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How to Lead Millennials GenerationsLeadershipMost Popular

July 2nd, 2015 by Spencer Penhart leave a comment

young man on dock

“The counts of the indictment [against the upcoming generation] are luxury, bad manners, contempt for authority, disrespect to elders, and a love of chatter in place of exercise.” – Source revealed later

I’ll never forget the first training class I had many years ago on generational research. It was 60 minutes of tough, old-school managers alternating between hysterical laughter and utter contempt for millennials, their spoiled ways, their helicopter parents, the end of life as we know it, and an utter refusal to change or give in to this insane rising generation. After an hour of wiping tears of laughter from our eyes, the instructor finished with a sobering point: The millennials will be taking over sooner rather than later, and your choices are to adapt, or be left behind. Suddenly, no one was laughing.

Research on generations is fascinating, useful, and fun. However, we should be very careful to not broad-brush or stereotype any group of people, including generations. Doing so may be easy and convenient, but this oversimplification will cause you to miss important opportunities and sources of great value.

People don’t fundamentally change over generations. We’re all still humans, and want what humans have always wanted: health, happiness, love, autonomy, purpose, friendship, security, etc. What does change over generations are values, attitudes, preferences, and behaviors. Understanding generational attributes is indeed helpful in many situations, including designing products geared toward these market segments. For example, the hotel industry is currently launching new brands of hotels geared specifically to millennials. These new brands feature “smaller rooms in favor of larger lobbies [and communal spaces], healthier snack offerings instead of full-service restaurants, and smart everything, from reservation set-ups to televisions and room keys”. Sounds horrible, right? I mean, other than the smart everything, I want the exact opposite of that!!! But everyone wins here: I get my large room and comfy bed at a traditional hotel, the millennials have one less cranky Gen X’er ruining their hip and trendy hotel space, and the hotel chain makes a killing appealing to a new and underserved segment. From a talent perspective, millennials have had access to education, technology and tools that we never had – why wouldn’t you want people with those abilities in your organization?

Here is where you do not need to cater to millennials: how you lead them. Many executives and managers are under the impression that they need to reinvent their leadership styles and work processes to accommodate the preferences of millennials. The truth is (and data shows) that you don’t. What you do need to have is effective leadership and processes regardless of the generations involved.

One of the most significant on-going leadership studies ever done (from The Leadership Challenge and The Truth About Leadership by Kouzes & Posner) is based on 30 years of data from nearly two million respondents across four continents. For over three decades, the researchers have been asking respondents of all generations the same question: “What are the attributes of a leader you would admire and willingly follow?” Guess what – the answers haven’t changed in 30 years! The top four attributes respondents continue to report are: Honest, Forward-Looking, Inspiring, and Competent. In other words, everybody generally wants those same core things from a leader, regardless of generation. What has shifted in the data the past few years is a rise in the desired attributes of Fair and Supportive – perhaps influenced by the rise of millennials in the work force – yet they remain behind the top four above. But ask yourself: does anybody want a boss who isn’t fair and supportive?

The renowned Center for Creative Leadership found similar results in their 2014 white paper based on their World Leadership Survey. Asking 5,940 U.S. managers to rate the importance of several characteristics on leadership effectiveness, the results did not differ by generation. Baby Boomers, Gen X’ers, and Millennials all rated Charismatic, Team-Oriented, Participative, and Humane-Oriented almost equally highly, while rating Hierarchical and Autonomous as less important.

For executives and managers, your solution to leading any generation is to have effective leadership and processes, period. Leadership remains the #1 most pressing global human capital challenge in business today, and the gap is widening. If you haven’t made leadership development a key strategic priority in your company, now is the time, or your company may not survive today’s rapidly changing environment to see the next generation.

“The counts of the indictment [against the upcoming generation] are luxury, bad manners, contempt for authority, disrespect to elders, and a love of chatter in place of exercise.” Do you happen to know where this quote comes from? Ancient Greece. 🙂

The Power Illusion AccountabilityExecutionHigh Performance TeamsLeadershipMost PopularWinning Culture

June 4th, 2015 by Spencer Penhart leave a comment

Power ball

Consider the following statement for a moment: No one has ever made you do anything.

