Profiling Leaders: Tall, White & Male

When you think of a leader, how often do you conjure up the image of a woman or person of color?

Today there are a number of famous women and minorities in positions of power: Mary Barra of General Motors, Meg Whitman of HP, Satya Nadella of Microsoft and President Barack Obama to name but a few.

But they are vastly under represented by a long shot.

In the U.S. women currently represent about half the population and minorities make up 37.4%, when you subtract the white, non-Hispanic or Latino population. In spite of this, leaders in business and politics are hugely over-represented by white males.

As of 2013, women led just 4% of Fortune 500 companies and African Americans led only 1%. Though blacks, Hispanics and American Indians represent about 30% of the overall population, they hold only 3% of senior management positions at American corporations and nonprofits.

Educated like Leaders
According the Pew Research Center, women have been earning college degrees at a greater rate than men since the early 1980s and they currently earn about 57% of all bachelor’s degrees. Racial minorities represent almost a third of all bachelor’s degrees.

The Council of Graduate Schools 2013 report stated that the same held true for Master’s degrees as women are earning advanced degrees by a larger margin than men in every field other than engineering, mathematics and computer science, and physical and earth sciences. Women earn advanced degrees in business at a rate of 53% versus 47% for men.

Look like Leaders
The Economist magazine recently wrote that getting to the top has as much to do with how you look as what you achieve. Despite this supposed age of diversity, we are still led primarily by white men. In fact, our leaders are not only likely to be white and male, but also tall, relatively fit, have a deeper voice and good posture.

In his best-selling book “Blink,” author Malcolm Gladwell found that 30% of the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies are 6 fee 2 inches or taller, even though this represents only 3.9% of the population of American men.

Overweight people are often judged incapable of controlling themselves, and this reflects poorly on their potential to control others.

Sound like Leaders
Quantified Communications discovered that when people were asked to evaluate speeches delivered by 120 executives, voice quality accounted for 23% of listener’s evaluations while content of the speech only accounted for 11%. (It’s not what you say, but how you sound when you say it that matters.) Another study found that male leaders with the deepest voices earned $187,000 a year more than the average.

Diversity in Leaders
Some suggest “covering,” which is a term proposed by sociologist Erving Goffman, that basically describes the process of downplaying aspects of one’s identity. Examples might be a black person who refrains from associating with African-American colleagues, or a woman who shies away from discussing her role as a mother. This seems to suggest you should lead by what others want you to be rather than who you are.

As much as we want a diverse workforce, a diverse board of directors, a diverse executive management team, it seems we are still a long way from realizing a diversity of leaders at the very top.

The Economist article posits that given the number of qualified candidates, selection committees simply end up choosing leaders who look most like themselves. This results in tokenism rather than genuine equalizing of opportunity.

I’m not suggesting women and minorities necessarily make better leaders than white men. However, unless we are wiling to empower them with the same opportunities to lead us, we will limit our options to find exceptional leaders.

Though there are fine examples of women and minorities rising to leadership positions today, they are vastly under represented in both business and politics. Until we judge our potential leaders based on the content of their character and competence rather than the color of their skin and makeup of their gender, we will continue to miss out on realizing our full potential for creative solutions to the challenges we face.

Effective Teams Begin with Trust

Dysfunctional teams can produce results, but not consistently and not over the long term. An effective team that produces results consistently requires many attributes, but they all must begin with trust.

More than anything else, trust enables people to work together effectively.

Stephen M. R. Covey, author of The Speed of Trust, says this workplace trust is a function of both character and competence. Character includes integrity, motives, and your intent with other people. Competence is your capabilities, skills, results and track record. Both are essential for trust.

Trust lays the foundation for two or more people to function effectively because it instills assurance that the other person(s) can be relied upon.

In Patrick Lencioni’s book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, he describes a lack of trust as an “unwillingness to be vulnerable.” This ability to be vulnerable is essential for people to feel connected—in both our personal and professional relationships—and that enables us to trust that we can count on each other.

In his book, Lencioni describes how trust shows up in teams.

