Bonding With a Leader

Leadership coaches tell leaders to improve their emotional intelligence (“EQ”). In fact, many say it is the single most important thing a leader can do to increase his or her effectiveness. Building relationships is the core of EQ, and since relationships are a two-way street, everyone contributes.

Teams can change in desired ways, but again, without purposeful desire, the changes may be slow or result in unwanted consequences.[i]

Bonding With a Leader
Bonding With a Leader

A leader has to get to know his or her employees better. Hopefully, this leads to an opportunity for you (as an employee) to share things about yourself: insights, personal stories, values, and a sense of humor. The best advice is to be ready because an interaction might occur at any time: in an elevator, the lunchroom, or a conference room. Avoid clamming up because you do not want to say something wrong, yet acknowledge the fear so you show due respect. Try being spontaneous, though be careful what you say because it can be sticky.

And just as important, it is an opportunity for you to learn about the leader; it is not all about you. If you get a chance, ask an open-ended question that prompts him or her to share a personal experience. A leader’s story might teach a lesson, establish trust, and/or simply make you laugh.

On a professional level, you want to learn a leader’s methods (practiced ways of applying skills) and get candid feedback. Volunteer to ‘reverse mentor’. Teach new technologies or social media applications where you may have more experience and a different perspective; become a valuable resource, beyond simply performing your duties.

When I was an early career professional, I used to coach my company’s sports teams. I remember a very well-liked leader played goalie for one of our soccer games. He was not much of a soccer player, but showed up on a rainy Saturday morning for us – no other reason. By the end of the game, he was covered in mud from making (or trying to make) saves. It was a thrill having him play with us. His simple participation cemented a bond with everyone on the team that day. Everyone remembers the game and, moreover, had an easy ‘ice-breaker’ to strike a conversation with him in the hall or lunchroom.

From a leader’s perspective, you make great strides in building relationships by doing things purely for the sake of the team. From an employee’s perspective, participating in events outside the confines of the office – such as company sport’s teams, happy hours, etc. – are excellent opportunities to get to know coworkers and leaders on a personal level.

The mood of a leader is contagious. It involves both emotional and social contagion. There are emotional triggers in our brain that fire immediately during an interaction; there is nothing we can do to prevent a physical reaction, like a rush of euphoria or discomforting ‘pit’ in our stomach. However, it is important to understand when we are flooded with emotions so we can react to them and improve our ability to learn. We might ask ourselves. Was my excitement from this presentation justified? Did I resonate with the leader? Did I resonate with the idea? Emotions can shut off clarity in our thoughts.

I remember an exercise in a leadership course (business school) where we broke up into teams and gave presentations with the objective of influencing an audience (the rest of the class). The winner was not a team with the most elegant solution, but rather the one generating the most buzz –a mediocre solution presented beautifully; a scenario that plays out every semester in this class exercise. Emotions influence our short-term decision-making.

Everyone benefits in improving their emotional intelligence. It affects all areas of our life, including: communications, career development, relationships, and happiness. In a way, EQ measures wisdom and IQ measures intelligence. A higher EQ is a sign of maturity and can be improved upon while you are pretty much stuck with your IQ.


It’s Up To You

It is up to you regarding career development. The quicker you realize this, the quicker you are on a career path towards happiness and success. Moreover, you become an active participant and therefore increase the effectiveness of what you are trying to accomplish; for example, you show up to a performance review well versed on what you want to learn from it (rather than just attending it as a formality). This process of taking self-ownership and accountability plays out in many facets of career development: lifelong learning, building skills, career planning, and pulling feedback.

Up To You
Up To You

The traditional education model has changed. Before you went to college for four years to ‘become educated’ and then were employed for the rest of your life. However, due to the rapid adoption of new technologies, you are expected to participate in lifelong learning. It is up to you to for a self-guided education – a combination of taking courses, following influencers, and reading articles, blogs, and books. Do not depend on college administrators, professors, and parents to tell you what degree to major in and what courses you should take.

