3 Ways to Discover Your Super Powers and Your Kryptonite


If leaders want to succeed they need to be self aware, a topic I covered in the recent blog, “What to Grow as a Leader? Become This.” A study I referenced found that a high self-awareness score was the strongest predictor of overall success.

A good leader needs to know what his super powers are. And his kryptonite.

A good leader needs to know what his super powers are. And his kryptonite.

As Anthony Tjan wrote, “In my experience — and in the research my co-authors and I did for our new book, Heart, Smarts, Guts, and Luck — there is one quality that trumps all, evident in virtually every great entrepreneur, manager, and leader. That quality is self-awareness. The best thing leaders can do to improve their effectiveness is to become more aware of what motivates them and their decision-making.”

To grow as leaders, we need to know what our strengths and weaknesses are, or as Tjan puts it, your super powers versus your kryptonite. So how do you go about becoming more self-aware?

  1. Feedback Analysis

In his popular book “Managing Oneself,” management consultant Peter Drucker recommended the process of Feedback Analysis as the only way to identify your strengths. Write down your expected outcomes for key decisions, then compare that with the results 9-12 months later.

This method will show you within a few years where your strengths are, which is the most important thing to discover about yourself. For example, he wrote, “The feedback analysis showed me, for instance—and to my great surprise—that I have an intuitive understanding of technical people, whether they are engineers or accountants or market researchers.”

  1. Assessment Instruments

Tjan recommends you take personality tests to learn more about yourself. Think about it – many businesses use assessment tools to test potential employees. But what about testing yourself and your senior managers? Here are three he mentions.

  • The Predictive Index Behavioral Assessment. This simple test is designed to determine your four core behavioral drives: dominance, extraversion, patience and formality. You can then identify patterns of behavior and motivations.
  • Myers-Briggs. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator identifies basic preferences in four areas. Are you more introverted or extraverted? (E or I) Do you prefer to look at logic first or interpret facts and add meaning? (S or N). When making decisions, do you look at logic or take into account people and special circumstances? (T or F) And lastly, do you prefer to make decisions or leave your options open? (J or P) Answers to the questions will determine which of 16 personality types you are with a four-letter code, such as INFP, ENTP or ESFJ. (A friend once told me she thought she was an ESPN. I told her to take the test again.)
  • Entrepreneurial Aptitude Test (E.A.T.) Tjan developed this test that measures the four key drivers for entrepreneurial success he wrote about in his book: heart, smarts, guts and luck. This brief survey measures your HSGL distribution with a graph showing the percentage of each trait.
  1. Ask for feedback from co-workers

This method can be a bit trickier than just taking a test or assessing yourself. People, especially those who work for you, can be reluctant to be honest in their feedback.

In the article “How to Get Feedback When You’re the Boss,” James Detert, associate professor at the Cornell Johnson Graduate School of Management recommends constantly asking for feedback with requests for specific examples. If someone recommends you communicate more with employees, ask them for a suggestion on how to do that.

Or turn to a few trusted co-workers with this question, recommended by Dr. Marshall Goldsmith: “How can I do better?”

And when you get the feedback, listen without interruption. Ask for clarification where needed and thank them for their comments at the end of the discussion. Responding gracefully to their feedback can encourage them to continue to offer it. And putting their suggestions into action when advisable sets a good example to them of a leader working to grow and improve.

You can also enlist professional help in this area, especially as anonymous feedback is generally more honest.  Hiring a qualified professional counselor or coach can help you elicit feedback by sending out anonymous evaluations and compiling the answers for you.

With all this information, you can learn which are your super powers and what is your kryptonite.

My book “How Not to Hire a Guy Like Me: Lessons Learned from CEOs’ Mistakes,” is now available as an ebook.

Creating an Environment of Innovation

This is the third in a three-part series on Innovation. The first part discussed the need for innovation, with examples of companies like 3M that have achieved success by continually innovating. The second part was on encouraging innovation in the workplace by hiring Idea Generators.

I’ve written about the need for innovation in the workplace and provided some tips on how to hire Idea Generators. In this post, I’ll discuss how to create an environment in your business that encourages innovation and creative thinking.

