Upside Down Leadership

Accountability Organizational culture Organizational leadership


Key Point: Overall, leadership isn’t getting much better. Even though organizations are spending tons of money on leadership development, statistically we aren’t seeing much leadership improvement. According to a recent HBR article: “70 percent of leaders rate themselves as inspiring and motivating – much in the same way as we all rate ourselves as great drivers. But this stands in stark contrast to how employees perceive their leaders. A survey published by Forbes found that 65 percent of employees would forego a pay raise if it meant seeing their leader fired, and a 2016 Gallup engagement survey found that 82 percent of employees see their leaders as fundamentally uninspiring. In our opinion, these two things are directly related. There is a vast upside to human leadership. As data from McKinsey & Company shows, when employees are intrinsically motivated, they are 32 percent more committed and 46 percent more satisfied with their job and perform 16 percent better.”

The idea that there is a vast upside to human leadership is a head scratcher. I guess somewhere along the road we signed up for inhuman leadership? And 65 percent would forego a raise to see their boss fired? Holy cow! So, how might we rapidly change this so-called inhuman leadership?

Based on 40 plus years of real world experience and leading research, I suggest the following:

  1. Allow employees to transparently rate leaders in confidential ways. The data trend would be your friend, or not. If we used a minimum number of input (10 people?) to openly rate leaders, we would see leadership improve dramatically. The audience is usually right. People have a right to great leaders. Continued poor ratings would require leaders to improve or be replaced.
  2. Expect that every leader should ask for feedback FIRST. Leaders like the ability and even expect to give feedback to direct reports. However, modern research reinforces the value of leaders creating psychologically safer environments, by setting the foundation for meaningful conversations and asking how they might improve first!
  3. Change one-on-one meetings to have leaders ask only two questions: How might I help you? What might I do better to advance our purpose?
  4. Adjust the span of leadership control to a minimum of 20 to 1. Leaders spend too much time “checking up” rather than adding value. Most of the time meetings are for leaders’ need to know and command/control. In more modern systems, leaders are more like gardeners than commanders.

Personal Leadership Moves:

  1. How are you rated as a leader by your direct reports? Would you be recommended to a friend? Family member? If Uber drivers are rated, shouldn’t you, me and all leaders be too?
  2. Get out in front and ask for feedback first. Say “thank you,” and go forward.

Turning things right side up in personal leadership,


One Millennial View: For Millennials, it seems that the most attractive organizations to work for offer as much autonomy as possible. If a leader doesn’t trust that their employees know how to do their job, then why the heck did they hire them? That said, leaders should also be revered. It’s FUN to have a great leader: A mentor you look up to, a person you want to perform well for, and someone with the ability to give you occasional positive acknowledgment or a kick-in-the-pants if need be. Leaders should strive to be bragged about by their employees at happy hour, not the subject of a “screw them” toast.

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis

Reasons to Drop Stupid Annual Appraisals

Accountability Management Organizational culture


Key Point: Traditional human resource practices are subject to the staggering disruption and transformation trends that are squeezing the core business of most organizations today. Chief Human Resource Officers (CHROs) and their teams better be at the front end, and leading meaningful change rather than simply responding to the often “too late” insights of operating leaders. Why? Culture leads strategy, and if the culture isn’t agile enough to embrace the rapid changes demanded by the business, execution is impaired. So the leading and best CHROs are trend seekers and result drivers in their own businesses. That obviously means being in front of social, customer and technology waves. Having been directly responsible for profit/loss during much of my career, I understand how important it is that CEOs or head operating roles need CHROs to be “wing” leaders rather than the maintenance department of the “C” suite. Every part of the employee journey and culture is getting reshaped, and what happens at each step of the employee experience can and will actually shape what happens with customer experience and financial results. The annual performance review is an example of a leadership and people practice that is (finally and thankfully) being transformed in most organizations. 

A great article in the Harvard Business Review by Peter Cappelli and Anna Tavis outlines the evolution of annual performance reviews, and three reasons why they are currently being completely reshaped. The following is a summary:

  1. The return of people development:

“ Firms are doubling down on development, often by putting their employees (who are deeply motivated by the potential for learning and advancement) in charge of their own growth. This approach requires rich feedback from supervisors—a need that’s better met by frequent, informal check-ins than by annual reviews… Firms that scrap appraisals are also rethinking employee management much more broadly. Accenture CEO Pierre Nanterme estimates that his firm is changing about 90 percent of its talent practices.”

  1. The need for agility:

“When rapid innovation is a source of competitive advantage, as it is now in many companies and industries, that means future needs are continually changing. Because organizations won’t necessarily want employees to keep doing the same things, it doesn’t make sense to hang on to a system that’s built mainly to assess and hold people accountable for past or current practices. As Susan Peters, GE’s head of human resources, has pointed out, businesses no longer have clear annual cycles. Projects are short-term and tend to change along the way, so employees’ goals and tasks can’t be plotted out a year in advance with much accuracy.”

