Avoid the Talent Trap
by Emphasizing Trust

Avoiding the Talent Trap

Why do business and athletic teams with the most talented people so often fall behind or get beaten by teams of lesser talent? The 2004 USA Men’s Basketball team, the example par excellence, was beaten by the far less talented teams of Puerto Rico, Lithuania, and Argentina. 

The poor performance of the American team was a classic example of the Talent Trap. The uber-talented individuals on Team USA could not play together as a whole. The other teams with less talented individuals could. Trust overcame the talent deficit.

NFL Talent Trap

I used the chart above with an NFL team that is looking to revise their player acquisition strategy. The teams that win consistently tend to seek players of high trust and good talent. The teams that are loaded with talent but have little trust often have lots of internal friction, drama, and sub-optimal performance. Sadly, there are a lot of highly talented people who are simply toxic.

It’s much easier to develop someone’s skills than to turn a selfish person into a trustworthy team player. Why don’t companies and teams measure trust with the same energy and precision as they measure talent? 

To build and evaluate trust intentionally, start with these three steps:

  1. Identify your most important standards and expectations … and WHY they are important.
  2. Define what right looks like for each one of them for leaders and employees; use these as part of your screening during the hiring process. 
  3. Hold everyone accountable to meet these standards and expectations, especially your top talent. 

Improve the Success of Your Company’s Diversity and Inclusion Programs

by Using Leader Archetypes in These 5 Steps

Diversity and Inclusion Programs


The business case for a diverse workforce, explains the Wall Street Journal, is clear. 

Less obvious is how to retain a diverse workforce. According to one study, women are twice as likely as white or Asian men to leave their employer. Black and Latino males reportedly leave at 3.5 times the rate of their white or Asian male counterparts. A lack of inclusivity is often blamed for the turnover. A 2007 report estimates that failed diversity initiatives cost American companies $64 billion annually.

In short, current efforts to hire a diverse workforce may be costing some companies more in employee turnover than the gain in productivity. 


This challenge could be one of the reasons smaller companies seem less likely than larger ones to diversify. Even among larger companies senior leadership and boards still tend to be white and male. This homogeneity is even more troubling considering the emphasis on diversity since before the turn of the century — more than enough time for the rise to senior leadership. 

A recent study by McKinsey, a consulting firm, shows that women tend to have their careers derailed early. Most fall behind their male counterparts in the move from entry position into first-line management — the so-called first rung. 

Bigotry and misogyny among some managers are no doubt parts of the problem. 

Another part of the problem could be the tendency for leaders to clone themselves. This unconscious affinity bias leads people to select and promote others like themselves. Sometimes this bias is based on gender, ethnicity, or religion. 

In many cases, though, it is based on an idealized and personalized version of what it takes to be a successful leader. Since the person in the leadership position sees themselves as successful, selecting and promoting similar people is perceived as sound practice. Cloning seems to be a common mistake among relatively inexperienced managers, which may account for the first-rung problems in large companies and poor diversity in smaller companies. 

Developing leaders to appreciate a broader range of leadership archetypes could reduce affinity bias and improve diversity and inclusion at more senior levels.


Our research has led to four major leader archetypes: Pioneers, Reconcilers, Operators, and Mavericks, which we call the PROM leader persona method™. Each archetype has natural inclinations and points of energy. Pioneers are innovators. Reconcilers build teams and manage consensus. Operators create the systems and processes that get things done routinely. Mavericks solve complex, wicked problems. Organizations need them all.

They also have their natural dis-inclinations, or requirements that tend to drain their energy. Pioneers and Mavericks, for instance, can find details to be soul-sucking. Operators and Reconcilers can get bored without clear requirements. Hiring people into roles irrespective of their archetype has a good chance of producing low job satisfaction, rapid burnout, and low perceived fitness for promotion. 

A wider appreciation for diverse leader archetypes and the roles that bring out their best can improve the hiring and promotion processes and better set-up women and non-white males for success. Helping people be the best version of themselves will enhance the quality of mentoring and feedback.  When added to the very important inclusion training, sensitivity to leader archetypes is likely to improve senior leader diversity.  


Here are five steps to take:

  1. Determine your leader-archetype by going through our short self-assessment and explanatory videos. Have your managers do the same so they can have a broader point of view. To gain greater depth, check out our e-book.
  2. Decide which leader-archetypes are best suited for the different management roles in your company.
  3. Add leader-archetype to your employee’s skill sets so that you can set people up for success.
  4. Promote diverse candidates into roles for which they are best suited. 
  5. When you have women or non-white males candidates in roles not aligned with their leader-archetype (companies often do this to give leaders broadening experiences), be sure to put talented, diverse leader archetypes around them.