Yikes – that’s likely to open up some old wounds. But in both your business and personal lives, with the exception of being a victim of criminal acts, I assert that this statement is not only true, but vital to your success as a leader. Let’s explore how using power versus influence impacts both your leadership performance, and the business performance of your company.

Leaders and managers often overestimate how effectively they are using their power. For example, two of the most common problems leaders run into are 1) their employees aren’t nearly as committed as they are, and 2) not everybody can or will do things your way. For many leaders, the natural response is to resort to their formal authority and force people to do what they are telling them, or else face the consequences. Since being nice didn’t produce the results you wanted, you feel forced to shift into bad-guy mode: micro-management, performance management, and potentially, terminations. Paradoxically however, people start doing what you wanted, but performance still doesn’t improve much. Now, both you AND your people are miserable, with no solution in sight. This is how many people define accountability – telling people what to do, and punishing them if they don’t. Is it any wonder only 36% of managers and executives are engaged in their job, or that so many high-potential employees refuse to explore management roles?

Here is the biggest illusion in all of leadership: You can’t make anyone do anything!

Consequences vs. Choices: Here’s the hard truth: You almost always have a choice. Yes, the potential consequences of a given situation may make for an easy decision, but be very clear that the decision is still a choice. For example, let’s say your boss approaches you and says, “Do X, or you’re fired.” Do you have a choice? Of course you do – your decision to comply will depend on how much you value your job. If you are terrified of losing your income, or think you can’t find another job quickly, you will likely decide to do what your boss is asking. However, if you have some money saved up to live off of while you look for another job, and you fundamentally disagree with what your boss is asking of you, you will likely decide to refuse your boss’ request and look for another job, like these people. The person who feels he has no alternative options is the one who will feel as though he had “no choice”, but reality is there are always options available, and you are choosing one whether you realize it or not. Most important from a talent perspective, it’s your high-performers who have the most options at their disposal. They are the employees you can least afford to lose, while also being the least willing to tolerate a toxic boss or work environment.

Power vs. Influence: This difference gets to the heart of effective leadership. If you examine the definitions of the two words, some interesting differences emerge…

Power: Possession of control, authority, or influence over others.

Influence: The capacity to have an effect on the character, development, or behavior of someone or something, or the effect itself.

After reading those two definitions, which sounds like the more effective leadership strategy in today’s business environment? Power and authority work under the assumption that people in fact have to do what they are told. But as we just discussed, they don’t! This has never been truer than today, when it is so difficult and expensive to hire and terminate employees. Simply put, you do not want to rely on your formal power or authority to lead your people, because the Command-and-Control leadership style results in employees doing what they have to, and not what they could do. And under these conditions, what they will do is figure out how to survive by doing the bare minimum.

A wonderful leader I worked for in the past had a saying: “Be careful what you ask of your employees, because you will get it.” What he meant was that employees will do whatever they need to survive and ensure their job security. If you make an unreasonable demand, your employees will figure out how to deliver you the result, but usually at the minimum level of quality and effort possible. In a sales organization I used to work in, the sales force was once asked to make an unrealistic number of sales calls per day. Knowing the pressure they were under, the reps simply fabricated the calls, and recorded them even though they never happened. Worse, the sales managers knew it was happening, but didn’t say anything because they too were under the same pressure to deliver! By relying on authority and power, leaders often generate fear within their organizations, which shuts down communication and leads to destructive scenarios like the above. When people become afraid to speak up, they are unwilling to raise discussions about problems or ideas for improvement, which destroys morale, stifles innovation, and keeps your organization locked in a cycle of repeating the same mistakes – all while your competitors are moving forward and improving.

The most effective leaders today rely on their influence to lead. Having learned that they can’t actually make anyone do anything, they instead focus on making their employees want to do things. When employees are doing things because they want to rather than being forced to, their outlook and performance completely change. They are now being motivated intrinsically (from within, because they want to) instead of extrinsically (from the outside, because they have to), which dramatically increases their discretionary effort – the amount of effort they choose to put into the job or task at hand. In Organization Development, this is referred to as employee engagement, and is the difference between employees doing great work, and doing the minimum. This extra effort by your employees gets noticed by your customers, who will become more loyal to you and do more business as a result. The Gallup organization has found that companies who engage both their employees and customers experience a 240% boost in performance-related outcomes compared to companies who engage neither.

