decade resolutions

Resolutions for the new decade

I know, I know – New Year’s resolutions are supposedly a waste of time. Each year we start out with great intentions, but by February they’re usually forgotten. And yet, each year I think about the changes I would like to make in my life and I start again on my self-improvement journey.

Of course, this new year is especially momentous because it is also a start of a new decade. (Once again, I know – the new decade doesn’t technically start until January 2021. But I don’t care – it feels new when that third digit flips over.) A friend recently sent me a post from Steve McClatchy’s email campaign about making new decade resolutions.

work life balance

The Illusion of Work-Life Balance

It’s true – great minds think alike! As many of you know, I’ve been working on the concept of “curating your life,” the idea that instead of thinking about balance as if we’re circus acrobats, we need to think about our lives as if we’re museum curators. What’s my exhibit about? What goes in and what gets excluded? Is it time to update my exhibit? My book on this topic, cleverly titled Curating Your Life, will be coming out in April 2020.

So I was fascinated to read a recent post by James Clear, “The Four Burners Theory: The Downside of Work-Life Balance.” His theory proposes that your life is a stove with four burners: family, friends, health, and work. So far so good – most of us would agree with that. But here’s the kicker – the theory also says that to be outstanding you have to turn off one burner, and to become really great you have to turn off two. 

winning the war on talent

Winning the war for talent — a new strategy for a new decade

In my over 15 years as a leadership coach and consultant, concern about “winning the war for talent” has been a constant. Except in the depths of the 2008-2009 recession, business leaders have been concerned about how to identify, attract, and retain top talent.

Now at the beginning of a new decade, when employment figures are at a high, high-potential employees have plenty of options to choose from. The war for talent is a hot topic once again.

Winning the war for talent starts with clear assessment on both sides

The first step in winning the war is identifying top candidates for open roles. That means clearly defining the skills and abilities that each role requires. It means having an excellent process for finding candidates, including broadening the scope of your search to ensure that highly qualified, diverse candidates are on your roster. And winning also requires a robust, objective assessment process to determine which candidates are most likely to succeed and excel in each role.

Of course, while the employer is sizing up potential hires, the candidates are also evaluating the employer. Top candidates will look at traditional measures like salary, benefits, and vacation. In addition, they will be assessing the workplace culture, opportunities for advancement, and the degree to which the workplace is attuned to the needs of individual employees.

With luck, the employer and the candidate will make a good match. But the war for talent doesn’t end there. It’s important to set new hires up for success and win their loyalty through a well-designed onboarding program. It is shocking to me how much money businesses will spend on the search process and then neglect the equally important integration of new employees.

How to retain the talent you fought to win

This December, I was pleased to facilitate a thoughtful and lively conversation at the Executives’ Club of Chicago on talent retention best practices. The discussion featured 12 experts, most of whom were senior leaders in human capital. Here are the top takeaways:

Onboarding talent

  1. In a fast-growth company, onboard new employees quickly so they can hit the ground running.
  2. When a company has multiple locations, make sure the onboarding process is consistent across different offices. Employees make comparisons and it looks bad if new employees at one location are getting more attention than at others.
  3. Communicate to new people, “OMG, we are so glad you are here!” I still remember when one new boss said to all of us, “You are the cream of the crop and we are thrilled to have you here.” It was profoundly motivating and I have never forgotten it.
  4. Arrange conversations, both formal and informal, between senior leaders and new hires.
  5. Create a buddy system that pairs new hires with seasoned employees.
  6. Have things ready for new people, so their arrival is seamless. It will reduce stress and make a great first impression.
  7. Remember that onboarding takes more than 90 days, especially for senior roles. When I work with companies to help them integrate new executives, we create a year-long integration program. It is often the second 90 days that determine whether the leader will succeed or not. 

Retaining top talent

  1. Gather and share client feedback. It is gratifying to hear that a client has praised your work.
  2. Remember and mark people’s birthdays and anniversaries.
  3. If you want to retain top talent for a long time, recognize that their needs for scheduling will probably change over the years. Offer flexibility.
  4. Foster feedback across teams.
  5. Provide exposure to senior leaders and other teams for highly-talented employees. It’s a great way to assess their abilities to grow and keep them motivated.
  6. Promote and pay people on the basis of results.
  7. In Patrick Lencioni’s book, The Three Signs of a Miserable Job, he identifies three additional keys to keeping employees engaged, regardless of their rank in the company:
  8. My boss knows who I am as a person.
  9. I understand how my job contributes to the success of the organization.
  10. I have a clear way to measure how well I am performing.

Lencioni’s recommendations are for all employees, but they are especially important for top talent.

I still sometimes meet old-school business leaders whose attitude is that their employees should just be grateful to have a job. These leaders are out of date and they’re losing the war for talent. If you want to attract and retain the best people (and who doesn’t?), you could do worse than to adopt the recommendations from my roundtable of human resource leaders.  

