Why Your Personal Influence Is Far Greater Than You Ever Knew

images“Setting an example is not the main means of influencing another, it is the only means.

                                      ~ Albert Schweitzer

Introduction:

Through a series of fascinating studies, Harvard-trained social scientists, Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler, have shown that human beings are profoundly influenced by the behavior of the people closest to them in their lives.

When we learn a colleague has voted, for example, we’re far more likely to vote ourselves.  When someone in our social circle quits smoking, eats too much in a restaurant, or is characteristically studious, we’re unconsciously persuaded to copy those same behaviors.

While the research proves something we may long ago have intuitively surmised – that we directly influence our friends and they influence us – Christakis and Fowler discovered that the true nature of that impact is far greater – and wider – than any of us may have imagined.

What you’re about to learn is groundbreaking information (not to mention incredibly interesting).  But it’s very possible that your behavior as a leader will be permanently and positively changed once you discover the full power of your own personal example.

Human Behavior Is Wildly Contagious

In what’s perhaps their most revealing study on influence, the two researchers sought to determine whether having an obese friend made people any more susceptible to becoming obese themselves.

To get their answer, Christakis and Fowler directed a team that painstakingly analyzed three decades of data collected from the famous, and still ongoing, Framingham Heart Study.  Dating back more than 50 years, 15,000 study participants – the residents of Framingham, Massachusetts – have visited their doctors every four years to have their key health indicators, including their weight, measured and recorded.  And before every check-up was finished, participants updated their list of family members, co-workers and friends.

By the time all the analysis was completed, the research team identified how 5,124 of the Framingham residents were connected, and linked them to over 50,000 friends, family and co-workers.

The study results were then published in the New York Times.  In a front-page article titled, “Are Your Friends Making You Fat?” the paper reported that the behavior of loading on pounds is highly contagious: Continue reading

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Three Stunning Leadership Trends That Should Give Hope To Workers Everywhere

Heart & Mind“The future ain’t what it used to be.”
                                                           Yogi Berra

Directly or indirectly, the common theme expressed in everything I write is that our traditional ways of leading people in the workplace are failing.

We’ve seen employee engagement fall precipitously over a generation, and now have irrefutable evidence that it cannot and will not recover until we collectively adopt leadership practices that intentionally support the higher needs of workers – human beings.

My goal for each new article has been to further explain why leadership must change, and how some enlightened organizations and visionaries already are contributing to the creation of an entirely new, and far more effective model.

As we approach the New Year, I see it filled with promise.  It’s clear that our collective view on how best to inspire employee performance is fundamentally and irrevocably shifting.  What’s stunning to me is that it’s happening so fast.

To give you a new glimpse into the future of leadership, I want to share three profound trends that are building wave-like momentum in business.  A major transformation is underway and it’s largely being influenced by some noteworthy reversals in our thinking. Continue reading

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The Single Greatest Reason The World’s Workforce Is Disengaged

Gallup Poll“No problem can be solved until it is reduced to some simple form. The changing of a vague difficulty into a specific, concrete form is a very essential element in thinking.”
                                                           J. P. Morgan

In the early part of this past summer, Gallup released its “State of the American Workforce” report – a massive research undertaking that identified how connected and contented people feel in their jobs.  It’s from this study, 150,000 personal interviews over the course of a year, that researchers determined only 30% of us are fully engaged at work.

The news got even worse a few days ago when Gallup announced the results of its global workplace study.  Across 142 countries, they discovered only 13% of the working population does much more than show up on time and meet the minimum expectations for their jobs.

Take a look at these worldwide results:

  • 13% Engaged: Employees feel a strong connection to the success of their organization – almost as owners – and invest significant discretionary time and effort. 
  • 63% Not Engaged: People feel less connected to their work and are disinclined to display initiative.
  • 24% Actively Disengaged: Workers who are unhappy, unproductive – and liable to spread their negativity to co-workers.
  • This means 87% of the world’s working population is not meaningfully engaged in, or otherwise enthusiastic about their jobs.
  • Worldwide, actively disengaged employees outnumber engaged employees by nearly 2:1.

