21st Century Leadership Development Challenge

What appears to be an overnight sensation in leadership circles has been long in the making — the rise of the Disruptive Leader. If you conduct a Google Search for “Disruptive Leader”, over 44,600,000 results show up.

Upon further investigation, you will also find there are endless blog posts generously dispensing advice, counsel and opinions on what it takes to be successful and relevant in the digital age — ability to code, mine big data quickly, highly skilled with data analytics and visualization tools, proven track record of leading transformation and innovation with limited access to funding and talent — in addition to leading, coaching, mentoring, and teaching others how to adopt, adjust and adapt to the fact their jobs are being replaced with robots and/or offshore resources. 

Interesting dilemma for companies attempting to transform while searching for leaders with both the aptitude and attitude to lead through such dynamics.

There is a tendency to wait for “natural” leaders to emerge from the mysterious dark corners of the universe to work transformational miracles using — AI, Blockchain, Big Data — with very little time and even fewer resources dedicated to actually preparing these “high potential” trailblazers for key leadership positions before they are needed. 

Reality is — nothing can truly prepare someone for being a leader of anything or anyone, like real world “hands-on” life experience, with opportunities to learn through failure, experimentation, coaching, mentoring, and development. High performing producers / contributors don’t necessarily or automatically make good, much less, great leaders. Leadership isn’t for everyone, regardless of one’s technical, analytical or innovative prowess.

The present challenge for HR and leadership development professionals is how to help those who seek these highly coveted leadership positions to prepare for the impact of AI and automation on how they lead others in the new order of chaos and constant state of uncertainty. 

We invite you to join the conversation by responding to the following questions…

  • To whom do HR and leadership development professionals turn for advice, counsel and opinions, in the era of IoT 4.0, to develop both newly minted and seasoned leaders?
  • How do those in the human capital business get ready to learn, think and perform differently in the new normal of digital age recruiting to create a succession pipeline of talent?
  • We believe that successful leaders understand and model two key behaviors “Followership” and “Self-Control”, which potentially contradicts the dominant logic of the current 21st Century leadership unicorn — the Disruptive Leader. What do you think? 

For More Information about the Authors                    

Rhonda L. Frith-Lyons and Tom Fehlman


Seeds of Leadership

With every leadership assessment event that I have attended and facilitated, about 500 to be exact, I have learned firsthand what defines and shapes great leaders. I have been a witness to the “ah-ha” moments when a leader comes to the realization that in order to transform the business, he/she must first transform themselves — both as an individual and as a leader.

As a recovering architectural engineer — with years of emotional scar tissue brought on by overexposure to toxic behaviors by those in leadership positions — I learned very early on in my career the delicate balance between tasks and relationships, and now I help other binary and linear thinkers do the same.

I have been fortunate to have built a great consulting career off those magical moments leveraging them to find creative ways to turnaround dysfunctional leaders and organizations by adhering to the following guiding principles*:

Great Leaders are passionate about what they do and with whom they engage. They actively seek ways to develop their employees to be leaders, especially in the midst of rapid change and uncertainty. They create an environment where bold moves and decisions are expected to move the business forward.

Great Leaders are energetic, focused and disciplined in their efforts to make a new strategy clear and how they gain alignment. They show the capacity to understand and balance the needs of the business, customers, suppliers, and employees. They encourage intellectual curiosity and continuous learning.

Great Leaders look for ways to engage in a healthy debate over the strategic direction of the business. They identify fragile performance areas that could be strengthened with a behavior-based approach. They understand the connection between behaviors, performance and business results.

Great Leaders effectively communicate their vision, take action and consistently demonstrate the character necessary to unify the organization. They know how to motivate others to achieve strategic goals. They are acutely aware of the shadow they cast and look for ways to model the desired behaviors they seek from others.

Great Leaders surround themselves with people who have diverse capabilities, and know how to unify them with a common purpose. They are constantly prospecting for gold – looking for ways to grow and sustain the business. They build teams using behavioral change principles to nurture the seeds of leadership.

If you were engaged in an interview for a leadership position and the question was asked — “Why do you want to be a leader?” What would be the answer? Is it simply the next step in a pre-determined career path? Is there pressure to make more money?

Is there a high need for power and control? Do you have a genuine interest in making other people successful or is your leadership quest for selfish reasons? Most importantly, what have you done to prepare yourself for a leadership position?

