My latest Articles

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

  • 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
  • Managing Your Mind
    Understanding ourselves can be a humbling experience. Whether it’s recognizing a small mistake or understanding what microscopic specs of stardust we are in the context of the universe, these are moments when truth intrudes upon our sense of self. One of the most important truths neuroscience provides for us as leaders, and one of the most humbling, is just how quickly and easily we can do harm through our attitudes. As with all such truths, this can help us to become better leaders. Emotional Contagion Emotional contagion might sound like something from an episode of Star Trek, but it’s an all too real challenge. We might think that we have our emotions under control, but in reality we give off many tiny indicators, and the people we interact with pick up on our emotional states before either we or they are aware of it. Happening in mere milliseconds, this leads to the spread of emotions, especially negative emotions. Neural systems responsible for emotional arousal kick in before the conscious mind has had time to process the information. Unhappiness, frustration and other counter-productive emotions spread. This means that our bad moods as leaders can easily spread as we move around the organization. Even when we think we have our feelings under control, we may leave disenchantment in our wake. Threat Responses Much of the way our brains work is designed for a simpler time, when we were struggling to survive. This includes the threat response. Triggered by unexpected events, the threat… Read more
    Source: Thought and VigorPublished on 2016-05-18By Mark Lukens
  • What Causes Uncomfortable Work Conversations And How To Avoid Them
    The foundation of good communication isn’t the words but the feelings underlying them. As leaders, we set the tone for communication in our businesses. We know that we set an example, and that the way we communicate will set the tone for the organization. But why is this important? And how can we break out of the trap of toxic communication to improve both the happiness and the productivity of those around us? The Importance of Good Communication Good communication is important for a number of reasons. Most obviously, there are the inefficiencies that come with poor communication. A study by academics at the Harvard Medical School and the University of Boston found that over $12 billion per year is wasted in the US medical sector alone due to inefficiencies caused by poor communication. Communication is an important factor in limiting conflicts, improving employee satisfaction and avoiding employee burnout. Other studies have shown how communication variables play a direct part in satisfaction and burnout, and so in both the productivity of your workforce and how long they stick with you. Good communication is not just nice to have. It’s vital to the smooth running of any business. Creating Positivity Yet poor communication is the norm in many businesses. Typical workplace conversations contain four times as much rehashing of past problems and assigning of blame as they do focusing on the present and looking to the future. This leads to an atmosphere of fear and tension, and increases the number of… Read more
    Source: Thought and VigorPublished on 2016-05-14By Mark Lukens
  • Putting People Before Profits
    It’s a principle we all ascribe to in theory – that human beings matter more than money in hand. Yet how many businesses are really built around putting people before profits? How many of us can say that, in the way that we run our businesses, we are treating the world in the way that we want it to treat us? But putting people and principles at the heart of our business doesn’t mean missing out on the opportunity to make money. Far from it, though it’s seldom acknowledged, putting people before profits is one of the most powerful and enduring paths to success. Providing for a tribe As Seth Godin has pointed out, innovative artists and businesses succeed not by creating fans and customers from scratch, but by connecting in with an already existing tribe of interest, a group of people who will want the product you are putting out there. The obvious route for business, the one too many take, is to try to grab a chunk of the largest pie. They look to sell their products to the whole of humanity as an anonymous mass, despite the fact that none of us are interested in the same things. They try to enter into already crowded markets, concerned not with people and their interests but with head count and with drawing attention. Far better to start with what interests people, what you are passionate about and believe others will be passionate about. Find a tribe that is under-served… Read more
    Source: Thought and VigorPublished on 2016-05-12By Mark Lukens
  • Here’s How Your Ambition Today Might Let You Down Later
    Why do you want to be a leader? For the pay, the influence, the swanky office? Or for the difference you can make along the way? Of course, these things aren't mutually exclusive, and it's okay to be ambitious. But if you tend to weigh the former perks more heavily, you may be setting yourself up for disappointment. Why? Because real leadership isn't about the destination—you never actually arrive. It's an activity, a process—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, as something prestigious you'll earn after putting in a certain amount of hard work, means aiming for a goal that doesn't exist. We don't get to become a complete, whole person and then stay that way. We're always growing, always changing, always aging.One reason for this 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 upper level, in whatever your field, you'll have to keep working hard to stay there. And that requires a careful, often difficult balancing act. But the other reason is that the idea of reaching "the top" is itself a fantasy. Power and prestige are relative. However high you climb, someone will always have more than you or appear higher up. If… Read more