Soon after the U.S. engagement report was released, I interviewed Dr. Jim Harter, Gallup’s Chief Research Scientist, and wrote a subsequent article for Fast Company Magazine.  Leveraging much of Gallup’s research, I listed the key reasons American workers have grown so distressed in their jobs, and described the most effective ways managers can address them.

But now, four months later, I’m left to wonder how the world’s economy succeeds by having just 13% of the working population fully committed to excellence? Clearly, we manage, but is this really the best our global society can do?

With the hope that Gallup’s new research might shed new light on this engagement crisis, I reached out to Dr. Harter again.  To frame up our conversation, I asked him just two questions:

(1)  Is there one universal root to why people across the world are so disheartened in their jobs?

(2)  As a society, can we fix this so that people can instead thrive at work, maximize their own potential, and help drive greater performance for their organizations?

Continue reading

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A Balance Between Masculine And Feminine Traits: The Requirements For Success As A 21st Century Leader


The Athena Doctrine“I think we need the feminine qualities of leadership, which include attention to aesthetics and the environment, nurturing, affection, intuition and the qualities that make people feel safe and cared for.”                      

                                          Deepak Chopra


Just before my book, Lead From The Heart, was published, a public relations executive told me directly: “Your book is terrific, but no one in business is going to take it seriously unless you change the title.”

In the context of workplace leadership, it’s the word, “heart” that instinctively strikes many people as being soft, sentimental and weak.  From my PR friend’s perspective, managing with any degree of care or advocacy simply isn’t regarded as being manly.  And, since men largely dominate leadership positions, he urged me to rename the book.

I chose to go forward with the title, of course, full knowing I’d face some initial resistance.  And ever since, I’ve made it my intention to find as much compelling evidence as possible to prove the solution to the world’s employee engagement crisis lies in leadership practices that positively affect the hearts in people.  This is all I write about.

So I begin this blog by expressing my profound appreciation to Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, Michael D’Antonio, and his best selling co-author, John Gerzema.   Their new book, The Athena Doctrine: How Women, And The Men Who Think Like Them, Will Rule The Future, offers remarkable insight into what it takes to excel as a leader in the 21st Century.  And, just as Deepak Chopra insightfully suggests in his quote above, their conclusion is that effective leadership today requires a greater balance between male and female traits and values – equilibrium of mind and heart.

Gerzema and D’Antonio initiated a survey of 64,000 people – all chosen to mirror the populations in 13 countries (e.g. the US, Mexico, South Korea, Germany and the UK) that represent 65% of the world’s domestic product.  As experienced researchers, the authors intentionally sought a wide range of cultural, geographical, political, religious and economic diversity.

To summarize what they discovered: The skills required to thrive in today’s world – such as honesty, empathy, communication, appreciation and collaboration – are widely regarded as being on the feminine side of human nature. Consequently, we’ve reached the end of the hyper-masculine era in leadership as these and many other feminine qualities have become more highly valued.

Here’s a summary of their findings:   Continue reading

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The Profound Lesson Plants Teach Us About Leading People

PlantingTreesI’ve come to trust that books show up in my life for a reason.

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been in a bookstore when some internal radar system seemed to guide me down the aisles until a knowing voice insisted that I “buy that one.”   The great mystery of this process is that the books I’ve ended up with have always proved to be transformational in some way.

But a few weeks ago, I thought my inner guidance had gone on the fritz.  I was staring at a book called, “What A Plant Knows: A Field Guide To The Senses” and thought for certain it couldn’t be meant for me.

But the “voice” had a way of persuading me that it was.  It seemed to be fully aware that I was no botanist, had taken “Biology For Non-majors” in college, and specifically came into Barnes and Noble to find something leadership related.

Yet just as all other times in the past, I quickly discovered I’d ended up with the right book at the right time.  And long before I’d read the final pages, it became quite clear that a profound lesson on leadership was indeed embedded in its pages.

Here’s a summary of what I learned. Continue reading

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Uniting Spirituality And Leadership For The Sake Of Employee Engagement

The Human HeartThe word spiritual, not the word religious, is the key.”

                                                      Clarence Clemons

One of my son’s closest friends started following me on Twitter recently, and after reading my tweets for a couple of weeks, sent along an e-mail summarizing his initial observations:

“Your dad is like a Twitter God.  He’s practically a leadership religious leader or something!