Leadership is a calling. Don’t get into it for the wrong reasons.  

 *Excerpts from: “Low Hanging Fruit and Highly Placed Vegetables”. Fehlman, Tom, 2011.

Managing Individual Readiness

Simple Tips for Leaders…

Organizations Don’t Change – People Within Organizations Change

You cannot manage change at an organizational level until you know how to manage change with a single individual.* Helping employees to prepare for and successfully manage their transition through times of uncertainty is a foundational attribute of effective leaders.  It’s imperative that leaders recognize that there will be individuals at all stages of readiness, each requiring a different effort for motivating them to the next stage on the change continuum.

It Starts With You

Consider three personal changes that you have made in the past five years. These changes could represent a strategic or behavioral change at work, or a change in your personal life, such as an improvement in your diet, exercise routine, or personal relationships.

  • What did you do to prepare?
  • What support did you seek to motivate you to change your way of thinking or behaviors?
  • Did you have to seek out resources to build new skills or knowledge?
  • How did you celebrate your successes?
  • What did you do to sustain the results?

How Can You Influence Success?

  • Generate awareness on the business rationale (context) for the change
  • Define the nature of the change and understand the impact of the proposed change on each individual associate in the organization
  • Identify the capabilities you and others in your organization will need to support the change
  • Give yourself and others the permission space to implement the required skills and behaviors
  • Create reinforcement mechanisms that are meaningful and specific to each individual impacted by the change
  • Most importantly, take the time to celebrate progress and accomplishments

Gentle Reminder…

Change is fundamentally an external event which requires individual shifts in perspectives, behaviors and performance.  When change happens, leaders are critical players in cultivating an environment where associates are able to effectively transition, adapt and adopt the new way of thinking and working.

For More Information about the Authors: Rhonda L. Frith-Lyons & Tracy Richardson

*Source:ADKAR: A model for change in business, government and our community by Jeff Hiatt

Readiness to Serve as a Digital Leader

The high octane pace of today’s business climate requires individuals that embody the attributes of the 21st century convener, known as the Disruptive Leader, to be multidimensional in their abilities to innovate, lead others through times of uncertainty, and skillfully curate information and resources to pursue new frontiers. According to Korn Ferry — “This new model of high-performing leader incorporates and builds on existing concepts of agile, digital, and inclusive leadership…”.

In our executive coaching practice, we encourage clients — who aspire to be this powerhouse of future-ready influence — to consider that there is a myriad of other key attributes that define professional success in the world of IoT 4.0. The hot pursuit of these qualities requires a higher level of conscious and unconscious competency, and a desire to disrupt oneself or be unfavorably disrupted by circumstances outside of your control.

Getting Ready to Serve as a Disruptive Leader…means being grounded in one’s personal convictions, values, attitudes, thoughts, and behaviors — no matter what is going on in the world around you. Most importantly, recognize that in order to achieve long-term success, you need to develop other characteristics such as discipline, willpower, resilience, intelligence, creativity, courage, determination, and self-control.1

These translate into “spiritual guidelines” to anchor you as you sprint through the marathon race of daily living, impacting how you act and make decisions. So how do these guidelines translate into being successful as a Disruptive Leader?

Balance Relationships & Results: connect digital technologies to the human elements of leadership in your daily routine and focus on quality of relationships to make the biggest differences with business outcomes. Collaboration is an enabler of innovation.

Learning Agility: constantly absorb, understand and internalize information, and then actively seek ways to apply and share this wisdom with others. Lifelong learning is a critical path for all leaders.

Curiosity & Opportunistic: courageously color outside of the lines through the exploration of ideas by asking — “what if” and “why not”, and ethically push the boundaries of the unknown to get the best from yourself and others. Be ready for opportunities as they present themselves in unique ways.

Passion to Serve with Gratitude & Grace: being a leader is a privilege and tremendous responsibility, as all eyes are on you to model the way for others. In order to have leadership credibility in the IoT 4.0 world — you have to reinforce through actions and words — social responsibility, gratitude for all of life’s lessons, and to demonstrate grace in times of conflict.

“Just as we need more people to provide leadership in the complex organizations that dominate our world today, we also need more people to develop the cultures that will create that leadership.” — John Kotter

What is your model for 21st century leadership? How are you getting ready for the IoT 4.0 tsunami?

For More Information about the AuthorRhonda L. Frith-Lyons


1: The 25 Biblical Laws of Success. Powerful Principles to Transform Your Career and Business. William Douglas and Rubens Teixeira, 2017. Pg.10.




