What are you reading?

books stackWe are often asked to recommend books that address a particular leadership challenge. While reading books certainly doesn’t guarantee behavior change, many people report that they are inspired and guided by what they learn in books.

Here are several of our favorites, grouped by topic.

Organizational success/resilience: Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…And Others Don’t (Collins)

Great by Choice: Uncertainty, Chaos, and Luck–Why Some Thrive Despite Them All (Collins & Hansen)

Self-awarenessLeadership and Self-Deception: Getting out of the Box (Arbinger Institute)

The Anatomy of Peace: Resolving the Heart of Conflict (Arbinger Institute)

Leadership vision and communication: It’s Your Ship: Management Techniques from the Best Damn Ship in the Navy (Abrashoff)

Time management: Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity (Allen)

Executive leadershipWhat Got You Here Won’t Get You There: How Successful People Become Even More Successful (Goldsmith)

The Radical Leap: A Personal Lesson in Extreme Leadership (Farber) 

People effectivenessEmotional Intelligence 2.0 (Bradberry, Greaves & Lencioni)

General leadership reference manuals: Successful Manager’s Handbook (Gebelein, Nelson-Neuhaus, et.al)

50 DOs for Everyday Leadership: Practical Lessons Learned the Hard Way [So You Don't Have To] (Barrett, Wheatley & Townsend)

CommunicationCrucial Conversations Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High (Patterson, Grenny, et al)

Team development: The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable (Lencioni)

Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t (Sinek)

Continuous improvement/ChangeThe Fifth Discipline Fieldbook: Strategies and Tools for Building a Learning Organization (Senge)

Our Iceberg Is Melting: Changing and Succeeding Under Any Conditions (Kotter, Rathgeber, et al)

CoachingEleven Rings: The Soul of Success (Jackson & Delaney)

Decision-making/ChoicesDecisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work (Heath & Heath)

Introverts as Leaders: Quiet Influence: The Introvert’s Guide to Making a Difference (Kahnweiler)

What are you reading, and why?


Let’s put those great ideas to work!

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Why change?

Change Decision Making ConceptWe’re confronted by the need to change on a daily basis. New organizational expectations require learning a new skill. External pressures mean that the team must shift their ways of working together. How do you help others quickly respond and make the necessary shifts?

Experts have made it seem that managing change is just a matter of doing the right steps in the right order. The truth is that when it comes to change (and most other things), people aren’t rational. That is, you can’t just create a one-size-fits-all transformation plan and be done with it. (Read this great McKinsey article on the “inconvenient truth” about managing change.)

Leaders have been told to craft a compelling story that will motivate others to change. In fact, there have to be many different stories, and those are best created by the people who are required to change.

As a leader, you can facilitate people’s story creation by exploring their compelling motivations. Compelling motivation is the “what’s in it for me?” that will drive commitment. You can’t tell them they have “skin in the game.” They need to identify this reason to transform.. That might be a positive reason (“a great opportunity”) or a negative one (“if we don’t change, bad things will happen”). Whatever it is, it should be significant enough to compel people to move into unknown territory.

The good news is that your job as a change leader is not to come up with the one right message. It may feel like more work to support people’s individual exploration, but it’s the right way to make sure commitment is achieved and sustained.


We love helping people change.

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Lead like a band competition judge

clarinets croppedLast week, my daughter, Maggie, performed in the middle school band solo/ensemble competition. Having never experienced this type of event, I figured I’d be watching three young people perform pretty well, in spite of their extreme nervousness. That definitely happened. Little did I know that I’d also experience a lesson in leadership.

I expected the judge to listen, note his assessment on the form and move on to the next group of kids with knocking knees. Sorry, Mr. Judge. I misjudged you. What did you do instead? You fertilized these budding musicians with the right combination of feed, seed and weed!

Feed. Before the three students started playing, you connected faces to names and cracked a joke. Although they were too scared to laugh, they appreciated you reaching out to them as people. After they finished playing, you talked about all the things they did well, in quite a bit of detail. For the first time since they stepped in the room, not one of them looked like they were about to throw up.

Seed. Mr. Judge, you masterfully outlined their future brilliance as clarinetists. You mentioned some specific ways in which they would master parts of the music as they continued to grow. You made their future growth real and attainable and exciting.

Weed. Finally, you mentioned some things they didn’t do well. But instead of letting them stew about those, you gave them a tip, had them try it, and voila! Those squeaks and timing problems began to fade like weeds after a dose of herbicide (organic, of course).

I should do so well in my everyday life as a leader. I am prone to weed, weed, weed and then throw in my suggestions in an effort to be helpful. Thanks, middle school band judge, for rising above and making a difference in these kids’ lives (and even in the spectators’). If you can do it, so can I!



