Tag Archives: Leadership

Getting to the Real YOU!

Take the 3-minute Values Alignment Test 

Understanding the differences between your values, how your boss acts and what your company says it values is a critical career insight…

The following terms are a compilation of the values we’ve assembled from periodicals, assessments and books – which is a fairly broad representation of possible categorizations.1


  1. Create three columns on a piece of paper.
  2. Label column 1 “You”, column 2 “Boss” and column 3 “Company”.
  3. Select the three values mostimportant to you from the list above and place them in column 1.
  4. Select the three values leastimportant to you and place them at the bottom of column 1.
  5. Repeat steps 3 & 4 in column 2 for the values your boss exhibits every day and the values she/he rarely exhibits.
  6. Lastly, do the same for column 3 based on what you think is important/not important to your organization.

Here’s how it should look before you fill in the values:

2So…. Are your three lists identical?

I didn’t think so…

If you are like most people, you’ll probably be surprised by the outcome.

Take a moment to examine the biggest differences and determine how you might use the gap as an opportunity to advance your career, support your boss or drive organizational success.


  • If your organization values mentorship and you don’t, what actions might you take to become a proficient mentor?
  • If expertise is highly valued but you feel softer skills are more important to you, you might consider opportunities within the organization and different roles or functions that rely less on the technical aspects of your industry and reward you for what you value.
  • Let’s say you value enthusiasm and optimism, while your organization prefers cautious responsible hard work. Are there other places, functions or roles in the organization that would benefit from your natural energy?

EXCEPTIONAL LEADERSHIP is the product of purposeful self-discovery.

Without a clear understanding of what you value, how can you make informed career decisions or inspire others to adopt and follow your leadership vision?

As always, feel free to share your thoughts and questions with me directly at jeff@jeffkaplan.com.


The New Leadership Challenge (Part 3)

A Sneak Peak at Leadership Research Findings

[Missed Part 1? Click here]

[Missed Part 2? Click here]

This three part series examines the personal, interpersonal and strategic skills required for effective leadership in the age of uncertainly and unrelenting change.

Part 1 examined the process of self-discovery that leads to integrity, self-assurance and maturity of action, that some call executive presence.

Part 2 examined the primary components of developing your leadership constituency—an ever growing circle of people that know who you are, what you are capable of and care enough about you to provide you an ongoing source of information and opportunity.


Part 3 describes the capstone skills of the NLC leader—the skills necessary to transform great ideas into tangible results.

Advancing the cause of the NLC leader (Steps 8-12):

  1. Strategic Coherence: To ensure that your big idea isn’t viewed as distracting noise, NLC leaders frame their ideas in terms of the organization’s established initiatives – how your idea helps move the organization toward the goals that have already been vetted and approved.
  1. Narratology: Shape your ideas in terms of a narrative. Present your ideas with a clear focus on the “who, what, where, when and why” your idea is critical to achieving the organization’s stated objectives.
  1. Context Curation: Having wrapped your idea into a cogent story, link it to the heritage and culture of the organization by demonstrating why executing your idea is simply one more step in advancing what the organization has always stood for.
  1. Community Building: Leveraging the deep relationships you built in Steps 5-7 (see PART 2), co-develop and test your idea, your story and the historical context you’ve developed with the people you trust and enlist their support. This step is how great NLC leaders transform ideas into action.
  1. Sustainment: Today’s best idea may lose relevance overnight and that’s okay. NLC leaders are constantly prepared to start over again – WITHOUT starting from scratch. Sustainment in the future isn’t the ability to repeat what worked yesterday, but alter course with agility and speed.

In a world where the noise of activity can be deafening and people are asked to be everywhere and do everything at once, NLC leaders rise to the occasion with purpose and discipline by applying the 12 steps to NLC leadership.

As always, I welcome your comments directly at Jeff@jeffkaplan.com


The New Leadership Challenge (Part 2)

A Sneak Peak at Leadership Research Findings
[Missed Part 1? Click here]

Our focus on leadership development for the next generation continues this week with a look at how and why tomorrow’s leaders can and should develop means to stay in-the-know.

Our research clearly shows that great leaders (and great salespeople) think about relationships differently. Successful leaders view interactions not only as opportunities to transact, but also opportunities to learn. Few of us focus on the value of trusted relationships as a source of information.

Steps 5-7:
The relationship between relationships and information:

Step 5: Engineering Your Network: We’ve talked at length about the importance of tying your goals to the people most critical to your success, but great networkers develop many non-transactional relationships as a way to stay-in-the loop on what’s being said and done around them.