In some businesses, employees are blatantly or subtly encouraged to keep their thinking squarely inside the box. The most creative they are allowed to be is when it comes time to order lunch.

If you want innovation in your workplace, and trust me, you do, you need to actively encourage it by following these suggestions.

Plan your space to allow for easy collaboration

As Margaret Heffernan, a former CEO of five businesses said, “For good ideas and true innovation, you need human interaction, conflict, argument, debate.”

If you’ve read anything about the history of Pixar, you know that Steve Jobs influenced the design of the building to encourage interaction and unplanned collaborations among departments. He went so far as to suggest that the large campus only have one set of bathrooms in the atrium so employees would be forced to go there several times a day. (That idea was quickly vetoed.)

“If a building doesn’t encourage [collaboration], you’ll lose a lot of innovation and the magic that’s sparked by serendipity,” Jobs said. “So we designed the building to make people get out of their offices and mingle in the central atrium with people they might not otherwise see.”

Give employees time during the week to explore their passion projects

In my first post on Innovation, I wrote about 3M and how it’s grown into a multi-billion dollar company through developing innovative products. The company has done this by implementing their 15 percent time rule, one it has had since 1948. 3M allows its people the time to investigate their ideas. That time has resulted in products such as Scotch tape and the Post-it note.

They also reward the best of these. Twice a year, six to eight ideas are awarded Genesis Grants, and the employees receive from $30,000 to $75,000 in seed money for 12 months of research.

Host a Hackathon

Started in the software industry, a hackathon is an event that pulls together people from different departments. It may last from one day to a week, generally with a specific purpose in mind.

Hootsuite hosts Hoot-Hackathons, two-day casual events for employees to meet new people and pitch ideas. “These events foster a culture of innovation and gets people enthusiastic about new ideas. Plus, it doesn’t cost a lot,” wrote Ryan Holmes in the article “Innovate or Die: 3 Ways to Stay Ahead of the Curve.”

Don’t punish failure and mistakes

Failure and mistakes are the steppingstones to mistakes. The Japanese engineer Soichiro Honda said, “Success is 99% failure.” I’m not sure I’d agree with that high of a percentage, but you get the idea. If some ideas don’t pan out, you’ve learned something. Remember what Albert Einstein said, “If at first the idea is not absurd, then there will be no hope for it.”

Have your employees on board with the concept

Even those employees who may not be your most creative can take pride in working for a company that encourages and embraces it. And besides, you never know where that next great idea will come from. Let your employees know that you are looking for creative thinking.

The American astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson said, “Once you have an innovation culture, even those who are not scientists or engineers – poets, actors, journalists – they, as communities, embrace the meaning of what it is to be scientifically literate. They embrace the concept of an innovation culture. They vote in ways that promote it. They don’t fight science and they don’t fight technology.”

Management Consultant Peter Drucker said, “Business has only two basic function – marketing and innovation.”

Companies tend to spend a lot of time and attention on marketing. How is your company handling the function of innovation?

Listen to the Right People, And Trust Yourself in a Crisis

“Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things,” said Management Consultant Peter Drucker. The problem comes when a business faces a crisis and the leader no longer can determine what the right thing is.

I wrote a white paper once on 5 Faux Pas of CEOs in Crisis, which you can view on my blog. One of these faux pas is that they are only as smart as the last person they talk to.

When faced with a crisis, some CEOs and business leaders cease to think for themselves. Perhaps it’s because they feel responsible for the crisis in the first place and maybe they’ve lost confidence in their ability to lead. They no longer trust their own judgment.

By itself, this dip in confidence does not spell the death of a company. In fact, that is often when the smart leader knows to ask for help to get the company back on track.

But what I’ve seen happen many times is that the CEO begins consulting several people, which I would generally recommend as part of the effort to gather as much information about what can be done to get out of the crisis. But rather than compiling all that information and making a judgment based on the best direction to go, the CEO instead changes plans according to whatever the last person told him to do.