In today’s business environment, power is both an illusion and a losing strategy. Instead, make it your goal to influence and inspire your employees to want to give their best effort. Both you and they will be healthier and happier, while driving improved business performance and execution.

3 Steps to Team Execution: Team Performance Machine Part II AccountabilityExecutionHigh Performance TeamsMost Popular

May 14th, 2015 by Spencer Penhart leave a comment

car ferrari yellow

You can also view this post on The Rouse!

“There is nothing better than a high-performing team, but there are few things worse than a low-performing team.” How does this resonate with you?

Whenever I make this statement to my audiences, I get a surprisingly mixed response. This took me aback at first, so I began asking a clarifying question: “How many of you have ever worked on a truly high-performing team that accomplished great results and loved working together?” When I ask for a show of hands, typically only about 10-20% of hands go up! That finding is not only scary, but points to perhaps your biggest obstacle as a leader of a team – most people don’t know what a good team looks like, nor do many even believe one is possible. Far too often, teams operate more like a group of Minions playing football/soccer than a highly-functioning unit (notice the fake dive for the red card – priceless!).

In my previous post, we covered the two steps required for preparing your team for success. Now comes the hard part – ensuring team execution of their agreements and expectations. Here are the final three steps you can take to enable your team to become a performance machine, using the model of Top 50 Global Thought-Leader John Spence:

1) Track and Post: Do you have a publicly visible scorecard for your team? The old adage that “you can’t manage what you can’t measure” is true in this case. Transparency of progress and results is critical for accountability, because people need to know where they stand in relation to their goals. A scorecard or other form of progress-tracker at both the team and individual levels should be posted somewhere highly visible to the team, and updated as frequently as makes sense. Sales organizations often do this well, but I see this less frequently with internal groups and functions – I recommend it for all. This not only enhances performance and clarity, but it signals to your team that you are serious about execution. Naturally, your low performers will be uncomfortable with this, and that’s ok – it is part of their necessary growth process in order to improve their performance. Your high-performers will love it. Most importantly, you should help your average to above-average employees see this as an opportunity. They often have the greatest ability to improve their individual and overall team performance, and to become top-performers themselves.

2) Coach Individually AND Collectively: How, and how often, are you actively coaching your teams? Coaching takes on additional importance in the team environment because you not only have to coach the individuals, but you must also coach the team as a whole on how to work together. Most people are unfamiliar with the processes and disciplines of great teams – as such, teams will often need significant help establishing and sticking to team processes, particularly early on. Open-dialogue and continuous improvement is of obvious importance for driving performance, and coaching can close small performance gaps before they become big ones. Yet I am still amazed at how many leaders vastly underestimate the importance of this vital leadership skill.

3) Rewards/Consequences for Performance AND Behaviors: Finally, once you are tracking and posting progress, and coaching to the gaps, you must incent your team members with rewards and consequences. However, you not only want to reward strong goal achievement, but also the behaviors that lead to that goal achievement. For example, if selflessness is going to be essential for your team achieving its objectives, then be sure to praise the team members every time you observe or hear of it. On the flip side, mediocrity and poor performance cannot be tolerated. If a team member is unwilling to abide by the performance standards and agreements they themselves initially agreed to, then they must either improve their performance or leave the team. As difficult as this is for a leader, refusing to take action will cause the engagement and performance of the rest of the team to plummet.

One of the most painful mistakes I made as a manager involved an employee who was clearly underperforming on both individual skills and teamwork. However, the team overall was performing at a high-level, so I allowed her performance to lag. Sure, I talked about it with her, but I never took action to require a change in her behavior. Eventually, team camaraderie disintegrated due to what the other team members perceived as lower standards for this employee, while their engagement and performance also dropped significantly. When I finally had no choice but to take firm action with the struggling employee, I had to come down much harder on her than I would have if I had addressed the issue sooner. This was not only unfair to the employee, but cost my team significant performance, trust, and job satisfaction. Do yourself and your team a favor: Praise strong performance and behaviors frequently, and address performance and behavior gaps quickly.