Questions to activate learning and growth

The decision of questionsHumanergy spends a lot of time helping people ask powerful questions. We know that, in contrast with telling people what to do, questions can help people learn and grow.

It’s not just asking more questions each day. Your motive for asking is extremely important, because it drives what and how you ask.

Scenario 1:Direct report (DR) returns from a training session, and you ask, “So, what did you learn?”

If your motive is to test if the DR was paying attention or just loafing, the impact of the question is pretty negative. The DR will likely give a short answer and retreat. However, if you are invested in the DR’s development, you will ask the question with a different intonation and positive energy. The DR will be excited to share what she learned and how she plans to apply it on the job.

One short question with two very different outcomes. Another example:

People make mistakes, and asking insightful questions can clarify what went wrong and how to prevent problems in the future. In the tense hours/days after a mistake, a not-so-enlightened supervisor could use questions as a way of keeping others in line and themselves in control.

Scenario 2: Your DR tried a new method to solve a problem and it didn’t work. You ask, “Now do you see why I wanted you to do it the other way?”

That question is not really a question. It’s a slap on the wrist, at best. If your motivation is to help your DR expand thinking, ask some of these questions, “You thought your plan would work. What happened, and what did you learn? Are there other strategies you want to try?”

As Danielle Lombard-Sims posted at Toolbox.com, asking questions is a great way to help your employees learn to solve problems on their own. It’s also an investment in your organization’s future. So check your motivation, and ask away!


We are motivated to help, so contact Humanergy!

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The best gift for your people

break through wallIt’s not a plant, gift basket or commemorative plaque. The best gift you can give your employees this year is to help them make progress in their work.

You might have thought that the key to motivating people is a heartfelt and specific “thank you.” While expressing gratitude is important, research shows that it does not produce the largest boost in motivation.

Think about the last time you achieved a breakthrough in a project. Did you feel proud, elated and ready to dig into the next assignment? Making progress is energizing and fun, and those emotions feed employee engagement and motivation.

As you ponder the coming end of the year, figure out what you might do that will give a boost to your staff’s productivity – training, a new tool or mentoring, perhaps? Make it your job to clear the way for progress.


It’s time to enable your people to move forward, and we can help!

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Check your attitude

positive attitudeKaren, Humanergy’s business manager was quoted recently, saying “I am so happy that I get to go to work.” Not “HAVE to go to work,” but “GET to!” That warms our hearts – and it is an attitude you can cultivate.

Everyone from Dr. Phil to bloggers at Harvard Business Review know that attitude matters. While some people feel like their negativity is due to external factors, attitude is largely a choice.

Your attitude is composed of thoughts and feelings – about work, other people, etc. There may be times during crisis when it is hard to get your emotional bearings. However, in the normal day-to-day grind, you can control your attitude even when your work is complex and people are difficult.

Geoffrey James at Inc.com wrote about 8 ways to improve your attitude, including doing something that takes you out of your comfort zone and forgiving people’s limitations and weaknesses. (We’d advise not wasting energy on any of the things you can’t control, and other people’s attitudes are among them.)

James’ best tip in my mind is to hang out with positive people. Scientists have proven that we mirror the behavior of those around us – and aren’t positive people generally more fun to be around?

It’s easier to have a positive attitude when personal and company values align, when your co-workers are pleasant and when your job is fulfilling. And it’s also true that you can choose to approach even the most challenging situations with a positive mental outlook. Don’t be naive about reality, but do adopt a hopeful frame of mind. “Yep, things are tough, and it’s gonna get better!”

You are the master of your attitude – choose positivity!


Want your glass half full? Humanergy can help.

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Do you really know your organization’s culture?

Top leaders think they have their finger on the pulse of the organization. In reality, what they believe about the culture (how things really work) is often based on misconceptions or incomplete information.

As Hagberth Consulting Group puts it, CEOs are personally invested and don’t really want to admit that their “baby” is ugly. CEOs can also be removed from the day-to-day dynamics and therefore not able to observe how people interact and things get done.

Getting a grip on the reality of culture is essential for leaders. Otherwise, subsequent strategies and actions may be ineffective, because they don’t align with the reality of how the organization really operates.

There are many tools for assessing culture, like the Denison Organizational Culture Assessment and Human Synergistics’ Organizational Culture Inventory®. Leaders can also make a concerted effort to seek out their employees’ ideas, recognizing that it can be hard to tell the boss what she doesn’t want to hear. Try asking employees questions like, “If you could change one thing about how we operate, what would that be?” or “What advice would you give a new employee that would help him navigate our culture?”

Choosing the appropriate assessment method may be easy compared to admitting that you don’t know what you don’t know about your own organization’s real culture.

Need help understanding how your organization really works? Contact Humanergy.

