How to Be Exceptional: Drive Leadership Success By Magnifying Your Strengths Hardcover – Aug 7 2012
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From the Back Cover
"We have moved from a focus on fixing leadership weaknesses all the way over to a focus on building strengths. Without question, it is the most profound change in this realm to occur in the past 50 years." -- John Zenger and Joseph Folkman, from the book
You run a business department, a division, or an entire company. Everything is going smoothly, everyone respects your abilities, and no one complains about you. You are a good, talented business leader.
But are you exceptional? Because in these difficult business times, true success requires nothing less.
From the leadership gurus of Zenger Folkman, How to Be Exceptional provides a revolutionary approach to leadership development. Instead of focusing on your weaknesses and how to overcome them, focus on your strengths--and learn how to magnify them.
How to Be Exceptional explains how to:
- Pinpoint your best leadership traits and choose the right development target for yourself
- Use feedback and action-learning on the job to elevate your strengths
- Apply Zenger Folkman's revolutionary "cross-training" method to escalate your leadership competencies into the top 90th percentile
- Ensure that your fully developed strengths are sustainable by building follow-through into your development plan
When you magnify your leadership competencies to the level of exceptional, employee engagement increases, productivity rises, and profitability soars. Learn how to make your business and career dreams a reality.
About the Author
Joseph R. Folkman, Ph.D., is president of Zenger Folkman. He is an authoritative voice on the subject of creating and using employee surveys to create organizational change and 360- degree feedback assessment for individual development. Folkman is the author of three books: Turning Feedback into Change, Making Feedback Work, and Employee Surveys That Make a Difference.
John H. Zenger, D.B.A., is CEO of Zenger Folkman, a firm that helps organizations and individuals improve leadership effectiveness that, in turn, drives business results. These results include increasing employee engagement, retention, productivity, and bottom-line profitability. He is a member of the HRD Hall of Fame and has authored or coauthored eight books and 50 articles on leadership, productivity, and teams.
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Organizations with best leaders have the following in common:
1. They select the right people as leaders.
2. Talent management processes have clear set of desirable leadership competencies.
3. Senior executives believe that a significant part the leader's job is to develop their direct reports.
4. The bar for effective leadership is set high. The expectation was that the leaders needed to be outstanding, and not merely adequate or good, and that everyone, regardless of position or level in the organization, could improve.
5. They achieve great success in developing future executives by giving them demanding assignments. A favorite has been an overseas assignment in which an executive became a country manager and had all the functions of the business reporting to him or her.
Quotes from the book:
1. Leaders are made.
2. Fixing weaknesses never made anyone exceptional.
3. What made a leader great was the presence of strengths, not the absence of weaknesses.
4. Great leaders did a few things exceptionally well.
5. People see the best in one another when they share dreams and when they are connected.
6. There is no learning without action.
Key points to remember:
1. People with fatal flaws should to immediately take steps to fix them as addressing a fatal flaw can have a substantial positive impact on how these people are perceived.
2. Who is the best person to determine your effectiveness at dealing with others? Other people
3. Leaders with profound weaknesses would have direct reports with the same weaknesses. This phenomenon occurred more frequently than random chance would dictate, and we called it "the shadow of the leader."
4. Real coaching is rare, but when the skill is mastered, it can have a substantial impact on the learning of others.
5. Because competencies are so highly interconnected, the fact that the individual is doing something has high odds of producing a favorable outcome.
6. If a leader receives feedback and makes an effort to improve, others will be impressed.
7. Informal and casual learning is a major source of knowledge and skill acquisition.
8. Formal and informal coaching received from your boss, peers, or external coach is an important source of development.
Word of Caution for the critics:
1. Feedback does not always lead to change.
2. Comparison to norms is not helpful; it just makes people feel bad.
3. People are given too much information. They cannot digest it all.
4. We should tell people what and how to change;
5. Data from 360s should be used for promotions and future assignments.
6. People don't always put down what they really think.
7. Some employees use this as an opportunity to unload on their boss, as there is no accountability for what people say.
The need for highly effective leadership is clear. The question is: how do you develop great leaders?
The first question the authors answer is: should you work on correcting weaknesses or developing strengths. At one time the general consensus was that to improve as a leader, you need to eliminate or at least improve your weaknesses. The authors do not believe this approach yields the best results. Their findings are that you gain much more by improving your key competencies than working on your weaknesses. They make one important exception to that advice. If you have what they call fatal flaw, then you must absolutely correct/improve that. A fatal flaw is defined "as a behavior or trait that has a devastating negative impact on a person's overall performance."
Most of the book is centered around how to improve/develop on your strengths. The first step is to understand your strengths. While most people think they know and understand their own strengths and weaknesses, the authors point out that we are generally not a very good judge of our own strengths and weaknesses. While there are certain tests which will give us additional insight, we are still evaluating ourselves. We simply do not have the ability to take an objective look at ourselves. So the authors strongly recommend 360 degree feedback surveys as a starting point for identifying your strengths and weaknesses.
Once you have identified the strengths you need to develop, the authors provide guidelines for how to build on and sustain the strengths.
The information in the book is based on extensive research by the authors. There are plenty of examples of their research presented throughout the book, generally with graphs/charts to reinforce the concepts.
For me the big takeaway from the book is this. It is much better to work on your strengths than your weaknesses. If you have a fatal flaw, you absolutely need to work on that until it is acceptable. You cannot adequately assess your strengths or weaknesses - you need to add some objectivity to the process. The authors recommend 360 degree feedback as the best way to identify your strengths and weaknesses.
The presentation is somewhat like research paper and some people may not find this the easiest way to process the information. There is some very good information in this book and it will certainly benefit most leaders. The authors make a very compelling case for becoming an exceptional leader by identifying and magnifying your strengths.