If you are employed, it is up to you to build and validate your skills. Tap into your employer’s resources by getting them to fund courses and certifications, provide mentoring, advise on making advancements, and perform 360 interviews and assessments. So if any of these things are not part of their standard routine, consider trying to get them to make it part of their routine (at least with you). However, do not depend on the employer to guide and make decisions regarding your career. (In A Skills-Based Approach to Developing a Career, I discuss what things you should be doing during the building and validating stages of developing a skill set. Check out the website:

Do not leave your destiny into the hands of your employer. Take a pro-active approach to your career and create opportunities for yourself.[i]

Feedback is a critical component of online personal branding. The key is to pull feedback to you.[ii] It is up to you to get others – supervisors, managers, peers, etc. – to give you feedback and make the feedback as useful as possible.

Career planning is only effective when you are self-aware.  It is up to you to learn more about your core-competencies, passions, and values through self-reflection, testing (personality, strengths, and interests tests), and interviewing those who know you best. Hopefully, parents and professors expose you to subjects and disciplines that might interest you (but do not go as far as telling you what career to pursue). It is up to you to decide on your career pursuit.

There is a lot of discussions regarding what colleges should do to get their graduates a job and employers should do to develop their employees’ careers. No question these two influencers have the resources, knowledge, and experience to make significant contributions for their students and workers, respectively. And they should be obligated to do so (especially with colleges because getting a job might be considered part of a college education ROI). Still, I think the biggest gains in job placement and career success come from self –aware, – knowledgeable, and –driven professionals. Now more than ever, we have the resources in place with online learning platforms for persons to take control of their education. For many, it is a matter of maturity; it is up to you.

Thoughts for further discussion regarding education:

  • Low-income students have a disadvantage because many have to work while they are full-time students (in high school and college). Can we provide resources (living expenses) so students are fully dedicated towards learning (and their future can be up to them)?
  • In Academically Adrift, the authors provide evidence that students are not learning much in college. In a follow-up study, a third of the students report “studying less than five hours a week.”[iii] Some are distracted by jobs and/or social activities and some simply lack motivation. Should colleges target maturity rather than teaching issues?


[ii] Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen. Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well. Penguin (2014, New York).

Original Image © Depositphoto/ olly18 #7626816



Where is Technology Taking Us?

For better or worse, technology is going to significantly transform our lives in the next decade. Pew Research Center conducted a survey, Digital Life in 2025: AI, Robotics, and the Future of Jobs, where they canvassed leading thinkers with open-ended questions about job displacement, education, and social policy due to new technology. Here are some of their insights.

The education system is not well positioned to transform itself to help shape graduates who can ‘race against the machines’.  – Bryan Alexander, technology consultant

One common argument made by the respondents is that our current education system is not adequately preparing students for our technology laden future. The usefulness of rote-memorization, a staple in early education, is questionable for a few reasons. First, just about all content ever created is accessible online at our fingertips whenever we need it. Therefore, rather than being taught to memorize information, students should be taught skills to find and synthesize information and higher order skills like storytelling, judging, decision-making, and problem solving. (I am hopeful that Common Core addresses some of these issues in current and future iterations of the standards.) Second, there will be devices to augment our ability to remember things – something that acts like a hard drive. Google glasses is an example of a peripheral technology device meant to boost our perceptions in everyday life. Let’s teach students to harness new technologies, not memorizing things.

Creating, coding, designing, engineering, and analyzing skills will be highly coveted in future careers. Our education system should introduce STEM to students at an earlier stage, and provide the necessary resources for children who want to pursue a related career. For example, provide an introductory coding and engineering class before high school and then classes and programs throughout high school.

