Embracing the Entitled

Be honest; when you read the title of our SRA Update, did it immediately conjure up an image of a selfie-taking, social media addicted, text-obsessed millennial? Before we go any further, let us first take a moment and apologize to the recent generation entering the workforce. Turns out, there may not be any increase at all in narcissism over the past few decades. In a scientific analysis of approximately one-half million high-school seniors over three decades, Brent Donnellan and Kali Trzesniewski of the University of Western Ontario argue teens today are no more egotistical (and actually, just as happy and content) as previous generations.

“We concluded that, more often than not, kids these days are about the same as they were back in the mid-1970s,” said Donnellan, associate professor of psychology. They also stated that their findings show that entitlement changes dramatically with maturity in comparison to nominal generational changes. In other words, it’s not that people born after 1980 are self-absorbed – it’s that young people are, and they get over themselves as they get older.

On the other hand, aren’t we all working alongside some select individuals who haven’t “gotten over themselves?” In nearly every professional environment, it is not uncommon to encounter those who have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for admiration and an occasional lack of empathy for others. These individuals can range from recent college grads to the most tenured of staff, and some could even be some of the most valued players on the team! An effective leader needs to be able to lead, manage and inspire all personality types, including how to embrace the entitled.

Memory Lane
Although tales that start with “back in my day” typically fall on deaf ears (or are met with an eyeball roll), it may be meaningful to take a trip down memory lane at times. Newer employees may not know the sacrifices that their company was built upon; consider creating a milestone wall or worksheet documenting key turning points in the history of the company. Reviewing a company’s past can help emphasize the sacrifices that were made, the noteworthy accomplishments along the way, and a common understanding of where the firm started and how it evolved to where it is today.

Special vs. Appreciated
Words matter. Consider the difference between “you have a face that makes time stand still” and “you have a face that could stop a clock.” Entitled individuals believe themselves to be more special than others; frame your vocabulary to play against this notion. Instead of “you are the best hire we have ever made in this department” or “we would be lost without you,” focus instead on expressing appreciation for a job well done. Statements such as “I appreciate the hard work you put in to meeting your quarterly numbers” or “I am incredibly thankful for the leadership role you played in retaining our key clients” focus more on the work being done as opposed to the uniqueness and rarity of the person doing the work. Call attention to the specific action or behavior, and then offer up genuine thanks and gratitude.

The “I” in Team
To encourage self-absorbed individuals to look outside their lens of individuality, add some components to their set of responsibilities that require the success of others. This could be accomplished by tying a portion of compensation or bonus to the success of new hires, the team, or organization as a whole. Alternatively, the individual could be assigned as a mentor to up-and-coming associates, where praise is given to the collective and expectations are set for cooperative achievement.

Great Expectations
Be exceptionally clear (and when at all possible, measurable) with any and all expectations. Consider going beyond “pass or fail” and instead communicate clearly what deficient (failure), competent (good enough to get by), and proficient (exceptional) behavior or results look like. Then, stick to them firmly. If you don’t, you can actually create a deepened sense of entitlement as employees learn to manipulate your rules. The expectations could include things like desired behaviors, time in office, work ethic, required results, or any other guidelines that allow an employee to know they are meeting or exceeding expectations. Resist the urge to simply say “I’ll know a job well done when I see it” – if you can’t articulate expectations clearly, employees will never know if they’ve achieved them. This is when a disconnect happens, ambiguity sets in, and the foundation of the relationship begins to crack.

Set Them Up to Fail
Gasp! Before you scramble for your Leadership 101 Handbook that says a great leader would never do such a thing, many would acknowledge that it was through their greatest struggles that their greatest achievements were born. More often than not, those who history best remembers were faced with numerous obstacles that forced them to work harder and show more determination than others.

Entitled employees tend to stay within their comfort zones and take few risks. Set a stretch goal for those who feel they cannot fail, but do not chastise for shortfalls or lack of success. Instead, allow for the individual to embrace the mistakes made, the skills that are not yet developed, and the opportunities for growth that lie ahead. In fact, many great leaders would say they don’t just accept failure, they encourage it!

Perhaps even more important? Deep down, we all want to be involved with an important project that challenges us. When we give a tough objective and let an employee know it will take everything they’ve got, it communicates that we actually take them seriously and give them permission to take risks that result in growth – either due to failure or due to success.

—Karen Schmidt

Letting Go

Think about your personal path to achieving the professional success you have experienced thus far. What attributes or characteristics are you most proud of that got you here? What abilities do you have that allowed you to separate from your peers over the years?

Second question: Is there a chance that those very same characteristics that rewarded you so well are the same characteristics that can hold you back in the future?

Some examples:

You are quite patient and empathetic, and others rely on your guidance and council throughout the day. However, your fear of being unavailable causes you to work late nights and weekends because the days have been spent solving other people’s problems.

You are incredibly detail-oriented and meticulous, and your dedication to perfection has served you well. However, if you aren’t willing to relinquish some control, you will never be able to handle other responsibilities because nobody can do them as well as you.

You are a “do-er” and complete more work throughout the day than some do in several. You don’t have time for small talk, which allows for a high level of efficiency, but true leaders need to build personal relationships and connect on a non-work level with others.