Evolution of Leadership in the Digital Era

As more and more companies make the move from analog to digital, the demand for greater digital competence has led to the rise of a new kind of Business 2.0 leader — the Chief Digital Officer (CDO).

In the Strategy+Business Autumn 2017 (Issue 88) article — “The New Class of Digital Leaders”, there were three key insights that validated what I’ve witnessed firsthand through my work with leaders and companies trying to leap-frog to the 21st century pursuing digital solutions.Continue reading “Evolution of Leadership in the Digital Era”


According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, “Followership” means:  “the capacity or willingness to follow a leader”. The opportunity to challenge leaders to view themselves through the prism of reciprocity is as fascinating to us both today as it was in the early stages of our respective consulting and teaching careers.

In the era of 21st century business practices — the need for a rear view mirror perspective of leadership has quickly become a critical ingredient for an ambidextrous organization and leader. The pace of the current global business climate dictates leaders navigate stealthily and operate from a place of transparency to enhance their ability to engage those they need to execute against their strategic vision.

Whenever we first start working with a client who is in some type of leadership position, we place equal focus on both “Leading” and “Following” in our coaching, which is critical to the success of “employee engagement”. Great leaders come to instinctively understand that there is a time to lead and a time to allow others to lead. Leading an organization / team is one thing — looking back to see if they’re still following you is something altogether different.

This is especially important during times of transformation where leaders should be held accountable not only for achieving and sustaining desired business results, but also for how they motivate and inspire others to do the same. Simply stated — the best views of leadership often come from those who follow — not those who lead.

In our humble opinion, the best way to measure “Followership” is to incorporate some type of mechanism by which to deliver performance feedback to leaders on a consistent basis. And then hold them accountable on how, when and where they align their leadership style to the needs of their followers.

Without fail, those companies who don’t embed an assessment process into their leadership development culture, they will have a plethora of leaders who continually “step in it” leaving a trail of exhausted and disengaged followers. Like the old saying goes — “if you’re not the lead dog — your view is always going be pretty much the same”.

For More Information about the Authors…

Rhonda Frith-Lyons and Tom Fehlman



Multi-Generational Engagement

Companies and organizations, both large and small, public and private — have something in common — they face the challenge of leading and engaging multiple generations of workers — Veterans, Baby Boomers, Gen X, and Gen Y (Millennials).  For the first time in American history these multiple generations are coexisting and often times colliding in the workplace bringing new challenges for both business leaders and HR professionals.

Generation Timeline
Veterans, Silent, Traditionalist
Generation X,
Gen X, Xers
Generation Y,
Gen Y, Millennial,
Echo Boomers
*Source: Mixing and Managing Four Generations of Employees, FDU Magazine, 2005


The delicate intersection of these multiple generations impact organizations and businesses — from the shaping of culture, communications, values, innovation — to how work gets done on a daily basis.   No matter where you are along the generational divide, as a leader, your primary mandate is to not only focus on business viability, growth and revenue — but also to keep your employees engaged by connecting their contributions to the financial returns and allowing them greater involvement in the management of their own world of work.

  Workplace Characteristics
Baby Boomers
Generation X
Generation Y
Work Ethic and Values
Hard Work
Respect Authority
Duty Before Fun
Adhere To Rules
Work Efficiently
Crusading Causes
Personal Fulfillment
Desire Quality
Question Authority
Eliminate The Task
Want Structure and Direction
What’s Next
Goal Oriented
Work Is…
An Obligation
An Exciting Adventure
A Difficult Challenge
A Contract
A Means To An End &
Leadership Style
Command & Control
Everyone Is The Same
Challenge Others
Ask Why
Interactive Style
Team Player
Loves to Have Meetings
Feedback and Rewards
No News Is Good News
Satisfaction In A Job Well Done
Don’t Appreciate It
Title Recognition
Sorry To Interrupt, But How Am I Doing?
Freedom In The Best Reward
Whenever I Want It, At A Push Of A Button
Meaningful Work
Messages That Motivate
Your Experience Is Respected
You Are Valued
You Are Needed
Do It Your Way
Forget The Rules
You Will Work with Other Bright and Creative People
Work and Family Life
Ne’er The Twain Shall Meet
No Balance
Work To Live
*Source: Mixing and Managing Four Generations of Employees, FDU Magazine, 2005


It’s Not the WHAT, But the “HOW”

Imagine for a moment that you’re a Baby Boomer or Gen Xer who has been assigned to lead a large and complex transformation initiative as the last step before becoming a part of the executive leadership elite.