When there is an absence of trust, team members:

  • Conceal their weaknesses and mistakes from one another
  • Hesitate to ask for help or provide constructive feedback
  • Hesitate to offer help outside their own areas of responsibility
  • Jump to conclusions about the intentions and aptitudes of others without attempting to clarify them
  • Fail to recognize and tap into one another’s skills and experiences
  • Hold grudges
  • Dread meetings and find reasons to avoid spending time together

When there is trust, team members:

  • Admit weaknesses and mistakes
  • Ask for help
  • Accept questions and input about their areas of responsibility
  • Give one another the benefit of the doubt before arriving at a negative conclusion
  • Take risks in offering feedback and assistance
  • Appreciate and tap into one another’s skills and experiences
  • Offer and accept apologies without hesitation
  • Look forward to meetings and other opportunities to work as a group

Successful teams demonstrate confidence that every team member’s intentions are good and they can feel safe within the group.

Trust within a team often requires that individual members demonstrate relational trust. Covey identifies 13 behaviors that strengthen relational trust. These are: talk straight, demonstrate respect, create transparency, right wrongs, show loyalty, deliver results, get better, confront reality, clarify expectations, practice accountability, listen first, keep commitments, extend trust.

These behaviors don’t demand that everyone be an outgoing extravert who shares their entire lives with everyone at work. Instead, it is the ability to be open and transparent about who you are in a professional sense.

The ability to be open with each other is not so much about sharing personal information as it is sharing your knowledge, skills and experience with regard to the work you’re doing. And it is about the team members’ perception of your integrity, authenticity and level of caring.

The perception of these attributes will determine whether you are someone of character and competence team members are able to work with. And that is the trust they need to function effectively as a team.

Work Friends & Social Recognition

All of us want to feel valued for our contribution in the workplace. But there may be a disconnect between what employers think drive this feeling of being valued and what employees actually want and need.

It turns out that peer relationships can greatly impact our level of commitment and engagement. And the more friends we have at work, the more likely we are to trust co-workers as well as leadership.

Another area is in years of service recognition. The days of the gold watch or pin for various years of service no longer suffice as recent research has show that employees are more likely to be moved by emotionally-driven, social recognition.

These are the findings of research by Globoforce in a report called “The Effect of Work Relationships on Organizational Culture and Commitment.” The Fall 2014 Workforce Mood Tracker recently surveyed 716 randomly selected employees in the United States who were working in companies with at least 500 employees.

When we consider that most of us with full time jobs spend more time with our co-workers than we do with our families, we shouldn’t underestimate the importance of these relationships.

Among the research findings with regard to peer relationships:

  • 93% value the respect of work friends or colleagues and 63% of them find it extremely important or very important.
  • 74% claim to have a shared history and memories with co-workers.
  • 89% say work relationships matter to their quality of life, with more than half (55%) saying it is extremely important or very important.
  • Employees with friends at work are twice as likely to trust leadership than those without friends.
  • The more friends one has at work, the higher level of pride they take in their company as well as their co-workers.
  • The more friends an employee has at work, the less likely they are to leave. In response to: “Would you accept another job if it were offered to you?” those with no friends at work were 42% likely, while those with 1-5 friends 38% likely, and those with 6 to 25 friends only 30% likely.
  • Highly engaged workers: no friends 28%, 1-5 friends 37%, 6-25 friends 48%, 25+ friends 69%.


Clearly, having friends at work can directly impact trust, engagement, retention and overall quality of life.

When it comes to recognition, the survey also found that meaningful recognition matters, and when not tied in with co-workers can actually negatively impact the employee. Among the findings on recognition:

  • Employees feel more valued when peers participate in anniversaries. 70% vs. 24% feel more valued when celebrated with peers in addition to the company as opposed to the company alone.
  • Workers with peer-celebrated milestones are less likely to leave the company for another position. In response to the question: “Would you accept a new job if it were offered to you?” 74% said yes when there was no celebration at all, 66% said yes when celebration was with company only, and only 52% said yes when celebration included co-workers.
  • When employees report their last company milestone as “an emotional, moving or poignant experience,” they are significantly more likely to see that anniversary as positive and three times more likely to say it made them feel more valued.
  • Employees were more likely to report a positive experience when the formal recognition experience was tied to company goals and values. They were also three times more likely to say it made them feel more valued.
  • When asked what could make the milestone experience more meaningful, 65% said shared stories and memories, and 72% said they like the idea of including a retrospective of their career accomplishments.