You are a gifted orator and can inspire a crowd, sell to the masses, and have an intrinsic ability to create a path that others will naturally follow. However, you are so comfortable hearing yourself talk that you forget that others may simply need you to listen.

Self Awareness
It is not realistic for a person to be all things to all people, or to be perfect in every facet of life. But sometimes, we sense deep inside that there is something else waiting for us. We just need to be courageous enough to create a little space to discover what it is.

Sometimes, you must release your grip on your current identity in order to allow yourself to transform. You simply cannot be the person you want to be and the person you currently are at the same time.

You have to determine for yourself whether you’re willing to let go of who you are to become the person you want to be.

What holds most back from creating this space is that it will result in change, and most people react to any change with fear. Change shifts our comfort zones, where we find security and stability, so fear is a naturally occurring reaction. Fear gains strength when you focus only on the negative possibilities of a situation or event. The answer is to concentrate on just two or three changes at a time – perhaps only just one! As your new habits embed themselves into your personality and habitual behaviors, you can add additional changes to your routine. This creates a managed process of change.

Letting Go
It is okay to change, grow, and try new things that you will not be as good at as the things you have done for years. The key to freedom is allowing yourself to crack open and evolve.

To begin to impact change, think about what got you here:

  • What has contributed to your success so far?
  • How do you compare with others within your organization or industry in similar roles? What separates you from the average performer?
  • How have your responsibilities changed and evolved as you’ve grown in this past year, as opposed to a year ago?
  • When you are working, what activities make you lose track of time? Why?

Now, where do you want to go?

  • What strengths do you have that can also at times be a weakness?
  • Think of others within your organization or industry you respect; in what ways do you want to be more like them?
  • What are the differences in responsibilities or strengths/skills between yourself and the person you report to? How can you start to take on those responsibilities or learn those strengths?
  • Is there anything in your life that you should walk away from completely?
  • What of your habits are you truly prepared to change?
  • There will be some things you won’t be good at for a while; what are they?
  • What do you finally need to delegate to others?
  • What issues are you prepared to tackle now?


The next question: Why don’t we do it? It’s simple: the rewards of these changes are in the future, when the discomfort and discipline are right here and right now. When there’s an absence of a compelling reason, or drive, you will be a thermostat. You’ll work as hard as necessary to keep the temperature comfortable – and when it reaches that temperature, you’ll turn off until needed again. Discussing change and goals can be inspiring, energizing, and stimulating! Yet it feels tough, awkward, annoying, frightening, and completely unpleasant to discuss the discipline needed to reach those goals. There is no shame in being average or competent if you are unwilling to pay the price of excellence! Simply ask yourself if you are willing to pay that price, and what the price looks like for you.

Finding People Who Make a Difference®
Executive Search Review has recognized the totality of the Sanford Rose Associates network as being one of the Top 11 Search Firms in North America. Sanford Rose Associates has 60+ offices worldwide and is a member of the International Executive Search Federation (IESF). To learn more about achieving professional excellence both personally and with those on your team, please reach out to your Sanford Rose Associates® executive search consultant today.

– Karen Schmidt

Allocating Your Attention

“I just find myself with too much time on my hands throughout the day!” Is it safe to assume that this statement has rarely, if ever, been muttered by leaders and managers in today’s professional environment? In fact, “being busy” is often worn as a prideful badge of honor. It is a popular statement in part because it is an admirable one. Having free time, on the other hand, makes you look dispensable and irrelevant

In a time when we are accessible every moment of every day, when organizations are lean yet expectations are high, we have largely failed to address a skill that must be developed – both within an effective leader and within those who are being managed.

The skill? Attention allocation.

Commonly, we focus on time management – an oxymoron! Time cannot be reined in, slowed down, or controlled – yet how we choose to allocate our attention every moment of every day can be.

Educate your Environment
One of the biggest challenges of being a parent is that whether you like it or not, there are eyes on you at all times! Children watch, process, and mimic the behaviors modeled to them regardless of if those behaviors are productive or damaging. Similarly, those on your team are constantly observing the way you manage priorities, react to deadlines, and allocate your attention. Therefore, we must remember that if we want to engrain effective attention allocation skills within an organization or department, it must first start with modeling those skills from the top. What can this sound like?

  • “It sounds like what you want to talk about is important to you, so I want to be able to give you my dedicated attention. Let’s schedule a time when it works for both of us so we can discuss this at a time where I will not be distracted like I would be right now.”
  • “I am in the middle of a priority project; is this an emergency? If so, I am happy to stop what I am doing but if not, please send me an email and I will respond by the end of the day with a time for us to meet personally.”
  • “That’s a great question; give me an idea of what you’ve done already to try to find an answer.”

What can this look like? Consider closing out email with the exception of several pre-set times throughout the day or late evening. The team will learn at what times you are engaged in administrative activities, keeping other times sacred for forward-motion activities or primary responsibilities. A doctor does not check emails in the middle of surgery, and a lawyer is not accepting incoming calls while the opposing counsel is grilling his client. What makes the critical responsibilities of your role less deserving of your own concentration? Very rarely is anything so urgent and critical that it cannot wait for a reply within an hour; you may even find that issues solve themselves without you having to!

