So What is it That Makes a Leader Great?

The five dimensions of Meta-leadership as deve...
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This week we’ve looked at gender as it impacts stereotypical leadership traits as well as who was a favourite boss and why.  I cannot draw any conclusions.  Can you?

I think the answer is actually a smattering of each.  Men and women both have fabulous leadership traits.  We need to capitalize on the strengths of our gender and learn to develop the strength of the other.

Then I got to thinking about the traits we have not yet looked at.  A few came to mind:

  • Motivation
  • Capacity for Knowledge
  • Agility

The first is simple.  I don’t think anyone can be a good leader if s/he does not have the motivation to succeed.  All great leaders are driven and focussed on a goal.  The size or loftiness of the goal is irrelevant.  They need something they are working towards in order to lead others.

Capacity for Knowledge – can a good leader be only so-so intelligent?  I don’t think so.  I think a leader needs the ability to think on a more strategic level than his or her followers.  They need the ability to make linkages between concepts and previous experiences that many others would overlook.  A capacity for knowledge is a critical component to leadership.

Last but not least, agility.  (And I don’t mean running around in the sand while your dog runs through tubes.)(The latter of which, by the way, is my most failed athletic attempt ever!  My dog is waaay smarter than me!)

Agility means the ability to go with the flow, to adapt plans and strategies on the fly to deal with the ever changing environment.  Great leaders understand that they need to be fluid and move with their environment.  Change is a necessary evil and great leaders embrace it!

I think this is the beginnings of a recipe for a great leader.  Your thoughts?  Personal culinary recommendations?


Who was your best boss? Why?

Glass ceiling the Louvre.
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This is an interesting question.  I was actually surprised by my own answer.  I have had some pretty impressive people as bosses but one stands out.  Maybe not for the reasons, she would like but regardless she is the one to whom I owe my career advancement.

My best boss was a woman.  She was one of the smartest women I have ever met.  She was also a workaholic, insomniac, and generally not a very nice person.  The years I worked for her were long.  I would work until midnight to finish the day’s demands only to awake a 5am to find a full list of additional demands for the dawning day (I told you she was an insomniac – too bad I wasn’t!).  It was daunting, unrewarding, tireless work.  But in the 2.5 years I worked for her I learned what most people hope to learn in a decade.

I think back and I think her leadership style was absolutely a product of gender.  She had to fight to get to the top in a very male dominated workplace.  She smashed through the glass ceiling and wanted to make sure other women followed.  Her view as to how to do that was to make sure other women knew as much as possible and to do this she challenged employees like me to work our tails off.

In some ways it worked.  After my stint working with her I was more experienced, more knowledgeable, and more respected than my colleagues who had not worked for her.

I was also on my way to work at another organization:)

What’s your best boss story?


Why women make the best leaders

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Yesterday we looked at 10 reasons why men make better leaders; today let’s look at the virtues of the other gender:

10 reasons women make better leaders:

1. Women are viewed as more energizing (HBR 2009)

2. Women are seen as having a higher emotional intelligence quotient (HBR 2009).

3. Women are viewed as having a greater outside orientation by both genders (HBR 2009).

4. Women are viewed as more transformational leaders than their male colleagues (Eagly et al 2003).

5. Women more often engage in contingent behaviours (exchanging rewards for followers’ satisfactory performance) (Eagly et al 2003).

6. Women tend to be less hierarchical, more cooperative and collaborative, and more oriented to enhancing others’ self-worth (Book 2000).

7. Women demonstrate more communal attributes (affectionate, helpful, kind, sympathetic) than their male colleagues (Eagly et al 2001).

8. Women have a tendency to be more interpersonally oriented than men. (Eagly et al 2001).

9. In firms led by transformational women leaders, male and female employees exhibit a high level of trust in women leaders (Moore et al 2011).

10. Women leaders need to focus on style as well as substance of their interactions, thus making every move more intentional and thought-out than those of male colleagues. (Eagly et al 2001)

Why Men Make Better Leaders

Winston Churchill in Downing Street giving his...
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Relax – this is just the first entry in a week set to examine the leadership traits of the sexes.  To open let’s chat about the strength of male leaders.

1. Men do not experience prejudicial reactions based on gender when placed in charged.  People are used to seeing male leaders and therefore accept a male leader more readily than a female.

2. Male leaders are more likely than female leaders to attend to follower’s mistakes and failures to meet standards – active management by exception (Eagly et al 2003).  This ensures everyone is aware of the expected standards.

3. Male leaders are more likely than female leaders to wait until problems are severe before intervening (Eagly et al 2003). This ensures that subordinates have the opportunity to test their skills and abilities without interference.

