What Women Understand About Effective Modern Leadership

In his wonderful book, Stumbling on Happiness, Harvard researcher Daniel Gilbert points out that often our best bet for making decisions we will both enjoy and benefit from, is to ask our peers who have made similar decisions. Gilbert’s advice before embarking on an important decision is to ask someone whom we trust, who has also made the decision we are contemplating, and follow their advice. And, as he points out, once we learn their point of view on the matter, we often refuse that advice on the grounds that our situation is different. We reject their advice claiming, “But I’m unique! How could they possibly know what’s best for me?”

Research finds that this inability to accept outside advice and insight only increases with power. The more power and resources controlled by an individual, the more confident they tend to be in their decision-making, and less they tend to listen and be influenced by outside opinions and points of view. However, in their study women were often an exception.

In two phases of the study, women tended to be more open to outside points of view regardless of their position of power within the organization. In their study entitled “The detrimental effects of power on confidence, advice taking, and accuracy,” Kelly See and her colleagues discovered that women more often reported less certainty in their decisions than men, and solicited the advice and opinions of their colleagues more. Most interestingly, because women more often solicited the opinion and advice of their colleagues, they were viewed by their peers as stronger leaders.

So while they may have lacked confidence in their decisions, women were regarded as more confident and effective leaders precisely because they asked for advice from their peers.

This innate ability hold separate ideas at once, and to solicit external opinions and advice is but one of many of the 21st century traits and competencies needed to be an effective leader in this turbulent economy. As author Tony Schwartz noted in the Harvard Business Review, “An effective modern leader requires a blend of intellectual qualities—the ability to think analytically, strategically and creatively—and emotional ones, including self-awareness, empathy and humility…I meet far more women with this blend of qualities than I do men.”

Schwartz goes on to say, “For the most part, women, more than men, bring to leadership a more complete range of the qualities modern leaders need, including self-awareness, emotional attunement and authenticity.”

At an unprecedented historic time in which much of the educated talent and a majority of the consumer decisions are made by women, we need gender diversity at all levels – and particularly the highest levels of organizations. As gender diversity expert Avivah Wittenberg-Cox researches and argues, some of the most successful organizations who are effectively adapting to change are populated at the highest levels with balanced gender diversity.

[Originally posted on Skip Pritchard’s great blog Leadership Insights]


Shawn Hunter is President and Founder of Mindscaling, a company building powerful human and digital learning experiences based on the work of best-selling authors. My new book Small Acts of Leadership, is a Washington Post bestseller! You can grab a copy now. Have a meeting coming up? Let’s talk.

Last summer, my son and I bicycled across America with two other dads and their teenagers. We published a new book about it called Chasing Dawn. I co-authored the book with my cycling companion, the artist, photographer, and wonderful human jon holloway. Grab a copy. I’ll sign it and send it to your doorstep.

Talent is cheaper than table salt


“Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work.”
– Stephen King, Author

Carol Dweck led a fascinating study back in 1998 in which she and her colleagues worked with four hundred 5th graders and gave them a series of tests, mostly puzzles, and then praised them in two different ways with these six little words.

With half of the group they said, “You must be smart at this.”
With the other half of the group they said, “You must have tried really hard.”

The first word set awarded intelligence, and innate talent, similar to how many parents and coaches (myself included) get trapped into talking about, and to, our kids. We say how smart they are, or how naturally gifted they are. The second word set praised effort, determination, preparation, grit. What the researchers were interested in, was how the kids would view their abilities, as fixed and unchanging or as malleable and able to grow and change with work.

In the next round of puzzles, the kids were offered a choice. They could try harder problems or easier ones. You guessed right, the kids praised for effort choose to attempt the harder problems. The kids praised for talent selected the easier problems because when you praise for innate talent, you create a form of status. If someone believes they have special talent and they are expected to perform well, then the thought of failing expectations becomes a liability. So to protect yourself as a “gifted and talented” individual we will choose easier tasks to ensure we have high performance.

In the next part of the study both sets of kids were given harder problems to solve and both sets of kids performed more poorly. But here’s the interesting thing. When the researchers asked the kids how they did on the problems, the kids praised for talent lied 40% of the time, presumably to maintain their social status as “talented.” However, when the other kids praised for effort were asked to tell their peers how they did on this set of questions, only 10% of them exaggerated their performance. They felt no loss of self-esteem from doing poorly on difficult problems.