Practice Being Fully Present
In our “information overload” society, learning how to stay fully present can certainly be challenging! In fact, “nomophobia” is a term jokingly used by psychologists to refer to the 40% of the population now addicted to their smartphones. What is the habit you need to break in order to be more fully present in your personal and professional interactions?

As an example, if you are in a meeting with someone on the team, be in that meeting. Put your desk phone on “out,” silence your cell phone, turn off your monitor if it may be a distraction, and position your body to fully face the other individual. Give your full, undivided attention. Watch how they respond over time, and realize the impact that being fully present can have on those with whom you work.

An added benefit? This actually trains your brain to be more effective. When working on administrative work, it is easier for you to be fully focused in that work because your brain is slowly reprogramming itself away from the compulsive need to respond to over-stimulation, dings, clicks, and alerts coming from all directions.

Value of Time
How do we know which activities, initiatives, and emergencies are deserving of our attention? Know the value of your time, and train those within your team to think the same way. Take how much you will earn (or would like to earn) annually, and divide by the number of work hours in a year. Now, take that hourly billable rate and double it, because that will give you a “prime time” amount that you should strive to spend at least a few hours per day engaged in the highest “billable rate” activities possible. When you are aware of the value of your time, suddenly spending 30 minutes reorganizing your desk in the middle of “prime time” seems like a waste. The peripheral colleague who wanted to catch up on the weekend? Those 15 minutes may have cost you several dollars or several hundred based on your billable rate. Getting caught up on emails and admin may be important, but prioritize several dedicated hours per day to be actively engaged in surgery or the courtroom.

Just Say No
Does it seem impossible to get it all done in a day? It is. You can no longer fit everything in, no matter how effectively you allocate your attention. The moment you embrace that truth, you instantly reduce your stress and feelings of inadequacy. Learn to say no; perhaps this is no longer volunteering for certain committees, or hiring someone to do lawn maintenance or handle “to-do’s” at home. Create boundaries on how and where you allocate your attention.

—Karen Schmidt

Inspiring An Ownership Mindset

As a leader, you are responsible for making sure your team has the necessary skills to perform well in their roles. Training likely revolves around concrete and definable abilities that link directly back to the expectations of acceptable performance in the role. Concrete training is valuable, but training should not stop there. What can be done to impact not only an employee’s skill set, but their mindset as well?

Organizations and teams that inspire an ownership mindset, where ideas are encouraged and initiative is commended, are more successful than those that don’t. However, you shouldn’t expect behavior that you haven’t asked for. How do you train a mindset of entrepreneurial thinking and individual responsibility?

Learning to Think
One of the best ways to help your employees assume an ownership mindset is to help them understand your own mindset – what you think about, how you prioritize, how you make business decisions and how you solve problems. You are their best teacher, but you must be transparent about how you operate.

Remember to provide access to pertinent information. Share historical data and context, past cases of failures and successes, and even confidential information if it will create a more insightful thought process and outcome. It is impossible to withhold relevant information and still expect profound thinking and deep insight.

It is certainly desireable for employees to be able to look around, see what needs doing, and proactively step into those tasks. If they do not, it might not be because they can’t or don’t want to. It may be because you have not made clear to them that this is what you want and expect on a regular basis.

Ask more questions and give fewer answers; the best leaders ask more questions than they answer. Thinking is a developmental activity, and tough questions stimulate thought. Instead of immediately responding to a problem or issue voiced by an employee, start with:

  • You sound frustrated; what do you think could be done to address this issue?
  • I certainly understand that this is a problem; what do you think could be done to solve it?
  • What are some approaches we might not have thought of yet?
  • What additional information do you think you need in order to formulate an accurate opinion or to recommend a solution?
  • In hindsight, is there anything that could or should have been done differently to avoid this manifesting into a problem?

Foster the Right Environment
If you ask for feedback or opinions, create an environment in which employees are comfortable sharing their feedback and opinions. Defensiveness by a leader is the genesis of apprehension and insecurity from employees. Even if you do not agree with their thought process, ask questions to lead them to a more appropriate conclusion – one that they arrive at by themselves.

Similarly, employees can’t be expected to take risks if failure isn’t tolerated. Good employees make mistakes, and great leaders allow them to. Give people the opportunity to learn from mistakes, own them, fix them, and then put safeguards in place to ensure the same mistake will never be repeated. Give employees room to fail – within reason – and they will step up more readily.

Be comfortable delegating. Fear of losing control is what stops most people from delegating; as a leader, you will ultimately be held accountable for failure. It can be intimidating to hand over the keys to the car if you don’t fully trust the person driving.

Hire Employees with Proactive Track Records
Hiring proactively-minded associates can be difficult. Instead of relying on job titles or skill sets, look for signs of proactive behaviors and accomplishments. In the interview, be aware of language choice. In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, author Stephen Covey claims that “our language is a very clear indicator of the degree to which we see ourselves as proactive people. The language of reactive people absolves them of responsibility…whereas the language of proactive people embraces responsibility.”

Reactive Language

  • He/she told me I could/couldn’t…They wouldn’t allow me to…If I had the time, I could have…

Proactive Language

  • I looked for alternatives…I chose to…I prefer to…I took the time to…


Proactive language demonstrates an ability to choose and take action, while reactive language tends to be more focused on removing responsibility. Keeping this perspective in mind when hiring is key to developing a team inspired by an ownership mindset.