4. Men are more likely than women to take credit for their work (HBR Jan 09).  Celebrating one’s accomplishments can lead to credibility within the organization.

5. Men are viewed as better visionaries (HBR Jan 09).  Every leader needs a vision.

6. ‘Men speak more confidently and boldly on an issue, with very little data to back it up.” (Ann Dumas, 2009).  Speaking with confidence inspires confidence.

7. Men have, on average, ‘thicker skin’ than their female contemporaries.  (Psychology Today, 08).  It allows a leader to stay focused and not get distracted by personal attacks.

8. Agentic leadership characteristics (e.g. assertiveness, controlling, confidence) are more commonly ascribed to men than women. (Eagly et al 2003).

9. Men tend to develop problem-focused solutions. Obvious cause and effect. (Grey, 2008)

10. The numbers are on their side in 2008 21.5% of people polled by PewResearchCentre said men are better leaders.

Your thoughts?  Do you agree? Disagree?  Why?

Have you had a boss that made you believe one gender manages leads better than the other?  Tell us your story!

Who leads best – men or women?

He Leads, Others Follow
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This week this blog will discuss this topic and hopefully by Friday afternoon have developed an answer to the question ‘Who Leads best – men or women?’.

What do you think?

Has experience made you believe one sex leads better than the other?

Are men natural leaders and women only adaptive leaders?

Do women care more about their staff and therefore lead more effectively?

Add your comments to the discussion.

Succession and Retention with an Aging Workforce

We hear the terms ‘succession plan’ and ‘retention’ often and usually in reference to a larger talent management strategy within an organization.  The concept of having identified a group of employees or sources of future employees, to replace departing employees is only logical.  A well designed plan will take into account the Canadian workforce environment and build a strategy that leverages the realities.  Employers need to understand where to draw their future talent from, and how to do it better than their competitors.

According to the 2006 Canadian Census data:

  • The median age of the Canadian workforce was 41.2
  • There were 2 million individuals between ages 55 to 64 in the workforce
  • Immigrants made up over 20% of the Canadian workforce
  • Unemployment rate for Aboriginal people was 13.2% versus a rate of 5.2% for non-Aboriginals

What does this mean for succession and retention plans?  Effective plans must consider these four points without sacrificing the ‘overlooked contingent’ and still support organizational needs.  The Census data above can be translated into four strategic imperatives for succession planning.  Organizations need to ask themselves these questions:

  • The Aging Workforce – how do organizations keep aging employees engaged?
  • Knowledge Transfer – if 2 million people will be potentially leaving the workforce this decade what happens to their knowledge?
  • Inclusion Practices – if 1/5 of the workforce is made up of immigrants are we shifting organizational culture to embrace their ideas and perspectives?
  • Outreach – are we reaching all potential sources of talent?  Do we have any community partnerships with Aboriginals or other communities?

Now that you have the answer of how your organization currently views these imperatives, here are some suggestions on how your succession can benefit in future:

The Aging Workforce

You do not need to be a mathematician to realize that if the average age of the workforce is over 40, employers need to recruit replacement talent.  Most employers tackle this via campus recruitment programs, social media recruitment, and management development programs for new hires.  These are all important parts of any talent management solution, but what about workplace environment?

As the generations of employees in the workplace change so do their needs, values, and expectations.  Employers need to ensure that they are working to create an organizational culture that supports the needs of those joining the organization this decade.  For example, graduates today look for different things from employers than graduates 10 years ago did.  Some of the most common expectation include:

  • Flexible work arrangements
  • Mentoring and development programs
  • Frequent performance appraisals and feedback
  • Meaningful Work
  • Up-to-date technology
  • A culture of trust versus oversight

Knowledge Transfer

With a large percentage of employees preparing to leave the workforce every employer should be working to retain as much corporate knowledge as possible before the mass exodus occurs.  The valued employees preparing for their retirement are the holders of vast amounts of expertise.  Effective succession plans must include a methodology for sharing this knowledge.  Here are three ideas for how this can be achieved in your organization:

Offer part-time employment to Retirees: Many retiring employees no longer want to work full time and year round but would be very interested in a more flexible arrangement.  Explore the concept of part-time and seasonal continued employment for this group.  Flexibility is the key.  Perhaps it is a short term stint with defined days of the week.  A schedule of a number of days per month may work for all parties.  Of course, a schedule that allows for lots of holidays, summers off, and short weeks is always appealing.  Work with your retirees to determine what approach meets both their needs and those of the organization.