Most of the respondents agree there will be displacement of workers, but have varying opinions on how it effects the overall job market. Forty-eight of the experts argue displacement will have serious negative consequences. It will polarize the upper and lower classes by hollowing out the middle class. There will be underemployment, which is something we currently experience with early career professionals. But they also predict a new, scarier phenomenon: unemployable workers – professionals who cannot build the skills needed to become employed. Contrarily, the other fifty-two percent of the experts argue enough new jobs will be created to compensate for the lost jobs.

Services that are currently very expensive are being targeted for automation. In the medical field, machines are already starting to replace radiologists and anesthesiologist. Hopefully, these advancements help lower healthcare costs. One of the respondents is a lawyer who says computers are taking over supporting roles in the legal profession (researchers, document processors, etc.).

Everything that can be automated will be automated. – Robert Cannon, law and internet policy expert

Machines and automation may boost productivity enough so we have shorter workdays.

The work week has fallen from 70 hours a week to about 37 hours now, and I expect that it will continue to fall – Hal Varian, chief economist for Google

Moreover, they will reduce the time we spend doing mundane, routine chores: laundry, grocery shopping, driving, and house cleaning. This would allow for us to spend time being more creative and productive (why many of the big IT companies provide these perks to their workers).

Robots will assist humans in tasks thus allowing humans to use their intelligence in new ways, freeing us up from the menial tasks – Tiffany Shlain, filmmaker

Being a technologist, I am optimistic we can find ways to embrace AI and robotics. We need to find ways to share productivity gains achieved from automation with the lower and middle classes. I think not having universal access to a quality education and new technologies would be the biggest contributors to the bifurcation of the classes, so I have two remedies. Provide a free K-12 and higher education. With breakthroughs in online learning, this is possible because there are no real marginal cost in adding students. I am not suggesting revolutionizing the whole higher education system, but rather making sure there is an ‘education safety net’ for those who need it. Make sure some of the new technology gets in the hands of the general public. (Currently some schools in underprivileged areas loan tablets and laptops to their students, so they have access to the Internet and the latest apps. This is a good start.)  Also build an infrastructure that delivers high-speed Internet to everyone. Finally, we should continually expand the reach of innately ‘human jobs’ – those that require soft skills, empathy, judgment, and decision-making.

Skills Gap, Online Learning, Higher Education, Common Core, Millennials

This month I passed another milestone with this blog: a two-year anniversary. So I wanted to canvas some of the key concepts I covered this year (posts after June 2013).

First, I wrote a few blogs related to advancing the Skills-Based Approach methodology. The book was released in August and here is a blog post about the release: New Book: A Skills-Based Approach to Developing a Career

Second, there has been a whirlwind of press coverage about addressing ‘a skills gap’ in K-12 and higher education. Employers claim college graduates do not have the technical skills for jobs they are looking to fill. In response, the administration is pushing to increase STEM (“science, technology, engineering, and math”) bound students in K-12.

STEM Funnel
STEM Funnel

Third, online learning is growing rapidly for a few reasons. It is an effective tool for personalized learning and mastery, provides feedback loops to teachers and educators, and is a cost-effective way to reach the masses (demonstrate by the success of MOOCs). According to Clayton Christensen in Disrupting Class, by 2019 50% of all K-12 courses will be online.

Feedback Loops
Feedback Loops

Fourth,in a few blogs, I discuss the issues related to the escalating costs of higher education. There is going to be reform in the upcoming years to control rising student debt. It has a ‘snowball effect’ on young households’ investments, less can afford to buy houses and cars. Students are going to have alternative choices to a traditional college education, such as technical internships and online learning solutions. To control cost inflation, colleges will blend online and traditional learning channels.

Squeeze on Higher Education
Squeeze on Higher Education

Fifth, I advocate the whole concept of Common Core in K-12 along with the 45 states that have already adopted it; I dedicate a few blogs discussing the advantages of Common Core. I think is a powerful way to get teachers, administrator, politicians, and third-party organizations (such as online learning platform and game designers) in synch with a set of transparent learning expectations by subject and grade. The standards are posted on a publically accessible website for all interested parties to view. Currently, some parents and teachers are complaining about students underperforming; two states have recently dropped the standards. I think we have to be patient with the testing, and embrace all the benefits of Common Core – far beyond test results.