Finding People Who Make a Difference®
For more than 50 years, Sanford Rose Associates® has been committed to “Finding people who make a difference®” for its clients. To learn more about how we can coach you to inspire an ownership mindset with your current team while hiring like-minded individuals in the future, please reach out to your Sanford Rose Associates® executive search consultant today.
—Karen Schmidt

Interviews: Traditional or Transparent?

It is commonly known that all individuals should put their best foot forward throughout the interviewing process – both applicants and hiring managers alike. Offices are tidied up, everyone is polite with introductory small talk, and professional game faces are on.

“My greatest weaknesses? I work too hard. I sometimes care too much about the work I do. I don’t know when to quit; some have even told me my tendency to over-achieve makes others in the department second-guess their value on the team.”

Sound like a familiar iteration of an answer you have heard before, perhaps a time or two? Many would liken a first interview to a first date, which begs the question: when do you really get to know what is underneath the surface?

When the right talent is working together as a team, miracles can happen – but assembling that talent is an ongoing challenge all leaders face. The truth is that hiring is hard. No organization has perfected the process as to how to exclusively hire the right people, but our SRA Update shares some of the bold, quirky, and unique best practices that may be incorporated into your own evaluation system.

Cultural Connections
After a successful first interview, digital music giant Spotify takes candidates out of the office and into…the bar? That’s right; this non-traditional setting allows candidates to mix and mingle with potential co-workers where guards are let down and the atmosphere is more relaxed. Alcohol is of course not required, but this environment allows managers to evaluate how the candidates interact in a group setting and with their potential peers. Spotify has sought to create a culture where employees are friends who get along, and this step in the interview process aligns with that objective.

Not ready for the group happy hour quite yet? Southwest prides itself on a culture that finds funny, outgoing people. Generally, the first interview is a group interview, so screeners can see how candidates interact with each other. Don’t limit yourself to thinking of just pilots and flight attendants when you think of Southwest; this group interview can be a phenomenal opportunity for evaluating roles involving customer service, sales, or any situation in which the majority of time will be spent interacting with others.

Most candidates know to be friendly with everyone they meet the moment they walk in the door, but some organizations take it to the next level when interviewing out of town candidates. Sedan drivers are a part of the process, providing feedback to the hiring team as to how they were treated by the candidate, their demeanor, and overall genuine and positive interest in the prospective opportunity.

Get Creative
As generations evolve, so can the preferred means of communication. Organizations such as Zappos are keeping up with that evolution by eliminating job postings. Instead, candidates must create a profile on Zappos’ social media site, including a video cover letter designed to showcase their true colors. Pizza Hut has mirrored Twitter in their approach to hiring talent for their digital media teams: each candidate is given a 140 second opportunity to showcase their skills. Although certainly not appropriate for every role, this method shows that Pizza Hut understands what they want in a candidate (expert micro-bloggers who can capture attention immediately) and how to creatively screen for that skill set.

Pattern Interrupt
Disrupting the expected course of conversation can be an effective method to digging beyond the surface answers that a candidate has mentally prepared. Off-the-wall questions purely for the sake of jarring a candidate are unnecessary and may leave the individual feeling turned off from the opportunity, but questions designed to achieve a certain objective can certainly be incorporated. As an example, if the objective is to understand how much of an active learner the candidate is, asking about the most recent book read can reveal a more accurate answer than simply the direct question of “do you view yourself as an active learner?” If trying to assess for personality fit, questions such as “one time my sense of humor helped me was…” or “my personal motto is…” One organization wants to assess how willing a candidate is to pitch in whenever asked, so the question posed in the interview is “the newest hire in our organization is tasked with taking out the trash each night, until the next new hire starts. How do you feel about that?” The bottom line is if you ask the same interview questions asked by every other firm, you will likely get the same surface answers candidates have become comfortable giving. A pattern interrupt is a way to change a person’s state or strategy; consider incorporating into your search process for more in-depth answers.

Paint a Picture
Take a look at the “join us” section on your website; first, do you have one? If not, get going! If so, take a deeper look – does it do little more than list open positions, or does it tell a compelling story of your organization’s culture, your value proposition, and what others who have joined your firm have accomplished since joining? Although listing vacant positions seems logical, consider the opportunity this page holds for talking less about what you need in a hire and more about what you offer to someone and their career. Consider sharing testimonials from recent hires who can attest to the significant differences now that they are with your firm. Consider creating a video with clips from around the office, community, and spotlighting superstars – this can be an effective way to share “why your firm” to any prospect considering applying to your organization.

—Karen Schmidt

Who, What, Where, When, How…But Why?

There are two simple words that have the power to completely change one’s approach to work and life forever. These words have the potential to evoke fulfillment, enhance productivity, and create daily peace of mind.

You may have found yourself saying some of these already today:

  • I have to go to this team meeting.
  • I have to get this proposal to our client.
  • I have to get caught up on emails.
  • I have to take the kids to practice.