Here’s where it gets really interesting. In the next phase of the study, both sets of kids were given problems comparable to the original set of problems. In terms of difficulty, this next set was just as challenging as the first. The group praised for talent had just had an ego setback in the earlier round, and did 20% worse than they did the first time around. They were told they were smart, then they performed poorly, and now attacking the same level of difficulty with decreased confidence they do 20% worse.

But the second group did 30% better this time around. There’s the difference – 6 words. But keep in mind there are a lot of ways to say, “You must have tried really hard.”

Carol and her colleagues use these kinds of effort or “process” praise: which is praise for engagement, perseverance, strategies, improvement, etc.

– You really studied for your English test, and your improvement shows it. You read the material over several times, outlined it, and tested yourself on it. That really worked!
– I like the way you tried all kinds of strategies on that math problem until you finally got it.
It was a long, hard assignment, but you stuck to it and got it done. You stayed at your desk, kept up your concentration, and kept working. That’s great!
– I like that you took on that challenging project for your science class. It will take a lot of work—doing the research, designing the machine, buying the parts, and building it. You’re going to learn a lot of great things

Next time you see excellent, praise the effort, the grit, the patience and hard work it must have taken to get there. You’ll not only be rewarding excellence, but also building growth and confidence.

Labels, mazes and stupefying change

think_differentFrancis Hesselbein was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States of America’s highest civilian honor by President Clinton, in 1998. She is founder of the Hesselbein Leadership Institute. Her books have been translated into 29 languages, and she is the recipient of 22 honorary doctorate degrees. She has been awarded nearly every prestigous award of leadership excellence you can imagine, inducted into Halls of Fame, sits on numerous boards, was appointed to two commissions on community leadership by George Bush… You get the idea.

Last week I sat in and listened to an interview as she spoke with my collague Taavo about what it means to be a leader. She kept returning to a few key phrases throughout the conversation. One expression she repeated consistently was “Ban the heirarchy.”

That expression kept jumping into my mind as I read through a study on the relationship between giving heirarchical labels to individuals and its negative impact on their ability to solve complex puzzles. No one I talk to seems to disagree with the fact that as we live in a world of stupefying change, the ability to digest complicated information and then transform it into meaningful ideas or innovation is critically valuable. And yet, we often persist in such debilitating labels.

In the study called Names Can Hurt You, a group of researchers from the World Bank went to rural India and conducted a series of problem-solving tests with 6th and 7th grade students from both the highest and lowest castes. Before the test began, each student was privately interviewed and asked their name, caste, father’s name, grandfather’s name and village. Then they were divided into three groups. Each group was first asked to solve mazes on their own. And then the researchers created a competitive tournament game in which the students were incentivized to perform better. The best performers gained peer recognition and cash.

The first group, known as Caste Concealed, consisted of 3 high caste students (H) and 3 low caste students (L). Because the students were selected from multiple villages, and because none of their personal information was shared with other students, a child might reasonably assume the others are unaware of their caste. As expected, in this group all 6 students performed comparably well on the puzzles, and responded positively to the social and monetary incentives introduced in the competitive tournament game.

The second group, know as Caste Revealed, again consisted of 3H and 3L students. However, at the beginning of the session the researchers read aloud each child’s background information, revealing their identity and caste. In this group all students did not improve or respond to incentives in the tournament portion of the test.

The third group, Caste Segregated, consisted of 6H and 6L students, and again all identities were revealed prior to starting the session. In this group, not only did the students remain unresponsive to competitive incentives, it had a negative impact on the lower caste students. Once their identity was revealed in a larger group they performed even worse when incentivized to do better.

Huh! Imagine that: in team-based problem-solving environments, when certain members of the group are labeled as inferior, they perform worse on complex problems.

Avoid labels, speak in terms of “we.” And in the language of world-class innovative – and non-heirarchical – company W.L. Gore, “No one may commit another.” That is to say, you may invite or challenge people to take on tasks and accountability but you may not commit another person to doing something. In their culture, people have influence based on the compelling power of their ideas and leadership ability to get things done, not based on their title.

