Using Data to Tell the Leadership Development Story

‘Big Data’ is the buzz term that describes the use of data to implement business strategy and drive business growth. That said, if data is instead used to drive leadership development, it’s equally as important as a direct influencer of business success.

Three primary abilities for leader effectiveness are technical, interpersonal and conceptual. Technical abilities are developed through subject matter: for example- an entry level HR employee, Jenna may receive a job offer on the basis of his/her knowledge of HR information systems. Jenna will be promoted to the next level based on her abilities to manage relationships with the Accounts Payable department and mediate conflict with the creatives in Marketing. Before progressing to the upper organizational levels, Jenna must develop a conceptual understanding of the entire organization, the external political and economic landscape. She must be ready to use conceptual skills to construct a vision, mission and strategy, along with processes to support each.

I collected the pre-test and post-test results of a survey distributed to 16 participants of a leadership development course. With a span of three weeks between each iteration of the survey, there were some significant shifts in the mindset of each leader. The data suggests that training can be instrumental in the development of subject matter knowledge, self awareness and relationship management skills and create a foundation for conceptual skill development.

Take a look at the video, where I present the Leadership story, as it develops through data.


Emotional Intelligence: Between a Bully and a Hard Place

One time, I walked into the lobby where a few of my peers along with a more senior employee, Samuel* were chatting. It was a typical Monday morning and several other employees buzzed around the area. Walking by with a sense of urgency to finish leftover tasks from the previous week, I said a quick “good morning!” and continued in the direction of my desk.

“So you just like to walk around and look important”, jeered Samuel, to the audible amusement of my peers.

Another time, Samuel wisecracked, “I’m sure your mother shopped at Bobby’s…I know she sent all your Bobby’s clothes to you in a barrel…Bobby’s is Caribbean people’s version of Macy’s”. These ethnic slights directed to me referred to a stereotype about patronizing a discount store that is notorious for factory damaged and otherwise irregular merchandise.

As this behavior became a pattern, he followed up with unreasonable requests to perform menial tasks that were outside of my role and responsibilities. He sabotaged my work by allowing me fewer opportunities to complete a task than were afforded to my peers. He also accused me of incomplete work. I began to withdraw and avoid Samuel. Since bullying is all about perception; to me, he was a workplace bully. At the time, as a junior level temporary employee, I was reluctant to say or do anything to jeopardize my chances of gaining full time employment. Needless to say, despite the anger and embarrassment I felt, I did not overtly respond to his offensive jokes, belittling comments, criticism or false accusations of mistakes. I’m sure that this story is surprising to many, thanks to my tough-girl exterior. Remember psychologist Kurt Lewin’s words: Behavior is a function of interaction between person and environment. My work environment reinforced behavior, wherein respect is based on seniority. Both Samuel’s and my behavior may not have been inherent to us, but the environment influenced it.

Recently, Career Builder conducted an online survey of 3,372 full-time, private sector workers across industries and company sizes. Its results suggest that 28% of workers have felt bullied at work – nearly 19 % of these workers left their jobs because of it. Although emotional intelligence has become a buzz term, many of us are either unwilling or unable to master our emotions and to manage relationships. Being aware of emotions (such as in my case, shame and anger) is not enough to bring emotional intelligence to life; self management (behavior) plays an equal part. I learned that avoidance did very little to communicate my displeasure with Samuel’s actions. Had I voiced my grievances, I would have contributed to his social awareness and perhaps rectified the situation before it could escalate. Perhaps, we could have even been friends afterward. Self-awareness and self-management are foundations to social awareness – and these three underlie relationship management.

Learn from my mistakes! There might be a way to bully-proof your workplace: it’s called practicing emotional intelligence.

How would you handle such a situation?

*Names have been changed to protect the not-so-innocent.

Messy Clothes: Transitioning into HR/Learning & Development

Messy Clothes

Around this time two years ago, I was preparing for…….


Transforming the above holiday discordance into tidy, homogeneous stacks of clothing. Amid the chaos of commerce, coupons and complaints, there was a more existential transformation of my work as a retail sales manager at the largest store in the world. Prior to this pivotal time in my career, I had six years’ worth of the retail industry’s fourth quarters. Despite my knowledge of what to expect,  there was something about the impending Holiday 2012 that steered me away from sales management and into the HR/Learning and Development sphere.

I inherited a team which earned notoriety for its high employee turnover, so I developed and delivered training to build mutual trust, cooperation and accountability among members. I coached individual team members to develop their communication competencies, including persuasive speaking and selling skills. Increasing group cohesion, improving team members’ selling behaviors  and a driving the turnaround of sales performance in this department  earned me many accolades, yet only bolstered my resolve to resign.

Granted, it is antithetical that employee recognition (in my case) would result in attrition.

I left my most frustrating, yet fulfilling role as a Sales Manager to pursue a masters degree and a new career – focused on sharing learning experiences and developing diverse others to meet personal and organizational goals.                                   Find out more about my work at:

Why do top performers leave an organization?

Take the poll. 


Organizational Trends: Motivation across tenure groups

As defined, Motivation is the psychological processes that arouse and direct goal-oriented behavior. Image

Research findings illustrate the degrees of motivation among individuals across tenure groups, illustrating the percentage of individuals who would agree to the statement, “I am motivated to go above and beyond to help my company succeed”.  It shows an inverse relationship between motivation levels and years of tenure from 0 months to 5 years, then a spike in motivation among employees with 5 plus years of tenure.

Based on my management experience in the retail industry, I hypothesize with reasonable confidence:

1. New hires, those in the company for less than 6 months are highly motivated because of an internal desire to be successful.

2. Employees 6 months to 1 year have discovered the truths about the organization and realize gaps between what they are told to expect and the realities of the workplace, so they are less motivated.

