The Look of Ethical Leadership

Call me idealistic, but I want more from Gen X and Gen Y when it comes to leadership. I want to see us go beyond the standard leadership stereotypes to something more global, accepting, and inclusive. To encourage non-typical leadership types to emerge and develop.

Can you imagine what it might look like if high-potentials weren’t chosen based on how well they fit the corporate image, but instead on how well they treat others? Have we gone overboard with making sure leaders present themselves a certain way as seen in the following video?

Sure, they all have the right corporate image, but is that what the leader of the future should be? What if these guys in the following video were the most ethical leaders you would ever met…

What about those people you work with right now who might not say the right corporate buzz-words, wear the right clothes, or graduate from the right schools?

What if instead, true leaders naturally emerge because everyone whom they come into contact with experiences a solid trustworthy person. When faced with the decision between right or wrong without hesitation he or she takes the ethical high-road. They might not have the right hair, but go out of their way to give credit to the entry-level employee with the bright idea that just made the company millions.

Maybe leadership looks more like the quiet co-worker who detests public speaking and back-to-back meetings, but whose character is unmistakable. Maybe it’s the guy who knows nothing about golf and can’t stand wearing polo shirts or it’s the girl who really doesn’t want to hide her tattoo because it’s part of who she is.

The Look of Ethical LeadershipWhat if tomorrow’s leaders are more about the inside than the outside? Less about the look and more about how they make you feel. Can you imagine? What if tomorrow’s leaders make good decisions, treat people well, and have brilliant ideas, but don’t look or sound the part.

I realize that in a global context, defining what it means to be an ethical leader will differ slightly, but the idealist in me once again asks whether we can move to a broader view of what an ethical leader should look like…

…to a leader who treats others with respect at every given opportunity, someone who is inclusive in encouraging dissenting opinions and viewpoints. Someone who really hears the thoughts and ideas of others, who doesn’t hold an employee’s title over his or her head as a mark of competence, and instead encourages all people regardless of background to lead at all times in everything they do.

All regardless image. Can you imagine…something different?


Cheryl DePonte is a Human Resources Learning and Performance Specialist at The Ken Blanchard Companies and has over 15 years experience in the fields of organizational effectiveness and human resources development.

Know Yourself

 “We know what we are, but know not what we may be.” —William Shakespeare

When recently opening a package of Green Tea, the quote, “It’s not a privilege to know others. Know yourself. That’s a privilege,” was attached to the string. Perhaps the tea manufacture was having a caffeinated paraphrasing of a Lao Tzu philosophy to push the notion that you’ll some how be more enlightened when you drink this potion.

Self Reflection?

Self Reflection?

As random as it may have seemed at the moment, I gave fate it’s due because I’ve recently been discovering behaviors about myself and how I work under pressure that have been most curious. In full confession, I wasn’t immediately enthusiastic or inspired to act on the words of encouragement from the Teabag—knowing oneself can be a very frightening proposition, and may cause even more stress than we are ready for.

On one hand, the business of getting to Know Yourself  may at first seem as if it could turn into a narcissistic escapade into an investigation of your own perceived flaws or perfections. Today, where we can turn every smart phone application into our own personal news network, status updating everyone on our trip to the gym, the food & drink we are consuming at any given moment, or snapping off a half dozen “Selfies” at arms length or in the mirror. The business of Knowing Oneself has the potential to quickly turn into how we want others to see us—not who we truly are.

And as daunting as the Tea Leaf’s proposition was to me, the notion of Self Knowledge is as ancient as cave paintings. The great philosopher Aristotle proposed that everybody has a rational and irrational side of their Self, used for identifying our own needs then making decisions according to those needs.

One of the greatest failures in the today’s workplace, and even more destructive in a  knowledge based economy, is the inability for individuals to effectively determine our own needs, leading us to make less quality decisions while executing our daily tasks. The core reason we don’t know what our daily needs are is that we fail to read the tea leaves—we rarely stop to take account of what our strengths and weaknesses are, what perceptions we have about our own needs and abilities, and when we need to reach out to others for the proper direction or support of the goals or tasks we’re working on.

Taking a moment to look at yourself and your own needs is not some vain exploration into how you can serve yourself better, but rather a reflection on how you could more effectively serve others when you Know Yourself better.

Jason Diamond Arnold is a Leadership Consultant at The Ken Blanchard Companies and Coauthor of Situational Self Leadership in Action.