As you develop your relationship strategy make sure to consider people in other departments, functions and levels. And since not all that matters happens inside the hallowed halls of your organization, think about the external links that could help keep you informed: partners, customers, competitors and other business, social and civic leaders.

It’s likely your network already includes many of these categories but how purposeful and diligent are your efforts?

Step 6: Seek Formal & Informal Mentorship: Youth may be wasted on the young but don’t let the value of mentorship fade in the same vein. No matter your age or stage, there are people out there that have done what you hope to do, have done it better or done it differently. And while I’ma man of a certain age, I’m finding the value of mentorship has never been more important. The leaders I’ve interviewed, to a person, agree.

Step 7: Offer Formal & Informal Relationships with Mentees: Just as there is always someone that’s already been there and done that; don’t forget the value of your own experience! A senior leader helping an aspiring leader that helps a young grad that helps a freshman that convinces a high school student to stay in school…and the virtuous cycle continues. If you are new to mentoring, you’ll be surprised to learn that you always get more and learn more than you are giving….

“No man can help another without helping himself in the process.”
(Ralph Waldo Emerson)

Next week we’ll complete the list and begin the discussion about how you can put these principals into action to rapidly accelerate your career…

As always, if you have comments or just want to continue the conversation, reach out to me directly at jeff@jeffkaplan.com.

The New Leadership Challenge (Part 1)

A Sneak Peak at Leadership Research Findings

After interviews and conversations with 100’s of top executives from 26 countries around the globe, it has become clear that business as we know it is on the way out. In its place is a new type of enterprise that looks less like an assembly line and more like a community; a place where care, fun and yes, even love, have a place.

While this new world order of business promises levels of professional freedom and opportunity our parents never imagined, it also redefines the concept of a career and demands new skills for success. Achieving success in the future is what the New Leadership Challenge is all about.

Our research has identified the 11 essentials for becoming an effective leader in this new environment.

The first 4 steps deal with becoming an introspective leader – getting clear about who you are, what you care about and what you want:

  1. Personal Inventory: Great leadership comes with reflective honesty and self-appraisal, taking the time to specifically define our strengths and weaknesses AND the courage to validate your findings with others is the first step.
  2. Values: It’s not what you have, it’s what you do with what you have that matters and VALUES drive ACTIONS. List the 5 things you value most (in order of importance) and use that list to guide your actions.
  3. Unique Ability: We are many things, but each of us possesses unique talents, driven by our passions and what we value. Chicago consultant Dan Sullivan suggests that finding your unique talent is a key to unlocking your leadership potential.
  4. What Success Means to You: Success is NOT a destination. Success is an aggregation of effort, time and lots of lesser successes. Take a moment to define what success means to you and make an effort to become successful each day. Then every night ask yourself, was I successful today?

Next week we’ll provide the rest of the list (several of which will likely surprise you) and offer concrete ways to begin taking action to rapidly accelerate your vision of success.

AND… keep those cards and letters coming! Don’t hesitate to share your perspectives by writing me at Jeff@jeffkaplan.com.

Now What?

Over the last few weeks, I’ve had the privilege to conduct as series of interviews with four amazing leaders. One woman and three men, each the senior-most executives of their respective organizations, offered honest appraisals of their lives, careers and the businesses they’ve built. Although the organizations they lead differ by industry, geography and size, they shared one common concern:

What made us successful in the past,
Will not make us successful in the future.

Now, what?

Across the board, these leaders saw the level of product and service value that once drove the economic engines of their organizations, steadily and irreversibly decline; resulting in everything from a reimagining of their product and service offerings, to increased reliance on inorganic growth and in one case, an exodus of the industry they’d served for a generation.

As I write this, my desk is overflowing with interview transcripts, the margins of each page filled with a scrawl of handwritten notes and questions. From those pages it has become abundantly clear that there is a new leadership challenge emerging; a concept that defies tradition, embraces the deeply human elements of business activity and holds the promise of great opportunity for those willing to embrace it.

The new leadership challenge seeks to answer the question, Now What?

Tomorrow’s leaders must be capable of sensing, absorbing and transforming oncoming change in a way that creates competitive advantage for the organization.

Bold vision and practical and tactical ideas, big and small, are fast becoming the currency of organizational and career success. The leaders I’ve interviewed agree: venturing into an uncertain future will require more leaders than ever before; but individuals hoping to fill these roles will be largely responsible for their own leadership development, which means doing the hard work of defining who you are, what you value and what you are capable of accomplishing.