The core team you’ve been assigned to lead is comprised of multiple generations, with diverse life experiences, as well as confidence levels, and vary as much in their “can do attitude”, sense of curiosity, energy and communication methods and styles — as they do on their views about having a “passion for work” versus a “passion for a cause”.   And…your immediate leader is a Millennial.

You know WHAT has to be done, but what leadership capabilities will you have to effortlessly demonstrate daily on “HOW TO BE” to bring people along — even coaching your leader on what you require from them to be the champion and sponsor of the change?



1] HOW do you lead and engage such a diverse team of individuals who have different needs and expectations to motivate and inspire them to participate in the transformational journey?

2] HOW do you manage and even coach your millennial boss to be the desired leader needed to ensure the success of the initiative?

3] HOW will you model the desired behaviors you seek from others especially during the  challenging times that surely lie ahead in such a complex environment?

4] HOW will you find your inspiration and have your tank refilled to keep you focused on the big picture to protect your reputation and career?

For More Information about the Authors and the BLI Leadership Institute™ www.linkedin.com/in/rhondalfrithlyons/  and  www.linkedin.com/in/tomfehlman/

Staying Present

In an article published in Psychology Today The Digital Psychological Disconnect” (Jul 10, 2016), the authors shared some interesting research findings on the digital disconnect and the impact to face-to-face interpersonal interactions. In summary, the problem lies in our growing preferred interaction with digital devices than with human beings. This is a prevailing challenge for today’s leaders who must find creative ways to foster organizational effectiveness that requires themselves to be

What It Means To Be “In the Moment” With Others

Leaders can create certainty out of uncertainty by being actively and visibly engaged with all of their daily interactions. This requires leaders to get out from behind the desk, walk away from the computer, turn-off or turn down the mobile devices, and be intentional in your engagement with others.

Staying Connected to the Well Being of Yourself & Others

Connecting with employees and peers on a personal and even on — an emotional level, can be a powerful way to model how to be “In the Moment”. Well-being isn’t just about physical health, it’s also about the mental, emotional and intellectual health of the individual. As a leader, it’s important for you to incorporate “Well Being Check-Ins” with your teams, as part of your leadership routine.

Here are a few suggestions on how to initiate a Well-Being Check-in conversation with others:

  • Ask — “how are you feeling today?”
  • Help them to verbalize what personal values drive them and if they feel those values are being threatened
  • Discuss how emotional stress manifests for them (and for you) in certain behaviors—  help others recognize when they are stressed
  • Brainstorm with them on how their current strengths can help them develop methods to shift from stress to agility and resilience

Tips on How to Focus on What to “STOP, START & CONTINUE”

To help both yourself and your employees focus on the right work (STOP, START & CONTINUE) and make thoughtful decisions — consider using a simple framework within your teams to evaluate information and make decisions:

  1. Does the information I/we have to make a decision include the consumer’s / stakeholder’s perspective?
  2. Does the decision effectively drive operational performance (excellence)?
  3. Does the decision get us to competitive advantage in the near-term?
  4. Have I engaged with my employees so they have the opportunity to be a part of the information gathering and decision making process?
  5. Are my employees empowered to shape the decisions that affect them?
  6. Have I communicated the reason for the decision in a way that is meaningful to those stakeholders impacted by the decision? The goal is to help employees narrow their focus through prioritization and understand where to dedicate their energy. The best course of action is to concentrate on the key areas of operating performance that lead to team effectiveness and fulfilling commitments to both the consumers and stakeholders.

For More Information about the Authors: Rhonda L. Frith-Lyons & Tracy Richardson

Disruption of Things

I recently attended the Thomas Reuters Public Private Partnership Series in Charlotte, NC. It was a spectacular line-up of experts and thought leaders in the areas of Artificial Intelligence, Cybersecurity, Blockchain, and Digital Identity. The vast majority of attendees were from financial institutions, law enforcement, auditing agencies, and cybersecurity consulting firms.

As I made my way around meeting folks and listening to these brilliant experts talk about the advances in digital and virtual technologies and the impacts to the financial services industry — I wondered what are other industries and leaders doing to prepare for the technological tidal wave that’s forthcoming.