Work with Impact: The work should not simply be the previous position held pre-retirement.  Continued employment post-retirement is a partnership that needs to be respectful of the fact that the retiring person has already decided to leave their permanent position.  Instead, consider a role in an advisory capacity where the former employee’s knowledge can be spread amongst several departments/projects/activities.  Ask yourself ‘what knowledge does my organization need to gain from this individual?’ and then plan the best arrangement to achieve this.

Recognition: The post-retirement employee is not looking for a career.  They are looking to have an impact on their previous organization.  Recognize their expertise and knowledge – this is why you have asked them to return after all.  It may help to realize that the balance of power between employer and employee has shifted.  The post-retiree does not need employment with the organization; rather it is the organization that has a need to retain its corporate knowledge.

Inclusion Practices

Diversity strategies are prevalent in the workplace. Employers need to be recruiting diverse talent in order to remain competitive.  However, recruiting for diversity without an inclusion strategy can be a costly mistake.  Employees, regardless of gender, race, culture, creed, or sexual orientation need to feel comfortable at the workplace and trust their employer in order to fully engage. What is your organization doing to create an environment of inclusion?

Some employers provide a forum for networking, professional development, recruiting and building relationships with local communities.  This build a relationship between employers and entire communities of individuals which in turn elevates everyone’s understanding of each other’s needs and perspectives on the workplace.  Other employers create a mentoring program that pairs high potential performers from an under-represented group with board members for formal mentoring and career development.  This arrangement ensures that under-represented employee groups feel like they have a voice in the workplace.  Whatever your approach, an investment in inclusion is an investment in corporate success.  It will allow your organization to tap into frequently unheard perspectives and expertise that translate to a business advantage as it will increase the populations who resonate with your corporate messages.

The fact that immigrants comprised 20% of the workforce according to the 2006 Census means that employers who are not reaching out to and working to be more inclusive to these communities will soon find themselves with a shortage of talent.


With the non-aboriginal, Canadian-born workforce shrinking, the competition for talent from traditional sources is getting fierce.  From where are your employees being recruited?

The Canadian Aboriginal population is Canada’s fastest growing human resource.  Employers have not done an effective job in the past of engaging this population.  Is your organization working to attract aboriginal talent?

Internationally trained individuals are another potential source of talent.  Finding that first Canadian employment opportunity can be very difficult for new immigrants despite vast qualifications and education.  Is your organization overlooking this population?

Many employers always recruit from the same sources.  This can lead to a continued overlooking of great sources of talent.  Implementing an outreach strategy allows employers access to all of the available talent instead of the only the traditional sources.  An effective strategy includes:

Advertisements in Target Markets:  This is no different than traditional sales.  You need to advertise to the market you are trying to attract.  Post jobs in community newspapers, at community organizations, or with organizations that do outreach such as the YMCA or other not-for-profit groups that assist under-represented communities.

Partnering with Communities: Employers have brands.  From a recruitment perspective the brand is how your organization is viewed through the eyes of potential employees.  Organizations want to ensure that their brand stirs up a positive connection in potential talent.  An effective way to do this is to partner with communities to ensure that your organization puts forward a good impression.  Great ways to partner include sponsoring events, donating products to specific community organizations, or sponsoring a community sports team.

Ensuring your Selection Practices are Bias Free: Traditional recruitment methods that focus on mainstream Canadian cultural values may be causing your organization to miss out on the best candidates.   Be careful not to judge candidates on cultural differences such as handshakes, eye contact, or self-promotion.  Use behavioural based interviewing techniques to ensure you give the candidate a chance to outline everything they have to offer.

What Else?  Don’t Forget the Middle

Many employers have programs aimed at the more senior employees and ones for the new graduates, but what about those in the middle?  Employees aged roughly 30 to 45 are often overlooked in succession plans.  Employers should spend resources trying to retain knowledge from the post-retirees or getting employees to work a bit longer before retirement.  Employers should also allocate resources to the cadre of new graduates to ensure they have a source of future talent and that this talent is knowledgeable enough to step into big roles.  What about the middle?  Those employees in the ‘overlooked contingent’.

This is the first group who will be asked to step into the fold when the mass exodus of retirees occurs.  However, too few employers focus on this group in their succession plans.  The middle or overlooked contingent of employees has corporate knowledge and experience.  They also have been slowed in their rise within the organization due to a lack of movement at the top.  This group represents a relatively small cadre of employees but one that is crucial to the success of an organization.  This group can, if properly developed and supported, be the ideal transition between soon-to-be-retiring and the incoming graduates.

