employees. The focus of empowerment is on the development of the person and not the task.

Delegation, on the other hand, is primarily focused on the distribution of responsibility and workload—not on the development of the employee. The ability to delegate is a useful skill when used correctly, but delegating things you don’t want to do or busy work can be demotivating and have an adverse impact on morale.

Empowerment requires you to accurately assess the readiness level of the employee. If done incorrectly, empowerment can result in the employee being disempowered. That is exactly what happened in the following story.

The manager of a large firm was preparing to replace the document processing equipment in the company’s document processing center. Don was a student of managerial leadership and constantly looked for opportunities to improve the human side of the organization. He was a big fan of the concept of empowerment and decided to create an empowerment opportunity for his workroom director Ric. They met, and Don told him since he was the person responsible for all of the equipment and the use of it, he was putting Ric in charge of selecting the next equipment service provider. Don said he would negotiate the contract once the selection had been made. Don noticed the stream of copier salespeople marching through the building daily. Decision-making time came, and Ric did a great job of reporting on the pros and cons of each service provider before presenting his choice.

The ink on the contract wasn’t even dry before there were problems with the new equipment—and the service as well. Don started to hear complaints from the firm’s employees about the quality of support they were getting from Ric’s department. Don met with Ric to discuss the situation. Ric confessed that the new company wasn’t his first choice and that he had felt pressured into the deal. Don realized that Ric’s personality allowed him to be intimidated by the sales team. Even though Ric had the knowledge and technical skills to select the service provider, in that situation he did not have the personality to tell the sales team no. Don learned the hard way that empowerment is more than just giving someone the authority to make a decision. It also requires assessing competencies to make sure you are not setting up a person for failure.

When it comes to empowering, you may want to ask yourself:14

Image Have I determined whether the person has the ability?

Image Have I given the person clear boundaries in which they are accountable for results?

Image Have I given the person appropriate freedom and authority?

Image Have I aligned our expectations?

The Over/Under on Communication

Communication is central to any form of leadership. There are many aspects to communication, but when it comes to getting to the next level, it is important to understand that individuals need varying amounts of information based on their personality needs.

A young consultant working in a small firm found himself the target of criticism by the owner. Graham’s overall work was stellar, but the owner labeled him as a poor communicator. The owner was frustrated with Graham for not being more inclusive. Most of the owner’s angst revolved around not being copied on every e-mail Graham sent.

Before moving to the small firm, Graham had worked in a large company. In that job, he had made it a practice to copy his boss on almost everything he was working on. But his boss didn’t want to be bothered by the little things and asked Graham to only inform about the “big” stuff. Graham resonated with that because he had a similar personality to that of his first boss in that he didn’t feel slighted if he wasn’t included on every detail.

Graham made the mistake many of us do when it comes to communicating: treating others the way we want to be treated. The problem is that not everybody needs the same level of inclusion on communication, meetings, or even social events. The FIRO-B (Fundamental Interpersonal Relations Orientation) is a personality inventory that measures, among other things, one’s expressed and wanted behaviors with respect to inclusion. People with high inclusion orientation seek to involve others in virtually all they do, and they have a need for you to do the same for them.

It would be easy to label Graham’s new boss as a control freak, but that would be unfair. If you look into his behavior, you find that he includes the firm (from bottom to top) in decision making, hosts numerous lunches, and copies the team on most of his e-mails. Though Graham’s boss would argue that his is the best way to operate, the truth is that it is driven more by personality needs than philosophy. You can be sure Graham’s first boss thought his way was the best as well. People who are high in inclusion may interpret Graham’s behavior as exclusive, secretive, or even subversive.

The message here is that communication needs vary by person based on each one’s need for inclusion. In the case of Graham’s new boss, the adjustment is rather easy: Include him in everything until he asks you not to. Although authority structure impacts the dynamic of a relationship, it is important to understand the communication needs of the people you lead.