Hail to the King? – Not If You Want to Manage

Have you ever worked for someone who thought they were the center of the world?  The person was so demanding that if you didn’t do what they wanted you to do, when they wanted you to do it, you would be getting an earful or worse?  When you hear the term “manager”, does your past experience make you think “dictator”?

caesarChances are, if you’re thinking about moving up to a leadership role (or are even in a leadership role now), the “bad boss” example from above probably showed you how not to behave.  However, in some cases, the way that person acted may have shaped an image for some who think that’s how a manager is supposed to act, especially for younger employees who may not have had many managers.

Consider the purpose of a manager – in the simplest terms, they provide task distribution and guidance.  Being a manager does not mean you are above others.  Just because you are in a position of power, it doesn’t mean you are “Lord of the Cubicles”.

I might be able to get away telling my dog “Hail to the King!”, but if I tried that with my wife, I’d be sleeping in the doghouse.  If I can’t get away with it at home, you better believe I can’t get away with it at work with people who aren’t even related to me.

chesskingHistory shows that most dictators only last so long before their people rise up an overthrow them.  While employees might not literally rise up against a toxic boss, you better believe that senior leadership will eventually take notice when a manager’s employee turnover rate exceeds the rest of the company, or that the manager-in-question seems to have their own filling cabinet of internal complaints in HR.

The bottom line is that a manager is there to support their people. The best managers look at their employees being the real bosses.  They tell their leader what they need, and the leader helps them get whatever they need to be successful.  If they are successful, the leader is successful, as well.  Plus, it makes for better all-around working conditions for managers and employees alike.

If your mindset still falls into the realm of management equaling power, you might find yourself facing your own coup d’état in the future…

Leave your comments!

Tips to Contain the Crazy: Increasing Productivity While Reducing Stress

I love to learn new ways to increase my own productivity while also reducing stress. I call it containing the crazy. Like many of you, I cling to my calendar, my to-do list…I shudder to think of the chaos should I ever lose my phone.

Tips to Contain the CrazyRecently, I decided to try some new ways to be more productive and less stressed:

1. Spa water – in a scientific study, those who were fully-hydrated had improved mood and were less sleepy. So, I decided to try drinking spa water (sometimes called “infused water”) and I’m hooked. You get your water in for the day and it’s flavored without all the calories and chemicals. Refill as needed and enjoy. Here is a wikihow on how to make spa water:

How to make spa water

2. Concentration Music – it is said that listening to baroque classical music has been scientifically shown to improve mood, productivity, and concentration. So, I decided to give it a whirl and wouldn’t you know, it works! I get more work done faster and more precisely while being relaxed the entire time. Gotta love classical music! Here is a sample for your listening pleasure:

3. A Timer – scientific studies also show we have a limited attention span for tasks. This time has varied in studies anywhere from 10 minutes to up to 40 minutes. So, I set a timer and only worked on a task for a specified period and then took a break. I also used a timer to go back and forth between tasks. This has worked wonders for getting many more things done in a day than I could have imagined. A link to a fabulous, easy-to-set online timer:

Online Timer

These tips for containing the crazy work well for my own personal work style and help me to be a more calm, productive, and focused leader.

Share with us your tips to contain the crazy, increase productivity, and reduce stress. No matter how unique they may be, please share! What works for you?

What’s wrong at work? You may need an Alberti

As a kid, I watched the movie Renaissance Man with Danny DeVito. Some of you may remember the film. Danny DeVito is this Advertising Executive with an Ivy League background who is fired from his job. He gets a temporary teaching position and is given six weeks to teach low-achieving soldiers the basics of comprehension and use of English language. He uses Shakespeare, the Renaissance, and other avenues to teach his students. Yet, only one of the historical figures covered in the film has mesmerized me ever since: His name is Leon Battista Alberti.alberti
When I was in Spain a few years ago I had the opportunity to see some of his work at the Prado in Madrid. That’s when I knew, Leon Battista Alberti was the quintessential Renaissance Man. He was the Renaissance Man even before we knew what it was. In fact, Alberti is largely credited with actually defining the term Renaissance man as “men can do all things if they will.” He grew up pre-Renaissance in Bologna because his family was ousted out of Florence by the republican government, run by the Albizzis. His mother died as a result of the Bubonic Plague and he and his brother were raised by his father. He studied architecture and painting, he was a self-taught composer and musician, and he was a heck of an athlete, particularly known in the area for his fine horsemanship. A legend of Alberti states that he could stand flat-footed, look into a man’s eyes and leap right over his head. This legend is exactly why I still remember Leon Battista Alberti today.