    Source: Fast CompanyPublished on 2016-05-12By Mark Lukens
  • Should We Cap Executive Salaries? Pay in the Age of the Social Business
    Social business isn’t just about creating more ethical products. It isn’t about small tweaks that make a business less ugly. It’s about addressing the fundamentals of society and of a business within society. And nothing is more fundamental to business than pay. After all, nobody would go to the office without it. So what are the problems with the current approach to pay? And what might we change to make pay work better for society? Letting Go of Entitlement There’s a reason why we’ve heard so much talk about entitlement in recent social debates. Arguments ranging from political engagement to the plots of computer games often boil down to attempts by one side to create greater equality, while the other side defends the status quo, feeling they are entitled to what they have simply because that’s how things have been. Like the angry voices of “Gamergate,” many in business feel entitled to ever-rising pay. In this view, doing well entitles us to ever higher wages. Our pay should never drop unless we make a cataclysmic error. And it indulges those at the top to massive sums, with CEO’s receiving 300 times as much as average workers. But this approach to pay is not set in stone. As recently as the 1970s, the pay ratio between CEOs and average workers was only twenty-five to one. Ever-rising wages are connected to the dangers of inflation. If we let go of our entitled assumptions, what models could we adopt instead? Leaving Behind Performance-related Pay… Read more
    Source: Thought and VigorPublished on 2016-05-11By Mark Lukens
  • Why Leaders Should Seek Out Immigrant Employees
    Migration is one of the greatest challenges facing modern society. The OECD estimates there are currently 232 million migrants globally, while Migration Policy Institute data shows the United States is the most common destination. Reactionaries see this as a threat. But as socially conscious business leaders we should be seizing the opportunity it creates – to build closer communities, a better society and stronger businesses. The Great “Debate” The arguments against migration are all too well covered in the press. While politicians in America discuss whether to build a wall or just use armed men to keep out our neighbors, Europe grapples with the crisis triggered by sudden and massive migration from Syria, a country devastated by environmental collapse, fundamentalist politics and civil war. While Canada sets an example by welcoming refugees as human beings, most of the West is screaming in alarm. The arguments are simple – these people will take our jobs and destroy our culture. In reality, the sort of people who migrate are disproportionately those who will contribute well to the economy. Demonizing them creates the sort of dysfunctional society of which politicians often complain. Embracing them can help us to build a better workforce. Addressing the Facts The truth is immigrants are not taking on the same jobs that American-born workers prefer. They are around fifty per cent more likely to work in service or heavy labor jobs, and significantly less likely to work in the professional and office-based occupations that provide the greatest status and wealth. Immigrants are taking on the jobs… Read more
    Source: Thought and VigorPublished on 2016-05-08By Mark Lukens
  • What Causes Uncomfortable Work Conversations And How To Avoid Them
    In 2010, researchers at Harvard Medical School and the University of Boston found that the U.S. medical industry wastes over $12 billion per year thanks to inefficiencies caused by poor communication. You probably don't need a study to tell you why good communication is so important in the workplace, though. At best, it heads off conflicts and keeps everyone working together—productively and happily. Other studies (for good measure) have shown how communication plays a direct role in boosting employee satisfaction and avoiding burnout. Even trying to lighten the mood can do damage when it's done wrong.So it follows that, at worst, bad communication can be a major source of stress, discomfort, and even employee attrition. But not all uncomfortable work conversations are necessarily bad—they might just signal that it's time to make some improvements in how your team members communicate with one another. Here's how. Creating Positivity In A Bad Environment Unfortunately, poor communication is the norm in many businesses. Typical workplace conversations have been found to contain four times as much rehashing of past problems and assigning of blame as they do present-day and forward-looking solutions. This leads to an atmosphere of fear and tension, and increases the number of uncomfortable conversations employees are likely to have. Before long, a combative mentality pervades your office, preventing basic cooperation from occurring. Under these conditions, even trying to lighten the mood can do damage when it's done wrong. Deliberately injecting humor might feel like a smart move, and mere light banter,… Read more
    Source: Fast CompanyPublished on 2016-05-02By Mark Lukens
  • Should We Cap Executive Salaries? Pay in the Age of the Social Business
    Social business isn’t just about creating more ethical products. It isn’t about small tweaks that make a business less ugly. It’s about addressing the fundamentals of society and of a business within society. And nothing is more fundamental to business than pay. After all, nobody would go to the office without it. So what are […] Read more... Read More» The post Should We Cap Executive Salaries? Pay in the Age of the Social Business appeared first on Switch & Shift. Read more
    Source: Switch and ShiftPublished on 2016-04-26By Mark Lukens
  • Revolution or Evolution – Which Will You Lead?
