How Managers Can Become Career Agents

The concept of a career agent isn’t new or novel. At some point or another, everyone has worked alongside a career agent. You know the type: The great managers of people in your organization that genuinely care about the future of their colleagues. They not only know their employee’s career goals; they do everything in their power to help them achieve their dreams.


You know a great career agent when you see one. People gravitate to them as mentors and coaches. They want them to be their managers because they know they have their best interest in mind.  But, great leaders aren’t born overnight. Billions of dollars are spent each year on leadership development and training, and often the results are less than desired.


Last week I sat down with Kris Dunn, CHRO of Kinetix and founder of Fistful of Talent, and Ed Baldwin, Founder of HRO Partners, to discuss the importance of incorporating career agent training into your learning and development programs. During the candid conversation we talked about:


  • How to encourage managers to include WIIFM (What’s in it for me?) in every conversation with employees – which is a serious game changer
  • Why having an approach to coaching skills is a must when it comes to improving performance
  • Ways to prepare managers (through training) to change their world-view and leadership style


Check out a recording of the recent L&D Hangout with Fistful of Talent to hear some funny and insightful advice on how to make managers career agents today!


3 Tips to Make More Time for Learning

In any given week, employees dedicate about 1% of their time to learning and development. I did the math, during the average 40-hour workweek only 24 minutes can be carved out for learning. Yet, learning and development consistently rank as top priorities for both employers and employees.


People want to learn; they want to take advantage of on-the-job training and continuous career development programs so they can be better performers and more skilled. But the workforce today is busy and distracted. When employees are pulled into new projects and asked to take on bigger workloads, learning and development gets put on the backburner. At some point in your career, I’d be willing to bet you had to forgo a learning opportunity, or were forced to complete a training course outside of traditional work hours, because you simply didn’t have enough time during the workday.  It doesn’t have to be that way. Shifting your corporate mindset to embrace and celebrate learning at work is completely doable. Here are three simple tips managers can implement today to make more time for learning.


3 tips to make learning and development a priority:


  1. Make learning part of the job – Learners are overwhelmed. In fact, according to Bersin by Deloitte, 2/3 of knowledge workers complain that they don’t have time to do their jobs. If they don’t have the bandwidth to do their actual jobs, they certainly won’t have time for learning. This is why making learning part of the job is critical to user adoption and success. By dedicating specific hours to employee development, and making those hours a requirement of the job, learners will actually benefit from your programs. It alleviates employee’s fear that they are wasting precious time that could otherwise be dedicated to their real workload, and eliminates the stigma that learning should happen off hours. If managers embrace learning and make it part of the job, your teams will be more engaged and more productive, and of course, more knowledgeable and better equipped to do their jobs.
  2. Limit the interruptions – Workers are interrupted every five minutes, and ironically enough the interruptions are often attributed to work applications and collaboration tools. Go figure. By limiting the interruptions and forcing learners to focus solely on the task at hand, they will walk always with tangible lessons learned. I recently completed an interactive training course, and if I clicked off the module at any point during the session it would pause. It was impossible to multitask! As a result, I actually paid attention to the training because I wasn’t distracted by emails and desktop alerts throughout the session. This is just one example of the dozens of different ways you can limit the interruptions during training activities so that people can completely dedicate their attention to the lesson and walk away having gained more information and skills.
  3. Lead by example – If managers don’t take learning seriously, employees won’t either. It is critical that value and importance of taking time for learning is communicated from the top down. Executives and managers are responsible for creating and emphasizing the mind shift that learning isn’t a hassle, it’s an opportunity. Check out one of our new whitepapers, written by Ed Nathanson, founder of Red Pill Talent, titled “How L&D Solves Retention and Attrition.” In the whitepaper, Ed covers a lot of different approaches to help you shift your organizational culture from dreading learning to celebrating learning.


What do you think? Do you have more tips on how to help organizations embrace time spent on learning? Share your feedback below!



The Leadership Styles of Breaking Bad

As a massive nerd and a sucker for high-quality television shows and movies, one of the long-standing arguments I have had over the years is “What is the greatest TV show of all time?” No matter who I am speaking with The Twilight Zone, Game of Thrones, The Simpsons, Cheers are without a doubt brought up. For me though, my top three are The Sopranos, Seinfeld and Breaking Bad.  These shows were the epitome of TV excellence, and to this day remain relevant and ingrained in our pop culture psyche.


As I continue my blog series on “The Leadership Styles of Pop Culture,” it only makes sense that we move the discussion to the characters of Breaking Bad. This show has as phenomenal story, but the real reason I believe people love Breaking Bad is because of its incredible characters and actors. Of course Walter White is the star of the show, but the supporting characters are all incredible and offer us a lot of really good examples of potential leadership styles in the workplace.


As with all the posts in this series, I cannot reference ALL of the characters (blame it on ADD), but I will talk about the most relevant characters. Also, per the rating system for their respective leadership styles, I always choose a reference from the show or movie to use as a grade. For this post, let’s go with one of my favorite “fake” businesses ever made in any movie or show – Los Pollos Hermanos. So check for purity, and you better call Saul if you have issues – let’s do this!


Walter White

One of the most complex characters in television history played to perfection by Bryan Cranston. White starts out as a teacher with cancer and transforms into Heisenberg, a meth kingpin. White was originally motivated to get money for the family he was leaving behind if the cancer took his life, but what slowly became very apparent is he actually had a talent for drug making and dealing. And, more importantly, he enjoyed it.


