My latest Articles

(Thought and Vigor, Fast Company, Talent Culture, Switch and Shift, and more)

  • The Productive Manager’s Guide To The Holiday Season Slump
    Easing up on certain rules this time of year rather than enforcing them may actually lead to better outcomes. The approach of the holiday season is something many managers greet with quiet dread. From Thanksgiving onward, a steadily rising wave of excitement and distraction can threaten to get in the way of focused work. But the wisest—and, ultimately, most productive—approach is not to fight it. Making room for a little festive fun, within limits, can be a great way to bring your team together when they're having trouble staying focused on their own. Think Before Enforcing The Rules Read more >>>Rules can't be regularly flouted, as every good manager knows. But there are certain times when enforcing them as strongly as you would at other times is actually counterproductive. As the author Terry Pratchett once wrote, rules exist "so that you think before you break 'em." Maybe you have a rule that every team needs to have someone present during business hours in case of an inquiry—makes sense. But is your B2B sales team really going to generate any major leads between Christmas and New Year's? Is anyone going to be contacting the internal auditors when other teams are down to skeleton crews? Maybe at this time of year, some teams can be let off the hook while vital services like IT keep someone on site. Think through the typical rules you enforce during the rest of the calendar year, and ask yourself whether they'll really lead to the Read more
    Source: Fast CompanyPublished on 2016-12-02By Mark Lukens
  • 6 Things Strong Leaders Don’t Do
    A lot of the time, we picture strong leadership in the wrong way. We think of it as macho posturing, using an assertive voice, or making commands and refusing to be moved from them. In reality, strong leaders are like trees buffeted by a storm – they bend as the wind pushes them, but they remain firm in what makes them who they are. Part of that firmness is not falling into these six traps… They Don’t Shy Away From Change Change is difficult. Whether you’re a kid starting a new school or a CEO looking to transform her company, the unknown will naturally fill you with doubt. As human beings, we’re psychologically pre-disposed to focus on danger and loss above potential benefits. What we have now might not be perfect, it might even be deeply broken, but at least we know what it is. Strong leaders face this tendency in themselves and set it aside. The doubts are still there, because they’re the most human thing in the world. But a strong leader can move past them and embrace change, because that way they can grow even stronger, and so can their business. They Don’t Let Caution Win There are few things more crippling than an unwillingness to take risks. The companies that lagged behind Apple in its early forays into portable electronics were left behind by this risk taking company. Many of those companies are so cautious that all their efforts since have focused on imitating what others Read more
    Source: Thought and VigorPublished on 2016-11-18By Mark Lukens
  • How You Justify Sticking With Bad Work Habits (And How To Stop)
    The more effort people put into something, the more they'll tend to believe in it—even if that effort is misplaced. You don't always work as efficiently or productively as you could, and you know it. Chances are you can even identify which ways of doing things you could probably do better if you were to do them differently—but you don't want to. That's just the way you do it. It's normal to have some habits or practices you prefer and others you don't, and some managers have found that giving employees control over the "how" as long as they accomplish the "what" is a powerful productivity strategy in its own right. But sometimes we fall into routines at work that not only do we know to be less than ideal, but we also find ways to convince ourselves they're worth sticking to anyway. That can be a problem. How You Come Up With Reasons For Bad Habits In the 1950s, the psychologist Leon Festinger coined the term "cognitive dissonance" to describe the uneasiness we feel when we hold two conflicting ideas simultaneously. Festinger realized that this discomfort isn't just an inert feeling—it influences our behavior in surprising ways. Make sure image matches reality, and no one will waste mental energy straining to match the unmatchable.Cognitive dissonance is so unpleasant that it motivates us to make changes in order to avoid experiencing it. But since we don't always recognize why we're uncomfortable (the source of our cognitive dissonance), we can often Read more
    Source: Fast CompanyPublished on 2016-09-15By Mark Lukens
  • 10 Ways to Make an Emotionally Positive Workplace
    An Emotionally Positive Workplace Emotions are great for work. If people are allowed to bring their feelings into the workplace then their passion will show, engagement will rise, and you’ll free up the energy that might otherwise be spent on repressing those feelings. But negative emotions can be a huge problem, creating a toxic atmosphere filled with anger and distrust. So how can you encourage emotional expression in the workplace while preventing the negatives from taking over? Develop Emotional Intelligence A key tool for anyone in leadership, emotional intelligence is the ability to recognize and understand the emotions of others, to empathize with them and to deal appropriately with those emotions. Training in emotional intelligence should be a compulsory part of training for all leaders in your organization. If they can’t recognize what’s happening with their employees then they stand little chance of managing them well. Avoid Hiring Negativity Try to avoid hiring people who don’t cooperate well with others or who default to a negative outlook. Recruiters at Facebook do this by using questions about office politics and working with others to test how candidates respond. It isn’t a subject you can tackle head-on in an interview, but if you can find a way to incorporate it then you’ll avoid recruiting people whose negativity will kill the enthusiasm of others. Recognize Effort To spread the positivity around, focus on recognizing effort, not just performance.  Some employees are going to achieve exceptional things thanks to a combination of talent and Read more
