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on life, leadership,
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Our perspective on life, leadership, and engagement.

Get the scoop from our consultants and creatives, as well as our clients and other thought-leading guests. In addition to our blog and video posts, don’t miss our popular podcasts — they’ve been heard regularly by thousands of leaders since 2012!
  • On the Engaging Leader podcast, we share communication and leadership principles, and tell stories that illustrate putting those principles into practice.
  • The Workforce Health Engagement podcast explores strategies to improve your employees’ health and productivity — and to protect your bottom line.

If You Don’t Lead Innovation, You Aren’t a Leader. (And you won’t stay in business very long.)

Conventional wisdom says creativity is the realm of advertising, and innovation the job of product development.

pixar-graphic

We wouldn’t expect to find the IT or Finance departments bursting with innovation.

But Google could never have grown from a startup in 1998 to the market dominator, with over one million servers, without an IT team that was constantly working on never-tried-before ways to handle the load and storage needs of its exploding user base. (Google now has over one million servers handling one billion search requests a day.)

And Pixar Animation Studios would not have made 14 of the 50 highest-grossing animated films of all time, without an IT team to keep up with the award-winning animators’ artistic innovations – and to inspire them to go further. “The art challenges technology,” says John Lasseter, chief creative officer of both Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios. “And technology inspires the art.”

It’s the 21st century. The business environment is changing so fast that to survive and thrive, your organization needs every department to innovate – again and again, continually and consistently.

Innovation cannot be compelled or commanded; it’s completely voluntary. But it’s rare for an organization to consistently create new and useful innovations. As the new book Collective Genius points out, great leadership is necessary to both unleash the talents of individuals and harness the creativity into a collective solution.

Myth: Innovation is a solitary act, a flash of creative insight, an Aha! moment in the mind of a genius.
Reality: Innovation is most often a group effort.
Implication: Leaders create collaborative organizations that provide an interplay of ideas from people with diverse expertise, experience, or points of view.

Myth: Great ideas spring in full and final form from the mind of the inventor.
Reality: Innovation is a problem-solving process of framing a problem in the right way, and creating and testing a portfolio of ideas.
Implication: Leaders encourage learning by discovery. They support experimentation, intellectual diversity, and constructive conflict – and they tolerate intelligent missteps.

Myth: The leader’s role is to set a vision and inspire people to execute that vision.
Reality: To create something truly new and useful, you as an individual cannot know exactly where to go.
Implication: Leaders of innovation see their most important role as creating the intellectual space for the team to collectively do the work of innovation.

As I’ve written before on the topic of Influence 3.0, it used to be sufficient to manage: working through people to get things done. Then the world changed, and we needed to lead: casting a vision and inspiring people to get the RIGHT things done. Now, we must engage: cultivating, stimulating, unleashing, and focusing a team to serve a shared purpose that they define and shape together.

The world is changing fast. Over and over again, your team must tackle those “deliciously wicked” problems that call for a truly original response. As smart as you may be, you don’t have all the answers; in such a rapidly changing environment, you don’t even have all the questions. Regardless of your scope or department, you need a team that innovates; you need to engage creativity at both the individual level and the organizational level. You need to be a leader of collective genius.

If you haven’t figured that out, you aren’t a leader … or at least, you won’t be one for very long.

Don’t Miss Our Interview with Greg Brandeau!

Greg has served as chief tech executive at some amazing companies (such as NeXT, Pixar, and Disney), working with amazing people (such as Steve Jobs, Edwin Catmull, and John Lasseter). Along the way, he discovered that some companies innovate time and time again, and other companies do not. He and three colleagues researched this and wrote Collective Genius: The Art and Practice of Leading Innovation, the new book published by Harvard Business Review. Their results may surprise you. Be sure to catch our upcoming interview with Greg!

Jesse Lahey, SPHR, is the host of the Engaging Leader podcast and managing principal of Aspendale Communications. Connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn. If you know anyone who would benefit from this information, please share it!

Leading Behind the Flock

Happy smiling business team standing in a row at office

While reading the new book Collective Genius in preparation for my upcoming interview with former Pixar tech wizard Greg Brandeau, I was reminded by this powerful insight:

“A leader … is like a shepherd. He stays behind the flock, letting the most nimble go out ahead, whereupon the others follow, not realizing that all along they are being directed from behind.” ~ Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom

It’s deceptively simple. And very difficult; most of us as leaders prefer to jump out in front and “take the lead.”