Admittedly, when I read the e-mail myself, I thought it was pretty cool that anyone would perceive me as being a “Twitter God!”  But it was the “religious leader” part of the comment that held my attention the longest.  Honestly, I’ve never sought to be seen as a “religious” leader, nor do I have any of the requisite background that would qualify me to be one.

Anyone familiar with my work knows that I’m a recent author, but that I also spent two-plus decades as a senior-level executive in the financial services industry.  I’m a business leader, people!  “How is it possible that anyone could think otherwise?”

Well, it turns out I may be sending mixed messages.  Tweets I send routinely use words like “compassion,” “kindness” and “empathy.”  My book is even called “Lead From The Heart!  I have to admit, to a first time tweet reader, I probably sound more like the Dalai Lama than any well-known Fortune 500 CEO.

But I’m not going soft with these tweets, I can assure you.  What I’ve discovered is that many words traditionally heard in a spiritual context are characteristics of the most successful and influential business leaders today.  You simply can no longer be effective in motivating human beings in any workplace if you lack qualities like thoughtfulness, generosity and sincerity.

We know today that a huge percentage of the American workforce is distressed beyond imagination about their jobs, bosses and organizations.  Revealing just how badly people are being managed and led, one new study showed that at 42% of US companies, the best employees are the least engaged.  This means that in 4 of every 10 organizations, leaders have essentially lost the support of every worker.

A big part of the reason so many people have grown so disconsolate in their jobs, is because they too often feel undervalued and unappreciated.  “No one cares about me or what I contribute here,” summarizes much of distress.  What I know to be true is that the human need to feel significant, and to know one’s work matters, are both deeply spiritual.  And the wisest leaders in business today not only know this, they demonstrate through their presence that people are unequivocally essential to the success of their organization.

My main thesis is that feelings and emotions drive human performance and, therefore, leaders who make people feel – in their core – that their organization would be fully deficient were they not there, will be the big winners in the 21st Century.

Here are three “spiritual” ways you as a leader can ensure employees feel this highly valued: Continue reading

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How Developing Self-Awareness Will Make You A Fabulous Leader

Quiet Book Cover“The shoe that fits one person pinches another; there is no recipe for living that suits all cases.
                                                        Carl Jung            

I recently learned that the leadership-training curriculum at Google places a heavy emphasis on self-awareness building.

The thinking, of course, is that managers can only become effective influencers of others once they’re fully mindful of their own strengths and limitations.

Google’s objective is to produce leaders who have profound self-knowledge along with the clear and humble understanding that whatever motivates their performance won’t always match up to the styles and inclinations of every employee.  Self-discovery, therefore, leads to a greater appreciation for people – and a compassion for all their varying personalities, behaviors and approaches to work.

I can spot genius when I see it and Google’s insight is profound.  I’ve known for years that my greatest leaps in leadership effectiveness came after I’d discovered some belief, practice or peccadillo that had unwittingly limited my success.  Too often, and to my regret, these epiphanies occurred only after I’d blown an assignment or an interaction with a colleague.

If your organization hasn’t yet devoted itself to helping you identify the components of your greatness, or the behaviors that might one day derail you, I urge you to find every way possible of discovering them on your own.  In this regard, here are a few things I’ve learned along the way that may help you: Continue reading

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The Unintended Consequences Of A Leader’s Lack Of Trust

trust

So much of what we call management consists in making it difficult for people to work.”
                                                      Peter Drucker

As many of you know, I recently had the opportunity to interview Dr. Jim Goodnight, CEO of the analytics software giant, SAS Institute.

I spent a day at the company’s North Carolina headquarters, and then returned home to write an article that described many of the key reasons the firm recently was named the “Best Company To Work For” – in the world.

But here I am, less than two weeks later, wanting to tell you more about SAS – and a masterful leadership insight I picked up from Goodnight that many of the greatest minds in business routinely overlook:

If your objective is to build extreme employee engagement, and to inspire your people to contribute to your firm as if they owned it, you must first create – and then vigilantly sustain – a culture of trust.