I once worked with a non-profit educational institution. The president had been let go, deservedly so. The interim president was changing the restructuring plan with every person he talked to. There were new firings and closings announced every week, and when he got objections to the firings, he would call those he fired to tell them to continue in their jobs.

Needless to say, the institution was in chaos. Imagine yourself going to work not knowing whether you’d be fired that day or not. And whether you really had been fired or you’d later be told, “Oh, never mind!”

He finally did make the decision to hire me, which he may have regretted when I fired him six weeks later.

Yes, it’s good to consider a lot of options and gather a lot of information when making a plan to get your company out of crisis. And it is key to talk to the right people. And how do you know who the right people are?

I read good advice on this topic yesterday in the New York Times, in an interview with Ron Kaplan, the chief executive of Trex, a manufacturer of outdoor decks. As a young controller at a forge that was losing a lot of money, the chairman asked him if he wanted to be general manager. He said yes, although he knew nothing about running a force.

He followed his father’s advice and looked for people with experience and made them his best friends. How did he know which people to listen to?

“By watching and listening,” he said. “When people speak, you measure the variance between what they tell you is going to happen and what actually happens.”

Look for people with experience and credibility. And after speaking to the right people, pick a well-considered plan and stick to it. My analogy is that you are building a house of cards. Each fragile layer is dependent on the foundation below it. Continually move that foundation and you could end up with just a failed mess.

As Charles de Gaulle said, “Faced with crisis, the man of character falls back on himself. He imposes his own stamp of action, takes responsibility for it, makes it his own.

The Turnaround Management Association is hosting its 9th annual Southeast Regional Conference at the historic Jekyll Island Club Hotel May 29-30. I’ll be on a workout panel, called Titans of the Turnaround. Hope you can join me at this fun and informative event!


Sales Were Up, Profits Were Down: What Happened?

In my last blog, “Big Sales Don’t Mean Big Profits,” I told the story of two companies I worked with that had increasing sales but declining profits. They both had problems with their product mix.

It was too late for one company — the owners didn’t want to make the investment needed to keep it running after we identified the problem so they closed it down after 30 years.

We were able to save the other company, although it shrunk from a $600 million company to a $350 million company.

What could both of these companies have done differently? What could have kept them out of this situation, which caused one of them to go out of business completely and the other to shrink to almost half its size?

Although the circumstances related to the issues with their product mixes were very different, the root cause of the problem in both cases was the same: a lack of communication.

Company A, which was a $2 million company that manufactured and distributed products, ran into trouble when their lower-profit sales to big box stores increased, pushing their margins down until they were no longer profitable. The operations and sales manager knew that the percentage of the lower profit sales to the big box companies was increasing — it went from 20% to 80% — yet no one discussed it.

The chief financial officer must have recognized the situation because the profitability of the company was severely impacted, but also didn’t raise the issue. Because no one talked about it, no one attempted to fix it. As Peter Drucker said, “The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said.” You can’t fix what you don’t acknowledge. So the situation just got worse.

With Company B, whose management assured me they did not have a problem with their product mix, we found that even though the company had spent millions on computer systems to make sure they knew exactly what their costs were, there was still a breakdown in the system.

We found that there had been a lot of turnover in one of the key positions responsible for the accuracy of the data going into the computer systems. The new people taking over were not being properly trained. So the company had been selling products based on inaccurate cost structures. Again, there was a failure in communication.

In this case, I was reminded of a quote by George Bernard Shaw, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

Communication is one of the keys to the success of any business. In my book, “How Not to Hire a Guy Like Me: Lessons Learned from CEOs’ Mistakes” I discuss the value of honest and open communication. In the case of Company A, the management of the company should have noticed the drastic change that was taking place in their product mix and discussed the situation. Together they could have determined what the effect on the business would be and taken steps to deal with the inevitable decline in profits.

As for Company B, it had a breakdown in the quality of training new staff. The duties of people in a key position were not being adequately communicated so the job was not being performed as it should have been.

Good communication at all levels of an organization can alert you to ways to improve your company while also providing early warning signs if things are starting to go wrong. Open communication will not only help steer your company through hard times, it can prevent them from occurring in the first place.