In short, before your ideas will be considered, before you can effectively lead others, you must demonstrate both an understanding and control of yourself.

Next week, we’ll examine what you can do to prepare yourself to take advantage of these new leadership opportunities and springboard your career to the next level.

Until then, I’m reaching out to you to see what you think is important for leaders to consider and what skills you feel will be critical in the next generation of business leadership. As always, I welcome your comments at: jeff@jeffkaplan.com.

The Dark Side of Trust…

Trust can be a vicious and manipulative weapon of control.

As much as I’ve researched and studied the importance, development and maintenance of trust in great relationships, I’ve only recently started to examine trust’s less attractive aspects.

Someone may grant you trust based on the belief that you will act in a certain way, even when they aren’t around—what I call conditional/behavioral trust. Without some careful consideration, this type of trust can be used as a form of control. And while there are certainly actions we are willing to assure others we won’t do, a healthier form of trust is a belief that another person is capable of making good decisions and has the best of intentions—without prescribing what those decisions might be.

When we meet a new colleague or personal friend, the world of possibility is open. We don’t really know anything about them and therefore don’t have any expectations about who they are or how they’ll behave. Their every action holds the possibility for surprise and delight.

Over time, we develop an idea of whom this person is and how they’ll act (which may or may not be accurate). Unknowingly, we created and applied an evaluative filter—an unspoken set of conditions for maintaining the trust we’ve granted. Because these expectations are implicit, they may not be aware of them, agree with them or feel it is any business of ours to begin with, and because we’ve already decided how they should behave, we’ve limited their ability to surprise or delight us in their actions. Do the right thing (in our eyes) and they are simply doing what they’re supposed to be doing. Stray from our conditions, and they’ve broken our trust.

Trust isn’t an agreement or contract; it’s a belief in the essential goodness of another human being. Humans by definition are imperfect and flawed, so be careful not to grant or accept conditional/behavioral trust as it holds the potential to dampen or even destroy an otherwise mutually rewarding relationship.

Twitterbrain Leaders

Startling similarities between how information is spread throughout the human brain and across social media networks suggest new ways of looking at organizational leadership.

Human thought is a cascade of signals throughout the brain. These signals intersect, integrate and ultimately produce thoughts or actions.

Change the vocabulary slightly and you’ve got a pretty good description of how social networks work! Individual messages flow through the digi-sphere, intersecting among thought leaders that integrate and influence our interpretation of the message and voilà…the next viral idea is born.

Organizations are just another form of social network. Understand the governing laws of the Twitterbrain and you’ll understand how and why organizations act and think the way they do.

Effective leadership of a Twitterbrain organization, therefore, is a matter of preparation and positioning. Leaders must be prepared to amplify, dampen, shape and otherwise integrate divergent perspectives into ideas others identify as their own and willingly support. The greatest challenge of the Twitterbrain leader is how to position themselves at the intersection of new ideas. That’s where the power of human relationships comes into play. If you don’t trust your leader, if you can’t talk to your leader or if your leader is nowhere to be found – your leader has surrendered her/his position at the intersection, loses influence, becomes out-of-touch and loses relevance.

The Indiana University researchers conducting the study suggested that the thoughts-intersection-integration process is “a hallmark of higher cognition”.

Want to create a more intelligent organization?

Get better prepared and positioned leaders.

We’ve heard this before but now science is telling us why…


Source: Olaf Sporns et al. Cooperative and Competitive Spreading Dynamics on the Human Connectome. Neuron, June 2015 DOI: 10.1016/j.neuron.2015.05.035

Death by PowerPoint and Other Communications Disasters

Ever left a meeting wondering what the heck everyone was talking about?

While a quick wit and a smart turn-of-phrase can get you noticed, the practice does little to advance the cause of effective communication. Worse, the vast majority of our traditional business vocabulary is not generally understood.

My first experience as a post-graduate was an orientation session with 100 fellow learners. The facilitator started the session with an unusual proposition — anyone able to define the term ‘leadership’ and successfully defend their choice, could skip the entire program, save years of work and nearly $100K in expense and receive his or her Doctorate that day!

Three hours later, more confused then when we’d started, nobody was ready to attempt the challenge. The facilitator used the opportunity to introduce our first assigned textbook – all 12 pounds and 1,296 pages of The Bass Handbook of Leadership, which discussed many of the 55,000+ known definitions of leadership!

