Susan Battley

Author Archives

  • Top Five Things Leaders Should Say

    Opinion research shows that public confidence in business and political leaders is middling to very poor.

    For example, a Gallup poll (December 2012) found that only 21 percent of Americans rated business leaders as very high in terms of honesty and ethical behavior. Members of Congress fared even worse in the poll, coming in second from the bottom of 22 professions. Only used car salesmen rated lower. (Nurses came in first place.)

    These findings are a pointed reminder that leaders need to act in ways that build trust and stakeholder engagement, not erode them.

    To help raise the performance bar, here are five communication behaviors that leaders should use to supercharge their effectiveness in this success-critical domain. Some may seem obvious. However, in reality I find they often fall into the category of the “Invisible Obvious.”

    Five-Point Leader Communication Checklist

    1. Say the TRUTH. This is the Prime Communication Directive. There is no room for spin, half-truths or multiple versions of the truth if a leader wants to gain and keep buy-in from employees, customers and other stakeholders. Reputation is a leader’s most precious asset. Once it’s compromised, winning back credibility and stakeholder trust is extremely difficult and sometimes downright impossible.
    2. Say THANK YOU. Expressing appreciation and recognition of others’ efforts and contributions is another key communication priority. This is an aspect of emotional intelligence — meaning the ability to identify and control emotions in oneself and others – that research shows differentiates great leaders from good leaders. Whether a leader is an elected official, a university president or a senior executive, showing sincere gratitude wins hearts as well as minds.
    3. Say WE, NOT I. This point is not new, but it bears repeating. It takes a community of dedicated people to deliver consistent winning results. Highly effective leaders don’t hog the limelight, but instead speak about the team, the community or the organization. They don’t talk “down” but rather inspire and motivate “up” by being other-focused, not self-focused.
    4. Say TELL ME MORE. Successful leaders are inquisitive. They are constantly on the lookout for information that will give them a competitive edge. They want to hear good news, but – even more – they want to drill deep when receiving bad news or differing opinions. In this way, they create a culture of healthy discussion, high-quality decision making and innovation.
    5. Say NO, ABSOLUTELY NOT. Leaders are the final arbiters of their organization’s values and reputation. They should have only one response to suggestions or actions that violate — or appear to violate – those values or general business ethics.

    A key point I make to current and aspiring leaders is this: People have to buy into you before they will buy from you. Incorporating these five behaviors and phrases into everyday actions sets a positive “tone at the top” and strengthens engagement and organizational performance overall. Use them consistently to execute brilliantly.

  • Memo to Congress: Kick The Bad Habits in 2013 – Huffington Post

    by Susan Battley

    The 113th Congress was sworn in this week, adding 12 new senators and 67 new representatives. A fresh start is desperately needed.

    A year from now will anything be different in Washington? Or will the same political gridlock caused by dysfunctional behaviors prevail?

    It all depends on whether our political leaders can kick their bad habits and replace them with behaviors that promote bipartisanship and public confidence and trust.

    Full Article:

  • Battley: Congress…Shed Your ‘Deadly Leadership Behaviors’! –

    With the clock ticking, it is anyone’s guess whether Democrats and Republicans come up with a bipartisan resolution to the looming fiscal crisis, or instead take the country over the cliff into catastrophic free fall.

    In a recent New York Times article, Mr. Bipartisan himself, Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, who is retiring from the Senate in January 2013, faulted both parties for the current “cancer” of congressional paralysis and finger-pointing.

    Full Article:

  • 2012 CEO All-Stars – Forbes

    by Susan Battley

    Here are four business all-stars of 2012, leaders who stand out for executing brilliantly or distinguishing themselves in the larger forum of social and civic responsibility. Below them I list four stars who lost luster, leaders who were noteworthy because their stellar performance or reputations took a hit. And finally I suggest some aspiring stars to keep an eye on in 2013.

    Full Article: 

  • Outsider or Insider CEO: Different Success Odds – Huffington Post

    It’s a busy time for two of our newest business leaders. Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer recently held her first earnings call. Citigroup’s Michael Corbat has completed his first month on the job. Both CEOs face substantial challenges in transforming their companies and setting them on a profitable path. Both come to their jobs without prior experience as a chief executive. Both replace CEOs who departed precipitously. But here the similarities end.