Blue Monkey 22

coyote2As a family we ski quite a bit in the winter. We’re about two hours from Sugarloaf Mountain in Maine and the kids love it. A couple years ago, I would regularly launch off a series of ski jumps in the terrain park. It’s exhilarating. Drop down to approach the ramp, race up to the lip of the jump and sail high to a smooth landing on the downhill other side. Fifteen feet? Twenty? I probably exaggerate but it feels really far. If you get the speed right it’s smooth, easy and fun. I could do it all day. What a blast.

As a big treat, I attached a ski trip to a business obligation in Denver and took our boys Charlie (10) and WIll (8) out to Breckenridge, CO to see the big sky, ski the big mountains. We met some good friends living there and headed up to Summit County for a few days. On the first day of skiing, I was riding up the chairlift with my friend Greg, and as the lift was passing over the terrain park below, which included a series of substantial jumps, Greg remarked, “I’ve always thought that looks fun but I’m not sure I want to try it.”

What a setup. Of course I say, “Oh, it’s no problem. Just get the speed right and it’s easy. I’ll show you. I do it all the time.” I spend the rest of the chairlift ride talking about how the key is to commit to it. Own it.

We skied down to the jump and I positioned myself to attack it. Maybe it was oxygen deprivation at altitude or a function of being forty, but in that moment I recall being supremely confident. This was a piece of cake. I dropped in, gained speed, and sailed smoothly off the jump.

Too fast. I hit that way too hot. I soared far over the easy downhill landing zone, arms pinwheeling like Wile E Coyote stationary above open air. I hit hard. I still remember the fall, but the next few seconds are blurry. Evidently after fifteen seconds or so, I wobbled to my feet and turned to see Greg had skied down next to me. Eyes big, he gestured and said “Sit down!”

I sat down and a blink later a Patroller was in front of me looking at me closely, and asking, “Where are you from? What day of the week is it? What did you have for breakfast?” Stunned, I turned and looked blankly at Greg, “I have no idea what I had for breakfast.”

Next the Patroller says, “I want you to remember these three things, OK? Blue. Monkey. 22. Got it?”

And I’m thinking, “No way, he’s doing that thing to me!” I have friends who are EMTs, ski patrollers, field trauma experts, and I knew he was performing a concussion assessment on me. There is no way I’m going to blow this. Blue. Monkey. 22. Oh, I got this dialed.

He asked me a series of questions about my kid’s names, who the President was, and so on, and when he came back to the three things I definitely nailed it. But still he said, “We’re going to put you on the sled, give you some oxygen, and take you down.” At eleven thousand feet, I remember the oxygen felt really good.

We went down to the patrol hut, Greg and the kids following. I got another look over, and some advice on how to behave. I suddenly felt pretty far from home, and when my son quietly teared up I felt embarrassed at being such a fool. Another Patroller came in and, after hearing my story, peered at me sagely and said, “The terrain park is a young man’s game.”

Blue Monkey 22 became code for “Do you really think you should do that? Maybe think it through first.” Lesson is: what works on the home court doesn’t always translate on the road. Or: with home in the rear view mirror, objects are closer than they appear.

It’s just another reason I stay off the jumps these days.

Think before you drop in

dropinTrue story: a couple of years ago a friend came over to visit and chat about some business ideas. My daughter was napping upstairs, my wife was out running, and the two of us were sitting in lawn chairs in the backyard watching our two boys (6 and 8 at the time) try to “drop in” on a skateboard into the half pipe ramp we had built together.

“Dropping in” is an audacious challenge. Imagine this for a moment. Although the top of the ramp is *only* four and a half feet high, when perched up there with your back foot bracing the board and your front foot poised to pounce and slam the deck down on the ramp and race across the plywood – trust me – it’s a scary drop.

So there we are, watching the boys attempt, and fail, at “dropping in.” David says to my son Charlie, “Gimme the board.” Then gangly and tall David takes the skateboard and places himself in position on the top deck of the ramp, narrows his eyes, and drops in. And while dropping, he contorts his leg underneath himself and collapses at the bottom of the ramp.

“I broke my leg,” he says. Of course he did. I watched the entire thing and clearly saw him fall upon his twisted right leg. And yet all I can say is, “Really?” He says again, “I broke my leg.” David is calm, lucid, knowing. Right, of course he did. I saw it happen. Yet stunned in disbelief that this has happened right here, in my backyard, before my eyes, I say again, “Really?”

