Effective Leadership Trends for 2025 B.C.–some things don’t seem to change

Effective Leadership Trends for 2025 B.C.

I’m watching every member of my immediate family go through a challenging workplace change. For some it’s a change in location, for one it’s a complete coworker migration, and for some it’s an unplanned change of employer.

For all of us it’s been a somewhat stressful time.

In every case, the root cause is the same: they suffer from crappy leadership.

In the Book of Ecclesiastes, King Soloman declares: “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.”

So it is with leadership.

I’ve noticed Leadership Development trends go through the same cycles every aspect of business that is hypothesized, analyzed, and reimagined goes through. The Good Idea Fairy comes down and introduces a new way of thinking, doing, and communicating, and a few years later the nay-sayers get their turn to decry the waste of resources trying to do something different.

That could explain why some in senior leadership roles seem to think they’re above leadership development. They don’t participate in the development of others and certainly won’t willingly participate in their own. In both cases, leadership development efforts are wasted.

Nothing new under the sun.

To validate Kevin Berchelmann’s belief (which I share) that nothing much has changed about leadership in the past couple thousand years, I traveled back in time to see what the trends in effective leadership have been in the past. Here’s how some of those who have experienced effective leadership described them to me:

The BEST leaders are “trustworthy approachable, open to feedback, humble, good communicators, willing to help, team players;” they “listen, care, motivate and encourage, build rapport, give recognition, and follow up.”

It naturally follows that the WORST leaders are not… and don’t

These were not new trends ten years ago, or a hundred years ago, or a thousand years ago. But these are just trends. Leaders do these things (or not), but they aren’t the essence of leading. The workplace will never stop changing, but leaders will always have to deal with human nature.

I love this description of leadership, recently penned by W.C.H. Prentice in HBR:

“Effective leaders take a personal interest in the long-term development of their employees, and they use tact and other social skills to encourage employees to achieve their best. It isn’t about being “nice” or “understanding”—it’s about tapping into individual motivations in the interest of furthering an organizationwide [sic] goal.”

By “recently,” I mean in 1961.

See, once you understand and embrace the belief that a leader’s role is to empower others to be more successful for the benefit of the organization, you can’t unknow it.

If you’re in a leadership position, it doesn’t matter that you were the best project manager, the best lawyer, the best nurse, the best widget maker, hell… even the best consultant in the whole world. It’s not about you anymore; it’s about them.

  • We have to be concerned about the well-being of our others. If they don’t believe we care, they’re not going to give us their discretionary effort, and we know that stressed out workers are less productive.
  • We need to have emotionally intelligent leadership skills: compassion, empathy, self-awareness, and effective communication. Contrary to popular belief, EI wasn’t invented by Daniel Goleman in 1995. And these are skills that will atrophy if not used.
  • We have to work to rebuild trust where it’s damaged or missing. Trust is often called the currency of leadership, and I can only describe the level of trust in many organizations as abysmal. To be trusted, a leader has to have competence, compassion, and integrity, and you have to give it before you get it.
  • We need to have – and communicate – a vision that keeps up with changes in the market sector and in the workplace. Maybe especially in the workplace, because work is something you do, not somewhere you go. Whether or not we subscribe to hybrid work, DEI (which is dead, by the way), or AI in the workplace, we can’t pretend our workforce isn’t thinking and talking about it.

That may seem like a lot of need to and have to, but no one – not even wise old King Soloman – ever said leading was easy.

If you need a quick check up on how to be the kind of leader Professor Prentice described, Kevin B. recently posted a piece that cuts through all the fluff to make it about them for the benefit of the organization. It’s worth the quick read.

Crappy leadership isn’t new. But it doesn’t have to be part of our future.

It’s up to you, leaders.

Conflict Resolution: Why does something so simple have to be so hard?

Conflict Resolution

A tip of my hat to my sister for this month’s inspiration. I’ll call her Kevina to protect her real identity, but she’s not going to read this anyway.

You might be surprised to know my sister can be quite direct and is unafraid to offer her perspective to those whom she believes could benefit from her wisdom. Especially in the workplace.

Or if you know me, you might not be that surprised.

Those qualities haven’t always endeared her to the boss and her peers. And lately (only the last 45 years or so) there have been some conflicts with some peers, and she’s unhappy with senior leadership’s conflict resolution style. In my humble opinion, there hasn’t been any actual conflict resolution and damn little leadership – if any.

I won’t address her conflict resolution style. We’re working on that.