Emotional anniversaries and recognition make employees feel more valued with higher pride, higher engagement, and are more reflective and likely to renew their commitment to the company.

So how do you encourage workplace friendships and provide more robust, meaningful recognition? Obviously, a friendly and welcoming workplace is more likely to encourage people to socialize. Specificity both positive and negative when providing feedback is extremely helpful. Also, you can encourage other’s opinions and viewpoints when determining policy decisions and workplace issues.

Peter Drucker once said “culture eats strategy over breakfast.” Staying on top of your company’s culture to keep it positive and aligned with your values will go a long way towards encouraging friendships and making recognition more meaningful. Never underestimate the power of your company’s culture.

A product called TINYpulse can capture anonymous feedback from team members to reveal insights, trends, and opportunities to improve retention, culture and results. Think of it like the old fashioned “suggestion box” only it can be done with quick online surveys directly pushed to employees. This will help keep them involved and encourage them to feel their opinions matter.

Finding ways to foster friendships as well as acknowledging years of service by including co-workers in the recognition will go a long way in making employees feel valued. And feeling valued is what will make employees more engaged, productive, and less likely to leave for another opportunity.


Your Side of Successful Communication

It’s back to school time and a reminder that we should all stop working so hard and start working smarter. Stop sawing and sharpen the saw.

When it comes to challenges in the workplace, communication is an area that seems to impact just about everyone. More specifically: communication breakdowns.

A great book on the subject is I Hear You: Repair Communication Breakdowns, Negotiate Successfully, and Build Consensus . . . in Three Simple Steps by Donny Ebenstein.

In the book Ebenstein discusses the behavioral change needed in you in order to move from being stuck to unstuck; the importance of shifting your perspective to really understand the other side; looking from the outside to be more objective of your perspective; and how to use role-play to practice these skills so they become second nature.

As you probably noticed, it is all focused on what you can do to fix these communication breakdowns, even though our tendency to blame others for this breakdown.

Unlike choosing our friends, however, we rarely select those we work with. And even if it is others who are responsible for the breakdown, we need to find a way to communicate effectively with them.

Using the steps outlined in this book, you can learn how making small behavioral changes in how you interact can dramatically shift the conversation.

For example, an important aspect for improving communication is to give legitimacy to the other person’s point of view. This can be difficult, but it is essential for bridging the gap, truly understanding the other’s perspective, and to avoid appearing condescending towards them.

Giving legitimacy to another’s perspective means fully listening and demonstrating that you really heard what they said by paraphrasing back. There is no substitute for this and it really enables the other to trust that they have been heard.

Another important point is to put your self in the other person’s shoes. Not just from on the surface, but by fully understanding how you would feel if you saw things from their perspective.

These ideas aren’t revolutionary, of course, but actually implementing them into the way we interact is rare. You may find the whole practice awkward and people may bristle when they first witness your new behavior, but in the end it will help restore trust and reduce misunderstandings.

The speed of business is increasing faster and faster, and this means it’s vital that we take time to stop, reflect on what we’re doing, acknowledge our mistakes, and change course if needed and/or redirect our time and resources. It is also paramount that we continue learning.

Resolving communication breakdowns may be one of the most common and yet fixable problems in every workplace. Waiting for others around you to change is foolish. You need to actively do your part to overcome the impasse.

This means stepping up to the challenge by investing your time and energy into demonstrating your compassion and openness to truly hear and empathize with the other’s perspective. It means being courageous enough not to take things personally and try to stay focused on the bigger picture.

Those who want to stay competitive in business should always be on the lookout for ways to improve their skills and value to the organization. If you find communication breakdowns are impacting your effectiveness, read Ebenstein’s book and implement this strategy to mend communication breakdowns.

Appreciation for a Job Well Done

Employee engagement is by far the single most important HR challenge for organizations because it impacts recruitment, retention, absenteeism and productivity.

In fact, according to a 2011 Gallup poll, the annual cost of lost productivity on the U.S. economy due to actively disengaged employees is $370 billion!

And finding a way to improve employee engagement can be as simple as showing appreciation for a job well done.