    Does the route to a company’s top spot — outside hire versus homegrown talent — make any difference to a CEO’s effectiveness and ultimate success? Does one route have advantages over the other? Analyses of CEO succession and company performance suggest these are not trivial questions. Let’s take a closer look.

    Full Article:

  • Zombies on the Job – USA Today

    Zombies are populating the cubicles these days. But be careful, you could become one of them if you don’t fight it.
    by Anita Bruzzese, Gannett

    In the 1968 movie, Night of the Living Dead,” Johnny warns Barbara: “They’re coming to get you!”

    Johnny was speaking of zombies, and he might want to update that warning for the workplace today if he listens to Susan Battley.

    Battley, a leadership and career expert, says that zombies are populating cubicles these days. You might even become one of them if you’re not careful.

    Full Article:

  • An Entrepreneur Scales Up Fast

    “Entrepreneurs are simply those who understand that there is little difference between
    obstacle and opportunity.”
    – Machiavelli


    Alan, the president of a biotech startup, looked older than his late thirties. Married with two young children, this founder-entrepreneur knew he was in trouble. “I’m burning out fast,” he said, a pained expression on his face.

    “Our revenues are up 40 percent over last year, but work just isn’t fun anymore,” he said. “My blood pressure is too high. My family complains that they never see me. My staff complain that I micromanage. I’m even growling at our bankers.”

    Alan’s was a classic case of “drowning in success.” Having grown his business from scratch, this newbie chief executive was having a hard time relinquishing control and responsibility. Intellectually, he knew what he should be doing, but something was getting in the way – and adding to his frustration and stress levels.


    We worked with Alan and his operations team to optimize the company’s management structure and strategy execution. We also worked one-on-one with Alan to help him:

    • Define his top business goals and strategy for the coming year
    • Identify how his personal strengths and capabilities were promoting – and possibly hindering – his business plan and strategy
    • Modify his attitudes toward delegating responsibility
    • Focus on core business growth activities and stakeholders
    • Carve out dedicated “down” time to achieve work/life balance

    “A year ago I would have taken the money and run, I felt so overwhelmed by the company’s success and mushrooming complexity. But now I not only know a lot more about maximizing its potential, I’ve acquired the skills to maximize my own potential.”

  • Implementing Change at “Alpha Company”

    The Situation

    The Client Services Division of Alpha Company (a pseudonym) was in a tailspin less than a year after a major restructuring. Employee absenteeism and turnover had risen to unprecedented levels in a division that was noted for its productivity and stability.

    Senior management sought help in turning employee morale around, and in assuring success of the change initiative. Initially, the request for assistance was framed in terms of employee training in change adjustment techniques. However, management was agreeable to an exploratory needs analysis to assure accurate problem diagnosis.


    Alpha had hired a firm of business process consultants to review its administrative systems and survey customer satisfaction levels. Redesign of the Client Services Division was one of several recommendations the consultants made. The recommendation involved merging the three division functions–billing, accounting, and records–into a single streamlined unit for “one-stop” counter and call service.

    The consultants’ engagement was for evaluation and recommendation only. Alpha assumed responsibility for implementing proposed modifications.

    Due to the highly technical nature of integrating three information systems, senior management selected the records manager, an information technology specialist, to direct the reorganized division. Formerly, each function had its own manager who reported directly to the vice president of operations. Within a few months, the former billing manager, a popular supervisor and long-time employee of the company, quit.

    BPC was engaged to help ‘s management deal with unexpected consequences of their change program, specifically the departure of key talent, poor morale, and incomplete integration of information systems.

    Our Impressions

    Not surprisingly, interviews revealed that company members had very different perceptions and interpretations of the problems based on their position and job rank. Alpha’s upper management tended to view the morale and retention problems in terms of employee resistance to change.

    By contrast, employees in the affected division cited poor implementation–not the reorganization itself–as the root problem. Their complaints focused on an unrealistic timetable, inadequate cross-training, and the new director’s lack of management skills. Furthermore, the director’s command-and-control style made it impossible for division employees to convey their concerns up the line without fear of reprisal.

    Employees reported feeling de-skilled and unable to influence their work environment positively. There was a collective sense of loss associated with:

    Job competence, as they struggled to cross-learn each other’s jobs while attempting to meet customer needs.

    The unexpected departure of a popular manager. They viewed the new division manager as someone detached and unresponsive, and assumed that his demeanor reflected that of management in general.