Considering leader-archetype in selection and promotion processes is no panacea. Diversity and inclusion challenges are likely to remain as long as people allow affinity bias based on physical or cultural differences to influence them. Deliberately setting up your employees and managers for success by considering their leader-archetype is likely to improve job performance and satisfaction, reduce employee turnover, and enable your company to more fully realize the competitive advantages of a diverse and inclusive team. 



How to find your who

I have two things of value for you.

First, we have been doing a lot of research on leader authenticity. Good leadership starts with knowing and owning your WHO. Each person is hardwired differently. Knowing and owning WHO you are as a leader makes you sincere and genuine.

There are lots of different personality tests — Highlands Ability Battery, Myers-Briggs, TTISI, Predictive Index, DISC, etc. These assessments provide highly detailed information, which can be very enlightening.

I’ve also found, though, that I had difficulty using these assessments to understand myself as a leader and what that means in the context of a leader team. I had trouble seeing the forest for the trees.

This challenge led me to look at the very basic ways people are hard-wired that affect how they lead. We wanted to find which factors were durable (unlikely to change as we grew or with context) and salient (directly affects how we operate as leaders). Stripping away those that seemed malleable, we came up with two factors that seem durable and salient: introversion – extroversion and detail – vision orientation.  

Putting these in a quad chart reveals four distinct leader-personas: Pioneers, Reconcilers, Operators, and Mavericks. We call this the KSLA’s PROM Leader Persona method. 

PROM Method

To find out which one you are and what that means to you as a leader, take this short assessment:  (CLICK HERE TO TAKE ASSESSMENT)

No matter what field you are in — nonprofits, business, sports, government, or military — knowing and OWNING your leader persona will help you see yourself, lead with authenticity, and build diversity of the mind around you.

We will be coming out with more of our research on leader authenticity in the coming weeks.

Second, did you ever notice that the WE comes before me in aWEsoME? Organizations that want a healthy, winning culture need people willing to work together as a team. This is more likely to happen when:

  1. Leaders take the time to explain the big picture and the strategy to reach the organization’s goals — the WHY;
  2. The values and expectations are clear and are consistent with what actually happens in the workplace — the HOW;
  3. People have faith and confidence that their leaders will care for them as individuals, even as people work together in teams. 

These key points have been consistent over time. The Battle of Shiloh, among others, is an example: The Confederate leaders got none of these three things right. Here’s what happened next.


Best wishes,

Chris Kolenda

P.S. if you like these videos, please sign up for our YouTube channel — hit the bell so you get notified when we roll out a new video.

5 Reasons Why Your Development Strategy is Failing

5 Reasons Why Your Development Strategy is Failing


“Kim” was searching for the right development strategy. As the new executive director, she wanted to boost the nonprofit’s revenues and invest marketing resources for the biggest payoff. Some told her to invest in Direct Mail, others to focus on major donors and foundations. Yet other experts suggested a video-centric social media effort aimed at individual donors.

As I began asking Kim some questions about the nonprofit, the reasons for the fundraising problems came clear: she took over a nonprofit that had not gotten the right foundations in place. Until that occurred, no amount of fundraising tactics would work.


Here are the five elements to a solid foundation for growth:

  1. Board governance. Does your board govern effectively? Does everyone on your board donate? Major donors and foundations, especially, will avoid supporting nonprofits that have ineffective boards or directors not willing to put their own money into the organization.
  2. Transparency and Accountability. Watchdog ratings are a quick check to assess whether the nonprofit is using resources wisely. Would you prefer to donate to an organization that has high marks or low marks? Poor ratings are donation killers.
  3. Strategy. Donors want to know the nonprofit has thought through the challenges and has an approach to the mission that stands a reasonable chance of success. Donors expect you to be able to explain your strategy in clear, simple, and believable terms.
  4. Impact. Are your efforts doing any good? Too many nonprofits measure efforts rather than outcomes. Serious donors want to know that their support will make a difference. A combination of personal examples and quantitative measures is the gold standard.
  5. Personal Connection. Donors with a deep, personal connection to the cause are likely to support your nonprofit sustainably. How are you creating such bonds?

Without a solid foundation in place, fundraising tactics are the noise before failure.


Kim is now focused on getting the fundamentals right so the development effort has a chance to succeed. Her efforts look like a list of best practices for new nonprofits. She is:

  • Working with the board chair to establish key governance committees and board director expectations.
  • Providing charity watchdogs, such as Guidestar, Charity Navigator, and Give.org the needed documents so they can begin rating her nonprofit. She has also learned from them their standards so she can make sure the right transparency and accountability measures are in place.
  • Developing a sound strategy and implementation plan that she can explain in clear, simple terms.
  • Establishing a compelling set of outcome measures so they can begin collecting and assessing the right data, while also gathering powerful personal stories from beneficiaries of their work.
  • Developing creative ways to create personal connections to the mission for her ideal donors.