According to a 2013 survey of 803 human resource employees by the Society of Human Resource Management and Globoforce, direct supervisors have a great deal of power over employee engagement. Here are the responses from this question:

“In your professional opinion, which of the following items have the most impact on employee engagement at your organization?”

  • Appreciation by direct supervisor                                                  71%
  • Opportunity to advance                                                                  41%
  • Salary and bonus                                                                            36%
  • Ability to be effective in one’s job                                                   35%
  • Company’s care for employees’ well-being                                    30%
  • Confidence in executive leadership                                                29%
  • Relationship with peers                                                                   22%
  • Belief in company’s mission                                                            18%
  • Appreciation by peers                                                                      11%
  • Job title                                                                                               4%
  • Other                                                                                                  2%


The same survey found that only 26% of employees are satisfied with the level of recognition they receive for doing a good job at work.

One of the reasons for this is that all too often it is only during an annual performance review that we acknowledge the contributions of our employees. This is short sighted.

Annual performance reviews are too infrequent to be useful for giving valuable feedback—both positive and negative. Giving specific praise and actionable criticism is often far removed from the examples it may point to. In addition, these reviews are often limited to the perspective of an immediate supervisor rather than involve feedback from peers and other employees.

Most employees and their supervisors dislike the entire annual review process so much that they are usually late and are completed only after continual hounding by human resource departments.

As a result, these reviews serve primarily as an opportunity to negotiate promotions and raises rather than a constructive learning and trust-building opportunity.

More that half (51%) of the HR people surveyed say their organization’s existing performance review process needs to be completely overhauled.

Obviously, there is a need to change the way we are seeking to engage our employees. With that in mind, here are three suggestions for raising employee engagement through showing greater appreciation: 

  • Give specific genuine praise every time it’s warranted. Don’t let an opportunity go by without thanking your employee for the extra effort or extraordinary results they achieve. It’s not just about the money.
  • Celebrate individual contributions. Don’t think that by singling out individuals you are slighting others. Every time someone on your team does something special, be sure to acknowledge it publicly in your meetings.
  • Change performance reviews so they are a continual process rather than once a year event. Use every one-on-one interaction to deliver direct and specific feedback on performance so there are no surprises. Acknowledge recent accomplishments and set new

While I’m not suggesting you’ll be able to turn an actively disengaged employee into a fully engaged employee using these suggestions, I do believe you will raise overall engagement so that your people will feel their contributions are appreciated.

Greater appreciation will stir motivation and that will lead to greater engagement. Showing appreciation may be the most cost-effective means of increasing employee engagement.

Higher Engagement by Meeting Employee Needs

Employee engagement is a vital component of successful organizations. Nothing helps spur innovation and raise productivity like a highly engaged group of people who are passionately involved in what they are doing.

“Because they [employees] care more, they are more productive, give better service, and even stay in their jobs longer,” writes Kevin Kruse, author of Employee Engagement 2.0. “All of that leads to happier customers, who buy more and refer more often, which drives sales and profits higher, finally resulting in an increase in stock price.”

Kruse sites 28 research studies showing a correlation between employee engagement and sales, service, quality, safety, retention and total shareholder return.

Employee engagement is about a person’s emotional commitment to the organization and its goals. Raising this emotional commitment cannot be done through some generic training course or corporate mandate.

Instead, the organization must appeal to the employees’ needs and meet these needs with specific leadership skill development.

Every employee has basic human needs that must be met in order for them to feel passionate about the work they do. When this need is met with specific leadership skills, the organization will benefit from more engaged employees.

The Passion Pyramid identifies five human needs that help ignite passion and the accompanying leadership skills required to create conditions to satisfy each need. It also describes the outcome or payoff to the organization for satisfying each need.

These human needs are:

  1. Be respected
  2. Learn and grow
  3. Be an “insider”
  4. Do meaningful work
  5. Be on a winning team

As I described in an earlier post, what employees say they want can vary a great deal from what managers think employees want. Many of these same human needs for increasing employee engagement were among the top ten things employees say they want. Specifically: 

  1. Full appreciation for work done (Be respected)
  2. Feeling “part” of things (Be an “insider”)
  3. Interesting work (Do meaningful work)
  4. Promotion/growth opportunities (Learn and grow)

Tying these human needs with specific leadership skill development can then help ignite the passion necessary to raise engagement. With intentional and orderly intervention, these leadership skills can meet the employees’ needs.