Conflict resolution isn’t fun, but it is a critical leadership skill. Managers hide behind policies and processes to punish perceived inappropriate behaviors between offended parties, but leaders know that failing to resolve conflicts leads to an increasingly toxic work environment, lower morale, higher attrition, reduced productivity, etc. Unfortunately, most leaders don’t get much practice because they don’t want to… it’s so much easier to let HR deal with personnel issues.

But there’s a simple three-step model we can employ for resolving conflict in the workplace – and everywhere else you live, play, worship, and shop for groceries. It works best when both sides benefit, but you can’t always control the outcome, only the process. Not often easy, but simple.

And it might take more time than you want, but if you’re in a leadership position, nothing is more important than taking the time necessary to create a positive work environment where people feel appreciated doing worthy work. Relationship repair isn’t just for therapists.

First step: take all the time it takes to get the facts and issues on the table. That means you have to talk to people individually and together. Unless, of course, you’re the one who’s involved in the conflict, and then you’re going to have to bite the bullet and talk face-to-face with the other person.

The reason I emphasize all is it’s easy to jump to a conclusion that makes it appear you have a bias. Then you’re a part of the conflict whether you want to be or not.

No one gets their own facts! When we focus on what’s right and not who’s right, we might discover it’s just a communication issue (everyone gets their own perception) and not an actual conflict. From the outside looking in, it’s often easy to see how preconceived notions have contributed to the mess we’re dealing with.

In Kevina’s case, one of the complaints is that she always looks angry when she talks to her cohorts. Kevina claims it’s not her fault she had RBF – Resting Bitch Face. And she was accused of only hugging old women at work; she claims she gives hugs to people who seem to need them out of compassion and old women (like her) seem to need them more than others.

Okay, you get the picture. I could fill your day with stories of how Kevina is always being targeted and accused of inappropriate behavior only to have a perfectly reasonable explanation. This crap could have been stopped years ago, but senior management (not leadership) has only dealt with it individually and secretly, so it continues to fester.

Second step: seek to understand both points of view. And then help those involved in the conflict to understand the other point of view, so they can understand what it is the other person needs out of the resolution. Not what they want, but what they need.

I’m not a therapist, but sometimes it helps to remind people what they can control and what they can’t. They can’t control other people’s thoughts, feelings, actions, or mistakes. They can, however, control how they respond to them (albeit not very well sometimes).

Now’s probably a good time to take a break. Not reading this, but time to think about the third step.

Third step: find a win/win solution. And unless you’re blessed with an intuitive skill that makes you a peacemaker, this is the part of leadership that takes practice. Be hard on the problem, not the person.

It’s not a sign of weakness to talk it over with a trusted third party or an executive coach; it’s an indication that you care enough about the resolution enough to do the best thing – for the people and the company. Like I said, leaders typically don’t like to get into the conflict resolution arena, so the skills don’t get honed as often as they probably should.

Resolutions don’t have to be a zero-sum exchange or a give-and-take. See them as a positive-sum exchange where both sides benefit by getting what they need.

That’s it: get all the facts and issues on the table, seek to understand both points of view, and find a win/win solution. I told you it was simple.

And please, don’t hide from the conflict like Kevina’s leadership has. I can only predict that someone is going to be out of a job before this is all over.

But that’s up to you, leaders.

HELP! I hate to ask, but…

Ask for Help

“Can I do something to help?”

“No thanks; I’ve got it.”

Sound familiar? It should. That short conversation takes place millions of times every day across this country in the workplace, in stores, in the kitchen, between co-workers, bosses and employees, spouses, and parents and their children – basically everywhere.

And it’s not going to be any different in 2024.

Since this newsletter is about leadership, let’s start in the workplace. As leaders, we certainly don’t expect our employees to know everything; yet because many of them think and feel like we do, they’re hesitant to ask questions. And then we get frustrated with team members who wait until the last minute to ask for help – or don’t ask for help at all – and things go to hell in a handbasket.

Ever considered that your boss feels the same way when you don’t ask for help? They do!

Okay, I hear you. You don’t need help. All I can ask is that you keep this in mind next time you get frustrated at someone who won’t ask for help.

So, why is it so dammed hard to ask for help? Easy… we have egos.

Successful people are helpers, not helpless, right? We think asking for help makes us look weak, undermining our credibility as a (insert self-description here). We may think that, but it’s not true! Pretending we don’t need help when it’s obvious that we do is what undermines our credibility.

You’re not a failure if you ask for help. You fail when you need it and don’t ask for it – and the consequences create a crisis. Self-reliance can be both a strength and a self-limiting weakness. Especially at senior levels. We develop this huge blind spot about letting someone else lighten our load.