    Source: Thought and VigorPublished on 2016-08-24By Mark Lukens
  • 5 Steps to Build a Better Leadership Career Today
    Build a Better Leadership Career Starting Today Building a career in leadership isn’t easy. Building a career in leadership that suits you, that plays to your strengths and interests, that keeps you constantly interested and lets you progress to the best of your potential, that’s even tougher. These five steps will help you to build a better leadership career – one that’s more fulfilling for you, and more likely to lead to success. Only Shoot for the Goals You Really Want Applying for a job that you aren’t suited to isn’t just a waste of the recruiter’s time and energy, it’s a waste of yours. Best case scenario, you don’t get the job and you get some useful feedback – feedback you could have got for less effort by other means. Worst case scenario, you end in the job, doing something you aren’t interested in or that’s a poor fit for your skillset. Nothing kills passion, and so the ability to push a career forwards, like being stuck in a joyless job. So next time a relevant leadership post comes up at the level above yours, ask yourself if it’s really the post you want, or if you’re just considering applying because it’s there. Unless that specific role matches your interests and long-term career goals, save your time and energy. Spend the effort on doing your current job better, and that experience will stand you in good stead when the job you want comes up. Use the Culture of Where Read more
    Source: Thought and VigorPublished on 2016-08-17By Mark Lukens
  • Flexible Working – the Key to Social Business
    For a socially responsible business, flexible working isn’t just nice to have – it’s a vital part of using work to make the world a better place. Social responsibility starts at home, and unless you treat your employees right then everything else is just an add-on. Setting the Tone for the World We Live In One reason why flexible working is so important to a social business is that it sends a message about how you view the world. Social businesses are about connecting together profits with what’s good for people. Human and environmental well-being don’t get sacrificed on the altar of the fast buck. Instead, human-centered practices are shown to be good for a business’s bottom line, disrupting the old dichotomy between the two. Inflexible working patterns came from a way of working, and of viewing work, that saw people as little more than a resource with which to achieve business ends. It didn’t matter whether the pattern of work suited employees, as long it suited the business. It was the opposite of socially responsible business – business riding roughshod over human lives. Flexible working shows that you care about what’s good for your employees. It sends a message to those employees and to the world that you’re not putting money before people, because you think that what’s good for people is good for profits. It sets the tone for your business and for the world we live in. Social Responsibility Towards Your Employees It’s great to create socially Read more
    Source: Thought and VigorPublished on 2016-08-11By Mark Lukens
  • The Overlooked Social Responsibility Program That’s Staring Companies In The Face
    One writer explains why companies are wrong to think flexible work and social responsibility have nothing to do with each other. Plenty of companies do a lot of great work when it comes to corporate social responsibility. And many companies are generous with their flexible and remote work policies. But very few see these two things as having much, if anything, to do with each other. But flexible work isn't just nice to have—it's a vital part of using work to make the world a better place. In other words, social impact starts at home. And unless you treat your employees right, and take their work-life issues seriously, then everything else your CSR office does, however laudable, is just an add-on. Setting The Tone For The World We Live In One reason why flexible work policies are so important to a social business is that it sends a message about how you view the world and your company's place within it. Socially conscious businesses are about bridging what's good for the bottom line with what's good for people. Human and environmental well-being don't get sacrificed on the altar of the fast buck. Inflexible working arrangements came from a way of working—and a view of work—that saw people as little more than a resource for achieving business ends. It didn't matter so much whether the pattern of work suited employees as long it suited the business. By giving your employees the latitude to do their jobs in a way that suits Read more
    Source: Fast CompanyPublished on 2016-07-30By Mark Lukens
  • The Overlooked Social Responsibility Program That’s Staring Companies In The Face