“There is nothing better than a high-performing team, but there are few things worse than a low-performing team.” Follow the five steps we’ve discussed, and you will be well on your way to creating the team you always dreamed of: Clear Expectations, Agreement, Track & Post, Coach Individually AND Collectively, and Rewards/Consequences for Performance AND Behaviors. I look forward to hearing your thoughts!

Suggested reading sources for deeper info:

Organizational Management: Awesomely Simple by John Spence

Team Leadership: Leading Teams by J. Richard Hackman

High-Performance Teams: The Orange Revolution by Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton

Team Discipline: The Wisdom of Teams by Jon R. Katzenbach and Douglas K. Smith

The Greatest Epiphany a Leader Can Have LeadershipMost Popular

October 12th, 2014 by Spencer Penhart leave a comment

I remember a point in my management career when I was miserable. We were in the midst of an important product launch that wasn’t meeting expectations, and the sales managers were soon being told to manage in a way that resulted in pressuring our customers, micromanaging daily execution points of our sales reps, and endless conference calls.

I didn’t feel like a leader. I felt like a bully and a micromanager, and both our customers and my team deserved better than they were getting from me. I was chronically exhausted, and my stress level was through the roof. Literally at a breaking point, I picked up the phone and called one of my mentors, who gave me perhaps the most important advice of my management career:


Here’s how the epiphany occurred:

Me: “Mentor, I think I’m about to snap. I can’t keep doing this. I don’t feel right about what I’m doing to my team, my family, and myself. I either need to start doings things in a way I feel good about, or I need to find another job.”

Mentor: “Sounds like you’re having a values conflict. Have you talked to your boss about this?”

Me: “No, I can’t. He’s new to the job and we don’t know each other well yet, and I’m not sure how he’ll respond.”

Mentor: “Remember Young Skywalker, nothing is impossible. You could talk with him, you just aren’t sure how he will react. Do you have an alternative solution you could propose?”

Me: “Absolutely.”

Mentor: “How far are you willing to push this?”

Me: “At this point, he can fire me if he wants. I can’t keep doing this to my team and family, and we have enough money in the bank to pay the bills for a while.

Mentor: “Sounds like you have little downside then. So why don’t you just talk with your boss, tell him your concerns, give him a list of the things you want to stop doing, and give him your proposal for your alternative plan instead? Then you can negotiate a plan that works for both of your needs.”

Me: “But what if he views that as being disrespectful and rebellious?”

Mentor: “Whining and complaining behind people’s back is disrespectful. Having open and honest dialogue, while having the courage to propose new ideas in the name of helping the business, employees, and customers is the ultimate signal of respect, not to mention an ownership mentality. Any leader worth their salt is going to be open to new ideas. They may say “No” for a variety of reasons, but at least they should listen.”

Me: “What if he says “No”, and then hates me on top of it?”

Mentor: “Then you’ll need to find a middle-ground to give your boss what he needs, while treating your people the way you believe in. If you can’t find that balance, you have two choices: stop doing the things you don’t agree with and accept the consequences, or quit. Look, I can’t make this decision for you, but I can tell you this: You MUST lead from your core values. Anything else is a recipe for mediocrity and unhappiness.”

The next day I breathed deep, went to my boss, explained my list of things I wanted to stop doing that weren’t driving our business, and pitched my alternative plan. He turned out to be receptive to my ideas (and eventually the best boss I ever had), and agreed to many of my proposed changes. My team and I began implementing our new plan, and so began a sustained climb to the top of the sales rankings together.

This experience made me realize one of the most important lessons of my career: You can lead however you want to. Period. No one can make you do anything, even your boss. Yes, there may be consequences for not doing what you’re told, but you still have full power to make that choice in the face of those consequences. Reality is that if you don’t feel right about the work you are doing, or how you are operating with your customers and your employees, it will show, and no one will respond positively, least of all you. NEVER do anything that goes against your values.