All of the innovations, mentoring and development programs being used to target and nurture new graduates can be applied to this contingent.  Moreover, this group will be the managers of the up and coming talent being recruited in campus recruitment programs.  A failure to invest in the middle can lead to a retention problem if these employees are not prepared for their subsequent roles.  Avoid this with:

Leadership Mentoring Programs: A leadership mentoring program targeting the middle is beneficial to employers in two key ways.  It not only develops this group in preparation for their next roles, it offers a way to begin the knowledge transfer from older employees before they retire.  It will also make this group better managers to the new graduates currently being coveted by most organizations.

Developmental Mentoring Programs: This group will be asked to step up and lead in the very near future.  Why not start a program pairing this group with new graduates to allow them a chance to lead sooner?  This would allow this group to pass on their corporate knowledge to the group that will replace them and help to prepare both groups for their next role in the organization.

One Final Thought….Retention isn’t For Everyone

A good retention strategy focuses on the key talent the organization wants to retain.  A retention strategy does not mean that an organization should seek to retain every employee.   The point is to ensure turnover is manageable given the supply of talent available and the positions that are changing.  Organizations need to listen to exiting employees’ explanations as to why they are leaving and determine if changes or improvements need to be made.  However, organizations also need to realize that some people thrive on change and that not everyone will feel at home in the organizational culture that exists.  A small percentage of turnover is not only normal, but it has a positive impact on the organization with the infusion of fresh ideas, perspectives and experiences.  The challenge is for an organization to determine what their acceptable level of turnover is and to work to ensure that level is not exceeded.

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Succession Plans and Employees – Are yours connected?

Transition and Succession Planning Session Output

More and more companies are embracing the concept of succession planning.  They are realizing the obvious benefits of identifying and developing employees who have a high potential to fill the organization’s key roles in the future.  When asked why they believe succession planning is important, subscribers will often say it is because it increases the availability of talented individuals to ensure the continued success of their organization.  But are they connecting their succession plans with their employees’ career aspirations?

Succession planning is too often a behind the scenes planning exercise.  Sometimes organizations do not want valued employees in key roles to feel that they are looking at replacing them.  Other times organizations fear that discussing future plans they have for some employees will create feelings of inequality and discontent amongst employees.  These organizations never speak of their succession plans outside of the closed-door management meetings where the plans are drafted.

Imagine you are one of the high potential employees identified for advancement.  Yes, you are aware that your employer has invested in some developmental opportunities, but you may think that these are a result of being managed by a good manager.   Are you aware how much the organization values your talent?  Are you aware of the future plans your employer may have in store for you?  Sadly, the answer is probably no.

Employers take for granted that employees know how valued they are.  This is a mistake.  Employees want to be explicitly told they are an asset to their employer.  Employees want to be able to envision their future within their organization.  An effective way to do this is to review the relevant part of the succession plan that affects each high potential employee so that each one is aware of their perceived value and importance to the organization.  Too often employees only discover their perceived worth after they have accepted another offer from another employer.

How do we avoid this?  By developing a comprehensive plan inclusive of communication, strategy, and follow-up.

Step One:              Meet with each employee to understand his or her interests, and career goals.

Step Two:              Compare and contrast employee’s individual career goals with their strengths and areas for development.

Step Three:           Compare and contrast the results of step two against the succession planning needs of your organization.  Identify the potential replacements for your key positions based on individual employee talent and interest.

Step Four:             Conduct a gap analysis of the skills needed for each key role and the current abilities of the individual(s) identified as potential replacements.  Use this information to develop learning plans, mentoring relationships, and career paths needed to be successful in the eventual key role.

Step Five:              Meet with each employee to discuss how you perceive their developmental opportunities.  Discuss proposed learning plans with each employee.  Explain the organization’s view of the individual’s potential and, based on initial input from step one, what areas the organization would like to see the employee strive to develop and what assistance the organization is going to offer.  Fine tune this plan with each employee.

Step Six:                Follow and monitor progress for the duration of the year.

On an annual basis, repeat steps one through six.

Following this process will enable organizations to recognize the talent of employees while they are employed with them and thereby decrease the turnover rate of high potential employees.  This will not only increase employee effectiveness, it will decrease the recruitment efforts required to win the war on talent. It will make your succession plans successful.

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Networking – how can you afford not to do it?

Was speaking to a friend last night who is no longer satisfied with her current role.  She wants to move but has been unable to find something else.  Understandably, she is getting frustrated with the lack of success.  I asked her what her strategy was and she looked at me as if I somehow got a concussion in my fantasy NHL pool!

After a significant pause and deciding she had to respond, she flatly told me “I apply to job postings”.  If I thought I got a strange look before, it was nothing compared to the one I got when I replied “That’s your problem”.