Said another way, the reason SAS experiences less than three percent annual turnover, and has had 37 consecutive years of record earnings, is because its management fully understands that by giving people its trust, they earn a profound payback. When employees know they are trusted, they take initiative; they put their hearts into their work. They more willingly take the risks that lead to breakthrough innovation.

But here’s the rub. Plenty of otherwise intelligent leaders in business come from an entirely different perspective and believe that employee productivity is better driven by strict rules and internal competition. As you’ll soon see in the following three real-world examples, in the absence of trust, neither employees nor organizations can ever fully flourish:

  1. When James Corcoran was hired as the President of Retail Banking at Washington Mutual Bank (now owned by Chase), he quickly determined that the firm needed greater discipline in how it evaluated business decisions.

    Corcoran soon introduced a tool he called a “four square,” and informed his staff that any time they sought his approval on a proposal going forward, they were required to present their business case on a single sheet of paper – delineated into four equally sized boxes.

    Corcoran was very clear. Each box on the “four square” had a specific purpose and he expected his rules to be followed. A summary of the proposal always went into the top left corner box, and the financial analysis always in the bottom right. Everything had its place.

    But where things went awry was when Corcoran was displeased with the content provided in a “four square.” He very often sent managers away, without rendering a decision, until they returned with a more satisfactory presentation. He did this even when he had sufficient data to make his call.

    To be clear, Corcoran cannot be faulted for instituting a more formal and consistent decision making methodology at WaMu. This decision proved to serve him and the organization well. But by insisting on absolute perfection in every form he reviewed, people began spending disproportionate time producing faultless “four squares.” And in order to avoid hearing Corcoran harshly voice his rejection, some employees grew to fear bringing him new ideas and proposals altogether.

  2. As recently reported in Bloomberg Businessweek Magazine, Dish Network founder and Chairman, Charlie Ergan, may be the single worst executive in America when it comes to establishing and nurturing organizational trust. According to writer, Caleb Hannan, the list of trust-destroying practices Ergan employs is virtually endless. Here are just a few.

    • To ensure people arrive for work on time, he installed fingerprint readers at every entrance. Now, any time a worker comes in after 9:00 am, an e-mail is sent to both Human Resources and the person’s supervisor. Sometimes, Ergan himself is copied.

    • Up until very recently, every check coming out of the company’s headquarters had to be signed by Ergan. Even today, trusting none of his senior managers to act in the best interests of the organization, he still signs all checks over $100,000.

    • Despite having over 100 full-time employees paid to research “reams of customer data” and decide how much to charge for satellite service, Ergan recently dismissed their endless hours of collective work, and unilaterally chose the final price by himself.

    According to Breen, current and past Dish Network employees describe an Ergen-created culture as one of “condescension and distrust.” Turnover at the firm is predictably high.

  3. An August 2012, Vanity Fair Magazine article titled “Microsoft’s Lost Decade,” revealed that CEO, Steve Ballmer, effectively destroyed organizational trust when he introduced an employee evaluation process called “stack ranking.”

    According to writer, Kurt Eichenwald, Ballmer launched a review system predicated on the idea that only a small number of employees should ever be graded highly.

    Imagine you’re a Microsoft worker assigned to a team of nine other highly talented and qualified people. In Ballmer’s bell-curve methodology, only two members on your team could ever receive a great evaluation – no matter how well you and your colleagues perform.

    The system required that seven employees would always receive a mediocre review, and one person a terrible one. People on the bottom often lost their jobs as a result.

    It’s stunning to think that one of the world’s largest companies, one with extreme competition for talent from the likes of Apple and Google, wouldn’t seek to design an evaluation process that inspired every employee to excel and share in the firm’s success. Instead, here are the predictable, albeit unintended, consequences the firm inevitably suffered:

  • Top employees did everything they could to avoid working with other superstars out of fear of getting hurt in the rankings.

  • While employees sought to do a good job, they worked equally hard to sabotage the performance of colleagues. This all but crippled cooperation and collaboration.

  • Because reviews occurred every six months, people focused on short-term performance rather than the long-term innovation that would greatly benefit of the firm.