    Our Recommendations

    Accelerated cross-training was essential both to the success of the “one-stop” customer service initiative and to improving employee morale. Management acted quickly in this area, and involved the affected workers in identifying exactly what needed to be done and how. These actions helped restore trust levels within Alpha, which had been badly eroded.

    A second recommendation involved replacing the division manager. This proved to be a positive action all around, since the manager himself was relieved to return to the “back room” technical responsibilities he knew and enjoyed.

    Obstacles to Peak Performance

    Alpha’s difficulties in restructuring the division began with poor execution. Additionally, employee skills and traits were not aligned properly with the change initiative. The result was an invalidating work environment where employees felt unheard and unsupported by management.

    Alpha succeeded in merging the three client service units without further loss of personnel. Additionally, by involving employees actively in the initiative, further improvements in information systems integration and customer service were achieved.

    Concluding Observations

    When organizational change initiatives are less than successful, it is all too easy to blame the difficulties on “resistance.” Employee resistance, customer resistance, management resistance, supplier resistance. Some group or person becomes the designated problem, and the inclination to “fix” the designated problem can be very strong. However, such an approach can be overly simplistic and counterproductive.

    Change typically occurs within a system. It is important to appreciate the tendency for systems to maintain equilibrium. “Resistance” is better viewed as a normal–and predictable–response to disequilibrium. To maximize successful execution of change programs, careful attention needs to be paid to the transition phase, and to the natural responses that change can produce. Anticipating and managing these responses properly is integral to short and long-term success.

    Copyrighted material – All rights reserved.

  • An Attorney’s Sideways Success


    Anna, an in-house attorney for a multibillion dollar business division, was not keen on her future. In fact, she was on the verge of quitting. Born in Pacific Asia, educated in the United States, she had moved up the corporate ranks very quickly. The division CEO considered her as his prize protégée . But after facilitating three major acquisitions, she’d grown tired of the constant travel and restructuring activities.

    In her late thirties, she was reassessing her life and career goals with an eye to carving out more time for herself and her family. The CEO urged her to reconsider. In a last-ditch effort to keep her, he suggested that she take a sabbatical and work with a professional coach to clarify her career goals. Her coaching could be “carte blanche,” in other words, it could deal with any topic or issue she chose, including departure from the company. Anna passed on the sabbatical offer but opted for coaching.

    “I’m burned out, and I don’t want to be,” Anna explained. “I’m not the type to become a full-time soccer-Mom. Even my kids tell me this. I’m also not interested in going off and doing the same work I’ve been doing somewhere else. So what do I do with the rest of my life?”

    A tall question and definitely not one that could be answered in a few sessions. Over time and with the benefit of in-depth discussion, goalsetting, and a comprehensive personality assessment, Anna identified entrepreneurial-type activities as those she most enjoyed (and excelled at). However, these were activities that her current role as corporate counsel only allowed at the margins, not at the core. Realistically, there was no way to reengineer the position to make it her “dream job.”


    Anna got up the courage to share her “dream job” description with her boss and mentor, the division CEO. With something tangible to work with, he pulled out all the stops. Even though this meant losing her to another division, he was delighted that she’d be staying with the company. Far better a lateral move than an outright loss. A second-best result, he remarked.

    Anna joined a technology licensing unit where she became part of a highly skilled and creative team. The challenges and people energized her. She gained considerable control over her work schedule, including flextime and telecommuting opportunities that were simply unthinkable in her previous position. She also discovered that she enjoyed teaching, and became an adjunct lecturer at a nearby business school.

    “Even though I’m an ‘outside-the-box’ thinker when it comes to business, I’d never have thought of doing something this different on my own,” Anna said.

    This coaching engagement proved a win-win for all concerned: Anna, her employer, and her family.
    Copyrighted material. All rights reserved.

  • Bill Gates and the Power of Feedback

    Bill Gates observed, “You have to be careful, if you’re good at something, to make sure you don’t think you’re good at other things that you aren’t necessarily so good at.”

    How do you confirm your sense of what you’re good at? Feedback, of course.

    We all feel great when others – colleagues, bosses, friends, and competitors too – remark on our intelligence, skills, or performance. But as Gates noted, therein lies a trap, for we can overestimate or over-generalize our capabilities.

    How do we get honest, balanced feedback about areas where we’re not as good as we think we are? Or where we might need to improve or change?