Simply applying to a posted job advert as your only form of a job search is a kin to  using a land line as your only means of communication with others. It’s archaic and not entirely effective.

I suggested she enhance her networking.  I then realized it was going to be a tough sell.  So I began by listing the benefits:

  • you cast a much larger net with which to search
  • you find out about openings not even posted
  • you meet people as a result of positive recommendations or common connections
  • you discover opportunities you never even thought of as possible next roles
  • engaging in conversations about job searches help you and others find your next job
  • you impact this job search and the next one, and the one after that, and….
  • it costs nothing
  • it increases your visibility in your professional community
  • it allows you a great venue to pay it forward

She was not convinced.

I told her that as a consultant I meet a lot of different professionals.  As a result, I have actually built a great relationship with several headhunters who like to take advantage of my knowledge of shining talent in the area.   She was now completely convinced that I was a moron.

“What do you get out of it?”  she snorted.

She was astounded when I told her of the referrals I get either from headhunters who clients need other HR services or from professionals greatly for the referral from me.  How can you not like free advertising!

Her next objection focused on developing a pushy sales pitch.  I told her no one makes friends with that.  My advice?  Think grade 3 friend making 101 (no cliques, no crushes, no fashion police):

  1. Introduce yourself
  2. Make a connection on a common interest – same event, why you are both in same location, etc…
  3. Ask about interests
  4. Ask how you could help them or ask for help yourself

I almost had her convinced until she asked the last question.  “Where do you make your best connections?”

“Me?  Why the dog park of course!  There are all kinds of people with whom I share a common interest in dog parks.  I connect them to each other, to my connections, give dog advice and get the same in return.”

She was back on the concussion theory.

I thought for a moment and then started naming the folks for whom I have found employment through our 4 pawed connection.  Then I started listing the referrals I have received from same connection.

Finally, she was convinced to give it a try.  Unfortunately she wanted to use my dog.

That’s when I remembered rule #1.  A connection needs to be based on an honest interest.  Faking a love of dogs will come across insincere.

I suggested she stick to her interests.  She is an absolute expert on coffee.  (I order a black coffee no matter where we go.  Her order differs place to place based on the offering and always involves at least 10 words).  I suggested the next time she is ordering her coffee at a favourite location to strike up a conversation with the person beside her.  Worth a try!

Of course other reliable sources are always your professional association, social media, volunteering, the gym, public transportation….

How about you?  What are your favourite places for networking?

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Underused Resource – Internationally Trained Professionals

I am just putting the finishing touches on a presentation I will be delivering tomorrow to two YMCA employment centres on how to better engage internationally trained professionals (ITPs) in human resources roles.

I think  is important message for employment professionals to know all of the great benefits of a career in HR, but the bigger piece of the puzzle is getting this message out to employers.

We in Canada do a great job of advertising why it is great to leave your home nation and move here, but do we do enough to help people once they arrive?

We attract and enormously talented group of individuals who have often left successful careers in their home nation to come to Canada – a nation that desperately needs immigration to sustain its economy.  Logically this should be a win-win situation.  So where is the disconnect?

ITP’s have a difficult time getting their credentials recognized, although the Foreign Credential Recognition service offered through the Federal government’s Human Resources and Skills Development Canada office is improving. Employers seem to be hanging back and waiting for a government initiated solution. Why not create your own?

Partnering with agencies that help newcomers to Canada can give you access to an amazing course of talent and save your organization money. As these agencies receive funding from the government and/or community associations there is no cost to review resumes or meet their candidates. All you need to do is send over the job posting and ask if there are any interested/qualified candidates. That means a cheaper recruiting source for talent. But it gets better…

Some of these organizations also offer funding to subsidize the initial few months of employment for these individuals. That means it costs you less to pay them in their first year of employment. So to recap, so far we have reduced your recruiting fees and saved your salary dollars. But there is more….

ITP’s offer several additional benefits to your organization; a diverse perspective that brings ingenuity to the workplace and the ability to relate to another client group’s culture to name just two.

Also, ITP’s came to Canada to work and to improve their life and access to opportunity.  This makes them driven and motivated towards success.

So the brief arguments here towards hiring an ITP are:

  • highly talented pool of candidates who are often overlooked by other employers
  • cheaper to recruit
  • potential savings on initial year salary
  • increased perspective and ability to relate to more clients
  • driven individuals who want to succeed

So what are you waiting for?  Go Google your local Immigrant Serving Agency, YMCA, or other employment service for new immigrants and make that connection today.

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