Conclusion:
I’ve come to be certain that no organization can fully succeed and thrive in the 21st Century without first displaying the highest regard and affection for all of its employees.  Human engagement is greatest, therefore, when people feel valued, important and trusted.

Because of this, it’s time we all agreed to push the human race forward and change how we manage people in the workplace.  Our ambition now as leaders must be to improve lives, mitigate fears and make people feel strong.  Anything less diminishes us all.

Building a culture of trust remains the road less traveled in business today.  But organizations like SAS are proving it’s the superhighway to organizational excellence.

Know that we’re extremely grateful when you share these blogs with friends and colleagues via all social media.  We want to make a difference and this is how you can help.  If you would like to receive Mark’s articles and updates directly, we invite you to join his tribe (no personal info is ever shared).

PPS: If you haven’t already read my Fast Company Magazine article about SAS and would like to, here’s the link: http://buff.ly/YlC3Vo 

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The Profound Lesson Cows Can Teach Us About Leading People

Brown CowAfter working out this morning at my gym, I walked into the locker room and overheard one of my friends, Joe, tell another exerciser that he’d grown up on a dairy farm.

Instinctively recalling a New York Times article that reported, “Cows, when given names, produce six percent more milk,” I inserted myself into the conversation and asked Joe if he’d been inclined to name all his cows.

“Yes, I was!” said the seventy-five-year-old urologist.  “As a kid, I had a name for all the animals on the farm, and I tried to make friends with each and every one of them.”

“But my dad had a different opinion on that,” Joe said in an immediate change of tone.  “He attempted at a very early age to teach me to avoid making emotional connections like that with our animals.  One night, he took my pet rabbit, Freddy, and insisted my mother cook it for dinner.  Sitting at the dinner table, I had tears coming down my face as my father insisted how delicious Freddy tasted.”

This brief interchange was startling to me, of course, and it ended as quickly as Joe packed his gear and headed home.  But there was no question in my mind that Joe’s sudden recollection was nearly as painful today as it had been sixty years ago when the experience originally occurred.

While this story is indeed horrifying – and who today wouldn’t judge Joe’s dad as having been an extremely cruel and careless parent? – the lesson he very purposely sought to instill in his young son is much the same as we’ve all long been taught:  Keep your heart out of business.

Continue reading

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4 Simple And Powerful Ways To Build Your Team’s Confidence And Rule The World

Confidence“Man often becomes what he believes himself to be.  If I keep on saying to myself that I cannot do a certain thing, it is possible that I may end by really becoming incapable of doing it.  On the contrary, if I have the belief that I can do it, I shall surely acquire the capacity to do it even if I may not have it at the beginning.”
                                        Mahatma Gandhi

As those of you who have read Lead From The Heart already know, throughout my entire childhood, I had the perverse experience of routinely being told I would end up a failure in life.

Through repeated and profoundly destructive interactions with my father, I was taught to believe that I fundamentally lacked.

My father’s influence, of course, had the effect of deeply undermining my self-confidence.  It made me doubt my capabilities and talents, and fearfully approach most new things.

How I overcame my great deficiency in self-belief had much to do with other people who came into my life – friends, teachers and coaches – who saw things differently and made a distinct point of insisting that I actually had much to offer.   In the context of all I was hearing at home, these words of encouragement gave me far more empowering views of myself, ones that inspired me to reach, to pursue greater challenges and to overcome my feelings of inadequacy.

When I later entered business and first became a manager of people, I made a surprising observation: the far majority of employees working for me had self-defeating doubts about how talented and capable they truly were.   Many consistently underestimated their full human potential.

Guessing that few of them had anything close to the upbringing I had – and that their parents likely did all they could to build up their self-esteem – I soon came to understand that fear and doubt are a part of the human condition.

In a peculiar way, I also realized I’d been groomed to help people transcend their unfounded limitations.  I knew instinctively that if I took on the role of being my teams’ chief confidence builder, great achievements would assuredly follow.  And, they did.

What I know for certain is that people have far greater potential than they often see in themselves.  Leaders who not only understand this, but seek out ways to draw it out, will be the ones who will rule the world.

If you’d like to get started building up the confidence of your team, here are four great ways to get started: Continue reading

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