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What Does March Madness Tell us About Leadership Promotions?

Guest post by DDI's Bradford Thomas:

Being from Kentucky—where we have no professional sports teams—March Madness rises to a whole different level.  It’s our Super Bowl, our World Series and our Stanley Cup. Don’t believe me?  Check out this blog on ESPN.

The annual NCAA Basketball Bracket pool turns everyone into water cooler prognosticators.  Annual bragging rights in the office pool centers on your ability to amass a lot of points by picking the early round upsets.  For those novices reading this blog, it means picking lower skilled teams (10-16 seeds) over much more talented teams (1-4 seeds).  

Now we all know that the odds heavily favor those highly-talented teams, but there are typically a few major upsets each year—including this year where two #2 seeds (Duke and Missouri) fell to #15 seeds for only the sixth time in 20 years.

But does this phenomenon occur in the business world?  You bet your college mascot it does.  Every day companies are making decisions about which individuals to promote on a system similar to the NCAA seeding process:  the odds are heavily weighted to those individuals deemed to ...

How Do You Assess a Candidate’s Leadership Potential?

There’s an old saying that if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there. That idea holds true when you’re trying to assess a candidate’s leadership potential. You have to start with a clear picture of what leadership means to you and, more importantly, what it means in your organization.

Many organizations have leadership competency models that purport to describe the key characteristics and behaviors that they seek in their leaders. The problem with many of these models is that they are full of jargon and clichés that they don’t provide much in the way of useful guidance.

Having looked at dozens of these models over the years, I can make it simple for you. Leadership behaviors fall into one of two broad categories – the behaviors that drive results and the behaviors that build relationships. Both categories are equally important for long term success. The most successful leaders exhibit both in abundance.

Here are some questions in each of those two categories to keep in mind when assessing a candidate’s leadership potential:

Driving Results

  • How well does the candidate understand which results matter most and why they do?
  • How skilled is the ...

What is going on in my team?

I have been inspired by Paul Slater’s excellent article this week, Getting Teams Working, to reflect on some work I’ve been doing recently with a team.  A good chunk of my training and experience has been in group dynamics and there is direct relevance of this body of knowledge to organisational life.  In the workplace, there is some growing awareness of group dynamics as a key influencer of organisational effectiveness.  Many people are now familiar with Bruce Tuckman’s group development model: Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing and Adjourning; and it is good that people who manage teams of people are opening their eyes to the processes that go on when humans gather together, for whatever purpose.  Despite our best efforts, there is something mystifying that seems to get in the way of team effectiveness and it can be useful to look “underneath” at the dynamics and unexpressed assumptions out of which we operate.

Perhaps less well-known in this sphere is the work of Wilfred Bion.  Bion trained in medicine and went on to develop an interest in psychoanalysis, eventually immersing himself in the study of groups and group process.  He was commissioned into the British Army ...


Recognize Your “Plumbers” as Well as Your “Poets”

Recognize This! – Your star performers can’t shine without the daily efforts of your middle tier.

Who gets recognized in your organization? Just the superstars – the top 10% high performers? Or do you acknowledge those who grind out the work day after day – the middle 80% who make it possible for your stars to shine?

Too often, I hear the argument, “My superstars deserve extra recognition and rewards. The rest? I pay them to do their job. That’s reward enough.”

Is it? I don’t think so. In an excellent post on his Work Matters blog last week, Stanford Professor and author of Good Boss, Bad Boss, Bob Sutton wrote about the great damage inflicted by “visionary leaders” who dream big, but always leave the details to others. He goes on to discuss the impact to the organization of not honoring the contributions of consistently competent employees day after day:

“James March, perhaps the most prestigious living organizational theorist, frames all this in an interesting way, arguing that the effectiveness of organizations depends at least as much on the competent performance of ordinary bureaucrats and technicians who do their jobs well (or badly) day in and day out as on the bold ...


Are You Buying into These Career Myths?

Most of my ruminations on women and career tend to land over at the Women of HR site. This week, the site is wrapping up a great Women of HR Career Series. My post on the Four Myths of Self-Employment was featured last week. Following the myths theme, here’s a little “bonus track” to go along with the series. It’s loosely based on the reader comments from the article Three Impressions That Keep Women from Advancing by Sally Williamson.

Myth #1: There is a universal definition of career success.

The reality is that there are as many definitions of success as there are women in this world. This is why workplace career paths and formalized mentoring programs often fall short—because they are based on somebody else’s definition of what it takes to succeed at one’s company. The truly successful woman will be the one who knows her inner values and external talents and figures out a way to capitalize on them within her workplace structure.

 Myth #2: Success = a high-ranking title.

 I recently had lunch with a colleague who was in a career crisis. Her company supports a career “lattice” – allowing workers to increase their pay via lateral moves as well as ascending into the ranks of ...