    Transformation is a big deal in business leadership. Since the Second World War and the Japanese economic resurgence that followed, we’ve seen a steady growth in the tools and techniques of transformation. We’ve analyzed how to transform a businesstypes of transformation, how to overcome the challenges, even the details of how to make specific transformations. Is it time to move the conversation on? The Grand Upheaval The Second World War led to two great strands of change in business processes, both rooted in manufacturing. In the United States, analysts such as Robert McNamara brought data-driven analysis to the arms industry to fight the war more efficiently. The necessities of global conflict made it easier to push through change. In the post-war era, their insights led to an interest in change management that eventually gave birth to Six Sigma in the 1980s. Meanwhile, in reconstruction Japan, engineers were building on the work of Sakichi Toyoda, Kiichiro Toyoda and Taiichi Ohno to create the Toyota Production System. This approach, and the lean management techniques that followed, focused on process analysis and the removal of waste. The upheaval of war created radical new approaches. To break through the barriers of habit and complacency, they were executed through transformational projects of great drama and energy. A whole industry of transformation consultants emerged. But is this still what we need? Evolving a Business Doubtless, some businesses still benefit from the swift kick in the pants that is a transformational project. But as history has shown time and… Read more
    Source: Thought and VigorPublished on 2016-04-20By Mark Lukens
  • Zuckerberg’s LLC and the Future of Social Business
    “By using an LLC instead of a traditional foundation… we gain flexibility to execute our mission more effectively.” – Mark Zuckerberg The foundation of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan’s new philanthropic venture, has drawn attention for the generosity of its founding investment – 99 percent of Zuckerberg’s Facebook shares, valued at $45 billion. But in some ways, the form the initiative will take is as important as the amount of money being invested. The Initiative will be an LLC rather than a registered charity, an unusual model for a philanthropic endeavor, and one for which Zuckerberg has been criticized. Zuckerberg’s approach highlights how much using business models can benefit social enterprises. Flexibility The LLC is among the most popular forms of corporate governance, and with good reason. It provides a level of flexibility not available in most other structures. In particular, it has more flexibility than a charity. Charities are bound by legal restrictions, and with good reason. For a conventional charity to work, it has to be trusted. Donors need certainty that their money will be spent on the cause to which they donated, and that it will spent wisely. They need to know that the people running the charity aren’t just out to make a profit for themselves, and regulations provide reassurance. But a foundation such as the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative doesn’t need to earn public trust. Its funds come from the private wealth of its founders. It can function without the restrictions legal charity… Read more
    Source: Thought and VigorPublished on 2016-04-14By Mark Lukens
  • Are You Taking Social Marketing Seriously?
    Are You Taking Social Marketing Seriously? We all talk the social marketing talk. Whether it’s in blog posts, books or dinner party conversations, the air of business is heady with the jargon of social media as a marketing tool – demographic slices, viral videos, tweets, followers, traction, penetration, and a thousand more buzzwords that seem to fit the theme. It’s easy to talk the talk. The question is, are you really walking the walk? A New Age Social marketing isn’t just about taking old approaches and applying them through new channels. It’s not that you can’t apply the old ways on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. You can apply those old ways anywhere. But in the new world of social marketing, they won’t gain you the traction to get ahead of your competitors, or even ahead of where you are now. Old approaches to advertising were about putting out a single mass message. You reached millions of people, and hoped to attract a few thousand of them to your products. A campaign built for social media is far more sophisticated and more tightly focused. Instead of wasting effort on reaching a mass market, it targets the customers most likely to want your products. By being personal and targeted it reaches them in a way that mass marketing never could. It is more focused, more effective, and will beat old approaches every time. Giving to Receive This means that your marketing can’t just be a matter of empty slogans. Your marketing is… Read more
    Source: Thought and VigorPublished on 2016-04-12By Mark Lukens
  • Why Leaders Should Seek Out Immigrant Employees
    Reactionaries see this as a threat. But as socially conscious business leaders we should be seizing the opportunity it creates – to build closer communities, a better society and stronger businesses.... Read More» The post Why Leaders Should Seek Out Immigrant Employees appeared first on Switch & Shift. Read more
    Source: Switch and ShiftPublished on 2016-04-12By Mark Lukens
  • Revolution or Evolution – Which Will You Lead?
    Transformation is a big deal in business leadership. Since the Second World War and the Japanese economic resurgence that followed, we’ve seen a steady growth in the tools and techniques of transformation. We’ve analyzed how to transform a business, types of transformation, how to overcome the challenges, even the details of how to make specific […] Read more... Read More» The post Revolution or Evolution – Which Will You Lead? appeared first on Switch & Shift. Read more
    Source: Switch and ShiftPublished on 2016-04-06By Mark Lukens
  • Applying Analytics in a Human Way
    Applying Analytics in a Human Way Big data has been one of the big trends of the past year. But by its very nature it can be dehumanizing, distancing us from the reality of people’s lived experience. The challenge we must face this year, and going forward from it, is how to connect that analytics into the lived experience of employees and so use big data in a more human way. Encouraging Self-awareness One of the growing trends in big data is using its power to understand and manage talent. At the moment, this is often viewed from a high level. Managers use the data to identify gaps in the talent pool within their organizations, as well as for opportunities to grow the existing skill base. That insight becomes the basis for broad talent development strategies, which eventually filter down into individual training and development. But there’s a disconnect between the data and the ways that employees experience the results. While the organization is using data to self-reflect and improve, it isn’t using it to give employees the same opportunity. The best learning and development comes from understanding ourselves. If we can use the available data to increase employees’ self-awareness then we can make them agents of their own talent development, not just recipients of training courses. We should use the data to help them understand their own performance, put that performance in the wider context of the business, and show them what they could be achieving. It’s about connecting… Read more
    Source: Thought and VigorPublished on 2016-04-05By Mark Lukens