Well, here’s a hint on what your first clue should be that you need help:

Someone says, “Can I do something to help?

They obviously see something we don’t.

How about in 2024 we start building a culture where our people aren’t intimidated to ask for help by helping them understand the “when” and “how” to ask for it. I’ve heard it said that there’s no such thing as a stupid question, but I know better… I’ve heard some.

Let’s start with when. Here are five good reasons to ask for help:

    • When you don’t know – you encounter a new process, new situation, new technology, new project, etc. Again, the world doesn’t expect you to know everything.
    • When deadlines are in danger – someone else is usually depending on you to complete your part of the project or process on time; don’t disappoint them.
    • When you don’t understand what’s expected – when you accept an expectation, you own it. Sometimes you have to gain clarity afterwards on just exactly what is being asked of you.
    • When you’re curious – not in a judgmental way, but actually trying to learn why things are done in a certain way, where what you do fits into the larger effort, or when you don’t understand a decision. WARNING: watch your tone of voice when you ask.
    • When you see an opportunity to develop someone – asking your team to help when you’re overwhelmed (or when you’re not) is an opportunity for you to practice empowerment and for them to grow in the organization.

Great! We’re almost there. Now that your team knows how to ask you for help, here are some tips for how to ask without sounding incompetent:

    • Make sure you need it – you have to have explored the possibilities before your boss offers a simple solution. It’ll help if you start the discussion with “I tried…”
    • Bring solutions, not problems – I wish I had a dollar for every time my daughters heard me say that. You need to be able to say “Here are the options I see…”
    • Be S-M-A-R-T – ask for the help you need, or you’ll get more help than you want. Make your request for assistance specific, meaningful, actionable, realistic and time-bound.
    • Don’t be a martyr – just because you wait until the last minute doesn’t mean it’ll only take a minute. The last thing you want to hear from your boss is “Why didn’t you come to me sooner?”

I know, you didn’t ask for my help, and you don’t need it. That doesn’t surprise me. Almost everyone I talk to says they don’t have a problem asking for help… and almost everyone does.

Let’s teach and model it in 2024, ok?

(and if you need my help, just ask)

It’s up to you, leaders.

Who’s Going to Miss You When You’re Gone?

Who’s Going to Miss You When You’re Gone?

From work, I mean. I may have a dark sense of humor, but I’m not morbid.

No, my guess is you’re going on vacation in the next two months and not much thought has been given about who’s going to get your job done while you’re not there.

How do I know? It’s the end of October and the holiday season is upon us. Full of cheer and distracted employees, struggling to meet end-of-year performance targets, trying to assure the family that this year will be different and you won’t “have to take this” phone call, and maybe planning to sneak away for some well-deserved out-of-town celebration.

Good luck with that.

No really, I’m in a position that few can make demands on my time that I don’t allow (or enable), and even I get a little anxious about the upcoming craziness.

Okay, enough. This has nothing to do with your holiday plans and everything to do with how things run at the office when you’re away. Good leaders don’t just put their vacation plans on the office calendar and then go away assuming it’ll all be waiting for them when they get back.

True confessions: I used to… but I wasn’t a good leader back then.

Then, I got some sage advice from – of all places – a career civilian who ostensibly came to the Pentagon to do work… he wasn’t a good leader, either. He said, “Never take just a week off; they’ll just pile stuff on your desk until you come back. Take two weeks; then someone will actually have to do something with that stuff.”

Isn’t that great?!? Someone will have to do something with that stuff. As if what we do is summed up by stuff that someone has to do something with.

I prefer to think differently, but maybe that’s just me. I prefer to think that a leader’s role involves activities and people, engagements we want to have and functions we directly support that are critical to the success of the organization.

If that’s not true for you, maybe you can spend some of your vacation time thinking about the something that someone may or may not be doing while you’re gone.

That feels like a lot of prelude before the big event, but it’s important that we’re on the same page of the same hymnal. Effective leaders have to think differently about what they intentionally do at work and who will stand in the breach for us when we’re not there.

Here’s a newsflash for those who think they’re indispensable to the organization and it’s likely to crumble without them: you’re not, and it’s not.

Surprisingly enough, surprises happen, and it sucks if you haven’t planned for them in advance.

Here’s one. My wife tripped over her dog and broke her kneecap. Immediately away from the office for three months. Shit happens – to our kids, parents, and spouses – that takes us away from the office longer than we’ve prepared for.

Get prepared!

The real test of a good leader is that no one really notices when you’re not around… within limits, of course. Leaders should already be preparing those who will come after them to step up while they’re away, and they should have already made the upper echelon know who’s capable of handling tasks in their absence.