What started out as a selfless endeavor became an almost 100% selfish one. White is incredibly intelligent, and had a knack for improvisation in crucial situations and was a master tactician. As a leader in the workplace, I envision a Walter White as someone highly focused on specialty and skills. Meaning that these type of leaders typically like to specialize in areas they lead and they tend to be more technical or intellectual in focus. They do this so they can be surrounded by people who appreciate their talents and intelligence and have little time to convince others of their mission or importance. These leaders are not highly social, and thus sometimes struggle with engaging their employees in what they perceive as non-business type discussions, like employee relations. Walter White’s want to be appreciated for being really smart, and don’t often work well with other functions of the company that don’t align with their views of the business world.


These leaders can be very aggressive at times and incredibly dogged in their determination to achieve goals, and will often simply terminate or go silent with those who are not perceived to be on the same page. These leaders also have a tough time collaborating with others – while they do believe the opposite is usually true. Their motivations typically are their own advancement and recognition, not broader company goals or objectives. These leaders do like to teach, but only if their students show the aptitude for it. However, they do not like to teach those who are not equally as passionate about the subject matter.


These leaders also can be highly strategic and often bring a lot of value with their plans, – but they struggle with communicating to those who find their plans hard to follow. These leaders can also be highly deceitful in the name of their own ambitions.


I loved the character, but I am pretty sure a leader like Walter White and I would lack chemistry (see what I did there?).

Leadership score: 2 out of 5 Los Pollos Hermanos


Jesse Pinkman

Another character from Breaking Bad that transformed A LOT over the course of the series is Jesse Pinkman. He started out as a junkie and small-time dealer and turned into, in a lot of ways, the moral conscience of the show. He was comedic relief at times and deep emotional drama at others. While Walter White kept discovering more opportunities as his operation grew, Jesse became less and less willing to go along with what was happening.


As a leader in an office, I believe a Jesse leader is driven by emotion.  These leaders wear their emotions on their sleeve, and unlike a White who will keep his emotion in check, a Jesse leader is prone to some serious ups and downs, and this behavior will affect all who work with them. These leaders excel at interpersonal relationships, and often become advocates for those who seek their counsel. These leaders are heavily involved in the people they work with, and value these relationships as such. Jesse leaders are incredibly communicative and will excel in situations where there needs to be someone to bridge the gap between two different parties. These leaders, while typically highly intelligent, are not detail or process oriented people though. They tend to surround themselves with people who excel at things like spreadsheets and numbers to compensate for what they typically acknowledge is a weakness.


These leaders are your coach types, and are often very selfless in how they spend their time and share opportunities with team members. The Jesse leader is not good at office politics because their communication style is so emotional and direct in nature. They struggle with how to finesse messages and in turn rub some folks the wrong way. Their intentions are typically noble and for the greater good, but their execution can sometimes be sloppy and not planned well.  While I am sure I would love to be greeted by “Yo, bitch!” in meetings, I am not sure I would love working for a Jesse.

Leadership score: 3 out of 5 Los Pollos Hermanos


Saul Goodman

Without a doubt one of the most memorable characters from Breaking Bad. There is a good reason he got his own spinoff. The morally ambiguous lawyer of White (and a whole lot of other questionable clientele!) Saul was undeniably skilled at his craft, but literally had zero moral center. He would do or say anything for the benefits of his clients. He was purely about profit and personal gain, and while he would profess his caring about his clients, it was really all for show – his interests were 100% personal.


We have seen these leaders in the workplace (or at least I have). These people can be very eloquent and are highly persuasive, but are incredibly political in their intent. These leaders do not lead by example and really struggle with leadership as a skill by itself. Because they are so driven by their own personal ambition, they tend to have a lot of problems working with a larger group to achieve their goals. These leaders would rather go off on their own and do what is needed rather than wait for others to help. People tend to like these leaders as people because they are usually very engaging and definitely have excellent people skills. However, in time, a lot of the affection they garner starts to erode away as these leaders do less giving and a lot more taking. As their goodwill begins to erode over time due to their own actions, their ability to be trusted and thus effective is impacted. These leaders typically have short shelf life at companies, and will often leave companies to other pastures to rinse, wash and repeat. Saul Goodan is hilarious on the show, but there is nothing funny about this dude as a leader.

Leadership score: 1 out of 5 Los Pollos Hermanos


Gustavo ‘Gus’ Fring

Gus is my favorite character from Breaking Bad. This dude is ridiculously smart, highly detailed, straight forward communicator and was 100% lethal. That whole cartel flashback scene? Yeah – you don’t mess with Gus. He literally was running two successful businesses – one legitimate and the other entirely illegitimate.  Say what you will about him, it is clear he was a good leader. Putting aside the whole drug dealer and murderer thing – let’s imagine Gus as a leader in the workplace.


From my point of view, I see an incredibly effective leader. Gus leaders are planners. They worry over every detail and never put anything to chance. They are highly intelligent and innovative thinkers, and are very practical in their execution. They know they cannot do it alone, and will seek out the assistance of others to do so. While seeking help, they are also looking to build mutual trust with those they enlist. Walter chafed at this tactic because of his own personal ambitions, but Mike and Jesse reaction to Gus was far different. They bought in and saw the relationship as mutually beneficial and became highly motivated to succeed. They saw what was in it for both parties. Like any good leader, Gus inspires his teams. He compensated well, set clear goals (lots and lots of Blue Sky or fried chicken) and was not a micro-manager. Look even further at his teams at Los Pollos Hermanos – they were highly engaged and proud to work there and insisted on quality for their customers.


Even more striking with Gus leaders as they will undoubtedly lead by example. Gus worked the counter at Los Pollos Hermanos, and also brokered deals himself for the Blue Sky operation. He collaborates well with employees (with the exception of Walter), and a straight forward communicator. There was very little left for interpretation. Of all the leaders on Breaking Bad I would want to work for Gus – just not on the illegitimate side of the business!

Leadership score:  5 out of 5 Los Pollos Hermanos


Hank Schrader

Walter’s brother-in-law who, unfortunately for Walter, – is also a DEA Agent. Hank is incredibly likeable on the show, a real man’s man who is clearly driven by good intentions, although his execution left a lot to be desired. We can all agree that being a DEA agent and having your brother in law operate as a meth kingpin for years under your nose is not a good look.


Hank leaders are incredibly caring and compassionate people. They lead by power of personality, and constantly encourage the people they work with using positive reinforcement. They, like Gus, get into the weeds and are willing to do anything they ask of their teams themselves. These leaders believe in growing their teams and will invest in learning and development initiatives because they want to see the people around them successful. These are selfless leaders who believe in the company’s goals and the core values deeply. If they didn’t prescribe to them they could not work there – they have to believe in the mission and want others around them to do so as well.


Hank leaders are charismatic and will often befriend their employees, which can sometimes work to their detriment. Because their work relationships are personal, they can sometimes get hurt or combative when things do not go their way. They have a very hard time separating church and state, and as a result they can become highly emotional in business situations. Because they believe so deeply in the common goals, they can sometimes be oblivious to problems that need to be addresses, or may outright ignore them for fear of destroying a relationship they cherish. Hank is without a doubt a good dude, but he’s no Gus in this writer’s opinion.

Leadership score: 3 out of 5 Los Pollos Hermanos


As always, these posts are a ton of fun for me to write. Until my next post in this series, I leave you with my favorite line of the whole show which is what Walter White said to Hank after Hank finally confronted him about Heisenberg.


“If that’s true, if you don’t know who I am, maybe your best course would be to tread lightly.”



Classic Heisenberg.


I’d love to hear your feedback in the comment section below! Until next time…





Embrace Change or Fall Victim to Irrelevance

The Greek philosopher Heraclitus said that “Change is the only constant in life,” and that is true more than ever in business. The pace of change seems to be moving faster than ever, and organizations of all sizes are struggling to stay ahead of the change or even keep up.


Compare the 2015 Fortune 100 list to the 2005 Fortune 100 and you’ll notice a handful of organizations have moved significantly or completely dropped off. Organizations that had settled in and secured a high ranking spot for several decades are now obsolete. On the flipside, organizations like Apple, Amazon and Google quickly rose up the ranks over the past 15 years, disrupting industries and challenging competitors along the way.


It’s pretty clear that companies who have kept their head in the sand and resisted change are dying off.


Creating an organizational culture that embraces change and views it as an opportunity is very challenging. Leaders get stuck in their race to deliver quarterly results and short term wins. Teams are reluctant to change because it means they have to think and act differently than what they are used to. Organizations don’t have the luxury of reacting to innovations and market disruptions. Leaders have to stay ahead of the curve, and to do that, they need to create a culture that proactively thinks about and embraces change.


Right around the time I joined Meridian I came across a quote by General Eric Shinseki, Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army. Shinkseki said, “If you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance even less.” That message resonated with me, so much so that I printed it out and stuck it on my door.


Creating a culture that embraces change

Undergoing change for the sake of change isn’t the right approach. Creating a culture of change starts with an understanding of where you are, where you want to go, and how you can communicate that to your team. Change requires you to take inventory of your workforce and their skillsets. Ask yourself: what are the skills we need today, tomorrow, and 12 months from now?  How are the changes in our business impacting those skills?  Are there areas within your business that lack vital skills? Are there people with untapped potential you can take advantage of? What are the new skills spearheading innovation in other organizations?


You can’t expect your employees to acquire new skills and talents on their own, you have to help them along the way. If you don’t, you run the risk of losing them to your competitor who will. Your workforce is your biggest asset, and investing in their training and development is one of the biggest ways to foster innovation and new ways of thinking in your organization.


Change and innovation don’t happen overnight, and they certainly don’t happen without careful, thoughtful planning and the right company culture. If people are pushing back on change initiatives, you might want to kindly remind them that they’ll probably like irrelevance even less.



Leadership Styles of Characters from Quentin Tarantino Movies

I love me some Quentin Tarantino. The dude makes some absolutely amazing movies that really stick out from the typical studio produced normal crap we constantly see.  He is a master of dialogue; listening to his characters is equally as exciting as any action scene or CGI effects in other films. Because he is SO good at dialogue, his characters tend to be really interesting and very fleshed out – even the ones in supporting or minor roles. For example, in the Kill Bill movies, Bill is only in both films for a total of 30 minutes. Yet, his character’s dialogue when he finally is confronted by the bride is some of the most revealing and entertaining stuff you will ever hear. The character quickly becomes an integral memory from the films (that superman/Clark Kent reference is AMAZEBALLS).


With a number of movies under his directorial belt, we truly have a ton of great characters to think about for this series of “Leadership Styles of Pop Culture.” I had originally thought of just concentrating on the characters from my favorite Tarantino movie, True Romance,  but went against that because 1) He didn’t direct it – just wrote it, and 2) There are so many QT characters that one film would not be doing him (or me as a writer and fan) any justice.


I can already hear some of the readers questioning the characters I’ve chosen to discuss, but guess what? My post, my choices. There is no way to discuss all of them, so I chose some of the ones I found most memorable and intriguing from some of my favorite QT films. (Side note – having just seen The Hateful Eight, I must say that this might be QT’s first miss. Good movie, but not the QT great levels I expect from him.)


Back to the post – as with all of my Leadership Styles posts, I rate these characters as leaders based on a reference to their specific canons. To pay homage to one of QT’s most popular movies,  let’s go with number of “Gimps.” Here we go! And, as Butch said, “Zed’s dead, baby. Zed’s dead.”


Max Cherry from Jackie Brown

Jackie Brown never got the love from the public in terms of box office success, but make no mistake about it, this film is awesome. There are so many great characters and performances in the movie, from Pam Grier to Samuel L. Jackson to Michael Keaton, but for my money the character of Max Cherry is the one that stands out for me.


Max is a bail bondsman, brought into the story by Odell Robbie (Jackson) to bail out Jackie Brown. Max is a man of code and possesses a very calm demeanor when dealing with thugs and criminals. However, as the story progresses we learn that Max can also be one bad MF too. He works with Jackie to foil both the cops and the criminals – all the while falling for Miss Brown.


Transition that character into the workplace, the Max-type is calm, cool and collected – even under the most stressful situations or deadlines. These people lead by example, and definitely lead by the “do as I do” mentality. Max leaders can be sentimental, and often tend to be empathetic leaders who will actually listen to their employees and try to help them through their issues. These leaders are not flashy, nor do they possess the ability to give grandiose speeches. They are most definitely “doers” whose teams respect and admire. These leaders are not politicians in the office setting, and often call it like they see it. However, even though the external image is cool and calm, these people tend to be very bright, and if given the opportunity, incredibly innovative. These people trust their colleagues, but only when it’s earned. Max leaders are also very loyal and respectful to everyone they interact with. For this writer, this is one boss I would love to work for.


Leadership score: 5 out of 5 Gimps


Pai Mei from Kill Bill

The teacher of “the bride” and of the epic “Five Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique,” this character is one of the true standouts of the Kill Bill movies. When “the bride” first encounters Pai Mei, he is demeaning, cold and harsh to her. He demands she meet his expectations to even be worthy of being trained by him, but as she earns his respect he gives it back to her.


As a leader in an office setting, the Pai Mei leader is a true believer in the tough love method of leading. Nothing will be given to you and EVERYTHING will be earned. These leaders love to teach, but only give of their time to teammates and employees who are 100% dedicated and committed to learning. These leaders are not excellent communicators, and often times their styles can be misinterpreted as disinterest or even aloofness. However, for those committed to the cause, these leaders can be incredibly effective and motivating. These leaders do not give their trust easily, but will be champions of those who earn it. Loyalty and commitment are key motivators, and if people around them do not exhibit loyalty and commitment they will be dismissed summarily. These leaders do not pivot easily when the need arises, and can often be stuck in their specific ways of doing and thinking. These leaders also do not like being challenged and will fight anyone who dares voice a dissenting opinion (not literally fighting in the office – at least I hope not).


There is a lot to learn from these folks, but always keep in mind that they believe their way is the best way. I love this character, and as much as I would love to learn the “Five Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique,”  I don’t think I would want to work for this person.


Leadership score: 3 out of 5 Gimps


Clarence Worley from True Romance

My favorite QT movie hands down is True Romance. It is perhaps the finest performance of Christian Slater’s career. The character was actually loosely based on QT himself, but instead of working at a movie store, in Clarence’s case it is comic books. Clarence goes from an average Joe, to a cross-country-tripping, passionate-loving, pimp-killing, coke-dealing dude once he meets Alabama. While this is obviously a huge transformation, the character actually is pretty consistent with his views on life, love and Elvis (Yes – Elvis – his conscience in the movie played by Val Kilmer).


Clarence leaders can be incredibly charming, witty and smart. However, these leaders are also very emotional and incredibly impulsive. While these types aren’t necessarily killing pimps and stealing suitcases of cocaine in an office, they can be very reckless in their own way. Clarence leaders are driven by goals, and will often do anything to achieve them, regardless of who they may hurt or step on in the way. These can be highly charismatic people and possess the “gift of gab.” They can usually get people to buy in to their initiatives fairly easily. These leaders might seem on the surface very team oriented, but make no mistake, underneath that surface they are driven by their own ambitions. Typically Clarence leaders are intelligent and innovative with their ideas, and can have serious impact on organizational goals if their initiatives are implemented. Like Pai Mei though, these leaders do not like being challenged and will fight back when they are. While he is the main character of my favorite QT movie, unlike Alabama, I don’t think working for him would be “so cool.”


Leadership score: 2 out of 5 Gimps


Dr. King Shultz from Django Unchained

The first of two appearance in this post by characters played by Christoph Waltz, who seriously might be one of the best actors out there today. Dr. Shultz is a bounty hunter who was looking for Django to help with a bounty, but then becomes Django’s trainer and friend. This character is the absolute standout in a film with tons of great characters to choose from.


Dr. Shultz abhorred slavery, but at the same time killed people for money. The justification? The people he killed deserved it. (Spoiler alert!) Schultz was so centered in his morality that he died as a result of it, he simply could not shake Calvin Candie’s hand on principle.


In the workforce, it goes without saying that people like Dr. Shultz are highly moral and principled leaders. They are grounded in their core beliefs and will not waver from them. Change is not easy for these folks, especially if it goes against what they believe is right. These are very empathetic leaders and excellent communicators, and truly take a genuine interest in their teams. These leaders are also teachers, and love to impart what they know and will invest in their teams learning and development. These are leaders that are usually well liked in an organization and are also people of action. These leaders will act decisively when need be, but the actions must be aligned with what they are passionate about. These are also very intelligent leaders who have that rare combination of book and street smarts. Like Schultz in Django Unchained, their Achilles heel is their inability to change when it is counter to their goals or beliefs.


Leadership score: 4 out of 5 Gimps


Col. Hans Landa from Inglorious Bastards

For my money, the greatest character in the entire QT universe. Evil personified, yet oddly charming and clearly incredibly intelligent. Christoph Waltz absolutely nailed this role, and took what could have been a mustache twirling villain and turned him into something much more layered and intriguing. For this, he won an Academy Award.


Landa was the “Jew hunter” – a merciless tool of the Nazis and ultimately someone who betrayed the Nazis for his own self-interest. In the workplace, these leaders are incredibly driven and focused people. Putting aside the whole “evil Nazi piece of crap” thing, let’s try to imagine if Landa grew up in another time or era. As such, I can see this leader being very charismatic and someone who people would rally around. These leaders are hyper intelligent and sometimes struggle to get others to see their master plans at first, but when they do their direct reports  become devoted to the cause. These leaders struggle with empathy and demand that others around them get in line or get out. These leaders make stuff happen, but have no time for learning or growth. They demand people to be highly competent and yet subservient on their teams. One thing is sure, the Landa leaders are also selfishly motivated. Similar to how Landa sold out the Nazis to the Americans for his own selfish gain, these leaders will undoubtedly do the same in the workplace. Politics is their specialty, and they are great at it. These leaders can also be merciless in their ambitions and will literally terminate at will to advance their own selfish aims. I would not want to work for this person, nor have any strudel with cream with them.


Leadership score: 1 out of 5 Gimps


Jules Winfield from Pulp Fiction

Perhaps the most famous of all QT characters, and the role that really launched Samuel L. Jackson into the stratosphere. His dialogue is quoted still to this day, and rightfully so. Like his wallet said, this was one “Bad M-F er.” What is really interesting about Jules is the transformation of his character from cold blooded hitman to a hitman with a conscience (by divine (?) intervention). This is one dude you did not want coming to your apartment to get a bite of your “tasty burger.” Yet, after that encounter and his subsequent survival, he starts to turn a page into someone who wants to do the right thing, no matter how hard it is for him.


I imagine Jules leaders to be ones who have a very commanding presence. These leaders are driven by action – and don’t like much (if any) of waiting around to think through plans. These leaders are excellent communicators though, and when put in situations where they have to pontificate, they present their point of view with incredible effectiveness. Fact is though, they would rather just do it than talk about it. These leaders are highly principled, and like  Schultz, they can let those principles guide them too much. They tend to believe in hierarchical structures and defer to the boss as both a compass and an excuse as to why they act or lead outside of their own moral codes in certain situations. These leaders though, unlike Schultz, can change if the proposal or argument is convincing. These leaders just need a lot of convincing to get there. They expect their teams to be good at their jobs, and are not much of the mind set to teach if they are not. Jules was an awesome character, but not my top choice to work with.


Leadership score: 3 out of 5 Gimps



The world of Quentin Tarantino’s films are broad and cover many genres. The one constant to all his films are awesome characters. These are the ones I thought worth imagining as leaders in the workplace. Who did I miss? Until next time, “That’s a Bingo!”




5 Characteristics of Leaders People Want to Follow

It seems like everywhere you look there’s a new blog, report or book on leadership trends and tips. From Harvard Business Review research on how to be a stronger, better leader, to Inc. and Fast Company articles listing the common traits of truly exceptional people – leadership advice is in no short supply. Even our very own guest blogger, Ed Nathanson, has drawn parallels and leadership lessons from some of our favorite characters from Star Wars, The Game of Thrones, Karate Kid, DC and Marvel (and he’s just getting started!).


The abundance of articles covering the dos and don’ts of leadership aren’t going anywhere anytime soon – which is a good thing. People want to know how to become a leader that others want to follow. They don’t want to manage people, they want to be a great manager of people.


Great leaders aren’t born overnight. They don’t fit a specific, repeatable mold, but they do share a few common similarities in how they interpret and handle situations. I sat down with a few of my friends and colleagues and asked them to list the attributes of their favorite leaders, and then I did a little digging to see what some of the world’s greatest leaders thought about those characteristics.


5 Traits of Exceptional Leaders:


1. Empowers and motivates.

“The greatest leader is not necessarily the one who does the greatest things. He is the one that gets the people to do the greatest things.” – Ronald Reagan

Individuals and teams perform better when they feel empowered and motivated. Drumming up motivation goes beyond hanging up an inspiring poster on the wall and sending out an occasional “go team!” email (though, I’d argue those aren’t bad ideas). It’s about giving people the feeling of empowerment and entitlement. Empowerment comes from the top, with clear communication that people have the authority and trust to do their job.


2. Really listens.

“I remind myself every morning: Nothing I say this day will teach me anything. So if I’m going to learn, I must do it by listening.” – Larry King

Great leaders are always striving to learn and become better, and one of the truest ways to learn is to listen. There’s nothing more frustrating than a person who refuses to listen. When individuals find themselves repeating the same information over and over and having it fall on deaf ears, it becomes exhausting. People are naturally drawn to leaders who are willing to hear them out, listen to their ideas, and take their suggestions and feedback.


3. Delegates, not micromanages.

“The best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and self-restraint enough to keep from meddling with them while they do it.” —Theodore Roosevelt

Micromanagement can kill morale and cause people to leave. Smart leaders hire people who compliment their skills and fill in the gaps where their expertise is not as deep. They trust the people they work with and have no problem delegating projects. They are encouraging and inspire employees along the way, rather than question their decisions and progress. And, most importantly, they don’t take credit for the work of others and understand that an acknowledgement for a job well done goes a very, very long way.


4. Takes ownership and responsibility.

“Leadership is about taking responsibility, not making excuses.” – Mitt Romney

One of the most important things about being a leader is taking ownership for your actions. Offering up excuses and pushing blame on others is cowardly. Great leaders stand up for their team and protect them from fallout. They lead by example, showing it’s just as important to admit defeat and mistakes, as it is to celebrate success.


5. Acts Consistently.

“If you don’t stick to your values when they’re being tested, they’re not values: they’re hobbies.” – Jon Stewart.

Each of the four values mentioned above fall to the wayside if leaders are not consistent. Great leaders take great pride in knowing their values, and remain steadfast in what they stand for as a person. They’re consistent with the way they treat their employees. They’re consistent with their logic and how they approach tough situations. They’re consistent with how they work with others. Irrational and sporadic behaviors don’t generate trust and respect, they drive fear and anger, which is why consistency is everything.


Bonus: Isn’t afraid to have fun and encourage people to love what they do.

The truth of the matter is, we spend most of our lives working. The exceptional leaders out there understand the occasional personal sacrifices we have to make in order to hit a deadline or reach a goal. That’s why they’re not afraid to have a little fun. And, as Dale Carnegie said, “People rarely succeed unless they have fun in what they are doing.”


What do you think? Leave a comment below!


ICYMI: 20 Things You Can Do To Help Your Career Before the New Year

Hard to believe it, but we are less than two weeks away from 2016! With a New Year comes resolutions, expectations, and (hopefully!) new opportunities. Whether you are feeling content in your current position or looking to make a move, the New Year is the perfect time to gain perspective and reprioritize your career goals so that you are ready to hit the ground running in 2016.


While most people are busy running around doing last minute shopping before the holidays or curled up on the couch trying to stay warm, check out Mashable’s list of 20 things you can do to help your career before the New Year.


Here are 5 of our favorites:

  1. Write down your wins. Take the time to jot down ten professional accomplishments you achieved this year. Not only will it help you go back to work feeling ready to take on the world, but it is also a great way to update your resume. According to Mashable, employers love to see a list of accomplishments rather than duties.
  2. Get on a healthier sleep schedule. Yeah, we’ve all heard this one before and you know it’s true. You’re more productive after you’ve had a restful night of sleep. Check out the article to find out why Mashable compares coming to work chronically tired, to coming to work tipsy!
  3. Google yourself. Does that infamous YouTube video you made in college still exist? When was the last time you cleaned up your social media? Googling yourself is especially important if you are currently job searching or plan to start in the near future. Often times, the results of a google search could be the first impression you make on a recruiter or a potential colleague.
  4. Choose a skill you want to improve in 2016. Your weakness could be what is holding you back from moving up in your career. Come up with a plan now to figure out how you can better yourself this year.
  5. Write out your one-year plan. Take the time to determine what you want to accomplish this year. Set short term goals for yourself to track your progress towards reaching your year-end goal. Even if you are completely satisfied in your current position, set goals for yourself and aim to become the best you can be at what you do.


Check out the full article for more tips on making 2016 the best year of your career yet!


7 Powerful Words That Get You What You Want

Regardless of your position at work, it is inevitable that you will come across a situation where you need to convince a coworker to see your point of view or sell your boss on your new idea. Gaining rapport from the team is a natural skill for some, but others might unknowingly speak or act in ways that their coworkers are less impressed with. Good leaders become successful by having the ability to convince others to buy into their vision and motivate people to work hard to help them accomplish their goals. This article published on, gives you the right words to use the next time you need to be the most persuasive person in the office.


Here are the 7 most powerful words to help you get what you want:

  1. You
  2. Imagine
  3. Act
  4. Because
  5. Now
  6. Believe
  7. Guaranteed


Check out the full article for explanations and suggestions of how to use these power words to your advantage.



ICYMI: What amazing bosses do differently


Take a break from your holiday shopping and dig into our favorite articles this week. In case you missed it (ICYMI), here’s this week’s top articles on leadership, management and company culture.


What Amazing Bosses Do Differently

Job satisfaction is so heavily reliant on relationships we build with our bosses. In today’s ever changing workforce, it is often unclear what behaviors will guarantee happy employees. Harvard Business Review took a look at some of the world’s most successful bosses and how they manage their employees and suggested this list of things you should do if you manage others.


  • Manage individuals, not teams. Everyone has a different work style so take the time to get to know each of your employees and how to best work with them. Make sure that they know that you value their individual feedback and are always willing to meet with them one on one. This will help you as a manager in the long run because you will be able to access what each person’s strongest skills and interests are that can best benefit your team.
  • Go big on meaning. Make sure that your employees understand the vision and that they understand their worth in the project. Help them see the bigger picture whenever possible. Everyone wants to feel like they have purpose and are a valued member of the team.
  • Focus on feedback. Give your employees constructive feedback as much as you can. The most successful bosses have regular coaching sessions with their employees where they can provide clear and honest feedback. Get to know your employees to figure out what style of feedback motivates and encourages each individual.
  • Don’t just talk…listen. Employees want to feel like they have say and that new ideas are welcomed by their bosses. The best leaders spend more time listening than they do talking. Don’t promote your own ideas too strongly, instead pose problems to your employees and have the whole team work to generate solutions.
  • Be consistent. Your employees should know what to expect from you on a day to day basis. You can’t expect your employees thrive if you don’t establish your management style and expectations. If change becomes necessary, acknowledge it with your team honestly and quickly.


7 Ways Mentally Strong People Handle Stress

During the busy holiday season there are plenty of reasons to be stressed out – the gifts you have yet to buy, the looming pile of festive invitations, family obligations, the list goes on. When we feel stretched, stress levels go up and the ability to cope files right out the window!  To help you stay sane this holiday season, Business Insider put together a list of seven ways mentally strong people handle stress effectively.


  1. They accept that stress is part of life. Stress is inevitable this time of year but don’t let it overshadow the entire holiday season. Make the best of the circumstances and do what you can to have a positive outlook.
  2. They keep their problems in proper perspective. Is finding the perfect gift for your significant other really the end of the world? Probably not. Don’t let a minor misfortune blow up into a catastrophe.
  3. They take care of their physical health. Don’t let your never ending to-do list take priority over your health. You’re more likely to knock more things off of your list on a good night sleep and a nutritious meal so don’t let your health become your last priority.
  4. They choose healthy coping skills. Stress can bring out the worst in us all and can allow our worst vices to surface. When you’re stressed it becomes even more important to make good lifestyle choices and to remember that with anything, moderation is key!
  5. They balance social activity with solitude. Don’t forget to take a little bit of “me time” to balance out the parties, crowded trips to the mall, and family gatherings. Use some quiet time to recharge before you have to head to the next event on your social calendar.
  6. They acknowledge their choices. Simply put, it’s impossible to be in two places at once. If you can’t fit something into your schedule, it’s okay to say no. Your time is precious so spend it wisely!
  7. They look for the silver lining. Remember what the holiday season is all about. Be thankful and appreciative for all the things you have and the time spent with friends and family.