Common Core
Common Core

Sixth, millennials are the buzz. This upcoming generation is comprised of ‘digital natives’ and represent a large segment of the workforce (36 percent).  There is going to be a ‘tug of war’ with Millennials and Baby Boomers for influence in years to come (something Paul Taylor talks about in The Next America).


Seventh, I spend a couple of blogs talking about leadership. In this Information Age, there are going to be smaller, nimbler companies. More professionals will be required to take on leadership roles. There is also going to be an emphasis on building the team.

Finally, I have been working on an online personal branding concept, something I feel is a logical extension from the Skills-Based Approach methodology I shared last year. It is also closely intertwined with a personal website – a centerpiece of an online personal brand. To learn more about personal branding, buy the book Online Personal Brand: Skill Set, Aura, and Identity.



Getting to Know the Millennials

Marketers, technologists, educationists, politicians, and many others are trying to define the much hyped Millennial generation. Some of their generalizations include, Millennials are: digital natives, religiously unaffiliated, self-centered (perhaps by necessity), supportive of social welfare issues, better educated, demographically diverse, unmarried (and likely living with parents), and optimistic of their future. The Pew Research Center recently published a study called Millennials in Adulthood with some eyebrow raising statistics.


Millennials are digital natives, meaning they were raised with the prevalence of computers and devices, social media, video games, apps, and the Internet. Eighty-one percent on are on Facebook and have a median of 250 friends.

Technology has a major influence on education for a few reasons. First, online learning platforms make personalized and adaptive learning a reality. Second, information is easily accessible to all. (Personally, I think this is huge. I enjoy reading newspapers and journals online. I love searching whenever I confront a subject that interest me.) Third, discussion forums make feedback and social learning possible.

There are issues with technology and learning. Multitasking is a requirement for just about everything Millennials do, but clearly, it disrupts their ability to concentrate and become deeply engaged. Another potential problem is to take shortcuts in gathering information. Why read a respected publication when you can read a summary article? It is extremely easy to do and saves time and money. Finally, newspapers challenge us to think of important issues in the world and our community. Does social media – for many a replacement to news – generate the same kind of intrigue?

Despite being saddled with more student loan debt than any other previous generation and having little assurance social security will be there when they retire, Millennials are notably more optimistic than other generations. A whopping eighty-five percent say they are earning enough now or will in the future. (Significantly higher than any of the other generations).

Many from past generations paid off their student loans within a few years after graduating (the ratio of debt to annual salary was much lower and the cost of living was lower), so it was never really an issue. However, Millennials are confronted with lifelong debt. Where does the optimism come from?

I think it is a generational thing. Millennials are happy as long as they can pay their bills and are socially engaged; many are paying rent and living with parents. Student loans are simply another bill, and like a future mortgage on a home, something Millennials expect to pay for much of their lives. It is nothing more than an accepted reality, so why stress out about it.

Millennials are less religiously affiliated than other generations. Interestingly there is a trickle down effect, where each subsequent generation is less religiously affiliated than the previous one. Twenty-nine percent of Millennials are religiously unaffiliated (thirteen percent higher than the Boomers).

I think access to information enables younger generations to contemplate religion. For example, there is a series of videos on YouTube of Oxford lecturers debating the question on the existence of a God. Probably the only comparable experience from a previous generation is a Humanities course in college where exposure does not occur until someone is in their twenties.

Truth is most Millennials believe there is a God (eighty-six percent), though only fifty-eight percent say they are “absolutely certain” there is one. There are other issues for lack of religious affiliation like getting married and starting a family later in life.