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Emotional Intelligence: Elephants and riders

When we ask people to reflect on great leadership moments, they identify a common theme. It is the ability to understand the self and others and put this intelligence into purposeful effect. In other words, Emotional Intelligence is a key difference maker for great leaders.

Much of our work at Humanergy helps people manage the people side of their business and increase their Emotional Intelligence (EI). Daniel Goleman identified five components of EI – Self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy and social skill. The challenge, especially for more technically-minded people, is to boost their EI. We found the elephant and rider analogy to be powerful and helpful.

Several recent books have expanded upon the rider and the elephant analogy. Chip and Dan Heath in Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard talk about the rider as the thinking aspect of decisions and the elephant being the passionate, emotional side. The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom by Jonathon Haidt explores the conscious mind (the rider) and the unconscious mind (the elephant).

When thinking about Emotional Intelligence and leadership, the rider (intellect and logic) often thinks he’s in charge of the elephant (emotions). Worse yet, some riders don’t admit they’re on an elephant at all. When a leader doesn’t master EI, influence suffers and results wane.

I am reminded of a coworker who was brilliant, capable and at the top of his field. His Achilles heel was the interpersonal aspects. He regularly received feedback that he was cold, abrasive and difficult to work with. Over time, and with consistent effort, he was able to adopt some practices that helped a great deal. He started asking more questions in meetings and involving others in important projects. He may never be a people person by nature, but he does have a better understanding of the impact of his behavior on others. He is actively training his elephant and rider to work together.

What’s the status of your elephant and rider and their relationship? Are you aware of others’ elephants and adapting to them? (Think of a herd of massive, invisible elephants crashing around at your next team meeting.)

Wisdom in human relations is a prerequisite of excellent leadership. That’s why it is so tempting to immediately think, “Yea, I have a handle on my emotions” or “Sure, I get what’s going on with Bob.” Remember that elephants have a mind of their own and can’t be driven around like a golf cart. It takes time and consistent effort to master the rider/elephant partnership.

It is reassuring to know that everyone’s riding an elephant which can be hard to understand and sometimes out of control. We are all in the same jungle – in need of elephant riding lessons.


Need help training your elephant? Contact Humanergy.

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Two ways to boost your employees’ performance

It makes intuitive sense that how people feel day to day impacts their contributions on the job. New research by Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer “reveals the dramatic impact of employees’ inner work lives—their perceptions, emotions, and motivation levels—on several dimensions of performance.”

Your inner work life boils down to your emotions, level of motivation and perceptions throughout the day. What is the link between good or bad days and how people perform?

People perform better when their workday experiences include more positive emotions, stronger intrinsic motivation (passion for the work), and more favorable perceptions of their work, their team, their leaders, and their organization.

Not surprisingly how people are managed has a significant impact on the quality of their inner work lives. This study found two key differentiating factors when they examined managerial impact. The first was enabling employees to make progress – to achieve a goal, reach a milestone or solve a problem. This means not getting in the way and actively removing obstacles that derail progress.

The second way to positively impact performance is having managers treat employees decently. Interestingly, this dimension was strongly linked with the previous one around making progress. Praising people for work that did not make progress did not have a positive impact on performance, probably because such fail praise smacks of insincerity. Employees felt better about their work and contributed more if their managers expressed appreciation for valid results and achievements.

The bottom line is that if you want high performance, it isn’t enough to set the bar high. You need to attend to the inner work life of your people as well.


Need help boosting your people’s performance? Contact Humanergy.

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It takes time to motivate

It’s official. A recent McKinsey  & Company report reviews best practices for motivating great performance. Numerous studies show that as long as people have adequate salaries, financial incentives don’t improve performance over more than a very short term.

So what does motivate people to dig deep, work hard and remain loyal to the organization? Three things, and they all require an investment of time on the part of leadership. Unfortunately, this investment is happening less in many work environments. From the McKinsey report:

“One HR director we interviewed spoke of their tendency to “hide” in their offices—primarily reflecting uncertainty about the current situation and outlook. This lack of interaction between managers and their people creates a highly damaging void that saps employee engagement.”

To figure out where you stand, think about each of the people you supervise. How would they rate you on the following three factors identified in the study?

Praise from immediate managers. Make it timely and specific.

Leadership attention. One-on-one conversations on issues of substance (beyond “Good morning!” or “How about those Lions?!” )

A chance to lead projects or task forces. Cross-functional work that matters builds skills, connections and job satisfaction.

Now that you’ve thought of how your people would rate you on the top three non-financial motivators, how are you going to improve their engagement? This is something that will require a long-term investment on your part. As Zig Ziglar said: “Of course motivation is not permanent. But then, neither is bathing; but it is something you should do on a regular basis.”


Need to motivate your people? Contact Humanergy.

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