If that’s news to you, you must be new here. Read this about preparing those behind you to lead.

This also shouldn’t be news, but there are three cohorts to think about:

  • Your Boss. Don’t we all wish our bosses appreciated how much we do? Well, here’s your chance. In your planned (or unplanned as the case may be) absence, lay out who will be covering each aspect of your responsibilities while you’re gone. And that includes your boss.

Some (mostly administrative) parts of our jobs can’t be accomplished by a member of our team. Make sure the boss knows which ones those are and what to expect to come across his or her desk in our absence.

  • The Team. You should have already empowered team members to do as much as you’re willing to let them do / as much as they’re capable of doing / as much as they’re willing to do. (Again, if you’re new here, read this about empowerment next.) So you already know who can do what.

It’s important critical to let the rest of the Team know who will be picking up which pieces and setting expectations about where to go for guidance outside their area of expertise. This may require setting a matrixed pecking order that not everyone will like. Wah!

  • Outside Customers. The obvious customers are the ones we deal with about business on a regular basis. Let them know before you go who to contact for questions.

The less obvious ones are the family and friends we’re spending our time with away from work. Having already communicated our lack of availability to our boss and staff, make sure those we’re spending our leisure time with know we’ll only respond to true work emergencies – which there should never be in our absence – and then hold the line.

Never underestimate the importance of disconnecting from your profession. Leaders draw strength to lead from deep within, and if you don’t refresh and recharge your source, you will fall short of being the kind of leader you want to be.

Or don’t. Take a week off and enjoy the holidays. We’ll see you back here still burned out after the first of the year.

It’s up to you, leaders.

“I Have a Great Job!” …said almost no one ever.

I Have a Great Job

A really short read for some of you today: Everyone who has a great job, raise your hand.

Okay, the three of you with your hands up can go back to checking your email. Everyone else should keep reading.

If you’re not in a great job, how about those of you with a good job?

That’s more of you but still disappointingly few. Now, bonus points if you can articulate what makes it a good job.

Is it the money? Do you like it because you’re good at it? And they recognize you for it? Do you have the autonomy you want? Or is it because you like the people you work with?

Some or all of the above? Those are certainly the most common responses to the question.

Or maybe you like your job simply because you feel secure in being employed for the foreseeable future and it’s one less thing you have to worry about in life.

Regardless of how you feel about your job, how often do you engage those who work for – and with – you in an effort to make their jobs better for them? That’s our job as leaders, after all.

I can hear your eyes rolling. Geez, Kev, why don’t we just pay them a lot of money and don’t ask them to do very much?

I had a job like that once. It sucked.

This may come as a surprise to some, but work is something you do, not somewhere you go. And it doesn’t have to be a grind.

And this isn’t some squishy, get-in-touch-with-your-feelings leadership. You know me better than that. If we want to be effective leaders, we have to care about what people think about their jobs because it directly impacts their performance and retention. And, as important, what individuals collectively think affects morale, culture, and recruiting across the entire organization.

And there’s the rub: We have to care about individuals.

See, it’s not the job itself; it’s the personal experience in the job that makes it good fit or not. It’s how they feel about the work they do that keeps them coming back day after day… or looking for another job.

The naysayers will disagree (of course) and declare work is transactional. Go to work, do the job, get paid, go home. We call those people managers, the jobs mind-numbing, and the talent pool wide but shallow.

I started asking people I led how I could make their jobs better almost out of desperation – not because they were leaving but because we were really short-handed, and I needed to get the best out of them. It was a hard habit to get into, but it paid big dividends in job satisfaction and productivity.

Literally, I tried to wrap up our encounters by asking, “So what can I do to make your job better?” Initially, responses were predictable: pay me more and work me less (see above). Over time, real suggestions came out. Some I couldn’t change, some we could fix together, and some I could empower them to fix themselves.

But even small changes made their efforts more successful (which made me look more successful), and it eventually produced a climate where people believed their boss was open to suggestions and not mired in that’s the way we’ve always done it.

So, I tried the practice with my peers – and occasionally with my boss – and was surprised at how little effort it took to build a climate of collaboration for making improvements that benefited the organization as a whole.

For the naysayers (again): this isn’t a new concept! There isn’t anything new under the leadership sun and there hasn’t been for a few millennia. It’s just another way of getting feedback and removing some of the (often self-imposed) hurdles keeping your team from being more successful.

Think of it this way: Many of you are fans – and understand the importance – of helping your teams understand the WHY. The importance of leaders understanding the WHY of their followers should make sense to you, also.

And making the effort is free!