Altogether, I think the biggest reason why Millennials are getting so much attention is because they are digital natives (and few experts accurately predicted how fast technology would influence our lives). Having access to vast amounts of information and being able to communicate instantly in social communities has and will have dramatic implications for generations to come. Biologists are studying the effects on the human brain. Educators are trying to understand the best ways to utilize technology for adaptive learning. Employers are desperately trying to keep up and hiring candidates with the necessary technical skills. The excitement is in trying to figure out where the Millennials are going to take us.

I suggest reading The Next America: Boomers, Millennials, and the Looming Generational Showdown if you want to read a thorough analysis on our current generations.

Original Image Copyright Fotolia #38579952, – silent_47

Hire Someone Oozing With Talent But Not A Team Player?

Should likeability be a factor when deciding to include someone on your team?  Nowadays there is so much emphasis in targeting individuals based on talent and skill. There is no denying talent significantly influences the success of your team. Here are some examples:

  • A lead programmer knows how to best architect an application or website. Doing it right the first time is so important, especially if it is the crux of your business.
  • A graphic designer creates something that is stunning and leaves a lasting impression on your company brand. It is doubtful two graphic designers ever produce the same product.
  • A leader juggles many responsibilities as he or she tries to synchronize the objectives of the company. Two leaders never take the same approach.

How does ‘likeability’ fit into the equation? Measuring ‘likeability’ is difficult because it is subjective and team dynamics are complex. Besides, you may work with someone you do not like but use good soft skills and learn to tolerate him or her.

One way to understand the functioning of the team is to sum the value of the product or service the team produces collectively. You can tinker with various team scenarios and compare the different outputs. As team members are added, the total value may increase or decrease; therefore, it is not solely dependent on talent.  A ‘star’ has the potential to make a huge contribution. Contrarily, a ‘sapper’ can do a lot of damage. In case the ‘total value’ does not capture the wellbeing of the team, I add another ‘total happiness’ index.

Value and Happiness
Value and Happiness

There is an article in the February 2014 Wired magazine about the CEO of Zappos who moved his company to Las Vegas. What is interesting is that he built not only the infrastructure of the company, but also a whole support community. He invested in entertainment, shopping, apartments, and restaurants and ended up revitalizing a whole downtown neighborhood. His motive is to nourish relationships between workers by pushing them to spend more time together afterhours – basically getting them to like each other. (How else do you explain having a fully stocked bus and providing free transportation to events across town on any given night?)

What makes this is a complicated issue (and probably why companies are willing to invest a lot towards talent) is one talented individual can fundamentally change the whole complexion of an organization whether or not he or she is liked. Think about the situation of Steve Jobs. He had the initial vision for Apple, and was crucial in making it a pioneer of personal computers – clearly has an abundance of talent. However, later on, he was let go and worked for another company. (It is hard to say if it had to do with ‘likeability’, nevertheless, it is clear he was at odds with management and not necessarily a team player. At least this was my interpretation of the situation based on the biographical film Jobs released in 2013.) Years later, Apple brought him back as an advisor and then CEO. He then led Apple to its legendary rise to the top of the industry.  Would you hire someone oozing with talent but not a team player?

Some conclusions:

  • Extreme talent is probably worth the investment. Of course the caveat is talented professionals should try to be ‘likeable’ (rather than ignoring it).
  • When two professionals have similar talent, it is worth considering ‘likeability’. Build a happy team.
  • An individual who disrupts team dynamics can do more harm than benefit. (Think of the ‘total value’ a team produces to understand the impact of an individual.)
  • Productive and happy teams have more longevity. Fulfilled team members are less likely to leave for other opportunities.
  • ‘Talent’ and ‘likeability’ are not completely independent of each other.
    • Invest in talent to create a thriving workplace and this might make a happy team– there is satisfaction in generating value.
    • Invest in getting team members to like each other. There is a positive vibe, and random interactions may spur innovativeness (something talked about in the Wired article).