Letting Go of the Illusion of Control

“That nothing is static or fixed, that all is fleeting and impermanent, is the first mark of existence. It is the ordinary state of affairs. Everything is in process. Everything—every tree, every blade of grass, all the animals, insects, human beings, buildings, the animate and the inanimate—is always changing, moment to moment.”

  Pema Chodron

Some years ago I had the privilege of observing the progress of a group of Tibetan monks creating a mandala sand painting at the Asia Society in NYC where I lived.  As I watched their progress; the incredible attention to detail done with remarkable patience and cheerfulness, I started to think about how I do things – but most important how I think about the doing of them.

In the rich tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, millions of grains of sand are painstakingly laid into place on a flat platform over a period of days or weeks.  When finished, the colored sands are swept up and poured into a nearby river or stream where the waters are thought to carry healing energies throughout the world.  The “purpose” is to symbolize the impermanence of all that exists.

This amazing practice is often met by questions of “Why bother?” ...


Is People-friendly the new Eco-friendly?

What does diversity mean to you and your business? Or inclusivity and cohesion? 

A few zzzz lines in the company report, a policy destined for tumbleweed, an unreachable recruitment target, something largely negative under the umbrella of ‘compliance’ that must be reluctantly ticked? 

What would true diversity and total inclusivity look, feel, and sound like?

How would it humanize the business strategy, engage the war for talent, animate culture, alter the way management decisions are made, inform the way the business looks at and projects itself, change the way it develops products and services, the way it talks to its customers – diversifies the way it – and as importantly you - think and act? 

What would the ROI of positive true diversity be over negative tick box diversity? 

For most, diversity simply means having more women and ethnic minorities in the workplace and on the board. Inclusivity here is just a by product: ‘Look, we now have an Hispanic female director on the board now, which means that you can make it to the top too!’ If that Hispanic female director also happens to be pushing 95 disabled and lesbian, and if that can be somehow portrayed as ...


13 Guidelines for Staying Engaged...



Using Enlightened Self Interest to Stay Sane, Productive and Amused at Work


"Let me  keep my mind on what matters, which is my work,which is mostly standing still and learning to be astonished."

  Mary Oliver


Here are some guidelines I have developed or stolen and used at work for the past 39 years to stay clear headed about what was going on in the places where I have worked. I have published these before but I just re-read them and found myself refreshed. You may enjoy them as well.



  • # 1 Whoever sees it first gets to do it. This is the principle of Responsibility. There is no truth to the statement "That's not my job." until you say so.
  • # 2 Nobody likes anybody's ideas better than there own. This is the principle of Participation. Everyone wants to play, they will play your game if they can play their way, let them.
  • # 3 Organizational life will provide as much nonsense as you can deal with, do not contribute to the confusion. This is the principle of Persistence. ...

7 Behaviors That Keep Women From Getting Ahead

Over the past two years, this blog (published in April, 2010) has been number one in readership, reaping well over 25,000 unique visits. Numerous bloggers have referred to the blog, even plagiarizing the hell out of it (that’s fine with me). It’s also the most commented upon blog with extremely negative and even more extremely positive comments. The commenters engaged in several heated discussions with each other, positioning themselves within their own ideology.

Initially, I responded to some of the comments, but as time went on I realized that the discussion didn’t need my input.


So, I’m recycling it because of its popularity. . . and because of its obvious relevance to the workforce.

It strikes me that I need to explain why a male would write for females so directly. One of the reasons is that more than a quarter of my clients were women, many of whom stated that they wanted to work with a man who understood gender differences. The fact that our three daughters are also professionals plays into my personal interests. Still, as a scholar in the field of organizational and interpersonal communication, gender differences have been a hot topic for years, ...


Are You Coaching? Or Just Waving Your Arms?

A lot of what passes for coaching — in workplaces, in homes, even on kids’ sports teams — is really just a lot of exhortations and fervent repetitions of normative statements.

Here’s an example from a manager:

“What are you DOING?!? That’s not what you’re SUPPOSED to be DOING!”

For someone who is executing inaccurately, and already painfully aware that something is going wrong, is there anything at all in that intervention that could change performance in any way other than by ratcheting up the worker’s fear? And fear — although it may be accompanied by intensified focus — is more likely to create more errors or disruptions, not fewer. Not to mention its role as a relationship-killer.

Or what about this one, from a sports coach:

“HELP each other! You’re supposed to HELP EACH OTHER!!”

Who? How? When?

The kids on the team clearly did not know what “help each other” meant. The only perfectly clear message was that the coach was disappointed and dissatisfied. Some ignored him and continued to do what came naturally; others just seemed more anxious.

And how about my own silly story: As someone who applied for a driver’s license relatively late in life, it was this very brief ...