“No crime is so great as daring to excel.” Winston Churchill

Often times in our work we become overrun with responding to emails, balancing projects, and stressing over the unknown that we hardly have time to develop certain skills that will set us apart from our peers. Or even leap us beyond our peers. Here are some questions to ask yourself for self-evaluation and reflection to help you find your “Alberti”:

What am I good at? Be honest here. Don’t overvalue your stock on this because others won’t see the same value and you might end up trying to sell a stock that’s overpriced.
What does this organization need/lack that I could champion? Your Alberti needs to be aligned with the organization. In order for it to be value added it must correspond with the vision of your organization.
Do I have the resources? If not, how can I get them? Look at your own career. What is the next step? A degree? A certification? If you can’t access any resources where can you go to get them? Getting stagnate on your skills is one way to have a mediocre career.
Does this matter to me? In a recent interview, former President Clinton was asked if he was selfless for committing so much time to his non-for-profit organizations. He said, “It’s because I’m selfish. I do it because it makes me feel good about myself.” If it doesn’t matter to you, your motivation to prioritize it and work on it won’t be sustained.

So, what’s your Alberti? Are you known in the office for doing something that adds value? If not, then find your Alberti and pursue it.

For any further information or questions contact me at

Are You Handcuffing Yourself with Process?

Process can be a great thing.  It gives you a roadmap to get something from “point A” to “point B”, whether that something is a product/service/request/etc…  Generally speaking, it’s usually scalable and can be used by multiple employees and customers.  However, it can also present a road block to your employees and customers depending on whether they are allowed to deviate from procedure in special circumstances.  Where do you find the balance?

Handcuffs and Key I am a big fan of Consumerist, the blogging arm of Consumer Reports.  If you aren’t familiar with the site, the authors report both positive and negative stores regarding the actions of companies and organizations.  Usually, when I see a negative posting about a company, it’s not because the employees of the company in question wanted to wrong a customer.  In most cases, you can clearly see that a lot of the complaints in these stories are about customers having to jump through hoops and spending hours trying to get their problems resolved simply because the frontline employees (and in some cases, the supervisors and managers) cannot do what needs to be done to make the situation right.  They are required to follow established process, which isn’t always a one-size fits all solution.

Not only is this bad practice when it comes to customer service, it can create a negative perception about an organization.  I’ve personally cancelled services with companies simply because they wouldn’t make exceptions in extreme cases.  I would then recommend to my friends/family that they avoid these companies so they wouldn’t have to deal with the hassles I did.

It’s so much of a trend that Consumerist came up with what it calls the EECB, which stands for “Executive Email Carpet Bomb”.  When customers have exhausted all other avenues to resolve a problem, they can put together an email and send it to top-level executives following the tips Consumerist outlines on their site.  In the majority of cases where a complaint is escalated using the EECB, the customer’s complaint is usually solved in a satisfactory fashion.

Man Jumping Through HoopWhile it’s great that this solution does exist, it shouldn’t take the involvement of executive offices to resolve these types of complaints.  Employees need to be given enough leeway to make the executive decisions in cases that fall outside the norm.

When crafting a process or even re-examining an existing process, consider the following:

  • Can the process be duplicated by others with relative ease? (i.e. is it scalable?)
  • Is the process efficient for your employees and/or customers so they don’t have to jump through hoops?
  • Are there potential holes in the process where the ball might get dropped by one or more individuals?
  • Does the process give a desired outcome in the shortest possible timeframe?
  • Most importantly, can employees/customers move forward outside of the establish process under special circumstances?

Leave your comments!

The Edge of Leadership

Five Smooth Stones

Five Smooth Stones

Made from old wires and glass bulbs. With almost nothing, Edison made the impossible happen! –Oz, The Great and Powerful

Ever since a little shepherd boy knelt down to pull five smooth stones from a quiet brook to strike down a loud and defiant giant, the small but efficient approach to life has had tremendous value. In fact, now as we move from the Goliath factories of the assembly line Industrial Age, and into the rapid currents of change in the technology-driven Information Age, small is the new big.

Today’s organizations need employees, leaders, and strategies that are lean and agile to maintain a significant competitive advantage in today’s rapidly evolving workplace.