We act as if we don’t have a choice, as if we are imprisoned by people or a system forcing us to do things we don’t want to do. In reality, we do have a choice. We have the freedom to choose our actions, our profession, our financial needs, and the path of our life. Each day is not about what we have to do. It’s about what we get to do.

So, besides having a renewed sense of gratitude for being alive in a free world, why does this matter?

If you start to realize that your employees don’t have to come to work each day but instead choose to, there must be a reason for that decision. That reason is their “why”. As a leader, understanding each employee’s “why” will enable you to create a meaningful career path for them, empower them during times of burnout, and help them stay engaged. As your own leader, knowing your own “why” is essential for each of those situations as well.

The How

Start with a simple exercise. Take out your pen, and write down your answer to this question: “What is your why?” It sounds like a big esoteric question, but why is it that you choose to go to work each day? Why do you choose this profession, instead of something else? Why do you choose the role you are in, as opposed to others?

Encourage yourself and others to press beyond the obvious answer of “I need to make money”. There are countless ways to earn a living; why have you chosen this one?

Once you begin to list all of your why’s, you will notice they fall in two categories. The first category is similar to Maslow’s lowest hierarcy of needs – food, water, shelter. “I’d like to be able to pay my mortgage.” “I want to send my children to college.” “My elderly parents will rely on me to provide for them.” “I have always dreamed of buying a vacation home.”

The second category recognizes that there is a bigger purpose, a desire to make a difference, and a need to higher meaning behind the choices we make. It’s these things that are connected to your overall purpose, your sense of contribution, and the most important aspect of your “why”. Both categories are important and not mutually exclusive. An individual who only cares about money will likely live with a void in their life, while an individual who is all about the big picture has their head in the clouds but lacks feet on the ground.

Having a deep understanding of your career’s purpose is equally as possible as meeting and exceeding financial goals. This exercise is around understanding both. If you, or your team, has a hard time articulating this purpose, give some additional guidance:

  • When you were first drawn to this industry, what compelled you? Why did this industry or vocation strike you as being the calling for your career?
  • At what point in your career were you most challenged? What circumstances created that challenge?
  • What circumstances push you to be more, learn more, accomplish more, take on more, and grow more?
  • Who or what inspires you most? What qualities inspire you from those individuals or factors?
  • What do people compliment you on professionally?
  • What are you chasing? Why are you chasing it?
  • Given your talents and passions, how could you use those to serve, or to help, others or your organization?
  • When you retire, what do you want to be remembered for? What legacy do you want to leave?

The When

When is it important to go back to the “why”? Most of us get entrenched in the day to day routine of work, family, and life. We go through most days on auto-pilot, knowing what is expected and performing to that expectation. Connect the routine of your daily performance to the fulfillment of the “why” of your life purpose.

As a leader, when you know the “why” for members of your team, you can connect that “why” to their daily responsibilities and broader performance milestones. Every job has mundane or less desired tasks, but when the “why” is strong enough, there is meaning connected to even the most tedious of activities. Then the paradigm shifts:

  • I get to go to this team meeting because I have team members dedicated to learning and living up to their fullest potential.
  • I want to get this proposal to our client because they trust us to solve a problem they cannot solve on their own.
  • I want to get caught up on emails because I have knowledge and insight that others are relying on me to share with them.
  • I get to take the kids to practice because I am fortunate to have a family and resources to help them live a full and varied life.

There is an opportunity to connect purpose and meaning to each daily activity, and a choice to connect it. When the “why” is strong enough, there is no limit to what you, and those on your team, can achieve.

Finding People Who Make a Difference®

Executive Search Review has recognized the totality of the Sanford Rose Associates network as being one of the Top 11 Search Firms in North America. Sanford Rose Associates has 60+ offices worldwide and is a member of the International Executive Search Federation (IESF). To learn more about bringing out the best in your team, please reach out to your Sanford Rose Associates® executive search consultant today.

—Karen Schmidt

Small Lessons in Leadership

Within many industries, the success of a business relies more on the people you pay than the people who pay you. In other words, your people are your most important asset. In some industries, people are your only asset.

As such, many SRA Updates have covered the topic of employee retention. Creating clear and quantifiable career paths, providing consistent reviews and feedback, and crafting an environment of ongoing learning and perpetual growth are all huge pillars in the foundation of retaining the superstars you want to retain. But once that foundation is poured and the framework is in, any builder knows that the devil is in the details. The finish-out of any building makes the difference between a standard home and a custom one. How do you go beyond building simply a solid foundation within your organization, and instead create a custom home where nobody would ever dream of leaving?

Simply put? Words matter. Consider the difference between “you have a face that makes time stand still” and “you have a face that could stop a clock.” Do not underestimate the importance that words have when either strengthening bonds or fracturing them. Regardless of whether the words are spoken or written in a casual interaction, in a frustrating or disappointing situation, or during a critical review, be acutely aware of the power of your vocabulary.

“Employee” has a different connotation than “team member” or “key contributor,” and “I’m going to need you to” comes across differently than “are you open to some feedback.”

Instead of “as your boss, it’s my job to make sure that you…” try replacing that with “I know you are trusting me to make sure you succeed on this project; can I offer an alternative perspective?” When creating a culture of inclusion, take a statement that starts with “you should have” and instead focus on the future with “I know this was a frustrating outcome; with similar projects in the future, perhaps we could try…”

This doesn’t mean one cannot be direct, or deliver a tough message, or operate with authority. It simply means that a strong leader knows that words have power, and is aware of the responsibility that exists to use them with an awareness of the impact they may have.