It reminds me of an insight by another leader from history who often based illustrations on the very simple profession of sheep-herding:

“So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” ~ Jesus, Matthew 20:16

 

You may also be interested in: 14 Leadership Lessons from the Unconquerable Soul of Nelson Mandela

093: The Pure-Hearted Leader: The Surprising Relevance of an Ancient Concept

Creative businessBack in 2000, Jesse was helping an executive at one of the world’s largest companies develop a communication plan. As they were working through the key messages, the executive got tripped up on one of the words Jesse was recommending. He thought the word and even the concept might be dated, old-fashioned. The word was integrity, and Jesse assured him that integrity was very much a relevant concept that senior leaders needed to teach, model, and talk about. The following year, a scandal at another large company (Enron) and subsequent downfall of accounting giant Arthur Andersen brought the word integrity into the spotlight of the business world.

In this episode, Jesse discusses another term that seems old-fashioned – even ancient – but is surprisingly relevant: pure-heartedness. What it actually means and how it affects your leadership impact may surprise you. Join us for this discussion about the origin of the term, what it means for leaders, and who are examples of pure-hearted leaders. And then decide for yourself: do you want to strive to be a pure-hearted leader?

Definitions:

kardia (cardiac)

  • The heart, inner self, character, intention
  • “Desire-producer that makes us tick” (Gleason Archer)

katharos (catharsis)

  • Clean, pure, unstained
  • Free from corrupt desire
  • Purified by fire

A pure heart is defined by:

  • Purpose
  • Outcomes
  • Intent

5 implications for leaders:

  • Heart for the purpose (mission)
  • Heart for the people (team and customers)
  • Heart for the process (journey)
  • Open heart (authenticity and transparency)
  • Brave heart (serving the mission and team rather than self-preservation)

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First Priority of a Leader

Jesse Lahey, about half-way through the 2013 Black Bear Century Race. Putting Time in the Leadership Saddle (EngagingLeader.com).This past week, a buddy and I were completing our final training ride (60 miles) in preparation for my longest race scheduled for the year, a 100-mile “century” cycling race this coming week.

Since our last ride together, we both had acquired new gear. Sam had bought his first cycling shoes and clipless pedals. I had my first padded cycling shorts. Early in our ride, we commented on the difference the gear made. For example, Sam noted how nice it was to now have his shoes attached to the pedals; he had never noticed before how much mental energy he had been spending to keep his feet in the right position on the pedals.

Buying some new stuff each year … and talking about gear with fellow triathletes … helps keeps the sport fun for me over the long term.

“However,” Sam said, “you can buy all the gear you want, but nothing makes as big a difference on improving performance as putting time in the saddle.” Neither of us had been riding as often, or as many miles, as we had last summer, and we were both a bit nervous about our ability to finish this year’s race (and we yet we were still holding out hope that we’d beat our race times from last year).

It’s the same with leadership impact and business performance.

As a leader, It’s tempting to focus on the latest technology … process … trend … acquisition … or whatever. It’s tempting to spend the majority of our time on analysis, decisions, and planning. Even relationship-building with strategic allies can distract us too much from providing the workforce leadership that would take performance to the next level.

The first priority of a leader is to lead. That requires putting time, energy, and heart into teaching, modeling, listening, telling stories, restating the vision and key messages, asking questions, and reflecting so that you can learn and lead better.

Are you putting time in the leadership saddle, truly leading the way for others? Or are you mostly just geeked about gear?

Communicate. Reflect. Repeat.

What do you think are the most critical activities for leaders?

WHE13: How to Move Employees from Awareness to Action

This episode is the first in a two-part series about leading a health behavioral change. Episode 13 focuses on leading a fairly straightforward change, such as influencing employees to get a biometric health screening or to take a financial wellness assessment. Episode 14 will address leading a more complex change effort, such as influencing employees to take the recommended actions that will improve their physical or financial health.

4-engagement-levels

For many years, the Four Engagement Levels (also known as the Action-to-Awareness model) has been a helpful model for planning communication tactics. This model recognizes that when implementing a new change effort, leaders need to plan multiple communication tactics that will help people progress through the four stages of engagement:

  • Awareness
  • Understanding
  • Commitment
  • Action.

In practice, engagement and behavior change does not always happen in such a clear-cut, linear fashion. In addition, several tactics such as social media are used at multiple levels – not just the awareness stage. An actual communication plan should be custom-developed based on the organization’s goals and circumstances. This model helps with identifying the communication tactics that can lead people to take action.