David says, “You gotta call 911.”

He’s right, and with a broken leg lying on the deck he also seems to be calling the shots. I stare at him wondering why he isn’t screaming.

David then calmly asks my son Will for some ice. Will races inside to the kitchen and returns with a single ice cube. I ask my son Charlie to fetch my mobile phone – which he does – and then I stand there, hesitating, holding my phone and asking David yet again, “Really?”

I call 911. Within minutes a platoon of emergency vehicles and EMTs arrive. The lead responder observes David on the skateboard ramp and shakes his head quietly in amused wonder. Then they pack him up – splint, rolling emergency bed, the works. He, indeed, broke his leg in several places and spent a few days awaiting, and then recovering from surgery.

I write quite a bit about the importance, and value, of aspiration. That is, to aspire to a skill or an improved version of oneself is a wonderful and important part of growth and development. How else might we become a greater person without aspiration? We have to envision possibilities before we can realize them.

Yet the key thing here is to remember the steps to get there. It takes hard, conscientious, dedicated practice and work before we arrive at the ability to “drop in” or something similarly difficult that we aspire to.

Here’s a tip from David Taylor: what we aspire to may not be immediately transferable just because we want it so.

No one can innovate alone

barnraisingThink of some of the most iconic ancient innovations: the wheel, the arrowhead, pottery. In each case some one knew how to make such a thing, because they were mentored by some one before them knowledgeable in the craft. Each learned a skill which enabled them to replicate a thing of value, hone their skills, and ideally advance the technology to a higher state – perhaps make the wheel lighter, the pottery more resilient to persistent heat.

But who knows how to craft a camera, or a computer mouse, or a compact fluorescent bulb? Indeed, no one does. Because each of these (and many more) current technological artifacts are concoctions of ideas. A point-and-click camera is (as Matt Ridley puts it) a confection of ideas – silicon, microchips, plastics, lenses, batteries, various refined metals! – all mashed together performing a feat of alchemy that represents a camera as we know it. To take snapshots at our children’s birthdays.

The battery alone is an astonishing marvel. And what individual knows how to make a battery? Well, no one person does. It takes far more than a village. From the miners digging for nickel to the offshore rig operators extracting oil to refine into plastics that are carried in trucks and ships around the world, it takes fractions of mindshare from millions of humans to produce a camera as we know it.

The point is: since it’s nigh impossible to claim credit for singular innovation, we’re at our best when we recognize the deep contributions of all in the value chain which precedes – and follows – whatever we contribute to. The most innovative leaders know how to harness available technology, envision potential future, and enlist others into action.

Finding the Guru Within

“While we teach, we learn”
– Seneca

One of the greatest gifts you can offer another is unconditional, open sharing of ideas and wisdom to grow their ideas and talents. Everyone benefits, not only obviously the person receiving advice and direction from a trusted mentor, but also the coach himself benefits greatly from the experience.

When you take the time to seek out a talented coach, ask for advice, and aspire to a particular habit, behavior, or way of life, you can better:

  • Figure out what matters to you and your growth to make an impact
  • Amplify your focus by removing lesser priorities
  • Connect with people and ideas more closely aligned
  • Identify and remove blind spots

Yet even more powerfully, when you take the time to show up and offer your own thoughtful advice, energy and direction, the impact can be surprisingly valuable for you, the advisor. Consider, if you can teach something you first have to learn it deeply enough to share it in a meaningful and clearly articulate way. In order to teach something as an effective and credible advisor, you also need to deepen your knowledge and understanding such that you can handle penetrating questions, and know where to find answers. If someone you are working with develops a greater curiosity, you should know where to direct their next inquiry.

The best coaches develop a deep emotional fluency such that they have strong understanding of their player’s strengths. John Wooden, one of the most successful college basketball coaches of all time, coached so personally and directly that he spoke, on average, for only four seconds at a time, and most often only to individual players.  In the movie “The Blind Side,” Sandra Bullock’s character draws out the best football player in Big Mike by reinforcing the fact that he scored 98% on “protective instincts.”