The leadership skills are also in a specific order as no team can be effective without building upon a foundation of trust. Coaching, counseling and mentoring can help with each individual’s specific growth opportunities and blind spots. And no organization can expect employees to be engaged without inclusiveness.

Aligning teams with the organization’s purpose, values and vision ties intrinsic motivation with extrinsic rewards. Finally, building a high performance team requires the foundation of all the preceding skills as well as a shared purpose and bond to succeed together.

These leadership skills help meet employees’ needs, which can help ignite the passion necessary to raise employee engagement in your organization. Isn’t it worth the investment to bring out the best in your employees so they can bring out the best in your organization?

Resilience: A Recipe for Success

We all face adversity in life and, like the proverbial hand we’re dealt, the most important thing is what we do next.

Effectively bouncing back (or forward) from a failure, tragedy or loss determines our resilience, and that resilience may contribute directly to our ability to succeed.

In David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants, author Malcolm Gladwell investigated why so many people at the top of their profession were found to have deprivation and struggle earlier in their lives. Could it be that the very adversity they faced was in fact the catalyst to help them reach such heights?

Among other things, Gladwell found that those who struggle early in life may have an advantage at taking on challenges others shy away from.

And in a new book titled Supersuvivors: The Surprising Link Between Suffering and Success, authors David B. Feldman and Lee Daniel Kravetz illustrate how people who have suffered great trauma and tragedy are able to accomplish extraordinary feats.

These “supersurvivors” are people who dramatically transformed their lives after surviving a trauma by “accomplishing amazing things or transforming the world for the better.”

The authors learned through interviews with these supersurvivors that certain delusions can be healthy, forgiveness can be good for the body, and reflecting on death can ultimately help lead to a better life.

The authors provide five key characteristics of these supersurvivors:

1. Have a sense of “grounded hope”
Better than positive thinking, supersurvivors adopt a way of thinking called “grounded hope,” which the authors describe as “an approach to life involving building one’s choices on a firm understanding of reality.” This provides for a foundation for supersurvivors to bravely ask “now what?” rather than wait for something to happen.

2. Are delusional, but in a good way
Great ideas are often considered delusional at first and yet those who are determined enough to persevere through ridicule or skepticism are the one’s we hold in such high esteem for bringing great ideas to fruition. Supersurvivors often need to push back on those well-meaning people around them in order to thrive. Without some delusional thinking, these supersurvivors may find recovery intimidating or even impossible.

3. Are willing to be helped by others
Trauma can create feelings of isolation and may make survivors reject the very people who most want to help. Remaining open to the support of friends and family can result in positive emotions, which can ultimately make you stronger. “The people in our lives really matter,” Feldman and Kravetz write. “Many studies have shown that aspects of social support appear to provide a buffer to the emotional effects of trauma and other negative circumstances, helping to protect some people from mental health symptoms that haunt others.”

4. Know the power of forgiveness
Though many traumas are man-made, moving beyond feelings of hatred, anger and resentment can help people move on with their lives and rebuild inner strength. It is this ability to forgive that enables us to fully accept what has happened and move forward. Archbishop Desmond Tutu said, “Without forgiveness there is no hope.” Supersurvivors don’t hold grudges, and they forgive themselves and others.

5. Find strength in something larger than themselves
For several supersurvivors featured in Feldman and Kravetz’s book, faith was a determining factor in helping to overcome trauma. Some feel God literally called out to them, while others find a set of beliefs help ease suffering. Whatever their belief system, these people are able to tap into the power of a connection with something larger than themselves. “For some, religious beliefs and practices are comforting, buffer the damaging effects of trauma, and galvanize personal growth,” Feldman and Kravetz write. “Faith seemed to help people cope and to strive for better days, even when a logic dictated the opposite.”

Resilience is an extremely important leadership quality as it determines how one responds after a crisis. This resilience can indicate whether a leader truly has what it takes to lead an organization through challenging times.

Is there some setback, trauma, failure or loss that has held you back? Or did it propel you forward instead? Don’t underestimate the power and transcendence of resilience.


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