Simply put? If you say you are going to do something, do it. If you say you are going to be somewhere, be there. If you initiate a new business process or initiative, follow through. Stay consistent about being consistent. Why is this important? Every team needs a rock. Without consistency, it is impossible to be that rock. Ineffective leadership happens when an indivual is moody, passive aggressive, or having a “bad day.”

This does not mean that one has to be eternally optimistic, but simply means a leader needs to be relied upon to be the stable anchor of the team or organization. Instead of giving abrupt, one-word answers when someone interrupts your day, consider instead: “What you have to say is important to me, but I cannot be pulled away from this project right now. Why don’t we set up a time to meet tomorrow at 3pm?” Remember that not only is this important to build healthy professional relationships within a team, but you are also modeling the behaviors that you want a future manager to develop themselves for when they start to lead others. Focused and unavailable is acceptable, while rude or moody is not.

A transparent culture is one where employees are given meaningful insights that build trust with leadership. A transparent culture is one where an environment exists where people can give honest and direct feedback, knowing it will be heard and shared with the right people. A transparent culture is one where egos are removed, and ultimately the leaders take full responsibility for the success but also the failures of the organization. There are very few ways to build trust, but one of them is to be transparent. The opposite of this is secrecy, which only serves to erode trust. As long as there is a professional reason why an individual would like information to be shared, is there any reason why that information shouldn’t be? Quarterly or semi-annual Town Hall meetings are a great place to move this from a concept to an actual manifestation. All employees are allowed to ask any question that is professionally relevant unless it is personal in nature, in which case they would be asked to go to the individual directly instead of asking in a public format. For some, this might be a daunting scenario, but it actually allows the leader to be in control of the message instead of speculation within the ranks of those not privy to the dialogue. The irony is that the more you allow people the freedom to ask questions, the less they feel the need to ask them.

This doesn’t mean that you need to have the comedic skills of Jerry Seinfeld, but it is imperative for a leader to have a sense of humor both when things are going well and when things go wrong. A study by Bell Leadership Institute found that the two most desirable traits in leaders were a strong work ethic and a good sense of humor. Humor gets people to listen, humor increases persuasion, humor increases your likability, and humor increases employee engagement. Simply put? Be someone others want to be around. These leadership lessons may seem small, but can have the most profound impact on building lifelong professional relationships.

Finding People Who Make a Difference®
Executive Search Review has recognized the totality of the Sanford Rose Associates® network as being one of the Top 10 Search Firms in North America with 70+ offices worldwide. To learn more about achieving professional excellence both personally and with those on your team, please reach out to your Sanford Rose Associates® executive search consultant today.

 —Karen Schmidt

Turning the Grind into the Goal

A world-renowned athletic coach was asked once what the difference was between the best athletes and everyone else. In other words, what do really successful people do that most people don’t? Of course, there were the typical responses of genetics, luck, and talent.

But there’s an added element that most don’t think of; it’s the ability to handle the boredom of training every day and doing the same lifts and drills over and over again that separates the professionals from the amateurs.

Think about it this way – it’s not that the best athletes have some insane passion or willpower that others don’t have; it’s the exact opposite. They can feel the same boredom and lack of motivation that everyone else feels; they aren’t immune to the daily grind.

What sets them apart is their commitment to the process. They fall in love with the daily practice, with the repetition, and with the plan in front of them.

Therefore, if you want to be a starting quarterback, you have to be in love with running drills and studying playbooks. If you want to be a New York Times bestseller, you have to be in love with the process of writing. If you want to get in better shape, you have to love the practice of eating in a healthier manner and exercising consistently.

You have to love the grind if you ever hope to turn it into the achievement of a goal.

The Pursuit of Happiness
Though some of the following may not be true all of the time, when you love the process of what you do, the following should ring true much of the time:

  • You don’t talk about other individuals; you talk about the great things other individuals are doing.
  • You help without thinking, or without being asked.
  • You don’t struggle to stay disciplined; you struggle to prioritize.
  • You’re excited about the job you are doing, but you’re more excited about the people you’re doing it with.
  • You leave work with items on your to-do list that you are eager to tackle tomorrow.
  • You think, “I hope I get to…” instead of, “I hope I don’t have to…”
  • You don’t focus on retirement, because retirement sounds boring – and a lot less fulfilling.

Now, there is a chance that our society may have overdone the need for the above to be true all of the time. We have been told that if you do what you love, the money and success will follow. We have been told that if you are not changing the world in bold ways, it is because you are too afraid to find your passion and follow it.

The Pursuit of Value
Author Cal Newport has emerged as one of the more vocal critics of the only-do-what-you-love movement, and says it is time to end the professional guilt trip. In his book, So Good They Can’t Ignore You, Newport argues that following one’s passions can be a dead end. He maintains that it’s better to identify which skills you have that could be unique and valuable in the workplace, and then hone those skills until you have career capital that you can spend in the way you choose.