A small software firm in Denver, CO, Providigm LLC, has been employing the agile approach to their daily workflow with great results. Matthew Emge, the Quality Assurance Lead is a central figure in the wildly successful agile collaboration exercised daily at Providigm. The long and lanky tech guru, in his blue jeans and black t-shirt, looks like he just stepped off a college campus rather than serve as double-decade tech vet. “Agile manages stress,” Emge says, and it’s helping him and his colleagues excel through the small but efficient approach to their projects.

Agile Development

“I like agile because it’s a great way of adapting to constant change, minimizing rework, encouraging communication and giving value to every member of the team,” he reflects.

Agile Collaboration

Agile Collaboration

Each morning Emge and his colleagues participate in a scrum. In rugby football, a scrum refers to the manner of restarting the game after a minor infraction. The scrums at Providigm are short meetings with the Development Team to circle up around the project. During the scrum, the team gathers with the Product Owner (who represents the client’s interests) for an open meeting that lasts five to ten minutes. Each member of the team becomes a short storyteller, describing what they did the previous day, what they plan for the current day, and what potential obstacles or roadblocks are in the way of a productive day. After the meeting, the group collaborates on shared tasks, evaluates where they are at in the learning process, clarifies any uncertainty around shared goals, and resolves any outstanding conflicts.


The day-to-day work at Providigm is part of a short work cycle called an iteration. Ideally, iterations last two to four weeks.

“We begin with a planning meeting to assign tasks,” Emge describes. “We complete the work, and when it’s finished, we hold a demo to show the product owner what we’ve done.”

In the demo meeting the agile team documents any requested changes, which are included in the planning meeting for the next iteration. Shortly after the planning meeting the development team meets for a retrospective meeting where each member of the team tells what worked or didn’t work. Under the guidance of a manager, the team collectively commits to making the small adjustments needed for improvement and efficacy in the next Iteration.

Collaborative Communication

But agile collaboration is not only about working in small iterations; it’s about collaborative communication every step of the way through the project. Rather than isolating teams in cubicles or offices, only to come together for long and often boring information dump meetings, where people pound their chest like proud Philistines, the agile team at Providigm works in the bullpen—a close quarters setting where anyone can be called upon at any moment.

“We talk to each other and collaborate throughout the day. But we keep documentation to a minimum because we know false assumptions can easily creep in if we overthink things. The manager and product owner are always close by if we need to speak face-to-face in order to make quick decisions for moving forward.”

 The Agile Difference

To appreciate the benefits of agile collaboration you have to understand how software used to be developed. In the past, there would be months of planning, long tiresome meetings, mountains of project documentation, more months of seemingly endless coding. Finally, at the end of the lengthy development cycle, the product would take more months to be tested and approved for release.

“Back in those days,” Emge recalls, “We worked with a great deal of assumptions. While we were scrupulous in addressing those assumptions, inevitably there were too many assumptions to address all at onc. And we would often be wrong. When the product was released, we’d have to revise months of work just to get back on course. It was like trying to turn the Titanic, and if we were too slow for the market, we’d have to scrap the project and start over with something new.”

The Cutting Edge

Cutting Edge

Cutting Edge

To understand the agile approach, imagine you are making a pocketknife for a client. With the old development methods, business analysts would talk to the consumer and draw up lengthy plans for a smart knife with a camera, wi-fi connection, gps, apps, and cheese grater for that special moment. After the documentation and meeting marathons, developers would dig in and code the knife to the analysts’ specifications. Upon release, consumers would try it out and say most of the features were useless and got in the way—but the cheese grater would be nice if they actually made dinner at home. What’s more, the blade was too dull to cut anything.

In agile development, the process would start by releasing a knife with one single blade. The agile team would see how consumers are using it and not using it, make adjustments, and then add another essential feature.

“Before continuing, we listen to our users and make changes to meet their needs. We proceed one step at a time with constant consumer review,” Emge summarizes.

That’s how agile works—sharp as a well-made Swiss blade–with small but efficient steps that lead to an amazingly effective and refreshing approach to producing goods and services. Who knows, perhaps it’s even simple enough for a little shepherd boy facing a giant.

Jason Diamond Arnold is a Leadership Consultant and CoAuthor of Situational Self Leadership in Action, a virtual leadership program for individual contributors in the workplace.

Register Now for the Blanchard Leadership Livecast “Doing ‘Still’ More With Less” to see Jason’s video on The Lean Approach to innovation. This is a free online event with guest commentary from Ken and Scott Blanchard!


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