When it comes to the over/under of communicating:

Image Don’t ask yourself, “What would I want to know?”

Image Don’t ask yourself, “How much do I think they need to know?”

Image Ask yourself, “How much do they need to know?”

If you are high inclusion, make sure you communicate that to the people who report to you—unless you are okay with possibly being perceived as a control freak.

Most Problems Are Not Problems at All

It is critical for a managerial leader to understand the difference between a problem and a predicament. According to Richard Farson, problems happen to you, and predicaments happen because of you. Many leaders get caught in the trap of reorganizing, rehiring, and re-everythinging because they fail to understand that what they perceive to be a problem is not a problem at all. Problems can be solved. If you’re a farmer and a tornado destroys your silos, that’s a problem. You call your insurance company, contractor, and feed supplier to solve the problem. Predicaments are different in that they come about as a result of our values and can only be coped with—not resolved—until our values change.15

As an example, consumer debt is not a problem but a predicament. When treated like a problem, the goal is to get the debt balance to zero. You have probably heard radio advertisements suggesting that you consolidate your debt and make one easy monthly payment, with the goal of being debt free. Unfortunately, studies show that 2 out 3 people who get out of consumer debt go right back into it. This is because consumer debt is not a problem, it’s a predicament: It happens because of them. The values that drive us to spend more than we make are easily recognized: instant gratification, we deserve it, makes me feel good, keeping up with others, and helping the economy. Until our values change, we can only cope with a predicament.

A former client, a publicly traded insurance company with several divisions, was struggling with a culture of silos. The divisions were not sharing leads or cross-selling insurance products. Consequently, the company was losing potential clients to competitors. The CEO was convinced that they had grown too fast and had not established a culture of knowledge sharing. He was committed to doing whatever was needed to rehabilitate the culture, including providing training at every level across the company. Training is great, but the culture of silos didn’t just happen to the company. The silos were a product of a value system. There had to be a value or values driving the organization’s behavior. Further investigation revealed that the company’s bonus plan was designed to pit the divisions in competition with each other for financial reward. If a division cross-sold a product, it could adversely impact everyone’s bonus in the division. The CEO highly valued competition and believed it was the best motivator for high performance. However, he realized that he had two competing values in this case: competition and collaboration. He decided to change the bonus plan to one of coopetition. Sharing leads and cross-selling became a part of the bonus calculation.

Here are some signs you may have a predicament:

Image There is a low level of trust in the organization.

Image The company is losing key players.

Image There is high staff turnover.

Image Employees lack commitment.

Image Subordinates won’t take initiative.

Image The company lacks healthy conflict.

Image Succession planning is done poorly.

Image A problem will not go away, no matter what you do.

Change Is Everyone’s Job

Have you ever heard or read something that stays with you and just won’t let go? Perhaps at first you didn’t agree with it or it flew in the face of convention, but over time the concept became a window in your worldview—an “oh no” that morphed into an “ah hah.” We have, and here it is: “Change looks revolutionary only in retrospect.”

Change is everyone’s job. Change is not solely the work of the CEO and upper management. A large corporation had been suffering from decline for a decade. The executive leadership team was exhausted, defensive, and stuck. It was suggested in a meeting that the opinions and ideas of their entire workforce be solicited to inform how the company could reinvent itself. The CFO adamantly objected: “If we ask them, they will think that we don’t know what we are doing.” The CEO responded, “They already think that.” Such a scenario is not uncommon in today’s boardrooms. The reality is that the opposite is true: A leader who solicits advice, ideas, and help is held in high regard.