Developing career capital requires a carefully balanced mix of deliberate action and patience. If you are in a self-directed professional environment and are responsible for carving your own path, take responsibility for the direction in which you are heading – and what you need from others to get there. Do not wait for someone to come along who can help; be proactive in seeking out those who can provide mentorship and guidance along the way.

If you are responsible for developing career capital in others, incorporate this exercise in ongoing or annual reviews. Always be aware of the following question: “what I am I doing to help others identify their competitive advantages, and how am I providing opportunities for those strengths to turn into eventual career capital.”

Most roles have tasks that are required to engage in repeatedly; knowing the natural progression of a profession is essential. How many partners at a law firm still do all their own research? Does a surgeon want to spend more time in surgery, or in pre-op or post-op care? In these examples, practitioners outsource the less challenging work to junior staff that is not only capable of performing the work at a lower cost but also challenged by the work itself. What is the natural progression of your profession, and have you done a successful job of institutionalizing outsourcing?

Within a physician’s office, the nurse practitioner facilitates exams, the nurse checks blood pressure, and the scheduling department makes appointments. Each of those tasks are important but will neither provide the doctor with the challenge they need nor the financial rewards necessary to justify their time. In the case of lawyers, they have paralegals, legal secretaries, and associate lawyers they entrust. The lesson we can learn from both is that outsourcing certain tasks to other team members is not only more financially rewarding but also allows for greater challenges. Be aware of when the grind is necessary in the achievement of a goal, and be aware of when the grind must be alleviated in order to avoid turnover or burnout.

Finding People Who Make a Difference®
Executive Search Review has recognized the totality of the Sanford Rose Associates network as being one of the Top 10 Search Firms in North America. Sanford Rose Associates has 60+ offices worldwide and is a member of the International Executive Search Federation (IESF). To learn more about achieving professional excellence both personally and with those on your team, please reach out to your Sanford Rose Associates® executive search consultant today.

—Karen Schmidt

The Positivity Pledge

The subject line of this article may already have you rolling your eyes; of course we all know the power of positivity. We recognize we should always look on the bright side, turn a frown upside down, and keep our chins up. But we all have bad days that just seem like it would have been a better idea to never leave the house, and we all have frustrated moments where we need to blow off steam.

Have you ever noticed that some people seem to need these venting sessions more than others?

Have you noticed that many of them might work in your office or on your team?

Developing a positive perspective can be a natural skill for some, and a very learned skill for others. Whether you identify this in yourself or with others throughout your organization, there is much that can be done to pursue a pledge of positivity in the workplace and beyond. Knowing that it is a logical thought process that we have the ability and power to choose our attitude, why does the cliché of “it’s not what happens to you that matters, it’s how you react to it” not make more sense in the moment? If you want to take steps to engage a more positive perspective, where do you begin?

The Right Person
Encourage those on your team (or yourself at times) to go directly to the source of the frustration. Have you noticed that people almost always vent to the wrong crowd? They vent to individuals who cannot do anything to remedy the complaint; they go to work and complain about their spouse, or they go home and complain to their spouse about the people at work. When it comes to actually creating change and progress in life, it requires being courageous with complaining.

It takes courage to ask the members of your team at the office to help you with some of the extra workload you’ve been given – but only they can do something to help you. It takes courage to tell your team that you felt a certain way following a recent interaction or meeting, but nothing will change if you don’t have the strength to respectfully confront (and of course, to be respectfully confronted as well).

Learn to replace complaining with making requests and taking action that will achieve your desired outcomes and change for the better. If you find yourself in a situation you don’t like, either work to make it better or leave. Be aware of what frustrates you (or when others bring their frustrations to you), and be proactive about finding a solution that can be implemented. If someone is frustrated with a lack of new clients, be proactive in coming up with new ideas to market to untouched accounts. If someone is annoyed because meetings are cancelled at the last minute, volunteer to conduct the meetings yourself if something comes up.

At the end of the day, if it’s not able to be fixed or improved? You can move on knowing that you took initiative and didn’t sit back waiting for someone else to hand over a solution.

Recognize Passive Requests
Often, individuals can use complaining as a passive way of asking for support or solutions. “I’m so busy” isn’t just a declarative statement; it might be a subtle indicator that the individual feels unprepared for the tasks at hand and is concerned they are on the brink of dropping the ball (or already has). Encourage colleagues, in these situations, to be comfortable asking directly for what is needed. As a leader, you must foster an environment in which such requests are met with openness and discussion. Ultimately, if someone is not willing to make direct requests, the request itself must not be important.

By encouraging others to take more responsibility for what they want or need, it empowers them to begin to take more responsibility for their behaviors and outcomes of those behaviors.

Help others understand that words have power; the way we say things matters. One could complain, “I am being bombarded with emails” or one could ask for suggestions for technology tools and effective time management. One is powerless. The other is proactive. One is letting an environment dictate your experience, while the other is choosing to create your own reality through actions.

Set the Example
We affect, and are affected by the people we meet, in one way or another. As a leader, maintaining a positive perspective and consistent way of being is essential; only the inner core of a team should be allowed to see you sweat. Negativity is sensed instinctively and on a subconscious level, through words, thoughts and feelings, and through body language. If you would prefer to be around positive people and avoid negative ones, would you assume your colleagues feel the same way? People are more disposed to help us, if we are positive, and they dislike and avoid anyone broadcasting negativity.