We use terms like leadership everyday… but what are we really communicating when our meanings are unclear?

Last week, I conducted an interview with a former Fortune 500 CEO and I asked him a direct question, “What does Innovation mean to you?”

He told me it was hard to define (I liked him already) but in his experience, Innovation is about “getting people to think differently”. Now, that’s a definition I can live with… I understand it and I can identify it when I see it…

Anyway, it’s time to get back in the presentation, I think they are on slide 642 by now, but at least I’ll know what they mean when they talk about Innovation

READER CHALLENGE: Can any of you help define Strategy, Tactic, Objective, Goal, Team, Collaboration…or any of the other words we use every day but few really understand?

S.O.S.: Has Anybody Seen My Boss?

What do you do when your boss checks out?

Finding purpose and reengaging middle managers…

Top organization executives steer the ship by setting out broad organizational initiatives.

Frontline workers keep the engines going by performing tactical actions.

While the people at the top are facing outward and the people at the bottom are heads down: business unit and team leaders can get lost in the middle.

With the trend toward flatter organizational structures, tolerating disengaged middle managers may be an interim step to eliminating the layer entirely but that won’t really stop the issue that’s plaguing lots of organizations and contributing to middle manager disengagement.

What’s the Answer?

Let’s look to nature for guidance. Facing ecosystem scarcity, most plants will adapt by making their leaves more efficient but the plants that survive go belowground to utilize a combination of diverse strategies to get more out of their root systems.

I say mix the metaphor and let our organizational ships take the lead from the plants, work below the waterline to give middle managers a new role and a new reason to check back in. Research supports the idea, suggesting that developing a process for translating creative ideas into tangible innovations that enable the achievement of organizational strategies may be key to sustainable organizational performance in the future. If that’s what connects the bridge and the engine room, the leaves to the roots…what better role for the middle manager?

Either that or we can simply knee-jerk to traditional business wisdom:

“If the ship is in trouble, shuffle the deck chairs and rename the boat.”



Graham Zemunik, Benjamin L. Turner, Hans Lambers, Etienne Lalibert�. Diversity of plant nutrient-acquisition strategies increases during long-term ecosystem development. Nature Plants, 2015; 15050 DOI: 10.1038/nplants.2015.50

Yaping Gong, Jing Zhou, Song Chang. Core Knowledge Employee Creativity and Firm Performance: The Moderating Role of Riskiness Orientation, Firm Size, and Realized Absorptive Capacity. Personnel Psychology, 2013; 66 (2): 443 DOI:10.1111/peps.12024

N. Anderson, K. Poto nik, J. Zhou. Innovation and Creativity in Organizations: A State-of-the-Science Review, Prospective Commentary, and Guiding Framework. Journal of Management, 2014; DOI: 10.1177/0149206314527128

Small Talk or Small Talks?

Over the last month, I’ve had the privilege to work with a group of big picture executives, an auditorium full of soon-to-be college grads and most recently, a team of highly talented and creative global business developers. Reviewing my notes from these three dramatically different experiences one theme remained constant…


What it is?
How do I create it?
How do I add it?

Generating personal value is central to an executive’s organizational impact, a graduate’s career trajectory and a business developer’s ability to join the strategic conversation. Understanding, generating and implementing personal value can be the difference between being tops in your profession and standing outside looking in.

What is it?

Personal value is the intersection between what organizations want, what individuals want and what you want. 

How do I create it?

Purposefully prepare for your interactions. Don’t depend on your intuition and emotional intelligence to respond to opportunities in the moment. Come prepared to drive the conversation to the intersection of organizational, individual and personal value.

How do I add it?

Armed with an understanding of the value intersection and having prepared to articulate your vision of it, you’ll be ready to abandon small talk in favor of small talks – bite sized bits of an emerging story you’ve created.

To reap the rewards of leadership, executives need to connect organizational success with employee success. To get in the door, job seekers must connect organizational vision with the accolades recruiters will receive for hiring someone as great as you. To gain a seat at the strategic table, business developers must frame project success in terms of individual rewards and organization imperatives.


Value is a BIG question, so over the next few months we’ll return to this subject and drill down on the practical implications of getting it done.

As always, I welcome your feedback and want to thank Decision Clarity consulting executive Charles Bayless and youth leader Urban Stowe for their insightful responses to last week’s blog ‘Did Your Career Choose You?’.