In this episode, we explain how the four levels of engagement apply to workforce health, discuss how to plan communication outcomes for each level, and provide examples of communication tactics that could be used to lead employees to each level.

Joining Jesse on the show once again is Terry Sherwood, his colleague from Aspendale Communications. Terry has over 25 years of experience helping companies communicate effectively with their employees. Her diverse background in human resources, corporate communications, and marketing provides a blend of creativity and practicality that delivers results. Terry has held senior consulting positions with several large consulting firms, including PriceWaterhouseCoopers and Towers Watson.

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If you like our show, please rate us on iTunes. That makes a huge difference in helping more people discover it. We love to know your thoughts about this episode. Please submit your comments below! You can also email comments to Jesse at [email protected], subscribe to him on Facebook, or follow him on Twitter.

092: 7 Keys to Clarity and Conciseness

clarityBack in episode 89, about the Power of Brevity, we discussed why brevity works and provided four tips for being brief yet powerful. In these tips, clarity leads to brevity, and vice versa.

Now, contrast that with most of the corporate-level communication that companies provide their employees. Whether it’s a letter or email from the CEO, a benefits communication from Human Resources, or a video from Operations about how to improve quality or safety, much of what companies send their people is a mind-numbing flood of corporate speak.

In this episode, we discuss seven practical tips for clarity and conciseness in any type of corporate communication … that is, when there is a communication representing the organization that is being transmitted to the workforce.

  • Start with a clear outcome. What do you want people to do or feel?
  • Provide short, digestible, actionable bites of information
  • Avoid trying to accomplish too much with one piece
  • Target the information as appropriate for each audience
  • Use everyday language whenever possible
  • Leverage the power of visuals
  • Plan for questions to be resolved at appropriate time/place

Joining Jesse on the show once again is Terry Sherwood, his colleague from Aspendale Communications. Terry has over 25 years of experience helping companies communicate effectively with their employees. Her diverse background in human resources, corporate communications, and marketing provides a blend of creativity and practicality that delivers results. Terry has held senior consulting positions with several large consulting firms, including PriceWaterhouseCoopers and Towers Watson.

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If you like our show, please rate us on iTunes. That makes a huge difference in helping more people discover it. We love to know your thoughts about this episode. Please submit your comments below! You can also email comments to Jesse at [email protected], subscribe to him on Facebook, or follow him on Twitter.

091: Influencer: The New Science of Leading Change | with David Maxfield

InfluencerAll successful leaders have to be good at leading progress. And science has found that successful leaders, from CEOs to parents, have a common set of principles and skills that help create quick, profound, and lasting change in people and organizations.

David Maxfield, New York Times bestselling author, keynote speaker, and social scientist for organizational change, joins Jesse to discuss his book Influencer: The New Science of Leading Change.

Influencer combines the insights of behavioral scientists and business leaders with the stories of high-powered influencers from all walks of life. In this episode, Jesse and David discuss how to:

  • Identify “vital behaviors” — high-leverage behaviors that lead to rapid and profound change
  • Apply strategies for changing both thoughts and actions
  • Marshal six sources of influence to make change inevitable

Behavioral Engagement Model

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If you like our show, please rate us on iTunes. That makes a huge difference in helping more people discover it. We love to know your thoughts about this episode. Please submit your comments below! You can also email comments to Jesse at [email protected], subscribe to him on Facebook, or follow him on Twitter.

WHE12: Beyond “Biggest Loser” Contests: Creating a True Culture of Health | with Mary Pitman from Norfolk Southern

Beyond Biggest LoserThe popular weight-loss reality TV show “The Biggest Loser” has inspired many companies to hold weight loss contests for their employees. People love the idea of experiencing fast weight loss, and the idea of a friendly competition seems fun.

But while “The Biggest Loser” makes for great reality TV, does it make for a great reality in workplaces that are trying to encourage employee wellness and create a true culture of health?

Our guest has worked to go beyond “Biggest Loser” contests. She is Mary Pitman, Health Promotions Manager at Norfolk Southern.

Many companies talk about creating a culture of health, but few succeed. Their wellness programs fall into the trap of get-fit-quick programs that are destined to fail. Wellness programs must engage employees, then intercept them at those critical moments when life threatens to derail their success. Learn how Norfolk Southern’s “WellNS” program transformed a culture of “biggest loser” contests to one where employees are having fun, making changes they can live with, and enjoying sustained results.