Back to the basics here: people want to feel valued doing worthy work. A leader’s job is to find out what makes them feel valued and what makes their work worth doing. That doesn’t mean we’re their friends; it means we’re working for them and not them for us. They still need adequate instruction (training), to understand our priorities and our non-negotiables, to be empowered to accomplish their jobs successfully without micromanagement, and to be fairly compensated for their efforts.

But it doesn’t hurt if, while we’re doing all that, we find out what they think would make their job better. It might end up making them feel like they have a great job.

It’s up to you, leaders.

Clueless is as Clueless Does …Dunning-Kruger vs Johari

Clueless is as Clueless Does

I’m going to catch shit for this by leadership academics, but I catch shit for a lot of things I write, so…

The big news from last month that isn’t surprising describes how a mathematician proved the Dunning-Kruger effect isn’t really a good reflection of human cognition. Before you get bored by scientific-sounding jargon, enjoy John Cleese’s version of the effect: “If you are really, really stupid, then it’s impossible to know that you are really, really stupid.”

For the non-academics, Dunning-Kruger says everyone thinks they’re above average, but people who are above average tend to think they’re less above average than they actually are, and people who are below average tend to think they’re more above average than they actually are.

It doesn’t take a mathematician poking holes in a generalization or psychology professors testing whether incompetent people are unaware of their incompetence to prove or disprove what a good comedian already handily described.

In short, clueless people don’t know they’re clueless.

And I’ve certainly known my fair share of clueless people, although I prefer to describe their cluelessness as a giant Johari Window blind spot. Mostly to describe my daughters’ boyfriends.

Speaking of Johari, it has its fair share of critics, too. They say the tool is only useful if its users are honest when taking the survey(s) and are willing to apply the results to improving communication and relationships.

But guess what? Some people don’t always present their authentic selves to others.

Shocking, right?

In the leadership development field, it doesn’t really matter which personality trait/type tool you prefer, there are just as many critics who laugh at you for things like making employees wear colored badges around the office as there are to support your development efforts. What we sometimes forget is that all of the tools are just generalizations about human nature – which hasn’t changed recently as far as I can tell.

“All generalizations are false, including this one.” Mark Twain

So I’ll finally get to my point(s). First, if the critics of the tools would spend as much time applying them to their own behavior as they do bashing them, it would be more enjoyable to be in the same room with them. That applies to most chronically critical people, by the way.

Second, we (assumably as leaders) are supposed to help clueless people improve so they’re not so clueless.

But get this: We aren’t supposed to help them because they’re clueless, we’re supposed to help them improve both because their behavior is disruptive in the workplace and it’s keeping them from being as successful as they can in your organization. That’s what leaders do. Provide feedback that will help clueless people grow and improve.

Okay, I’ll stop calling them clueless. How about unaware?

And I’ll freely admit that there were times in my career I was oblivious to how I was coming across to my coworkers. Just like there were times I was very aware… but pretended to be oblivious (see EQ as a Superpower). Real office jerks know they’re being a jerk.

My question is: “What are you doing to help them improve?” How do you help the one who feels like they always have to give input, relevant or not? How do you help the disruptive one who rubs everyone the wrong way or who spends their spare time disrupting those who are actually working?

Even harder, how do you help your boss not be the one no one else wants to be in the same room with?

First, make sure they actually lack self-awareness and aren’t just behaving badly. And then make sure it’s not you. Could the tension be mutual? Could coworkers be contributing to the effect of the offending behavior? Could the root problem be solved by a simple suggestion?

If they really lack self-awareness, they’re not aware of their shortcomings and don’t know that to become a better team member, they need to grow and improve. This is where a leader’s skill at providing effective feedback comes in (see link above).

Focus on the behavior, keep it private, put yourself in their shoes first, and be careful not to make them feel like it’s a personal attack. And put hard thought into possible roots of their lack of self-awareness – not therapy level, but things like need for recognition, insecurity, emotional awkwardness, perfectionism, procrastination, etc. You know, those things a lot of people struggle with but don’t know how to mask them behind a thin veneer of confidence.

Remember, it’s the behavior you’re trying to change. If the person wants to and changes in the process, all the better.

Then offer some alternatives to the offending behavior.

Maybe consider the merits of both sides before… Maybe you could try… Maybe next time… Maybe resist… Or even next time I see it, I’ll…

This is about them, not you, and if they leave the encounter feeling belittled and without your support, you haven’t done a leader’s job.

Finally, don’t let HR dictate the tools you have to use to help your team grow and improve. Stick to the leadership basics and model the behaviors you’d like others to have.

But that’s up to you, leaders.

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