A personal note:

For a previous employer, I coached all of our sports team. There was talk around the office about resurrecting a company softball team, so I started the co-ed, all-inclusive team – everyone from entry-level to senior management played on the team. The effect was huge: active participation, camaraderie, newsletters, nicknames, jokes, coffee talk, and so on. Later I added a soccer and basketball team. I think leaders should consider introducing meaningful, out of the office team building activities, such as sports teams. It breaks the rigidity and formalness of the workplace, and lots of times helps foster lasting friendships.

Power in Presenting a Skill Set

There is a benefit in presenting your skill set to not only recruiters and potential employers, but also an ‘internal network’ – co-workers and supervisors – and an ‘external network’ – partners and clients. As I talk about presenting a skill set, I want to clarify that there are many ways to present a skill. (Feel free to read more about them on the website: I strongly advocate utilizing skill sets because they represent your functional capabilities to everyone in your target audience. Skills are universally defined (for the most part) and portable across platforms and their competencies are measurable.

Power In Skill Sets
Power In Skill Sets

It is advantageous to have your skill set accessible to your co-workers – what you ‘bring to the table’. The biggest benefit comes when you work on a team, where everyone knows the skill set of each member. Moreover, the level of expertise and validations of the skills are also known. This greatly improves the team’s productivity in three ways. First, there is quick familiarity. Team members spend a few hours reviewing each other’s skill set so they have some idea of what each other’s contribution should be. Otherwise, without reviewing skill sets, it often takes weeks for teams to really get to know each other’s functional value. Second, it is an accurate portrayal. Skill assessments and validations that accompany the presentation of a skill set properly portray skill competencies. Unfortunately, the way teams function today is often ‘trial and error’. Third, it can help teams become more horizontal. An awareness of each other’s skill sets removes communication barriers, so members feel on more equal status. There may be less need to have a ‘formal leadership’ or direction.

When I was in business school, I remember Gallup provided our MBA class with their ‘Strengths Finder’ service – a survey, report, and seminar. You take an hour-long test and receive a report with a ranked list of your top 36 strengths, and in the seminar, a Gallup presenter discussed the results. My class was enthralled by the whole experience.  There were two big takeaways: no matter how well you know someone, it is almost impossible to identify all their strengths without an assessment; and by knowing your teammate’s strengths, you know how he or she makes the most impact. In addition, you may learn a teammate’s weaknesses which can be constructive with team dynamics.  I suggest taking the Gallup Strengths test and sharing the results with your team.

To present your skill set to co-workers, you should keep your skill set current in your LinkedIn profile and utilize a personal website. I suggest a personal website because it gives you more flexibility to share your skill set in different ways.

There is a lot of talk about the best way to conduct ‘performance reviews’ or ‘performance coaching’ or ‘mentoring’. Whatever the case, it should be a conversation based on your skill set and in the context of a Skill-Based Approach. Present your skill set to supervisors and talk about the fifteen to twenty skills on your personal website and/or LinkedIn profile (and soft skills that may not be included).

  • Talk about your short and long terms objectives since you started working.  How are the objectives materializing? Are you satisfied in your current position?
  • Discuss your progress in building the skills over the prior period. What projects did you work on? How are your soft skills with coworkers and clients? How did you perform on assessments?
  • Collaborate on a short-term plan for the upcoming year. Base it on the development of a skill set. What company resources do you need to build skills (i.e. training or online courses)?
  • Brainstorm on the validation of skills in the long-term. Are you going to need accreditation to move up in the company?

Presenting your skill set to your external network – clients and partners – can be useful in your current position.  Clients love to be reassured. Perhaps your company sold them on a product or service, but now it is time to sell them on you as you deliver on your company’s promise.  Sharing your skill set with competencies goes a long way in convincing them you can do the work. Partners are an extension of your team. So there are the same team benefits mentioned above. However, the difference when you work with partners is that you are usually the ambassador for your company – so include soft skills as part of your skill set.