If you’d like to know more about how to win top talent and keep them — contact us at


Ok, Mentern: How to mend the generational work divide

“OK, Boomer.” This sarcastic phrase recently blazed across the popular culture and then vanished just as quickly. It captured the annoyance and disrespect that some younger people feel towards members of the “Baby Boomer” generation – that massive cohort of people born between 1946 and 1964.  We really are a problem – and have been since we were young children.

top executive coach

What the world’s top executive coach can teach us about our roles

The top executive coach isn’t for hire. That’s because it’s not who you think.  According to the Wall Street Journal (Sunday, Nov 16-17, p B2), it’s Queen Elizabeth. In her 67 years on the throne, she has met weekly with 14 prime ministers. These meetings are absolutely confidential. The queen is not allowed to comment publicly on matters of state, but that does not prevent her from offering her views in private. According to her own reflections and a few comments from prime ministers, she focuses more on asking questions and providing a safe space for these leaders to talk about the challenges they are facing. She has massive knowledge of both world history and current events, which enables her to provide a perspective both deep and broad.

micromanaging boss characteristics

8 micromanaging boss characteristics that endanger your business

Almost everyone can recognize micromanaging boss characteristics from a mile away — and most of us have worked for one. This is the boss who delegates work to you and then re-does everything you do, or has you revise it over and over again, usually to meet some unclear standard. Micromanagers have a terrible reputation in the business world. But why? What’s so awful about caring about the details and making sure they are right?

There are indeed some fields of work in which micromanagement is essential. For example, I want my brain surgeon to be a micromanager — a perfectionist who is obsessed with every detail of his or her own work and that of the team. But in most fields, micromanagement is a huge problem, for the following reasons:

build mentor mentee relationship

Build a strong mentor-mentee relationship with these tips

Want to accelerate your career? Start by building a mentor-mentee relationship. Find a good mentor – someone who has knowledge and experience to help you grow, who is willing to spend time with you and give you honest feedback, and who is invested in you and your success. Often, but not always, mentors are leaders in your own workplace. 

A mentor is not the same as a coach. Coaches are professional helpers who usually work with a variety of leaders across different companies and industries. We often use psychological assessment tools to help our clients understand themselves, and we charge for our services. Mentors offer their support and expertise for free. 

trends in executive coaching

The executive coaching trends shaping the future of leadership

Executive coaching trends may change, but as in psychology, change happens slowly. Back in 1957 Carl Rogers wrote a brilliant article on the necessary and sufficient conditions for therapeutic change. He proposed that three elements were necessary for a helping relationship to produce positive changes: 

  1. Empathy
  2. Genuineness
  3. Unconditional positive regard 

If you ever took a Psychology 101 course, you’ve probably heard about these conditions before. In the 62 years since Rogers’ article was published, a lot of research has been done on his proposition. I wrote a review of that research in the mid-70’s and concluded then that the data suggested that these conditions were necessary but not sufficient for creating change —other factors are also required. Still,  many psychologists today, including myself, remain convinced that Rogers’ conditions are essential for driving change. 

bad female boss

The “bad” female boss — and how to defeat the myth

“Samantha” was a highly experienced, intelligent, and savvy team leader I happened to work with years ago. She had a deep understanding of the organization, and a sparkly personality that was fun at social gatherings. Sounds good, right? But, yikes, she was one of the worst bosses I ever worked for, and my introduction to the bad female boss. 

She played favorites: She clearly liked working with men more than with women. She undermined the women who worked for her. She gave us meaningless tasks. She was extremely defensive. Criticize her once and you were on her bad list forever. 

bias test

The Bias Test: How Harvard’s Project Implicit predicts tolerance

Nobody likes to believe they are prejudiced, even if a bias test tells them they are. Many people deny that they hold racist or sexist attitudes, or that they discriminate against certain groups of people. But both anecdotal and scientific evidence suggests that a great many of us do, in fact, hold negative stereotypes of groups who are different from us.

So how can we find out how prejudiced people are, if we often aren’t aware of our own biases? 

how to measure business success

How to measure business success by social impact, not stock price

When I was in business school in the early 2000s, there was no question of how to measure business success — and little if any talk of social impact. The most powerful idea I learned in my first year was that the sole purpose of a corporation is to make money for the shareholders. 

You have to understand that for me, with my background as a left-leaning clinical psychologist, this proposition was shocking. But I recognized that it was fundamental to how most businesses and business leaders operated.

So today, I’m flabbergasted. On August 19, the elite group of U.S. CEOs that form the Business Roundtable announced that big corporations should no longer focus exclusively on maximizing profits for their shareholders. Jamie Dimon, the chair of the Business Roundtable and CEO of JPMorgan Chase, presented a statement that business leaders should focus on delivering value to all their stakeholders — to customers, employees, suppliers, and local communities, as well as shareholders.

flow and happiness

Flow and Happiness — How to enter the state of your best work

When you lock into a state of Flow and happiness, you probably don’t know it. Usually, it happens when you’re so totally absorbed in a task that you lose track of time. Your attention is so focused that you don’t notice you’re hungry or your neck is crinked or someone is trying to talk to you. And when you finally come up for air you may feel a little disoriented, as if you’ve been somewhere far away.

I’ve been experiencing this a lot lately as I work on my first book, but the sensation was first described and labeled as “Flow” by prominent psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in the 1970s. It has become an influential concept in psychology, business, sports, and the arts, sometimes labeled as being “in the zone” or “in the groove.” Flow is an intensely pleasurable state, characterized by clear goals, powerful concentration, immediate and accurate feedback, and an ideal balance between your level of skill and the demands of the task.  

The Flow state is a compelling concept because so many of us have experienced it. But as a psychological construct it has two problems. First, how can you measure it? And second, is it actually connected to creativity and productivity?