For example — just a couple of years ago, Bitcoin was this crazy experimental concept where only a few brave souls dared to invest and experiment. Fast forward to 2018, there are a multitude of digital currency platforms that are valued in the billions, and by 2019 will be around $4T* — all leveraging Blockchain technology. The speed of adoption for this type of cutting edge technology is no longer in 3-5 years, it’s in 18-24 month cycles and it will shorten as more FinTech companies, investor groups and general population of users are able to experience the value it delivers — quickly and seamlessly.

The magnitude of the ‘Disruption of Things’ (DoT) — being introduced by Blockchain — is so much more than being able to make purchases from a digital device, opening an account on Coinbase or getting up close and personal with the algorithms to get access to Big Data – and this force of change isn’t just reserved for the financial services sector.

The Blockchain tsunami is industry agnostic. It will forever alter the way any company — delivers products and services to the marketplace; pays vendors, suppliers and employees; attracts, retains and develops talent; and demonstrates organizational agility to innovate and deliver a positive customer experience. It will most definitely transform the way leaders design their organizational structures and run their business.

There are change leaders who recognize this opportunity for exponential growth with Blockchain and are taking swift action. They are sprinting towards this new future with enthusiasm and quickly scaling strategic and organizational capabilities to ensure readiness and focus on strategic execution, innovation and learning. They are intentionally creating a culture of healthy tensions to challenge the “status quo” and inspiring others to do the same. They are working endlessly championing a common core message — “be the disruptor or be disrupted”. They reside in all areas of an organization — as formal or informal leaders, as multipliers and influencers. They are — “Purple Squirrels driving bright green Ferraris”.

What are you doing to prepare yourself and your organization for the Disruption of Things? Are you purposely seeking ways to transform the way you and others think, behave and perform in the digital era?

We encourage free exchange of ideas and insights to foster leadership learning. Please share your journey with us.

For More Information about the Authors: Rhonda L. Frith-Lyons & Tom Fehlman

*Source: Thomas Reuters Public Private Partnership Series, Panel Discussion, April 24, 2018.

Managing Expectations

Simple Tips for Leaders…

Setting expectations is something we experience early on—as a child we were expected to clean our room before we could go out and play; as students we were expected to complete our homework before we could go to the weekly sporting event; as employees we have goals we create or are created for us and are expected to meet our goals for performance rewards and recognition; as leaders we learn to manage by objectives and set clear goals and measures.

Why Do We Set Expectations?

Each of us needs to have directionality in our lives to help us prioritize our work, make decisions and focus on information most critical to reaching outcomes.  Remember—our brains crave certainty! A leader must set and communicate clear expectations to help signal to employees what behaviors and outcomes are needed to achieve results.

But how do we manage expectations when things are uncertain?  Developing and monitoring goals is one tool to help with setting expectations. Goals can be long-range — or more immediate—like delivering a “best in class” company in 2018.  Setting goals with clear measures and having on-going discussions around the progress of these goals helps set and reinforce employee expectations on how to prioritize work.

Take a moment to reflect on the work you and your team are focused on…

  • What problems are your team trying to solve?
  • How does your team consider the customer’s needs in prioritizing work?
  • Do you and your team have clear understanding of what the problems are which need to be focused on and how to address them?

Being a leader doesn’t mean you have all of the answers; however, leading during uncertainty does mean you help lead your team to think and act differently.  Managing expectations helps build this capability.

Leader Activity: Consider discussing these questions at a staff meeting

  • What do our customers need in the next 12-months?
  • What work is required to address the needs of our customers?
  • How can we improve efficiency of our work, as well as ensure quality work to drive operational excellence?

Review the Ideas Generated

  1. Determine the priority of the work and how to measure success
  2. Identify specific actions each employee should focus on to deliver the work
  3. Monitor and reward success and coach your employees if expectations are not being met

Documenting goals and updating progress in the Performance Management system will ensure you are able to focus development discussions and performance discussions throughout the year—making the end of year process more efficient and effective.  Setting goals and expectations isn’t just a “nice to have” — it is a critical part of leadership routines.

Things to Consider

  • What are you doing to provide clarity and focus on expectations?
  • How are you helping yourself and others to reduce the threat of uncertainty?
  • What steps are you taking to foster engagement and retention of employees?


For More Information about the Authors: Rhonda L. Frith-Lyons & Tracy Richardson