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If you like our show, please rate us on iTunes. That makes a huge difference in helping more people discover it. We love to know your thoughts about this episode. Please submit your comments below! You can also email comments to Jesse at [email protected], subscribe to him on Facebook, or follow him on Twitter.

090: How to Bridge the Workplace Generation Gap | with David Maxfield

Crucial AccountabilityCan people of different generations work together productively, or do their differences lead only to conflict? According to a new study from the American Society for Training & Development (ASTD) and social scientist for organizational change David Maxfield, unaddressed tension and resentment between Baby Boomers, Gen X, and Millennials is sapping productivity in corporate America. Specifically, the study showed that more than 1 in 3 people waste five or more hours each week (12 percent of their work week), due to chronic, unaddressed conflict between colleagues from different generations.

The study looked at the three current generations in the workplace: Baby Boomers (age 49 – 57), Gen Xers (age 34 – 48), and Millennials (age 13 – 33). The study revealed the common perceptions and latent resentment each age group has for their colleagues. Specifically:

  • Baby Boomers complain that Gen Xers and Millennials lack discipline, focus, and are distracted. They also think Millennials lack commitment.
  • Gen Xers complain that Baby Boomers display resistant/dogmatic thinking and are sexist, defensive, incompetent, resistant to change, and lacking in creativity. They believe that Millennials are arrogant.
  • Millennials complain that Baby Boomers display resistant/dogmatic thinking, and are sexist, defensive, insensitive, slow to respond, resistant to change, incompetent, and lacking in creativity. They also believe Gen Xers have poor problem-solving skills and are generally slow to respond.

Rather than resolving this through direct communication and accountability, over a quarter of people admitted to avoiding conflict with colleagues of a different age. If they did speak up, they spoke in generalities and danced around the real issues. The study found that:

  • Younger generations hesitate to hold older generations accountable.
  • Millennials are the least confident in their ability to handle a difficult conversation.
  • Older generations, Baby Boomers and Veterans (68 years old or older), admit to losing their temper more easily with more than 1 in 4 saying they became frustrated, upset, or angry during a difficult conversation.

David Maxfield is a New York Times bestselling author, keynote speaker, and leading social scientist for organizational change. David says that by learning a few skills to speak up to anyone—regardless of age or authority—people can candidly and respectfully resolve conflict and improve productivity in today’s multigenerational workplace. In this episode, Jesse and David discuss four of the skills from David’s book Crucial Accountability: Tools for Resolving Violated Expectations, Broken Commitments, and Bad Behavior:

  1. Start with the facts. Describe the “gap.” Describe your concerns facts first. Don’t lead with your judgments about their age or conclusions as to why they behaved the way they did. Start by describing in non-judgmental and objective terms the actual behaviors that create problems.
  2. Make it safe. Begin by clarifying your respect as well as your intent to achieve a mutual goal.
  3. Make it motivating. Help others want to take action.
  4. Agree on a plan and follow up. Gain commitment and move to action.

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If you like our show, please rate us on iTunes. That makes a huge difference in helping more people discover it. We love to know your thoughts about this episode. Please submit your comments below! You can also email comments to Jesse at [email protected], subscribe to him on Facebook, or follow him on Twitter.

GC27: Gamify New Hire Onboarding | with Mohit Garg from MindTickle

MindTickle enables businesses, trainers and individuals to transform their existing online content (presentation slides, videos, and documents) into an interactive learning experience. MindTickle engages the learner and makes learning efficient, effective and delightful through a unique combination of gamification elements and social tools.

MindTickle

Mohit Garg is the Co-Founder of MindTickle. Prior to co-founding MindTickle in 2011, Mohit was a Director in the management consulting practice of PwC and was Principal at Diamond Management & Technology Consultants.

Examples mentioned:

  • Pre-join onboarding for graduating university students hired by HCL Technologies (see HCL’s overview and MindTickle’s press release)
  • Teacher engagement in Des Moines, Iowa

Resources Mentioned in This Episode

To stay up on the latest news and trends in employee gamification, join the Game Changer group on LinkedIn.

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If you like our show, please rate us on iTunes. That makes a huge difference in helping more people discover it. We love to know your thoughts about this episode. Please submit your comments below! You can also email comments to Jesse at [email protected], subscribe to him on Facebook, or follow him on Twitter.

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