3. Employees 1 year to 3 years are in a transition period where they decide whether they can tolerate the gap and can fully assimilate to the reality of the organizational culture, those who are considering alternate employment opportunities may account for lower motivation levels.

4. Of those with 3-5 years of experience with the company, who have the lowest motivation levels of those depicted on the chart, a significant number are probably psychologically separated from the company and are actively seeking career or organizational changes in the near future.

4. The spike in the 5 years plus tenure group may be explained by physical separation of those less motivated and those with renewed motivation due to changes in employment such as promotions.

For leaders, the questions of labor demand and supply emerge as they are responsible for ensuring that there is a healthy match between the two for their organization to sustainably operate the business. Vision of the strategic direction for the organization should include forecasting of labor demand (external) and supply (internal). While the overall motivation level of the workforce is important, understanding the dispersion of attitudes is helpful. Motivation and attitudes towards the organization may be a predictor of attrition. Based on the availability and need for the skill set of a particular employee grade, the leader must know whether action must be taken in the event of projected labor shortage to retain talent or in the event of labor surplus whether to allow natural attrition to occur.

For managers, the question of talent development and retention emerges; how to motivate especially the most talented employees and how to develop the talent of those who are more motivated than they are skilled. Once a strategic direction is established by leaders, managers must take action with respect to talent development and retention. The manager is responsible for understanding on an individual basis what the skill gaps are among incumbents and what actions he/she should take to ensure that direct reports have the tools necessary to successfully perform their jobs. Managers concerned with motivating a team of employees must have an understanding of the components of motivation in order to successfully increase arousal, intensity and directional components of motivation. Managers must reinforce arousal by providing recognition and rewards. Intensity can be impacted by the consistency of providing useful and timely feedback. Directional component can be improved by the quality of feedback, tying behavior to outcome.

Your Resume/Social Media Presence: What NOT to omit

In times when landing a job that is a good match for your personality, interests, skills and abilities may be as elusive as finding Waldo, it is easy to become discouraged. Limited job opportunities and fierce competition from other like-minded individuals sometimes embolden job-seekers to relentlessly pursue hiring managers with embellish their resumes.

During the past week, I had an enlightening conversation with a particularly high profile HR executive of a global corporation in the electrical, hydraulic and mechanical power management industry. Not only was I taken by his modesty, but also by a brilliant thought he shared that I will never forget. I asked him about the process of identifying talent in his recruiting efforts. He mentioned leadership competencies among the attributes that attract him to a candidate. Probing further, I learned from his recount of sourcing talent:

Many candidates remove from their resume job experiences that they expect will be discounted by hiring managers.

One example of a job experience often removed is shift supervisor at fast food restaurants. Candidates assume that the hiring manager will discount their experience in less prestigious companies, or in positions of perceived low status by the general society. This mutilation of the resume ignores something very significant – core competencies. According to the HR leader, holding a position such as shift supervisor when a candidate is perhaps in his/her early 20’s is important simply because of the leadership competencies  gained from such an experience. Many shift supervisors are placed in a position of leading their themselves, leading others and leading the organization; these are not an easy tasks!

You may weave these core competency concepts into your cover letter, resume, LinkedIn profile, interview preparation and networking conversations.  Even if you’re not currently a job-seeker, quite often the rubric used in performance evaluation is based on this concept.

The Interview: a platform for bias, or unreliable indicator of job performance?

Comic Credit - Irma Eriksson:
Comic Credit – Irma Eriksson:

“It’s not like he’s valuable anyway”, scoffed the Creative Manager, speaking in reference to her assistant. I was not entirely surprised to hear her remark, but I observed the assistant in question, whose body language of late, seemed dejected. I thought, perhaps he was not happy in his experience thus far. The scalding comment I overheard was the end of a conversation between the Creative Manager and another manager, where one was informing the other of an incident that occurred earlier in the day, in which the assistant was unwilling to complete an assigned task.

I can recall interviewing the young gentleman for his position. His resume read well. He attended a well respected university and is affiliated with a notable fraternity. He appeared to be a good candidate with a positive attitude, relevant experience and education as well as strong interest in the field. He seemed to both my supervisor and the Creative Manager to the better of the final two candidates; he appeared more enthusiastic, knowledgeable of the industry and market than was the other. We opined that he was genuinely interested in the position and had much to offer an iconic fashion company, but he simply was a bad fit.

Interviews, therefore may be a poor predictor of work performance. There are a few common biases to which interviewers may fall victim. They are the first impression, the halo or horns effect as well as personal bias. The first impression is an instant judgement which is usually based on appearance and mannerisms. While first impression will likely continue to be considered in an interview setting, a hiring decision should not be made solely based on criteria other than bona fide occupational qualifications. The halo and horn effects [respectively] occur when the interviewer forms an overall positive opinion or overall negative opinion, based on one attribute. In the case at the iconic fashion company, it is possible that one or more interviewer biases may have colored our opinions of the gentleman, as he came to the interview well mannered, finely dressed and articulated himself clearly.

I was recently interviewed by a well reputed US multinational company and was asked a question that gave me pause for thought: “How has your professional experience outside of the US influenced the way you communicate within US organizations?” My resume does not reflect any professional experience outside of the US.

Had the interviewer made an assumption based on the intonation of my speech?

Was she ‘fishing’ for information about my ethnicity, naturalization or nationality?

Most importantly, was her question indicative of a personal bias? 

I recently came across the Implicit Association Test (IAT), administered by Harvard University, which measures attitudes and beliefs that people may be unwilling or unable to report. (Project Implicit, 20011) If you take this test, you may be surprised about your own implicit attitudes.

All considered, interviews may be vulnerable to more threats of bias than other selection methods. What do you consider to be the most effective means for ensuring person-job-environment fit?