    Plenty of companies do a lot of great work when it comes to corporate social responsibility. And many companies are generous with their flexible and remote work policies. But very few see these two things as having much, if anything, to do with each other. But flexible work isn't just nice to have—it's a vital part of using work to make the world a better place. In other words, social impact starts at home. And unless you treat your employees right, and take their work-life issues seriously, then everything else your CSR office does, however laudable, is just an add-on. Setting The Tone For The World We Live In One reason why flexible work policies are so important to a social business is that it sends a message about how you view the world and your company's place within it. Socially conscious businesses are about bridging what's good for the bottom line with what's good for people. Human and environmental well-being don't get sacrificed on the altar of the fast buck. Inflexible working arrangements came from a way of working—and a view of work—that saw people as little more than a resource for achieving business ends. It didn't matter so much whether the pattern of work suited employees as long it suited the business. By giving your employees the latitude to do their jobs in a way that suits their lifestyles, so long as they keep up their performance, companies show they they care about what's good for their employees, Read more
    Source: Fast CompanyPublished on 2016-07-30By Mark Lukens
  • Working With Joy/Happiness: 7 Steps to a Happier Workplace
    Why should we care about happiness? It’s the sort of question that could only come up in business. If you were at home, on holiday or out on the town socializing then the answer would be obvious. To a child, the desire to be happy is so obvious they probably couldn’t even put a reason into words. Happiness is what motivates us, what makes life worthwhile. Everything else we value is a means to that end, for ourselves or for others. Yet happiness at work is something we often ignore. Some even scoff at talking about it. So why should you care about workplace happiness? And as a leader, how can you inspire and spread joy? Why Workplace Happiness Matters Years ago, I got into a conversation about work with a friend of the generation before mine. He didn’t do an especially unusual or entertaining job, yet he took joy in it. He said that he couldn’t bear the thought of spending his day watching the clock, just waiting to leave. If he was going to spend that much time doing something, he needed to enjoy it. His words pinned down a long standing problem – the dissonance between how we ideally believe we should live and how we have accepted that we must work. We have been told that we should make ourselves happy, yet we have also been told that we should put our noses to the grindstone and work no matter our feelings. This creates cognitive dissonance, Read more
    Source: Thought and VigorPublished on 2016-07-06By Mark Lukens
  • Letting Go of Control – Being better leaders
    What do wartime generals and effective parents have in common? They can both help us to become better leaders by letting go of control and instead setting expectations. The Family Business As we try to tackle issues of income inequality, it’s increasingly recognized that parenting really is a full time job, with all the hard work and specialist skills that involves. What we’re slower to recognize is that parents are a group of professionals we can all learn from. Delving into a description of parenting may seem like teaching some of you to suck eggs, but for others – those without children – this is a world of mystery. And that balance between the risk of becoming patronizing and the risk of not giving enough information or guidance is one that parents face every day. You’re under pressure from the kids to provide attention and cater to their physical needs, a pressure that becomes less constant but no less real as they grow up. At the same time, you’re under pressure from yourself to make sure that they’re safe, happy and learning to deal with the world in appropriate ways. With every ounce of energy going into this balancing act, it’s easy to take shortcuts, and that’s the point at which parenting becomes controlling. It’s easier to say “you can’t go to that place” than to teach your child to play safely in a less secure environment. It’s easier to discourage their friendship with a child whose influence you don’t Read more
    Source: Thought and VigorPublished on 2016-06-28By Mark Lukens
  • Gen X, Y, Z – What We Know and What We Do
    Ever since the arrival of Generation X (Gen X), there’s been a wealth of analysis on what each new generation of employees wants. The information is there for us to use, the strategies are simple, and we all nod our heads sagely whenever we hear that Gen X want authenticity while millennials want flexibility. But for all this knowledge, there’s a huge gap between what we as leaders know and what we do. Millennials Want Flexible Working Let’s start with the wave of employees businesses are most focused on right now – the millennial generation. Born in the 1980s, they’ve been raised on the hype of freedom and flexibility, the idea espoused by both left-wing social liberals and right-wing economic liberals that you can and should create the lifestyle you want. Making this a reality means flexible working, and many companies are trying, or claiming, to provide this. But the reality doesn’t live up to the hype. Recent research by EY found that one in six millennials had suffered negative consequences from using flexible working, facing negative impacts on their careers, while 47% said that their hours had increased in the past five years, a change that makes it harder to work in a flexible, balanced way. The Smartphone Generation Want Personalization Attention is starting to turn toward the upcoming Generation Z, sometimes referred to as the iGeneration. Brought up in a world of smartphones, internet access and social media marketing, this generation wants and expects things to be personalized Read more
    Source: Thought and VigorPublished on 2016-06-22By Mark Lukens
  • The Hidden Leadership Skill Every Good Parent Eventually Masters
