Leadership Development – Grading a 14 Billion Dollar Investment

Many of you have heard me rail against so-called training methods that prove ineffective. Long story short, lots of training is a waste of time and money. At least that’s the way I see it.

The January 2014 issue of the McKinsey Quarterly contains an article that echos that sentiment. The article—’Why Leadership Development Programs Fail”– outlines four common mistakes that contribute to the leadership development failure.

One of the four mistakes referenced in the article has to do with ineffectively addressing an individual’s mind-set. In other words, most leadership development programs don’t deal with the root cause of behavior—namely the individual’s mind-set.

While the authors have a slightly different view of ‘mind-set’ than I do….the gist of our views is common enough not to quibble with.

In writing The Power of Professionalism I made a commitment to deal with the root causes of behavior—namely to identify the mind-sets held by trusted professionals. Get the focus on the right mind-sets and a lot of things (behaviorally, for the student) naturally takes care of itself. Get the focus on the right mind-sets and now you’re (managerially speaking) leveraging your training investment.

Apparently one of the world’s premier consultancies now sees it that way too!


Reinforcing One’s Identity As A Professional

Many of you know I teach in the business school of one of San Francisco Bay Area’s local universities.  The course work for one sixteen-week class involves an instructional tag-team approach.  In other words, there are four of us instructors involved. Thus, coordination is important in reinforcing key messages in the course work.  This particular class is comprised of sixteen CEO’s of mid-size companies from all over the United States. 

 Here’s a note I recently sent to my fellow instructors.  I trust you can ‘listen in’ and benefit too.  After all, it’s important for all of us to reinforce our colleagues identity of themselves as a professional.

 Here’s my note.


“Reinforcing one’s identity of themselves as a professional (one of the key points from my week three work with the students) takes many forms. In some instances, it’s a number of (seemingly) small things, repeated many times.”

 “I’m writing to encourage each of you in reinforcing our current XX students identity of themselves as a professional.  It’s important for us to model (for them, the students) what we’re encouraging them to do (for their people).”

 “Here’s one seemingly simple way to do this: when addressing the students or asking a question, preface your comments or question with  ‘As a professional, …’.”

 “For example, here’s a few samples. As you’ll see, each example is posed in two (slightly) different ways:

“What are you prepared to do to make your change plan come to life?”

“As a professional, what are you prepared to do to make your change plan come to life.”


“To what degree do you feel that this work product reflects your best thinking?”

“As a professional, to what degree do you feel this work product reflects your best thinking?”


 “What is it that is incumbent on you to make your experience with this course a terrific one for yourself and your fellow XX colleagues?”

 “As a professional, what is it that is incumbent on you to make your experience with this course a terrific one for yourself and your fellow XX colleagues?”

 “The ‘professional preface’, when properly executed, produces a better result.  Sometimes it takes awhile to kick in, but eventually ‘professional’ will become more top-of-mind for the student.  That’s what we want.”

“Of course the ‘preface ahead’ of the salutation suggestion (or method) is not the only way to have ‘professional’ become more top of mind.  But it’s a good one for we educators to start with.”

“This seems like a small thing.  You may have doubts whether it will have impact.  From experience, I can tell you it does.”

 “Small things, repeated many times, can produce surprisingly remarkable results.”

A Sweet Story—Conscious Capitalism Lifting Africans Out of Poverty

The prime minister of the island-nation of Sao Tome and Principe has been reported to have said, “Don’t send us any more aid, send us five more Claudio Corallos’.  The prime minister’s country, lying off the west coast of Africa, was used to receiving financial aid from generous countries in a position to do so.  His country, like many African communities, is quite poor.

Who, you ask, is Claudio Corallo? Claudio produces some of the world’s finest chocolate on the island of Principe. He is a conscious capitalist. Claudio emulates what I wrote about in The Power of Professionalism.  Said another way, he’s a professional. Never mind that he wears open-toed sandals and a Panama hat 99% of the time while traipsing up-and-down the steep jungle terrain of his plantation.

Claudio has aspired to bring to the world the purest form of cocoa production.  Having recently tasted his chocolate at a retail outlet in Berkeley, California, I’d say he has come pretty close.

His story is inspiring.  He pays his workers significantly more than the going (and dismal) wage-rate on Principe. To say he is an employer of choice is an understatement.

The prime minister came to see how capitalism (when done the right way) would lift people out of poverty better than aid ever could.  Aid was fine, but really only proved to be a stop-gap measure. The notion that capitalism should be considered a serious  solution to poverty has gained a lot of steam—especially with the inspiring successes associated with micro-lending. Interestingly, U2′s front man Bono  came to the same conclusion as the prime minister.

Wanna lift people out of poverty?  It’s hard to beat conscious capitalism. Thanks Claudio for such a sweet example.



Unflattering Trait ≠ Unprofessional

People are sometimes described as unprofessional by their colleagues or associates when they have a trait or characteristic that stands out—-typically in an unflattering way.  Consider:

***the woman with the shrill laugh who seemingly thinks everything is funny (her colleagues initially found this trait to be cute, but over time became repelled by it)   

***the man who is naturally inquisitive and incessantly asks questions. (his peers quickly found this to be aggravating)  

***the supervisor (someone who happened to have a hearing disability) that speaks especially loudly—even when having one-on-one conversations in close quarters. ( even understanding his condition, the staff never quite got used to this and too often felt like they were being yelled at—inappropriately so)

If asked, how would you describe these individuals?  Or what if you were an executive recruiter and one of these people becomes a serious candidate for a position you’re attempting to fill.  As a professional, how do describe (objectively so) the individual to your hiring manager client?  After all, what you say holds sway with the hiring manager.  Say something inappropriate (or misleading) and you could torpedo the candidate. 

Sometimes we’re inclined to describe these types of individuals as unprofessional.  And that inclination is often fueled from our own emotional reaction to them (the importance of mind-set six, once again, raises its head).  From my point of view, when someone has a trait or characteristic that stands out in an unflattering way, it doesn’t make them unprofessional.  ‘Un’ means without or the opposite of.  In effect, in describing someone as unprofessional it suggests that the person has virtually no professionalism.  It would be a rare circumstance in which that would be true.   

Plus, when you suggest someone is unprofessional it suggests that you can’t trust them—whether it be their competence, their judgment, or their character (for more on this see Chapter Four in The Power of Professionalism).  Having a defining personal trait (however annoying) typically doesn’t have much to do with their professionalism and, by default, their trustworthiness.  Simply said, transposing someone’s personality with their character does that person a disservice—and does not reflect well on us as a professional.         

When describing someone who has a trait or characteristic that is unflattering, consider describing  them as a bit unpolished, needing greater refinement, or something analogous which is appropriate to the situation.

Take first impressions.  It’s true that when someone ‘shows up’ disheveled (think: unkept appearance) it invariably creates the wrong impression.  Many will be put off by it. Certainly people don’t initially associate ‘professional’ with that person.  Yet, it’s important to resist the urge to refer to them as unprofessional—for many of the reasons previously stated.    

The point here is not to generalize.  As professionals, it’s important for all of us to be objective. Recall  the woman with the shrill laugh.  Annoying? Sure. Unprofessional? No.