I was provided a review copy of this book.
We're also at the intersection of powerful and revolutionary research emerging from the new movements of Emotional Intelligence, Positive Psychology, Appreciative Inquiry, and Strengths. These emerging fields are scientifically -- and conclusively -- showing that we can only flourish by moving away from focusing on what's wrong, performance gaps, and weaknesses. The evidence for what needs to change and why is growing every day. But there's been a huge vacuum around how to apply these findings to leadership development.
The opening reviews and quotations in the front of How to Be Exceptional tells the reader he or she is holding a revolutionary leadership book with a radical new approach. Award-winning development professionals and senior executives from organizations like Yale University, General Mills, Boeing, Symantec, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Hilton, Transat, Marathon Oil, General Motors, Invesco, and Elsevier laud the book as:"the next evolution in focusing on strengths,""the best book on professional development in decades,""cuts through the clutter," "practical how-to realities of leadership improvement,""simple, concrete, scientifically validated model,""invaluable to my organization," "breakthrough milestone,""actionable advice,"and "innovative methodology."
The Introduction begins with this declaration:"Like a gigantic pendulum swinging, there has been a dramatic shift in the world of leadership development. We have moved from a focus on fixing weaknesses all the way over to a focus on building strengths. Without question, it is the most profound change in this realm to occur in the past 50 years."
And it's about time!
Parts One and Two of How to Be Exceptional are built around "What Leaders Can Learn From their Strengths" and "How Exceptional Strengths Are Developed." A third "Special Considerations" part discusses building strengths with individual or frontline staff, when to fix weaknesses or Fatal Flaws, addressing the misconception that strengths can be taken too far, vital keys to effective 360 multi-rater tools, are leaders made or born, and a brief history of the strengths movement.
Parts One and Two are the core of this book. They start with an outline of the powerful research behind Zenger Folkman's groundbreaking strengths-based leadership assessment, development, and sustainable implementation system. Their research is built on a massive database that now contains 300,000 responses from managers, peers, and direct reports who completed 360 feedback surveys across leadership 16 competencies on over 35,000 leaders.
The aggregated leadership effectiveness scores were then correlated with organization performance data. The differences are stunning! For example, the differences between the weakest and strongest leaders are 4 - 6 times higher profits, 6 times higher sales revenues, 10 - 20 times higher levels of employee engagement, 3 - 4 times reduction in employees thinking about quitting, 50% fewer employees that do leave, double the satisfaction with pay and job security, 4 - 5 times more employees "willing to go the extra mile," and 1.5 times higher customer satisfaction ratings. Now there's hard evidence for "soft" skills!
What's especially remarkable is how obtainable extraordinary leadership is proving to be. A leader needs to develop just three existing strengths out of sixteen competencies to catapult his or her leadership effectiveness from the 34th to the 80th percentile! Zenger Folkman's deep research shows very clearly that it's the presence of strengths -- not the absence of weaknesses -- that defines highly effective leaders. Building strengths is proving to be the only way to move from an average or ordinary leader to extraordinary or exceptional.
In a series of pre and post studies Zenger Folkman looked at the impact of leaders choosing to fix weaknesses versus building on existing strengths. 12 to 18 months later the leaders who magnified their existing strengths showed two - three times more improvement in leadership effectiveness than leaders who worked on fixing their weaknesses.
How to Be Exceptional provides the succinct, practical, how-to roadmap we so badly need to navigate the inspiring and tremendously fulfilling territory of strengths-based leadership. This guide book outlines a step-by-step method for "driving leadership success by magnifying your strengths." For weary leaders feeling beat up by engagement surveys, performance reviews, 360 and other feedback tools highlighting their deficiencies and suffering change fatigue, this book couldn't come at a better time.
In my 35 plus years of studying, applying, writing about, and providing leadership development programs and services, Zenger Folkman's approaches are a much needed revolution. The authors close with this modest and understated summary of their contributions to this critical movement:
"We believe that our contributions to this collection of massive granite blocks that make up the current foundation of the strengths movement are the following:
1. A more rigorous analysis of the impact of strengths on business outcomes. This had not been the focus of the pioneers ...
2. Studies confirming that strengths can be developed, in contrast to those who believe that they are somewhat fixed or static.
3. Research that confirms that developing strengths is far more successful than developing weaknesses.
4. Research showing that the approach one uses to build strengths is radically different from that used to fix weaknesses. Utilizing a nonlinear approach and companion competencies makes it possible for people to move from good performance to great."
The book begins by explaining the authors' research findings which demonstrate relationships between leadership effectiveness and employee satisfaction and engagement, and between leadership effectiveness and customer satisfaction. The authors then go on to explain that the strongest leaders possess three or more significant strengths, even if they also have some weaknesses. Provided that the weaknesses are not fatal flaws, it is the leader's strengths and not his or her weaknesses that define the leader's leadership effectiveness.
The authors recommend that a leader start by undergoing a 360-degree assessment to measure leadership strengths and weaknesses, as this is more reliable that self-assessment. If the assessment identifies "fatal flaws", being scores in the bottom 10 percent for important characteristics, the leader should start by working on those flaws; otherwise, the leader should work on enhancing his or her strengths with the aim of becoming exceptional.
In general I found the authors' arguments persuasive. The book does not provide a description of their research methodology, the charts demonstrating their findings are suspiciously linear, and it does seem doubtful that subjectively perceived leadership characteristics can be measured with precision; but on the whole there does appear to be sufficient evidence to demonstrate that leadership characteristics can be improved, strengths should get more attention than weaknesses, and strengths can be improved by working on complementary characteristics.
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