    Like military commanders, effective parents know how to create guidelines, set expectations, and get out of the way. The fact that saying "parenting is a full-time job" is cliche doesn't make it any less true. But we seldom see parents—with all the hard work and specialist skills they bring to the challenge—as actual professionals in that field. And while trying to advance that claim may come off as patronizing, failing to point it out would be a missed opportunity. Incidentally, it's exactly this balance, between risking condescension and withholding important information, that parents face every day with their children. Through intuition, experience, and often difficult analysis, parents hone a skill that other leaders regularly struggle with: knowing how and when to let go of control and set expectations instead. How Parents Lead You're under pressure from your kids to give them enough attention and cater to their physical needs, a pressure that becomes less constant but no less real as they grow up. At the same time, you're under pressure from yourself to make sure that they're safe, happy, and learning to deal with the world in appropriate ways. With every ounce of energy going into this balancing act, it's easy to take shortcuts, and that's the point at which parenting becomes controlling. Effective parenting involves setting boundaries, explaining why they exist, and then trusting children to respond to them on their own.It's easier to say, "You can't go to that place" than to teach your child to play safely Read more
    Source: Fast CompanyPublished on 2016-06-19By Mark Lukens
  • The Hidden Leadership Skill Every Good Parent Eventually Masters
    The fact that saying "parenting is a full-time job" is cliche doesn't make it any less true. But we seldom see parents—with all the hard work and specialist skills they bring to the challenge—as actual professionals in that field. And while trying to advance that claim may come off as patronizing, failing to point it out would be a missed opportunity. Incidentally, it's exactly this balance, between risking condescension and withholding important information, that parents face every day with their children. Through intuition, experience, and often difficult analysis, parents hone a skill that other leaders regularly struggle with: knowing how and when to let go of control and set expectations instead. How Parents Lead You're under pressure from your kids to give them enough attention and cater to their physical needs, a pressure that becomes less constant but no less real as they grow up. At the same time, you're under pressure from yourself to make sure that they're safe, happy, and learning to deal with the world in appropriate ways. With every ounce of energy going into this balancing act, it's easy to take shortcuts, and that's the point at which parenting becomes controlling. Effective parenting involves setting boundaries, explaining why they exist, and then trusting children to respond to them on their own.It's easier to say, "You can't go to that place" than to teach your child to play safely in a less secure environment. It's easier to discourage their friendship with a child whose influence you don't Read more
    Source: Fast CompanyPublished on 2016-06-19By Mark Lukens
  • The Whole Employee
    Even the most useful ideas sometimes cause problems. Work life balance, which has been crucial in re-evaluating our attitudes towards work, is one of those ideas. By drawing a line between the parts of our lives that are work and those that exist outside it, “balance” treats people as collections of separate components, rather than the fuzzy messes of intersecting issues that are real human lives. Work is affected by what happens outside, and vice versa. Not just accepting this but embracing it can allow us to lead our organizations towards something better. It’s time to stop balancing the separate parts and consider the whole employee. To let the parts of their lives be intertwined, and to make the most of the benefit this brings. Letting in the Outside Life The first step towards dealing with employees as whole people is to consider communication. We often treat large parts of people’s lives as neither relevant nor appropriate to the workplace. A gay employee may remain uncomfortably closeted because they are not sure how colleagues will respond. Employees with unusual hobbies may keep quiet about their passions for fear of mockery, and so never tap into their enthusiasm in the workplace, treating it as a space in which they don’t get fun or satisfaction. Employees going through turmoil at home may alienate those around them with an unexplained short temper or erratic behavior, when feeling they could speak up, even just a sentence to explain their circumstances, would make everything clear Read more
    Source: Thought and VigorPublished on 2016-06-17By Mark Lukens
  • Footprints Not Pedestals: Leadership as an Activity Not a Destination
    Why do you want to be a leader? For the money, the control and the swanky office? Or for the difference you can make to the world along the way? If it’s the former then you’re setting yourself up for disappointment, because real leadership isn’t about the destination – the prestigious job and the office suite. It’s an activity, and treating it that way is the only way you’ll get real satisfaction from your work. Why You’ll Never Reach That Peak Treating leadership as a prize, something prestigious you’ll get for your hard work, means aiming for a goal that doesn’t exist. One reason is obvious, or should be if we stop to think about it. Leadership is hard work. Once you get there, you’ll always have more to do. It isn’t the reward for your work – it is the work. Once you reach the dizzy heights, whatever your field, you’ll have to keep working to stay there. Staying on the peak is a balancing act. But the other reason is that the idea of reaching “the top” is illusory. Power and prestige are relative. However high you reach, someone will always have more than you. If your satisfaction is based on owning that power then you’ll never be happy, because there’ll always be more that you could have. There’ll always be someone doing better than you. Why You Shouldn’t Want To This gets into why that status and power isn’t any more desirable than it is realistic. To Read more
    Source: Thought and VigorPublished on 2016-05-19By Mark Lukens