  1. The centrality of teamwork:

“Moving away from forced ranking and from appraisals’ focus on individual accountability makes it easier to foster teamwork… Sophisticated customer service now requires frontline and back-office employees to work together to manage customer flow, and traditional systems don’t enhance performance at the team level or help track collaboration.” 

Our organization has been quietly dismantling annual appraisals, eliminating demotivating and often useless subjective rankings, while ramping up leaders’ skills to better coach on the spot and give regular meaningful/timely feedback. When we formally replace the current annual review process, I doubt anyone will really notice. Why? Performance will be up and nonsense “paperwork” down. It will be a seamless and accepted evolution. Note: Widely visible and transparent leadership ratings from a broad internal and external audience are likely to ramp up. Think Trip Advisor aimed at leadership. This is not a contradiction, but rather a social supplement for leaders. 

Character Moves:

  1. Even if your organization insists on annual appraisals, make them rich, learning summaries of the “contribution conversations” ideally held often throughout the year. Make them a celebration of both milestones and misses. Ditch THE annual performance review, where for the first time in a year, you really review behavior and results. It’s way too late, and likely an administrative obligation. Host a quality investment in developing others instead.
  1. Insist on having regular meaningful feedback/coaching conversations with your boss. That doesn’t make you needy. Rather, it’s a statement that you value personally growing and improving.

Appraisals in The Triangle,


One Millennial View: I heard a relevant comment from a CEO recently that I loved. Ever heard (or used) terms like “social media ninja,” or “analytics expert” in a resume? Well… If you have, you’ve been fed a lie, because literally NO ONE is. These systems evolve too quickly, and too often. Google analytics and social media algorithms change so frequently that no one has truly mastered it at any time. The key is to keep up with it and stay learning as it changes, with the creative forefront to have ideas on how to make it work best for your organization. Operations update, evolve, change, and eventually become outdated. If we don’t give and receive feedback just as rapidly, then we’re out of touch and way behind.

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis

‘How’ Versus ‘How Much’

Accountability Authenticity Personal leadership


Key Point: “The more cashless our society becomes, the more our moral compass slips.” 

The above quote is based on solid research conducted by Dr. Dan Ariely, one of the world’s most respected behavioral economists. I work in the financial industry, and it is clear that we are rapidly going cashless (Apple Pay, etc.), so this conclusion is bothersome if not downright scary. In his book The Honest Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone–Especially Ourselves, Dr. Ariely believes that cheating is contagious, and that a group’s behavior will have a powerful effect on each individual.

Two current and very popular television series (House of Cards and Billions) portray contagious behavior by all participants in spades. The overall theme is that “the end justifies the means” and that “greatness” is determined by achieving “how much” at any cost, instead of honoring “how” the end is achieved. Ariely’s work points out: “We all want explanations for why we behave as we do and for the ways the world around us functions. Even when our feeble explanations have little to do with reality. We’re storytelling creatures by nature, and we tell ourselves story after story until we come up with an explanation that we like and that sounds reasonable enough to believe. And when the story portrays us in a more glowing and positive light, so much the better.”

In a very relevant HBR article by Dov Seidman, he stresses the importance of reframing greatness from the how much definition to the how“How do we conduct ourselves in life and business? (Do we act fairly? Do we treat our colleagues, customers, and community with respect)? How do we sustain success so it lasts for decades, not just fiscal quarters? How can we all work together to build something greater than ourselves?”

Seidman says, “It’s in how that we should find our inspiration for greatness. And this is not idealistic: The individuals, organizations, and even countries that end up consistently winning over the long term are those in the grip of how, a far bigger idea than how much.”

Maybe Seidman’s viewpoint needs to connect with Ariely’s conclusive comment:  “Acts of honesty are incredibly important for our sense of social morality. And although they are unlikely to make the same sensational news, if we understand social contagion, we must also recognize the importance of publicly promoting outstanding moral acts.” 

Character Moves:

  1. We need to constantly challenge ourselves to emphasis that the “how” is ultimately more important than the “how much.” The workplace is a living daily laboratory for emphasizing and celebrating the “how.”
  1. As imperfect beings, we have to be on guard for the social contagion that convinces us the end justifies the means. It is so easy to tell ourselves it’s “ok” when we know darn well it’s not. 

“How” in The Triangle,


One Millennial View: I work in media, and I know for a fact that we’re not helping to fix this. And we never will. Ariely’s above comment, “and although they are unlikely to make the same sensational news,” blew up at me, because it’s the absolute truth. Sorry, “how” just doesn’t get advertisers buying like a “how much” story does. But don’t sleep on the general public, because they know when a “how much” story becomes loathsome. Eventually, a genuine “how” becomes the true subject worth reporting about and learning from. “How” will never be breaking news, but do you want the instant cover page? Or do you want to one day be featured as someone who did it right?

– Garrett

Leadership Contagion!

Personal leadership Respect


Key Point: Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman, two well known researchers, authors and coaches focusing on leadership, wanted to know how the aspect of “social contagion” affects leadership. Other research already reinforces the notion that good leadership creates engaged employees and influences a variety of outcomes such as people retention, customer satisfaction, revenue, productivity, and so on. Zenger and Folkman asked this question“If you’re a good leader, do you make the people around you more likely to become good leaders as well? And which behaviors are most readily ‘caught?’” 