One could argue that the fall of the Berlin Wall is the best characterization of revolutionary change in the late twentieth century. It marked the ending of one era and the ushering in of another. Ponder this: Did the Berlin Wall come down because East Berlin’s Communist Party leader Günter Schabowski mentioned in 1989 that the border would be opened for “private trips abroad”? How much did Gorbachev’s “glasnost” tour stop in Germany affect things? Or Reagan calling out to Gorbachev two years earlier with his infamous, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this Wall!”? What was the effect of the 120,000 nonviolent demonstrators who gathered in Leipzig, Germany, for peace prayers on October 16, 1989, chanting political slogans like “Free elections,” “We are staying here,” and “We are the People”? And, one certainly cannot discount the sacrifice of Chris Gueffroy on February 6, 1989. He, along with at least 100 other people, were killed at the wall. Some, like Gueffroy, gave their lives. Some gave speeches and some prayed, but they all contributed to bringing down the wall. Such is the case when significant change takes place in any organization. All levels affect change. All levels play a role in change. Too frequently, too much focus is placed on formal leadership actions, and not enough attention is given to the variety of activity taking place at other levels of the organization.

The seeds or platforms for a change initiative that may reinvent or preserve your organization are possibly already in place. Rather than stress out about producing new ideas, tap into the know-how and ideas already resident in your organization.

Don’t Be Afraid of Conflict

The classical management approach to conflict was to avoid it at all cost. Though the view of conflict has advanced from “let’s avoid it” to “let’s introduce it,” many people still find themselves sick to their stomachs when they have to deal with just the thought of it. Some studies suggest that two-thirds of a manager’s job is conflict related.

What are some words you would associate with conflict? Most people think in negative terms. Conflict is neither good nor bad in and of itself. It is how we respond to conflict that determines whether it is healthy or unhealthy. If we can suspend our fear of conflict, we find that conflict can present opportunity.

Interpersonal conflict can be the most threatening type of conflict for a manager. Two challenges Millennial managers report facing are the ability to be confrontational and the ability to hold people accountable. Both situations can produce a threat, which in turn creates a reaction. It is helpful to understand how conflict progresses through stages. Norman Shawchuck illustrates the concept with what he refers to as the conflict cycle, which has five stages.16

Stage 1: Tension Development

Tension development involves noticing something different in a relationship but being unable to put a finger on it. It is the best time to communicate the tension, but often you don’t want to over-read a situation or be dramatic, so you remain quiet.

Stage 2: Role Dilemma

When you advance to role dilemma, you sense a loss of freedom in the relationship. Something is definitely different. You may find yourself avoiding the other person and even trying to figure out who’s in control.

Stage 3: Injustice Collecting

Injustice collecting is the first dangerous stage of the cycle. You begin to gather every piece of evidence to support your view that the other person is bad. The conflict moves to character assassination, triangling, and mind reading. (Triangling is trying to convince others to see things your way and recruiting them to your side.)

Stage 4: Confrontation

A triggering event produces a threat so great that there is confrontation from at least one of the parties. The confrontation can range from civility to violence.

Stage 5: Adjustments

Adjustments can be win-lose, compromise, lose-leave, win-win, or stalemate. Good adjustments resolve conflict, and poor adjustments cause the cycle to start over again at the tension development stage. The speed of advancement through the cycle increases with frequency.

The best time to deal with conflict is when you feel tension or role dilemma. Unfortunately, though, by the time you advance to role dilemma, communicating can be too threatening. Also, it is important to never assume that the other party is satisfied with the adjustments made in the relationship. It is important to get verbal and emotional buy-in to agreements. Shawchuck’s model is useful for helping us understand what to anticipate when we are in conflict.

The Nature and Presence of the Leader

Earlier we mentioned Edwin Friedman’s assertion that it is the nature and presence of a leader that most impacts an organization. A leader’s emotional processes and behaviors act as cues for others in the organization. We don’t need to tell you that the atmosphere of an office or the mood of a meeting can be gauged by the temperament of the leader. We are not saying it is good or bad; it just is, and you need to be aware that your presence has an impact beyond what you could imagine.

We worked with a newly hired CEO of a midlevel medical device manufacturing company. An investment group that had recently acquired the company had recruited him. Paul was personable and highly qualified, and he got off to a great start. He was well received by a group of employees who had worked together for 15-plus years. Six months into the position, Paul started get a little pushback from his employees with respect to workload and expectations. He called us for help. He even suggested that we interview his employees to ascertain how they were experiencing his leadership.