Here are some tactics for giving yourself the power and freedom to lead “Your Way”:

  1. Clarify your leadership purpose, values, and philosophy. They provide you your best framework for making both effective and ethical leadership decisions. As my friend and mentor John Spence likes to say, “When values are clear, decisions are easy.” I’ll have more on this in a future post.
  1. Your ability to challenge the status quo is proportionate to your value to the organization, and your amount of acceptable risk. You need both an offensive and defensive strategy, with two key elements:
  • Offensive: Be a high-performer. The more indispensable you are to your company, the less they are willing to lose you over a disagreement. You will also have more credibility, and your ideas are more likely to be seriously considered.
  • Defensive: Have at least 3-6 months of living expenses saved in a liquid financial account, such as a savings account or a money market. This gives you safety and flexibility in the event of termination, layoffs, or resigning, and is priority #1 in personal financial planning.
  1. Talk with your boss about your issue. Unless your boss is a real tyrant, he/she should at least listen to your ideas. Keep in mind the following things when having your conversation:
  • Enter the meeting calmly, without being too attached to the outcome. Just keep focused on trying to help the business, employees, and customers.
  • Be respectful and matter of fact in how you describe the problem. Calling the issue or current policy stupid is akin to calling the boss stupid, which will make him/her unlikely to consider your ideas. Speak accurately, and provide specific business, customer or employee examples of the impact of the problem, so that your boss understands WHY the issue is such a problem.
  • ALWAYS present a well-baked solution to the problem. Don’t bother approaching your boss until you have come up with a better idea than the status quo.
  • Be accepting of the outcome. It is your boss’ job to listen, but it’s also her/his job to make the decision. It is your job as an employee to accept that decision respectfully – getting upset hurts you more than anyone. If you disagree with the decision, you have three choices: choose to accept it, negotiate for a middle-ground, or decline and accept the consequences. If you absolutely cannot accept the decision, this may be your sign from the universe that it is time to find a new opportunity that better fits your needs!

Have YOU ever been asked to lead in a manner you weren’t comfortable with? How did you handle it? I look forward to hearing your thoughts and comments below!

WHY Do You Lead??? A Leadership Essential LeadershipMost Popular

October 5th, 2014 by Spencer Penhart leave a comment

It’s perhaps the most important question you can ask yourself as a leader.

I remember when I was a new sales manager, completely excited for my new opportunity. I was well prepared for the business side of the role, and dripping with hunger to take the world by storm and have my team become #1 in our sales rankings. And… my first few years were mediocre at best. I pushed my team extremely hard, had tracking spreadsheets for tracking spreadsheets, and micro-managed everything I could. I wasn’t trying to be a bad boss, I was just trying to drive results. Neither I nor my team was happy, and we certainly weren’t #1 in the rankings.

Whether you have been leading large teams for decades, or you are a brand new manager making your first foray into the leadership world, I can assure you from research and personal experience that the sooner you determine the answer to this question, the more successful you will be:

WHY do you lead???

This question gets to your mission (or greater purpose) for leading people, and it’s not as simple as it sounds. The answer is vitally important to your success as a leader, as it directly impacts the specific actions and philosophies you deploy to help your team perform. The answer is very personal, and will be different for everyone. However, until you can answer this question with clarity, you run a significant risk: your management approach may be too much about YOU. In my experience working with leaders across various industries, I can tell you that the vast majority of leaders and managers (at least 80%) don’t have a clear answer to this question. It’s a major problem – here’s why:

  • Purpose is key to a leader’s effectiveness. Two of the most important competencies of today’s leaders are their ability to drive employee engagement and build a positive, accountable culture. Both of these competencies are rooted in having a larger purpose both professionally for the business, and personally for your employees. Simply put, it is impossible to maximize engagement and culture without a well-defined purpose and mission, thereby making your team feel part of something bigger. If your purpose is solely about the business metrics – or even worse, YOUR success, YOUR metrics, YOUR career aspirations – you’re in trouble. These things aren’t bad; everyone should be concerned about their own needs. But if that’s your only purpose, it won’t inspire the people who actually drive your business results: your team!