They tested 51 behaviors and found significant correlations in over 30 of them. (All 51 showed some correlation, but not all the correlations were statistically significant). Here are the results:

“Within the behaviors that appeared contagious, there were some that appeared even more contagious than others. Behaviors that had the highest correlations between managers and their direct reports clustered around the following themes, listed in order of most contagious to least contagious:

  • Developing self and others.
  • Technical skills.
  • Strategy skills.
  • Consideration and cooperation.
  • Integrity and honesty.
  • Global perspective.
  • Decisiveness.
  • Results focus.”


The conclusion of the research reinforces the concept that good leadership is VERY contagious. It may not be immediately evident, but over time, if you’re a good boss, you likely work for one. And if your direct employees are highly engaged, people who report to them (if applicable) likely are too. 

In the company I work for, three of the most correlated behaviors are non-negotiable expectations of leaders: Getting results, developing self and others. So this is the deal: Each leader has to be “great” (not perfect) AND getting better. This research even heightens the importance because effective leaders and leadership behaviors are clearly social contagions!! If you are or are not a strong leader, the impact is profound and the higher you go, obviously the greater the impact.

Character Moves:

  1. Remind yourself regularly that leadership is developed and not stagnant. Do not assume that somehow leaders are just born. You and I are never “good enough” from a leadership perspective.  Keep sharpening your leadership saw. How will you and I be better at the end of 2016 than today? How will you know?
  2. If you are not prepared to put the intentional work in developing yourself as a leader, it’s ok. But please become an individual contributor instead. 
  3. If you are a leader and have weak leadership underneath you, ensure it improves or you will be replaced. It is that straightforward. 

Leadership Contagion in The Triangle,


One Millennial View: In all aspects of life, we naturally seem to know who we’d want “in our foxhole.” We also can name those we wouldn’t. We can learn from bad and good leadership, and of course we’ll encounter both. However, while we can mentally take notes on how to avoid bad behaviors (and become our own motivators using countermeasures), it’s only good leadership that seems to really give us that “push” to take the charge many of us yearn for. As capable as we are individually, the dream is a positive mentor. 

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis

The Gift of Failure!

Accountability Authenticity Resilience


Key Point: Set yourself free by accepting your imperfection. At our company we have an important precept: “People have a right to great leadership. Leaders have a responsibility to be great (not perfect). ” One leader recently noted to me that by publicly stating that we as leaders do not expect “perfection,” it gave her permission to “make mistakes and continuously learn.” Why would we rob ourselves of the beautiful gift of failure? 

In the first pages of Being Wrong, author Kathryn Schulz writes, “In our collective imagination, error is associated not just with shame and stupidity but also with ignorance, indolence, psychopathology, and moral degeneracy.”

Somehow parents, educators and employers have created this cultural fear of messing up. Let’s stop it!

Ron Carucci is the best-selling author of eight books, including the recent Amazon No. 1 Rising to Power. In a recent HBR article, Carucci noted: 

“Many driven executives struggle to accept that flaws and mistakes are part of being human. And when you act is if you are, or should be, perfect, you eventually expect it of others as well. The followers on whom those unfair standards are imposed typically revolt and withdraw their support. Starved for acknowledgement, such followers wait to pounce on any hint of (hypocritical) deficiency, leaving no room for executive missteps. Executives, fearing criticism and exposure, work to perpetuate the illusion of infallibility — and perfectionism becomes a self-perpetuating prison. Sixty-seven percent of our respondents also struggled with micromanagement, a common symptom of managerial perfectionism. 

Followers need assurance that leaders know they themselves are flawed, and will in turn be understanding of other people’s slip-ups… A leader’s greatest source of credibility is, ironically, their vulnerability. Owning imperfections wins trust; hiding them doesn’t.” 

Character Moves: 

  1. Recognize that teammates want most of all to know that we authentically and genuinely care. I have a hard time remembering someone being fired for making a mistake when others believed that the right intent and care underscored the miss. Celebrate mistakes. Acknowledge, learn, and move on. 
  2. Failure is a gift! Give yourself the gift of imperfection and failure this holiday season! Make it a New Year’s resolution. 
  3. Do not micro manage!!!! It’s a symptom of perfectionism. 

Gift of imperfection in the Triangle, 


One Millennial View: I think we’re our own biggest critics in a lot of ways, and however nice it is to always just “nail” the tasks we perform, we’re going to have our screw ups. Just last week I published a piece with the typo “Green Back Packers” in the TITLE… It was fixable, but a pain in the butt to remedy, and embarrassing. Having your boss yell, “Who are the Green Back Packers?” is a “fun” gut check (not really). But, a lot of everyday things in life are like a baseball game. If you’re consistently making positive contact, you’re doing great. Sometimes you’ll hit a home run, but now and again, you’re going to swing, miss, and strike out.  

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis