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I sat down with Talent Management Magazine to talk about the importance of successfully onboarding and developing new employees. Here’s the article: “All On Board: How Companies Use First-Year Development

(As a bonus, it comes with a picture of a train.)


(Going to do a little shop talk for a moment…)

Time, in partnership with The Muse, recently published a piece titled, “35 Things to Do for Your Career by 35.” If you spend any time on LinkedIn or career-focused blogs, you’re inundated with lists like these, many of which seem to be of dubious origin, and which often seem to disagree with the last list that site published.

This time, though, the list is spot-on accurate. The activities – positioned as things they “recommend getting started on sooner rather than later […] because you’ll make your professional future – not to mention day-to-day life – a whole lot easier” – touch on many of the same critical skills and mindset areas that we uncovered when my team at Harvard Business Publishing Corporate Learning undertook extensive research to develop our New Leader Program.

The New Leader Program is designed to support and develop individuals as they make the transition from being an individual contributor to a first-time manager, a transition that often take place in the last 20s or early 30s (the same timeframe that the article focuses on). Based on our research, conversations with clients and learners around the world, and years of experience working with frontline leaders in global organizations, we decided to build the New Leader Program around the following five areas:

1. Developing a Leadership Mindset
2. Develop Personal Adaptability
3. Accelerate Talent Development
4. Develop High Performing Teams
5. Drive Execution

We can map most of the “35 Things to Do for Your Career by 35” into the materials covered in these five areas (and some even fall into multiple areas, as this shows):

Developing a Leadership Mindset: Know Your Superpower; Know Your Weakness; Know Your Career Non-Negotiable; Get Over Imposter Syndrome;

Develop Personal Adaptability: Really Refine Your Elevator Pitch; Learn How to Delegate; Do Something You’re Really, Really Proud Of; Stretch Your Limits; Do Something That Really Scares You; Have a Brad Network of People You Can Trust; Have a Couple of Specific Career Advisors; Perfect Your LinkedIn Profile; Have a Portfolio of Your Best Work; Know How to Manage Up; Find a To-Do List System That Works For You; Know Your Energy Levels – And Use Them; Know How Much Sleep You Need – and Commit to Getting It; Know How to Manage Stress; Have a Career Emergency Plan; Pick Up a Side Project; Invest In Yourself; Know What You Don’t Want; Give Yourself Permission to Go After What You Do;

Accelerate Talent Development: Learn From Something You’re Not So Proud Of; Get Comfortable With Getting Feedback; Get Comfortable With Giving Feedback; Get Comfortable With Saying No; Have a Couple of Specific Career Advisors; Know How to Negotiate; Know How to Send a Killer Email; Stop Over-Apologizing; Invest In Yourself;

Develop High Performing Teams: Learn From Something You’re Not So Proud Of; Get Comfortable With Getting Feedback; Get Comfortable With Giving Feedback; Get Comfortable With Saying No; Have a Couple of Specific Career Advisors; Know How to Negotiate; Know How to Send a Killer Email; Stop Over-Apologizing; Invest In Yourself;

Drive Execution: Know How to Sell (Yourself or Something Else);

Not everything fit into our five topics, but those that didn’t are still great recommendations:

1. Scrub Your Online Presence: The last thing you want is a social media post taken out of context, or a photo from your college days, derailing your career. Want advice on how to avoid these problems? Check out Soumitra Dutta’s Harvard Business Review article, “Managing Yourself: What’s Your Personal Social Media Strategy?

2. Master Your Handshake: Your body language often says more about you than the words you speak. Body language expert Allan Pease gave a TEDx presentation on the importance of body language, and how to improve yours: “Body Language, The Power is in the Palm of Your Hands.”

3. Invest In Your Retirement: You might be focusing on your career now, but you also need to be spending time thinking about life after work. Investing now – even small amounts – will have a significant impact in 20-, 30-, or 40-years, when you’re ready to put your feet up and relax. Here’s Money Magazine’s “Ultimate Guide to Retirement.”

4. Invest In The World: Giving to charity has obvious benefits for the organization and those they support, but did you know that it has psychological benefits for the giver? A recent research paper from Harvard Business School found that those who gave back felt a level of greater happiness equivalent to getting a higher paycheck: “Prosocial Spending and Well-Being: Cross-Cultural Evidence for a Psychological Universal.”


Michael Watkins and I just had an article published in Workforce Magazine about the need to provide leadership development opportunities for Millennial employees. Check it out.


“To progress again, man must remake himself. And he cannot remake himself without suffering. For he is both the marble and the sculptor. In order to uncover his true visage, he must shatter his own substance with heavy blows of his hammer.” – Alexis Carrel1

In the years after World War I, TE Lawrence, who served in the Middle East, and Robert Graves, who served in France, would both come home from the war to live very different lives. Lawrence continuing his career in government and military service, while Graves turned inwards, fighting psychological demons that followed him home from the frontlines, eventually overcoming them to become a celebrated writer. Despite the different paths each took after the war, their writings and interactions show that Lawrence and Graves met and became close friends, clearly seeing in the other a mirror of themselves, and ultimately being united in a shared desire for a form of rebirth, and to start their lives anew.

The relationship and interactions between Graves and Lawrence existed on multiple levels, encompassing deep conversation one minute, and youthful acts the next. The author Malcolm Brown wrote that, “Graves would recall serious talk with [Lawrence] but also undergraduate-like pranks.”2 While working one day in Bodleian Library at Oxford, Graves looked out the window toward the top of a building at All Souls College to see a small Hejaz flag flying, reminding him “that his eccentric friend had been a notable roof-walker when at Jesus College before the war.”3 Few other men would have made that connection between Lawrence and the flag, or if they had, would have known about his pre-War extracurriculars.

Lawrence did his part to build and strengthen this relationship, writing frequently to Graves throughout the post-War years, and being open and honest about his activities and what was driving him. He wrote to Graves in November 1922 about his decision to drop out of public view:4

“A necessary step, forced on me by an inclination towards ground-level: by a despairing hope that I’d find myself on common ground with men: by a little wish to become more human than I had become in Barton Street: by an itch to make myself ordinary in a mob of likes; also I’m broke. […] I wanted to join up, that’s all: and I’m still glad, sometimes, that I did. It’s going to be a brain-sleep, and I’ll come out of it less odd than I went in: or at least less odd in other men’s eyes.”

Graves was doing something similar. After wresting with depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, he made a break with his past, leaving friends and family behind and moving to a remote part of Europe, seeking “the possibility of resurrection and the refashioning of identity.”5 As Paul O’Prey argues, “Graves’s attempted break with his past was a form of suicide that Lawrence would have understood.”6 Indeed, this desire to be reborn as someone else serves as the subject of The Clipped Stater, one of Graves’ celebrated pieces of poetry, and a clear attempt to tell Lawrence’s story after he changed names and joined the Royal Air Force. In it, Graves writes of Alexander the Great (Lawrence) transitioning from being a well-known royal to being an unknown peasant, clearly pointing to both Lawrence’s change of name (first to John Hume Ross, then T.E. Shaw) and of station (enlisting in the Royal Air Force and Royal Tank Corps). It likely was also partially autobiographical, reflecting Graves’ own desire for a fresh start in life. As one of the more famous lines from the poem states, “I must fulfill my self by self-destruction:”7

‘Then finity is true godhead’s final test,
Nor does it dim the glory of free being.
I must fulfill myself by self-destruction.’
The curious phrase renews his conquering zest.

He assumes man’s flesh. Djinn catch him up and fly
To a land of yellow folk beyond his knowledge,
And that he does not know them, he takes gladly
For surest proof he has put his godhead by.

Later, Graves writes a passage highlighting Lawrence’s self-demotion from an officer in the army to an enlisted aircraftsman in the RAF:8

But Alexander the man, whom yellow folk
Find roving naked, armed with a naked cutlass,
Has death, which is the stranger’s fate, excused him.
Joyfully he submits to the alien yoke.

He is enrolled now in the frontier-guard
With gaol-birds and the press gang’s easy captures;
Where captains who have felt the Crown’s displeasure,
But have thought suicide too direct and hard,

Tellingly, The Clipped Stater was dedicated not to Lawrence directly, but to Shaw. Graves was certainly not alone in dedicating works to Lawrence. E.M. Forster (The Eternal Moment, 1928), F.L Lucas (Cecile, 1930), Frederick Manning (Apologia Dei, 1930), John Buchan (Julius Caesar, 1932), B.H. Liddel Hart (The Ghost of Napoleon, 1933), and Henry Williamson (Salar the Salmon, 1935) all did so, too. But no writer dedicated quite so much to Lawrence, nor did so to his pseudonyms, nor seemed to have such a strong connection with him, as Graves, who dedicated four works – The Pier Glass (1921), On English Poetry (1922), The Clipped Stater (1925), and My Head! My Head! (1925) – all to Lawrence.9 All this in addition to writing the well-received biography, Lawrence and the Arabs (1927).

Despite Lawrence and Graves taking vastly different paths in life after leaving military service, their writings and conversations show that they became and remained close friends, confidants, and muses for each other. Ultimately, they were two men who were both wrestling with issues the other intimately knew and understood – a bond that lasted regardless of where they lived, what they did, and who they told others they were.

1 Alexis Carrel, Man, The Unknown (New York, N.Y.: Harper & Brothers, 1935), 8.
2 Malcolm Brown, T.E. Lawrence (New York, N.Y.: NYU Press, 2003), 111.
3 Ibid.
4 Ibid 116-117.
5 Paul O’Prey, “Captain Graves’s Postwar Strategies,” in New Perspectives on Robert Graves, ed. Patrick J. Quinn (Cranbury, NJ: Associated University Presses, Inc., 1999), 42.
6 Ibid.
7 Robert Graves, Poems (1914-26) (Doubleday, Doran, 1929), 126.
8 Ibid.
9 Jeremy Wilson, Lawrence of Arabia: The Authorized Biography of T.E. Lawrence (New York: Atheneum, 1990). 1144.


“I Had The Advantage of Disadvantage”

The Harvard Gazette has continued to produce their “Experience” series, talking to faculty members about their lives and work. The most recent addition is “I Had The Advantage of Disadvantage,” featuring Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, Harvard’s 300th Anniversary University Professor. Even if you don’t know Ulrich’s name, you probably know the phrase she made famous: “Well-behaved women seldom make history.” She spoke about her introduction to history, and how her early mentors pushed her to always have a publication mindset:

Q: After getting the degree, in 1971, did you start graduate school in history?

A: I hadn’t finished the Simmons degree when my husband got a job teaching at the University of New Hampshire. So we went to New Hampshire. I had one more course to finish the M.A. so I did it at UNH and transferred it.

I had a part-time job for a year, teaching English, and it was fun. Don Murray — I don’t know if you ever heard of Don Murray. He wrote for the Globe, and he had a Pulitzer and then became a journalism and English teacher at New Hampshire. … He was a wonderful guy. He was the supervisor. I taught freshman English, and then it became really obvious I didn’t want to do that forever.

I thought: I don’t want a Ph.D., I saw my husband go through that, why would I want to do that? Then I saw in the New Hampshire alumni magazine a beautiful chapter from a book just published by a new faculty member named Charles Clark. He was in the history department. I thought: That kind of writing is appealing. I don’t think I want to write critical essays, and I’m not good enough to write poetry, and I’d never really written fiction. I wondered, what is history like? I had never taken a history course. I went to talk to Charlie Clark. I took his course on the literature of early America and loved it.

The history department was totally flexible. They admitted me, even as a faculty wife, and even though I had never had a history course. It’s sort of astounding. And so I did [the Ph.D.] in eight years, which is not long at all. I wasn’t teaching, so I was part time. I felt like I had come home. I just loved it.

UNH had just hired faculty members specializing in early American history. That’s why I majored in early American history — because the best faculty were in that field. So it was Darrett Rutman and Charlie Clark: both former journalists who really cared about writing. They really encouraged me. They were both really terrific, really wonderful. But of course I couldn’t have done it, wouldn’t have done it, if I hadn’t had my women’s network — still in Boston, a lot of them. It was a very close network of good friends, and we continued to work on feminist stuff. Claudia Bushman got a Ph.D. at BU about the same time I was at UNH.

Q: What was that transition like in those days, from literature to history?

A: Charlie had an American studies degree, rather than a straight history degree. He had studied with Carl Bridenbaugh at Brown. Darrett was a hard-core social scientist in his approach to history, but a writer. The two of them really emphasized the literary side of history — history as writing — [but] their methodologies were totally different. Charlie was interested in historical literature and narrative, and he did more intellectual history. Darrett did a lot more quantification and social history. I really think working with the two of them made it possible for me to do what I did. I really got good training in social history and lots of nourishing in terms of writing history. It was a nice combination.

Q: Was it UNH that showed you the way to the history of ordinary people?

A: This was the heyday of the new social history. Darrett was part of that and Charlie was part of that as well. So I was nurtured twice. But I was also nurtured by the women’s studies program at UNH and by my feminist collective, feminist friends that I had in Boston. That’s how I would describe where my work came from.


(Cross-posted from the Harvard Business Publishing “Leading the Way” blog)

All organizations expect their new, first-level managers to concentrate on the basics of management. But in today’s dynamic business environment, successful organizations are realizing that these new managers can make a more significant impact if they can also lead. Leadership at the new manager level means being able to establish a vision, inspire others, think strategically, respond rapidly to change, and take decisive action.

This requires a leadership mind-set, which requires behavioral changes that prepare managers to act decisively on strategic opportunities. There’s a clear difference between a management skillset and a leadership mind-set. Yet the need to equip new managers with managerial skills while at the same time developing their leadership capacity, seems like a nearly insurmountable challenge.

Fortunately, many organizations are taking a fresh approach to development programs for their new managers. This manager-as-leader approach aims at developing new managers who can both manage employees and act as strategic leaders.

Four Keys to New Leader Development

Development programs that build both management skills and leadership behaviors need to address several key considerations:

1. Integration: Learning must be tightly integrated into a new manager’s workflow.

2. Application: Learners must be able to put what they’re learning into immediate action.

3. Time: Learning must occur over time, so that the learner can absorb and eventually embody the behavior.

4. Relevance: The learning must be aligned with the organization’s strategy. The ability to understand and articulate an organization’s strategy, the willingness to engage and motivate the employees on their team, and the capacity to identify and quickly tackle emerging opportunities are vital elements of leadership.

Three Advantages of Virtual Learning

For today’s global organizations, we find the best approach for turning new managers into new leaders means going virtual. Virtual development factors in today’s demanding work style.

1. Learning is easily incorporated into day-to-day responsibilities. Self-paced learning means managers have flexibility over where and when they allocate time to learn.

2. Given the technology prowess of most of today’s new managers, the ability to learn via devices of all kinds comes second nature. They seamlessly move between an online lesson and an on-the-job practice.

3. Organizations can reach employees across geographies and time zones quickly and effectively.

Your new managers—there on the front lines with your workforce, your customers, your competitors, your markets—are critical for the near-term and long-term success of your organizations. They’re ready to manage, and they’re also ready to lead.

To take advantage of their enthusiasm, energy, and fresh ideas, you need to help new managers develop both their managerial skillset and their leadership mind-set. The results will be an organization more closely aligned around its strategy, more agile in responding to emerging opportunities, and better able to engage and retain its workforce.

Curious about Harvard Business Publishing’s program for New Leaders?


Business News Daily interviewed me for a piece today on how millennials feel about taking on leadership roles, and how organizations can support them in their development. Check it out:

How Millennials Really Feel About Leadership


(Cross-posted from the Harvard Business Publishing “Leading the Way” blog)

Your new managers matter. They’re on the front lines with your workforce, your customers, your competitors, and your markets. They have tremendous potential, and some of them will become your organization’s future executives.

But while you’ll be relying on your new managers to take care of the management basics—assigning workloads, supervising others, approving vacation requests, managing budgets, conducting performance reviews—there is another role that they can, and should, also step into: the role of leader.

In today’s fast-paced and complex world, change happens fast, and the lifespan of corporations just like yours has shrunk dramatically. Today:

Opportunities emerge quickly, and disappear with equal rapidity if someone else gets there first. Taking advantage of new opportunities can seldom wait for decisions to be made through a long-drawn-out, top-down decision-making process. Not every opportunity is the next Facebook or Twitter, but first-mover status continues to have its advantages.

New threats seem to emerge continuously, making competitive advantage more difficult to sustain. Organizations need to act rapidly and decisively to respond to, and leapfrog, the competition. One needs only to look at the ups and downs of the smartphone industry to see how fast things can happen.

Globalization opens up new markets, but new markets often require intimate local knowledge. Strategic decisions need to be made in the field. Leading brands from Mattel to eBay have faltered in China because they misread the legal and cultural environment.

Are your leaders prepared to succeed in an environment like this? One recent Harvard Business Review survey of senior executives says no:

77% of respondents said that frontline managers are important in helping their organization reach its business goals

33% of respondents said their organization’s frontline managers are competent in business-based decision making

12% of respondents said their currently invest sufficiently in the development of frontline managers

Working with organizations around the world, we have found that new managers—especially the millennials now stepping into management positions—are eager to embrace a level of responsibility and take on business challenges far earlier in their careers than previous employee generations.

Organizations are finding that their millennial managers approach work with a unique set of characteristics. More than other generations, they seek meaning in their work. They have a strong focus on collaboration. And for millennials, much of life happens online.

Further, millennials recognize that they’re not leading the enterprise. But they do want to be plugged in, in the know, and connected to their organization’s strategic purpose. They want to play an important role in achieving that purpose, and they want this acknowledged through training and development, opportunities to take on challenging and important assignments, and exposure to your organization’s senior leadership.

Organizations that encourage these new managers to assume leadership roles can see tremendous benefits:

1. An organization that’s more consistently focused on and aligned around strategy
2. The ability to respond more nimbly to market shifts and new opportunities
3. A more engaged workforce
4. Higher retention rates

What is your organization doing to support the development of these leaders?

Curious about Harvard Business Publishing’s program for New Leaders?


Walter Isaacson, in an interview with the Harvard Gazette, gives the most honest answer I’ve ever seen an author give about how writers distort history in one way or another while writing biographies:

GAZETTE: You’re known for your “Great Man”-style biographies, and yet this is a story about famous, seminal figures and the lesser-knowns who contributed to the Digital Revolution in some way. Can you tell me about that approach?

ISAACSON: The first book I did after college (with a friend) was about six not very famous individuals who worked as a team creating American foreign policy. It was called “The Wise Men.” Ever since then, I’ve done biographies. Those of us who write biographies know that to some extent we distort history. We make it seem like somebody in a garage or in a garret has a “light-bulb moment” and the world changes, when in fact creativity is a collaborative endeavor and a team sport. I wanted to get back to doing a book like “The Wise Men” to show how cultural forces and collaborative teams helped create the Internet and the computer. There’s no one person you can put up there with Thomas Edison and say, “He or she invented the Internet or the computer.” My biography of Henry Kissinger begins with a quote of his in which he said, while flying on one of his shuttle missions to the Middle East in the 1970s, “As a professor, I tended to think of history as run by impersonal forces. But when you see it in practice, you see the difference personalities make.” I wanted to look at the interplay between the cultural forces, including wartime government funding as well as the explosion of digital concepts, and to what extent that related to the creativity of individual players.

The great irony being that the books we love the most are probably the ones that bend the truth the most for the sake of the story.


Mind the (Leadership) Gap

In what I can only assume is the result of a desperate need to fill space, Chief Learning Officer magazine just ran a long interview with me about the opportunities and challenges facing organizations as millennials move up into the leadership ranks (and vice versa). Check it out.