The etymology of guru is “teacher” or “master.”  Guru has also come to mean “one who dispels the darkness of ignorance.”  I had a wonderful interview Monday with Dr. Sujaya Banerjee, Chief Learning Officer for Essar Group, one of the fastest growing companies in India.

Essar has developed a remarkably successful coaching and mentoring program by appealing to cultural influences. Indians believe in rebirth and the cyclical nature of life.  Which means aspiring toward being immortal, becoming “amar” in Hindi.  The philosophy of mentoring at Essar teaches that a way to become immortal is to coach and mentor.  Senior executives and managers are encouraged to develop their immortal self through developing the wise guru within another, younger associate. By tapping into this intrinsic motivation to build an eternal legacy of wisdom, executives see clearly they have a path to create a legacy, and preserve their own immortal wisdom through others.

Share your gifts without pause or regret.  I once wrote a rap to introduce Keith Ferrazzi, based on his book Never Eat Alone.  You can read the bit in the rap about mentoring below or see the video here.

But before you focus on improving your standard of living
Remember you earn trust and proximity first by giving
With a big head you’ll think you turn everything to gold
Be careful in your success, don’t let hubris take hold
Your final task should you choose to accept
Is share this wonderful gift, without pause or regret
For if its true legacy you want to approach
Teach and share, become a mentor, a coach
People in the house
Open up your hearts and minds, there is nothing to fear
To deliver this message Keith Ferrazzi is here

When you Systematize, You Sterilize

“To systematize is to sterilize.”
– Shlomo Maital

Lionel Messi plays soccer with the joy of a child. His inventiveness and wizardry can leave you (his opponents too) gaping in awe. In an interview for the New York Times with Jere Longman, Messi stated that he would quit the game as soon as it stopped being fun.

I have three kids and I’m convinced that they will far exceed me in their capability in pretty much anything that they’re working on currently. The capacity and abilities of my daughter, for example, in ballet and building fairy houses is well…already beyond anything I’m capable of, but that shouldn’t surprise anyone who knows me. My boys, currently nine and eleven, are into skiing and soccer at the moment, and because of the understood 10,000 hour rule, popularized by Malcolm Gladwell, I’m quite certain that they will far surpass me as well.

Last night I coached an indoor soccer game with my son Will’s team, and although individually each player is quite talented, we were playing a team that was a little bigger and little older than us. And while it was a close match at halftime, in the second half the opposite team outscored us probably 5-1. Later that evening I attended a party and I was chatting with Artie, one of the fathers of a player on our team who had grown up playing a game called futsal. Futsal is a game in which you play with a small ball on a small court, and the ball doesn’t bounce so well. The game rewards creative, inventive play, and since it’s played on small court, like indoor soccer, most goals come from either breakaways or crisp passing to find opportunities. The game does not reward a single individual attempting end to end efforts.

Artie was suggesting that we should play the game more like basketball in which once we lose the ball our team should retreat immediately back to a defensive position and wait for the opposing team to attack. Once we regain possession of the ball we should try for breakaways down the wings – down the sides and out of traffic on this small field. He pointed out that almost all of the goals scored in the game came from breakaways, we should employ the same tactic.

I’ve only been coaching soccer and lacrosse for a few years now – mostly to my young boys – but Artie has clued me into a couple things that Daniel Coyle has known from studying the worlds best coaches and players around the world, in disciplines ranging from skiing, to soccer to violin playing. The best coaches he finds, talk less yet say more, and let the kids define the play to accelerate the learning.

If you’re a parent watching sports, you have observed it is quite common to see coaches and parents from the sidelines yelling directions or ideas. But as the kids will remind me, and I’ve already observed, they really don’t hear very much as people yell from the sidelines. They hear you in the small moments when you speak to them personally and directly. The second key idea is to set up structured drills, but then allow the exercise to evolve as the kids choose the way the drill is created in real time.

The first idea is intuitive. It makes sense that if you pull a child aside and speak to them personally and customize each tip and bit of advice to them individually and let them understand you know them, your small bit of advice will resonate more strongly.

And the second idea – the one in which you allow the kids, the players, let the drill emerge as they see it happening, allows them find play and individual expression and joy in creating each moment, because the play comes from their own personal expression of skill and ability.