Think this isn’t important? The new 2014 Towers Watson Global Workforce Study (26 countries including the U.S., 1637 companies/organizations, n = 32,000+ respondents) shows that on average, only 40% of employees are fully engaged. For all the non-math kids like me, that means that nearly two-thirds of employees range somewhere between disliking their job, disliking their company, or actively working against their organization’s goals. This problem costs companies exorbitant amounts of money in lost productivity and related costs (Gallup puts their U.S. estimate at $450-550 billion annually). And, decades of research shows that 50-70% of employees’ work climate and resulting engagement stems from ONE person: their direct manager. As such, the first step in your journey to improving your leadership skills (and hence growing your business) should be to begin defining your leadership purpose.

  • Purpose enables you to actually enjoy management: As anyone who has managed people for more than five minutes will tell you, whatever your company is paying you is nowhere near enough to compensate for the amount of hand-holding and babysitting involved in managing even a high-performing team. If you are attracted to management solely because of the increased pay or prestige, you will quickly see how rapidly those shiny objects lose their luster.

Clarifying your leadership purpose gives you a reason to endure the necessary but ultimately unsatisfying minutia of management, in the name of maximizing the aspects of the role you value and enjoy most. It transforms your work into an expression of your natural self, which enables you to lead authentically from your values rather than the way you think you have to, or have been told to.

Purpose also gives you the energy to endure the inevitable rough patches every leader encounters. Believe me, when times are tough and performance is down, when your board or boss is pressuring you, when your burnout-o-meter is red-lining, it will be your passion for your purpose that gives you the commitment to fight through that adversity, re-engage your team, and find success once again.

How to develop your “Why”: Start thinking about the following items:

  • Your values: Teams tend to take on the personality of their leader. As such, it’s important to clarify what is important to you, and why. HOW do you want you and your team to conduct their business?
  • Your strengths: What unique skills, knowledge, and attributes do you have that you can teach your team to help them grow both their individual competence as well as their teamwork?
  • Your legacy: Imagine your retirement party years from now. Side note: Retirement parties sound like a fun honor, but they’re actually terrifying, because you have to come to grips with 1) the magnitude of impact you have or have not had in your career, and 2) the fact that you’ll be dead soon, relatively speaking. Ask anyone who has had a retirement party – there are only two factors that determine its awesomeness: the amount of people you helped along the way, and the extent to which you helped them. Period. So when developing your leadership purpose, envision a large group of grateful people at your retirement party- what do hope they will be saying about you?
  • Your sentence should sound something like, “I lead because I enjoy ____________. I want to help ___________. I do this because _____________.”

As an example, here is my leadership “Why” or purpose: “I lead because I enjoy helping people be healthier, happier and more successful. I want to help each employee achieve her/his maximum potential both professionally and personally, and teach them how to be winners. I do this because it’s good for business, it’s good for the employee, their family & friends, and it’s ultimately good for the world.”

Trust me, it took me years of thought and self-reflection to land on that. If you think that’s goofy and weird, no problem. Your answer doesn’t have to be anything like mine; all that matters is that yours is meaningful and authentic for YOU. Don’t worry about getting it perfect the first time, you will make hundreds of iterations over the years. Just get something that works for now, and empowers you and your people to be great.

Eventually, my team and I were able to turn our performance around and become #1 in our sales rankings for an extended period of time. My team deserves the credit here, and most of them remain dear friends to this day. But each would tell you that it wasn’t until I found my leadership purpose, and in turn enabled them to find theirs, that our success could take hold and flourish.

So I ask you… why do YOU lead??? I look forward to your thoughts and comments below!

Welcome To The Blog! About The BlogMost Popular

October 5th, 2014 by Spencer Penhart leave a comment

Hello Friend! Welcome to the High Performance Blog. This blog will be devoted to excellence in leadership, sales, and personal effectiveness. I hope to accomplish three things with this blog:

  • Create a community where executives, managers, and high-performers can learn and share ideas.
  • Provide outstanding content to help you along your quest to become the best you can be.
  • Help companies, organizations, and individuals – YOU – be happier, more successful, and fulfill their maximum potential both professionally and personally.

Let’s get down to business and start driving performance. I look forward to engaging with you, and hearing your thoughts and comments! It’s an honor to be serving you.