7 Thoughts to Defeat Pressure

Have you ever been crippled by a stressful situation? The Huffington Post has seven proactive solutions for next time you are feeling the pressure.


  1. Think “It’s a sweet opportunity” that I’m lucky to have. If you are threatened by pressure you are already putting yourself in a negative mind space. Be grateful!
  2. Think “I’ll get another chance” it’s not the end of the world. Be realistic. If you don’t nail it what is really going to be the outcome?
  3. Think “I’ve done it before” and I can do it again. You can handle anything that is thrown your way.
  4. Think “It’s no big deal” I can handle this! Remain focused and don’t waste your energy getting worried. Shift your focus to what you can do to perform your best.
  5. Think “I’ll do my best” Be confident in yourself to stay on track and relaxed in the moment.
  6. Think “I can control how I respond” Don’t allow yourself to become distracted by things you can’t control. Your time is valuable, so if something is out of your influence let it be!
  7. Think “What if this happens…” Be aware of both sides of the coin. Be proactive and rehearse how you might handle an unexpected problem.


The Leadership Styles of The Walking Dead

Without a doubt, growing up a horror movie fan in the 80s and 90s, there were A LOT of options for your scares. You had the slashers (Freddy, Jason, Michael Myers, etc.), the monsters (Alien, Predator, The Thing, etc.) and the just plain evil demons (Hellraiser, Evil Dead, Poltergeist, etc.). For me though, my favorite genre of horror was and still are Zombies. From “Night of The Living Dead” to “Return of the Living Dead” to “Shaun of The Dead” (hilarious) these movies enthralled, amused and scared the crap out of me.


It was never so much the Zombies themselves that were frightening to me, but rather the scenario of the world ending and how would I respond to the dead rising from the grave and having to live in this new awful existence.


Would I be heroic? Would I still live by society’s morals and ethics? Would I be Zombie lunch right from the get go (betting on this opens at 2 – 1)?


I am a HUGE fan of “The Walking Dead” as it tackles these very questions head on with a variety of different characters for people to identify with. Viewers get to see how different people and personalities from different backgrounds live and survive in a world where everything is turned upside down.


This got me thinking – what if these characters were in an office setting? How would they lead and what would they be like to work with? As I thought more about this it became very clear to me that Zombie apocalypse or not, we very much see these types of leaders and co-workers in our daily existence – we just need to recognize who and what we are seeing. Without further blabbering, here are your Walking Dead Leadership styles.


Side note: I thought it would also be fun to have a “headshot” grade for each leader, as it takes a “brain kill” to put down zombies. In this grading system, 1 headshot is least effective, and 5 headshots is most effective, at least according to this writer.



With a show full of kick ass characters, and people who are doing crazy things and making important decisions, Rick is the undisputed leader. His background as a police officer certainly set him up for this, but remember, when the show begins he is a mild mannered father and husband and not the merciless machine he is today (spoiler: kill your best friend anyone?). As a leader, Rick is decisive with a capital “D.” He trusts his training and what he has learned about this new world, and is quick to make a decision based on what he knows to be best for him and the group – even if it involves killing other humans. He is almost dictatorial now as a character, as evidence by his “my way or the highway” approach to arriving in Alexandria.


His thought process seems to be “I know better than you, so listen to what I say and do what I ask or get out of my face.” While this leadership style is extremely effective in the land of The Walking Dead I do not believe this leadership style works well in the corporate world. We have all seen this type in the workplace – the “I know better than you so shut up and do your job” leader. In the modern workplace, this type of leadership style can often result in retention issues and lots of “doers” but not a lot of “thinkers.”


In a “Rick” led workplace, there is a lot asked of employees and little room for opinions or other ways of thinking. While Rick and leaders like Rick think they are doing what is best for the company (and in Rick’s case he IS often right) the really well run companies of today are less dictatorial and more communal in how they operate.


Yes – there needs to be a “chief” but no leader knows all, and the companies that enable their employees to think on their own and be innovative in their own work specialty areas are the ones that often grow and succeed.


Grade: 2 headshots out of 5



It is really amazing as a fan of the show to see the growth of Glenn’s character from when we first met him to now in the show’s timeline. First off (Spoiler alert: he is still alive!). Good news for all fans of this character and for all fans of what is, from my point of view, a fantastic leadership style.


Glenn is about the group first and foremost, and is willing to lead by example to make sure the group survives. Unlike Rick, Glenn has a sense of empathy for those who are not like him, and inherently believes that people can still be good, even when they display otherwise. He has faith in people to do their jobs and trusts before he chooses to distrust. He is also a very determined dude, and is fearless in how he takes on seemingly crazy obstacles (read: Zombie herds) for the betterment of those he cares about.


While Rick has become certain that weak people will bring the group down and that “if you aren’t with us your against us,” Glenn is somewhat different. He believes in adding people to the group as opposed to isolating it, and is willing to work with people to get the best out of them in the interests of making the group stronger in the long run. Leaders like Glenn thrive in the corporate world. They are not dictatorial like Rick, and seek to enable others in the organization to be their best. The “Glenns” of the workforce are selfless leaders who will walk the talk, and are willing to roll up their sleeves and do what is necessary without a hierarchical bent. They are also compassionate leaders, who truly want to understand and know before making a decision. I have seen few “Glenns” in the workforce, but when I do encounter them I am always in awe – these are the types of leaders employees are loyal to.