These ideas are aptly applied to our work. Daniel Coyle has spent the last few years studying just such coaches and players on a world class level and found numerous examples of how the best players and coaches mine and build brilliance from seemly “average” players, workers, contributors in almost any discipline. Join us December 7 for a live, interactive event in which Dan Coyle discusses these findings and provides clear, actionable tips on how to crack the talent code.

Shared beats Borrowed Brilliance

Have you ever worked with a group of carpenters? Then asked to borrow a tool? In my experience it depends on the person, and the tool you ask for, but many are hesitant. Because as your experience grows, so do the selection, quality and personal connection to each tool. They want to know how you intend to use it, how long it’s going to be gone and when they’re going to get it back. More often the response might be, “Well, what are you trying to do?” or “Let me take a look and give you a hand.” Both because they want to help, and because tools are a personal kind of thing.

But what if you work in the creative, conceptual economy? And sharing ideas doesn’t mean surrendering something that can’t be recovered? Once you understand that sharing powerful ideas means creating value, and that hoarding only serves to allow good ideas to die with you, it becomes at once easy and fulfilling to give freely of the ideas you have. Often those enriching opportunities to give remain remote because we’re just too wrapped up in what we’re doing, and because often people just don’t know what to ask for. But recognition of good ideas to adopt is significantly easier than knowing what to ask. We just ‘know it when we see it.’

The other day we learned a fabulous solution when talking to a senior IT leader at a Fortune 500 financial services company. His group of engineers had a steady +/- efficiency rate of about 46%, and the needle hadn’t moved substantially in a few years. Yet he knew that from a competitive standpoint he had some of the best and brightest coders in his group. Here’s what he did: He first went around to some of the more inventive programmers in his group and asked if he could gather up and group some of their unique and valuable hacks and macros they had created in their work. He then grouped them by application and posted them internally on a wiki where other coders could go in, browse and borrow interesting and useful hacks and shortcuts to solve coding problems.

Pretty soon people in the group were adding and swapping their signature solutions and hacks in a shared environment – both benefiting from the collective wisdom of the other programmers and creating a fun environment to brand their work publicly. Efficiencies shot up to over 65% – both through the sharing and iterating on signature solutions, as well as the camaraderie and co-petitive environment created.

In the conceptual economy ideas are still tools, but we are able to share these ideas and still maintain the integrity and personality of thought, and benefit from an idea tool that comes back sharpened by another. And even if it doesn’t come back, we still get the joy and knowledge of having shared and knowing your unique ideation will live on through the work and voice of others.

The Human Factor Turnaround

I was honored to interview Paul Hiltz last week in Cincinnati. Several years ago as the new CEO of Mercy Hospital, after a string of leaders before him had come and gone, one of the often side questions he would get was, “So how long do you intend to stay?” Paul never had any intention of leaving the hospital, even as it was losing almost 10% annually as a business. He started not only by providing a grand vision of excellence and profitability, but also by focusing on the people part.

Let me explain. You would expect the grand vision board meetings, and senior leadership meetings that happened. What you wouldn’t expect is that he spent much of his days not couped up behind closed doors, but out in the hospital learning the names of everyone who worked there, and what they cared about in their work environment. Paul first argued to the financial team that they should be investing in simple cosmetic and aesthetic improvements – paint, carpet, repairing or replacing damaged and old equipment. With these gestures of recognizing and knowing everyone in the hospital, and investing in the infrastructure and cosmetics, it gave everyone an uplifting sense of being a part of a rejuvinated place to work.

That was just one small part of the equation. Paul wasn’t done yet. The next thing he did was to hire healthcare financial advisors who conducted workshops to teach the caregivers and staff how the hospital financial model worked. People who had worked in healthcare for over a decade were surprised to find that some of the standard practices they had been engaging in to create value and positive revenue for the hospital, in fact had the inverse effect. Many of the ways in which they were working with patients had a negative financial effect, and they never knew until Paul brought in experts to help them understand how the business worked.

Throughout the last few years of Paul’s tenure, there has been very little of the headcount and project slash typically expected in turnaround efforts. True, Paul has helped to optimize some aspects of the hospital operations, but throughout the organization people will consistently say that what has been the most powerful and effective part of Paul’s efforts has been his ability to be present, persistent, genuine, honest, all despite immense financial pressures to perform.

In the face of adversity, think like Paul. Focus on the human aspect, because in the end it’s the people that make the difference.