Under the Surface: A Leadership Journey  
  A new leadership blog in 2015 by Mark Kenny about changing how we think about leadership development and the under the surface issues that truly inhibit performance.  

Main | February 2015 »

2 items from January 2015


Develop Leaders Differently?

IStock_000000831854_webU.S. companies spend almost $14 billion a year on leadership development, according to McKinsey and Deloitte.  Yet most top executives still rank leadership development as their top concern.  Does a disconnect exist between current leadership training methodologies and resulting outcomes that are actually visible from the C-Suite?

I have wrestled with that question for some time.  While I cannot articulate a complete solution in a short blog post, there is a model I have come across that provides some food for thought to expand our thinking about leadership development.  This comes from the world of therapy and Ed Jacob’s book Impact Therapy.  The two worlds have a similar objective: to have an impact on behavior by changing how a person thinks (their “self-talk”).  It provides a five-point foundation to increase our impact on changing behavior.  Keep your own leadership development initiatives in mind as you read through them.

The model is based on 5 “T’s”:


You must have substantive theory behind the development effort.  This is not some wishy-washy experience or program.  There is solid content and material undergirding it.  From my perspective, this is the easy part because there are a number of great leadership programs out there that already have solid underpinnings.


Theory does no good if it does not challenge how a leader thinks.  You cannot change behavior unless you address how a leader thinks about particular situations.  Leadership development must make leaders uncomfortable and challenge them to think differently…if anything is going to change.


I find this to be a difficult element to incorporate well.  We must have a sense for providing the right experiences at the right time in a leader’s development.  We must know when to speed up and slow down.  We must decipher a leader’s stage of change in order to time the right experiences.


This is easy and hard at the same time.  It’s easy because we tend to be more comfortable with this element.  Many programs involve teaching something to leaders.  It’s hard because it takes skill to teach the right tools and concepts to leaders in a way that will be understood and received.


Training refers to actually developing a particular skill in a leader by having them practice that skill.  If you are training me to be an airline pilot, at some point I have to get in the airplane.  Preferably, I get in the airplane to develop my piloting skills before you ask me to go out and carry your family on its next vacation.  What experiences and opportunities can you provide that will help leaders exercise and develop a particular leadership skill?

Put it together

All five of these work together.  It does no good to have great theory and teaching if there is no opportunity for the leader to put it into practice and really develop what was taught (train).  That is like someone who takes a golf lesson but never practices.  Likewise, it does no good for the leader to actively develop and practice a skill if they don’t have the proper instruction and foundation.  That is like a golf player that continually practices an improper golf swing.

Take a look at your own leadership development initiatives.  Rate them on a 1-5 scale (1 being poor and 5 being excellent) on how well you incorporate each of these elements.  Ask some of your leaders.  For those elements on which you scored yourself poorly, ask yourself how you could better incorporate them into your initiative.

This is not easy.  But let’s work together to develop leaders more effectively and have a greater impact on our organizations and the lives of the people in them.




Could This One Thing Be The Root Cause Of Your Group's Performance Problem?

Fish_Tank_SmallThis weekend I bought and installed a fish tank for my office (with a really cool “sunken” submarine no less).  It’s a great leadership reminder to always consider what’s “under the surface.”  There are not yet fish in the tank because the water chemistry must be just right before fish can thrive in it.  That takes time and attention.

It’s the same at every organization: it’s what’s under the surface that determines how well people thrive and perform.

Fear: A Significant Element that Affects “Under the Surface” Chemistry

The United States is the most anxious nation in the world and jobs are the leading cause of stress for adults.  This directly affects performance, team chemistry, culture, and the quality of our work.  Address the fear in your people and you just may be hitting the root cause of your performance problem.

Why We Experience Fear

Early in my professional career, I experienced anxiety symptoms, including a pounding heart.  To this day I’m not sure why.  Psychology tells us that we feel fear when our sense of security, safety, or value is threatened – even when it’s not a real threat.  In the workplace, this could mean:

  • Our job feels threatened
  • Our opinion or viewpoint is not valued
  • Our boss doesn’t like us
  • Leadership doesn’t understand what we are really doing
  • Poor financial results
  • An upcoming restructuring

Addressing Fear Personally

Our natural response is to avoid fear altogether.  However, psychology tells us this deepens it and leaves us with a sense of failure.  On the contrary, the way to address our fear is through “habituation.”  In other words, we have to go “through it” until our nervous system becomes accustomed to it and is no longer aroused by the experience.  The way to overcome a fear of flying is to fly.  The way to overcome a fear of spiders is to handle spiders (ah…some fears may not be worth overcoming).

If we take that to a workplace context:

  • If you experience anxiety talking with executives, you have to talk with executives.
  • If you experience anxiety delivering difficult messages, you have to deliver difficult messages.

Helpful lifestyle actions include regular exercise (this has been huge for me), sleeping more, eating better, getting financially sound, and developing a spiritual foundation.

Organizational Symptoms

Symptoms of fear in a team or organization include:

  • People are looking out for #1
  • People don’t speak their mind or what they really believe
  • People are more concerned about appearances than the quality of their work
  • There are lots of policies and rules (because there is little trust)
  • There are no consensus-building conversations

Addressing Fear as a Leader

There are three things a leader can do to proactively reduce the fear in their team and organization:

  • Become a truth-seeker: seek out what people really feel and believe.  Don’t just hear what people think you want to hear.  Uncover the unsaid in a healthy way.
  • Communicate clearly: people naturally feel threatened by what they don’t know.
  • Reduce the rules: I’m a procedure / process person, but if you’ve gone overboard, scale them back to demonstrate trust in your people.

Fear is epidemic in today’s organizations.  Leaders must learn how to address it if they want to touch what is likely the root cause of many performance problems.

How have you addressed fear in your own life or in your own organization?