Grade: 5 headshots out of 5.



Even more so than Rick, Carol is the real kick ass and asks questions later character on The Walking Dead. She  started as an abused housewife and has turned into a merciless killer with no remorse. Her only interest being the group’s survival – everyone else be damned. As a fan of the show, she is easily one of, if not absolute favorite characters on the show. However, when it comes to  leadership styles, not so much.


Carol is always about the mission (her group’s survival) and is unwavering in her will to this mission. If that means scaring little boys, pretending to be a meek housewife to the Alexandrians or dressing up as a “Wolf,” and putting machetes in people heads, she will do it if the end result is her group is on top.


It is really interesting to see her interacting with Morgan this season. Morgan believes “all life is precious,” while Carol is the exact opposite and will kill at a moment’s notice if need be. Carol in the workplace is what I like to refer to as a “dogma driven leader.” These types of leaders are driven by a core belief system and see all others who don’t believe as threats. These leaders might have read a self-help book or been mentored by someone who instills in them a “this is how it is done” dogma and they NEVER waver from it.


While having a core belief system can be good, times and companies change. The ones that are quicker to adapt and evolve are the ones who tend to be most successful. Leaders like Carol never waver in their belief and are definitely not open to different ways of doing things. Much like Rick, they have very little patience for “non-believers,” and hire and retain only likeminded people. While Carol apparently makes some mean cookies, as delicious as they may be, I would never want to work for someone like her.


Grade: 2 headshots out of 5.



Daryl has had perhaps the biggest transformation of any of The Walking Dead characters throughout the show. People forget that when the show started he was a racist redneck brother of Merle, an even a bigger redneck racist. He was an outsider to the group by his own behaviors and attitudes and cared only about him and his brother.


Man – times have changed.


Daryl has become the “recruiter” of the group in Alexandria now, along with Aaron, and is one of the most kind and gentle people in the group (even though he will crossbow your ass in a heartbeat). Daryl seems to be, along with Glenn, the moral center of the show. Even in a recent episode he went against Rick’s “trust no one” philosophy and befriended three strangers, only to eventually prove Rick right as they stole his bike and his crossbow. Even still, if the same scenario presented itself again, Daryl would still lean towards empathy as opposed to a Rick or a Carol.


Daryl is not a man of many words like Rick, nor is he able to deceive easily like Carol. He is a quiet leader who leads by example, but one who is open to new ways of doing things too. When he first got to Alexandria he was more on team Rick as far as “us versus everyone” but after meeting Aaron and Morgan he started to change  his views on that whole philosophy. He is also driven, like Glenn, to selflessly do what is best for the group and will do whatever is asked of him.


In the workforce, a leader like Daryl is open and compassionate. He is not someone who leads from an ivory tower, but rather is a leader of and with the team – and does the grunt work to prove it. The “Daryl” leaders believe in people and their ability to learn and change, and will often place bets on hires who will grow into something much greater. He believes in people’s potential and is also open to changing direction if it makes sense – thus he is open to suggestions and collaboration. The “Daryls” will never give the big rally speeches but they don’t need to – their actions often speak louder than words ever could.


Grade: 4 headshots out of 5.



Morgan has been a fan favorite ever since the debut episode, where he meets Rick and struggles to put a bullet in his zombie wife’s brain. We see him again several season later briefly, and see he had completely lost his marbles – writing the word “clear” a la Jack Torrence in “The Shining.” Flash forward to end of last season and this current season and we encounter a very changed man. In what is best described as “The Karate Kid” meets “The Walking Dead,” we learn Morgan met a mentor in his travels who teaches him that “all life is precious.”


Morgan would kill anything in his way prior – and was even intent on killing his mentor at first. Now, he cannot even kill a “Wolf” who had actually tried to kill him, and who he saw killing women and children of his own group in Alexandria. While Morgan’s new view on life in Zombie world is noble, it is not practical. Unfortunately I predict his demise rather soon as a result of it. Like a reverse “Carol,, he has a belief system he will not waver from. Yes, he is now lethal with a staff, but that lethality without the right direction and instincts will ultimately cost him (you read it here first).


In the work world, Morgans are less aggressive Carols. They believe so deeply in a philosophy that they do not embrace change and cannot adapt when they need to. Yes, a Morgan type leader is a “people” person, and will be liked by his or her team a lot more than a Carol would. However, being liked is not what makes a great leader.


Grade: 2 headshots out of 5.


What does this all mean?

While part of the fun of watching a show like The Walking Dead is the whole “what would you do” thinking, we know what these characters will do and how. Some may relate to the leadership styles of a Rick or a Carol, and some may relate more with the Daryls or Glenns.


Now ask yourself, putting aside the whole “zombie apocalypse” thing – would you want to work for them? With the market for talent as hot as I can remember, we as the “talent” have options. We don’t have to work with leaders or teams that don’t meet our specific needs.


As leaders – think about how and why you lead and what you expect the outcomes to be. A big part of being a successful leader is the ability to look in the mirror honestly.


Are you a Rick? Carol? Glenn? Let me know who you most relate to in the comments section!


How to Develop Future Leaders

There’s a big difference between managers and leaders. Leaders listen, motivate and lead by example. They know how to gracefully navigate through difficult and often uncomfortable workplace situations.


Training and developing future leaders is consistently ranked as a top priority. Leadership training goes beyond communicating what leadership styles are important. You can’t just throw up your corporate values on the careers page of your website or paint them all over the boardroom walls, you need a strategy.


We sat down with Kris Dunn, CHRO of Kinetix and founder of Fistful of Talent, and Tim Sackett, President of HRU Technical Resources and Fistful of Talent contributor, to discuss the characteristics of great leaders and how to instill those vales in your team members. Check out the recording of the L&D Hangout!