Take the Challenge
Over the years, there have been many viral movements geared towards changing behavior for a set period of time, including putting an emphasis on things such as fitness, healthy eating, or finances. Several of those challenges include a commitment to stop complaining for several weeks; think your office is ready for such a challenge? This includes internal dialogue as much as external. You might find that what was once thought of as a “natural” skill of a positive mindset might not be so much that the grass is greener on the other side, as much as those neighbors have just spent more time watering and cultivating their lawn.

Finding People Who Make a Difference®
Executive Search Review has recognized the totality of the Sanford Rose Associates® network as being one of the Top 10 Search Firms in North America. Sanford Rose Associates has 60+ offices worldwide and is a member of the International Executive Search Federation (IESF). To learn more about achieving professional excellence both personally and with those on your team, please reach out to your Sanford Rose Associates® executive search consultant today.

—Karen Schmidt

Extreme Home Makeover: Workplace Edition

For nearly a decade, Extreme Home Makeover reigned supreme on Sunday night television. In less than seven days, the crew is tasked with rebuilding an entire house – every single room, plus the exterior and landscaping. Residents, neighbors, and viewers watch with joy and perhaps a twinge of jealousy; wouldn’t it be nice to have an overhaul so significant that it changes every moment and experience? How exciting to take what is commonplace and make it new again!

For some organizations, they have taken the Extreme Home Makeover to their workplace environment. The beginning of the new year could be an ideal time to look through an elevated lens at the status quo within your daily rituals, within a department, or throughout an entire organization.

Change can be a great thing, when the change is calculated and purposeful. Take some time to reflect on the current standard operating procedures within your department or company. You might find that the reason some best practices are the way they are is because nobody has taken the time or effort to evaluate any alternatives. The old adage of “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it” can be the antithesis of workplace innovation! Keyless automobile entry is a perfect example; using a key to open a vehicle door is a perfectly acceptable way to enter a car. Someone was creative and innovative enough to take something that worked well and make it just that much better, and we can have the same outlook on our own businesses. Constantly evaluate what’s not working, and even with what is working, be open to how to make it just a little more effective, or innovative, or differentiating.

Workplace Makeover: Life is Good
John and Bert Jacobs, the founders of New England-based apparel company Life is Good, have evolved to become a $100 million firm with over 250 employees. They, like most, were inundated with emails and realized the more they sent the more came back.

John and Bert made a pact: no more emails. They are now only directly available by cell. Their team summarizes the most important communication every two weeks, allowing them to spend more time on high level questions and the creative aspect of their business. The result? Increased productivity and happiness. Though it is easy to pull people in to a minor issue via email, they have found that people think twice before calling a cell phone – questioning if it’s important enough to warrant a true disruption.

Workplace Makeover: TED
TED is one of the few organizations that grants employees the gift of a forced two-week summer break; try getting in touch with employees at the end of July and you’ll have some trouble. Summer vacations are not unheard of, as employees at most companies take staggered vacations in the summer so that someone is always around. But because the entire staff is never quite available, things don’t get done as efficiently as they should. When everyone leaves at the same time, productivity remains at a high level before and after vacation.

Workplace Makeover: Netflix
Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix, prides himself on making as few decisions as possible. Relying primarily on his team to lay groundwork and line out details, large decisions such as the one to produce the popular House of Cards required 30 minutes of Hastings’ time before it was green lit. Freedom is only one part of the Netflix culture; the other is responsibility and this has resulted in a culture of high performance. Acknowledging that they turn over a lot of people, Hastings is adamant that giving people great freedom will of course result in mistakes, but a more important result will be that of a lot of great ideas.

Workplace Makeover: ThinkPARALLAX
ThinkPARALLAX, a creative agency in Southern California, decided to send its employees away from the office. Each employee is given a $1,500 travel budget to go anywhere in the world, with a few expectations. Employees have to go somewhere they’ve never been before, the destination has to be outside of their comfort zone in some way, and they have to go in the final four months of the year. “When you don’t put a timeline behind things, people tend not to do them,” says Jonathan Hanwit, a co-founder at the company. “It also forces everybody to realize that they can pick up the slack, and creates a more cohesive work environment.”

Workplace Makeover: FitBit
Thirty of the Fortune 500 companies participate in Fitbit Wellness, ultimately saving bottom line dollars in regards to medical costs and reduced sick days. FitBit Wellness uses the trackers as a motivator as part of a rewards program or company-wide competition. BP, for example, has run a one million step challenge where employees who hit the mark over the course of a year are eligible for a more deductible health plan.

Part of the appeal? A huge budget is not required in order to create exciting incentives. Small rewards go a long way; casual dress day, charitable donations, catered lunches, or scratch-off lotto tickets are all examples of great prizes for winners.

Workplace Makeover: Your Organization
Some of these “Extreme Makeovers” might be too extreme for your organization, but all are examples of ways to get creative when approaching innovative and rewarding workplace environments. Involve your staff when soliciting feedback; you may find group energy surrounds subjects such as workplace efficiency, cultural initiatives, wellness programs, or charitable endeavors. You may find that you are the lead architect of a very talented team of designers!