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How to Master Situational Leadership

There is a saying repeated often in the U.S. Army: “Where you stand is where you sit.” It means, in essence, that your perspective depends on the position you occupy in an organization.

When 19th century general Braxton Bragg was serving simultaneously as a company commander and company quartermaster -- the officer tasked with approving requisitions -- he famously wrote a memo in his commander role requesting resources, then wrote a memo as quartermaster refusing that order. Bragg-as-commander appealed, was again refused by Bragg-as-quartermaster, and finally Bragg requested that the post commander intervene and settle the dispute.

Bragg represented an extreme case, but in making each of these decisions, he was looking out for the interests of his team. They were just different teams. His story resonates with Col. Brian Halloran, U.S. Army Chief of Staff Senior Fellow at the Kellogg School, as a reminder of how leadership changes one’s perspective -- and how being in one leadership role versus another can have a profound impact on decisions.

For Col. Halloran, more than two decades in the military have included many roles and many shifts in function. Along the way, he has had to master situational leadership, adjusting his goals...

New Research Shows the Very Human Heart of When, Why and How We Fail

As a species, we are not very good at coping with failure. Most of us hate the very idea of it—even if the failing-fast mantras of startup culture, which have now spread well beyond Silicon Valley, pressure us to profess otherwise. We tell ourselves all the time that we have to try, and try, and that so long as we try we will not fail.

January, particularly, is a month of resolutions made, and often already broken. That one drink that blew the plan. That cold, dark morning when the lap pool proved just too far. The classic response to failure is to blame it on personal weakness—we see it not as intimately connected to the human condition, but as an indictment of our individual ability to succeed. The result: a spiral of self-criticism arguably more damaging than the “problem” we were trying to solve in the first place.

A rich field of research, from economics to psychology to game theory, is concerned with exactly this problem. Why do we fail? And given that some failures are inevitable, what should be the response when we find ourselves in the midst of one?

Gaming the system

Perhaps the problem...

Pay for Success Can Stretch Agency Budgets, and Already Has

With authorizing legislation that would extend the concept now stalled in Congress, the Obama administration appears to be following an alternate path to supporting the small but growing model of performance-based government called pay for success.

Like performance-based contracting, pay-for-success projects tie payments to proven results. They differ primarily because they often use rigorous assessments to determine their impact and because they rely on third-party financing from foundations and other investors to cover costs until payments are made.

The idea has generated significant interest across a variety of fields, including social services, education and health. Fewer than a dozen projects, however, have actually been brought online in the United States, and progress has been bumpy so far.

The Obama administration and a bipartisan group of congressional supporters are working to change this. In 2015, legislation was introduced in both the House and Senate that would create a $300 million fund and a central interagency council to oversee federal efforts.

However, despite an influential cast of supporters that includes House Speaker Paul Ryan, the legislation has not yet moved. In part, this has been due to skepticism among some Republicans who view it as a possible path to big government, and...

How a Generational Shift is Putting New Demands on Managers

As aging Baby Boomers exit the workforce, they will take with them a great deal of skill, knowledge, wisdom, institutional memory, relationships, and the last vestiges of the old-fashioned work ethic. Organizations with significant “age bubbles” in their employee demographics will need to dedicate substantial resources to support knowledge-transfer and what we call “wisdom transfer,” as well as flexible retention, succession planning, and leadership development.

What does this generational shift mean for employers?

As the global youth tide continues to rise, the new young workforce will bring a whole new set of expectations and behavior that takes for granted the short-term transactional nature of employment.  Organizations that rely disproportionately upon young workers have a permanent “youth bubble” in their employee demographics. Such organizations will be facing the challenges of an increasingly high-maintenance workforce in which employees will not hesitate to make suggestions, special requests, and demands, especially those related to rewards and flexible work conditions. This will require dedicating substantial resources to staffing strategy, selection, on-boarding, training, performance management, accountability, differential rewards, and retention. 

Organizations with significant “youth bubbles” also face the retention challenge we call “the development investment paradox.” The paradox is that employers must invest in developing their...

Do Workers Slack Off More When the Economy's Better?

There’s something that nearly every manager worries about and no employee can honestly deny doing at least a little bit: not working at work.

According to the American Time Use Survey, U.S. workers spend nearly 9 hoursat work each weekday, but even by their own admission, not all that time is spent working. One recent study reported that the average time spent on personal things at the office is anywhere between one-and-a-half to three hours a day. In a survey, employees said that the biggest time-wasters at work were browsing the Internet and socializing with colleagues (and of course, attending meetings).

Different companies and industries probably see a lot of variance in employees’ loafing, but there’s an interesting question to be asked more generally: Is the amount of time spent on non-work activities at the office affected by the health of the overall economy?

Theoretically, when the economy is doing badly, employees would work harder in order to hold onto their jobs. Following that logic, workers are more relaxed when the economy is healthy because there are more jobs out there and employers have to fight to hold onto talented workers. “That is classic economics, goes...