The interviews proved to be enlightening. His employees appreciated his knowledge and skill set. They believed he could easily exponentially grow the company. However, in each interview, comments were made about how many hours Paul put in. Some thought he was trying to lead by example, while others thought he was trying to set an expectation for everybody.

After briefing Paul on the findings, he said, “I have never asked anyone to work the hours I do.” He had been getting to work around 5 a.m. and leaving around 9 p.m. When asked why he put in so many hours, he closed the door, rested his face on the palm of his hands, and took a deep breath. He told us about his struggles with his marriage and home life. He had been working unbelievable hours to avoid dealing with his personal life. He had no idea that his behavior was creating a perception that his employees interpreted as an expectation to work the same hours. Even worse, employees were experiencing family problems as a result of trying to keep up with the hours he was putting in.

It is easy to minimize one’s own influence. That is not bad when it comes to keeping your ego in check. But when it comes to leading, understand that your mere presence impacts the organization.

Everybody Gets Stuck

The regression of the imagination is what happens when you get stuck.17 It means you cannot think anything could ever be any different from your current situation. We all get stuck. We get stuck in our careers, our relationships, our faith, and our personal growth.

Friedman suggests two ways to get unstuck. The first is serendipity. Something happens that you have no control over (the loss of a parent, your parents’ divorce, being fired). There are people who have experienced untold tragedy and have emerged from it with new vitality for, perspective on, and love for life.

The other way to get unstuck is to go on an adventure. You don’t have to sell all you have and save the rain forest, but go for it if that works for you. You can learn a new language. You can create a bucket list. You can change careers. You can go back to school. You can take a transfer overseas. And you don’t have to do it all on your own. When people see you investing in your own personal development, they are going to want to invest too!

We close the book with the following piece of advice: Don’t overthink your next decision. Don’t put the pressure on yourself to make the perfect decision. Your next decision is only the decision before the next decision after that.

We wish you continued success in life. The next chapter is yours to write!


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2. Kusy, M., & Essex, L. (2005). Breaking the Code of Silence: Prominent Leaders Reveal How They Rebound from Seven Critical Mistakes. Dallas: Taylor Trade Pub.

3. Friedman, E. H. (1985). Generation to Generation: Family Process in Church and Synagogue. New York: Guilford Press.

4. Yukl, G. A. (2006). Leadership in Organizations (6th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/Prentice Hall.

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6. Couto, D. L. (2002). The anxiety of learning. Harvard Business Review, 80(3), 100.

7. Friedman, E. H. (1985). Generation to Generation: Family Process in Church and Synagogue. New York: Guilford Press.

8. Brookmire, D. (2011). Increase your chance of survival as CEO. http://chiefexecutive.net/increase-your-chances-of-survival-as-ceo/.

9. Note: Our study suggests that Millennials are more likely to rescue (help with workload) an older worker than a younger worker.

10. Bennett, N., et al. (2003). Distributed leadership. Nottingham: National College of School Leadership.

11. Heifetz, R. (1994). Leadership without Easy Answers. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. p. 24.

12. Muoio, A. (Ed.). (1998). “My greatest lesson.” Fast Company, June–July, 82+.

13. Blanchard, K., Carlos, J., & Randolph, A. (1999). The Three Keys to Empowerment. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler, p. 4.

14. Brower, M. (1995). Empowering teams: What, why, and how. Empowerment in Organizations, 3(1), 13–25.

15. Farson, R. E. (1996). Management of the Absurd: Paradoxes in Leadership. New York: Simon & Schuster.

16. Shawchuck, N. (1983). How to Manage Conflict in the Church. Chicago: Spiritual Growth Resources.

17. Friedman, E. H. (1985). Generation to Generation: Family Process in Church and Synagogue. New York: Guilford Press.

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