So many nonprofits are understaffed and overloaded with work. This can create a situation, as it had for Kim’s nonprofit, in which the executive director is overwhelmed trying to keep up while the volunteer board is not fully aware of the costs. This is often a recipe for slow failure. Dedicating time and effort to the 5 important-but-not-urgent issues at the top of this article can help your nonprofit create a solid foundation (and will probably reduce the volume of daily crises, too!).

Which D-Day Leader are You?

Which D-Day Leader are You?

June 6, 2019, is the 75th anniversary of D-Day, the intrepid invasion at Normandy, France. Less than a year later, Hitler was dead and Nazi Germany defeated.

Many factors led to the success at D-Day. Strategic Leadership was a key difference. 

The Allied military leadership team outclassed the Nazis, completely fooling them as to the location of the main invasion, taking advantage of their byzantine decision-making process, and preventing large-scale counterattacks on the landings.

The 4 main allied commanders in the Normandy campaign: Eisenhower, Montgomery, Bradley and Patton were great leaders, yet each was hard-wired differently. They complemented each other — turning diversity into strength.

Find out which D-Day leader most closely resembles the way you are hard-wired as a leader. 

Five secrets to doubling your workforce

(without more people or gizmos)

Five Secrets to Double your Workforce

Only about one-third of employees in the United States are engaged at work

Julie, we will call her, was so frustrated. She was in charge of a nonprofit that supported an important cause. She had talented people and enough budget to execute their programs. Despite all this, they just couldn’t seem to get anything done.

According to Gallup, only about one-third of employees in the United States are engaged at work. The other two-thirds are physically present but mentally absent.

Julie’s challenge was a bit different. Her employees were engaged but only about one-third of the time … and, of course, at different times. The other two-thirds seemed to be consumed in backbiting, frustration, and unproductive churn.

These 5 low-cost, high-impact efforts are changing all that.

  1. Take the time to explain WHY. Julie would get frustrated when her employees asked her to explain certain policies and decisions. She believed she was being second-guessed. After reflection, she recognized that most of her answers could be summed up with “because I said so.” She discovered that her reaction to the questions was part of the reason for the backbiting and friction.

According to Forbes, explaining WHY has a tendency to improve employee confidence, productivity, as well as the employee’s ability to problem solve and innovate.

A Change in mindset

Julie began using a different approach. She changed her mindset and began to interpret WHY questions as indicators that her employees cared. She took the opportunity to validate their concerns and explain her rationale. When she found that she could not offer a compelling answer, she worked together with the team to come up with a better policy.

  1. Take Responsibility. Julie prided herself on high standards. She set tough goals and challenged her team to meet them. When questioned by the board of directors about a shortfall, Julie often began the explanation with “the person responsible for X is working very hard, but …” She thought she was backing her team. They believed she was throwing them under the bus and blaming them. They never took risks or tried new approaches. Like others, her employees concluded that following the status quo was the safest way to avoid getting blamed and, perhaps, fired.

When Julie realized that her approach had these inadvertent negative effects, she changed her language to “That’s my responsibility. We’ll get to work on it.” She also made sure to distinguish between accountability and blame. She held her employees accountable for things under their control, like developing sound plans to achieve goals and then executing those efforts to standard. But she also made clear that no one was to blame for outcomes that were beyond their control. This reduced the finger-pointing that was wasting time and damaging morale.

  1. Hire for Culture. Every organization seeks the best possible talent and Julie was no different. She carefully outlined the skills for each position, diligently combed through candidate resumes for the right background and experiences, and conducted interviews to choose among the finalists. Normal practices.

Julie’s nonprofit had an average employee retention of 24 months. Every two years, most of her twenty-person team changed. Of those who left within two years, most were due to a culture mismatch — numbers consistent with national trends. With an average salary of $70,000 and an estimated turnover cost at 75% of annual salary, Julie was burning over $1 million in the revolving door.

Determine the ideal culture for your team

Julie used our tool to determine the ideal culture for her team. She discovered that a Collaborative team best addresses the nonprofit’s mission and challenges — one focused on teamwork and innovation. She had been hiring highly-qualified people who were individually competitive, which was undermining coordination. She was also hiring process-oriented people who wanted the comfort of executing routines rather than explore new ideas. Both were creating workplace friction and frustration.

Hiring for culture only works if you have clearly defined the values and expectations of your desired culture. Now, she can begin hiring the right people. Cutting turnover in half will save her nonprofit $500,000.

  1. Put people in roles that match their leader persona. Part of Julie’s turnover challenge was burnout — a common problem for nonprofits. Good people worked very hard, grew exhausted, and burned out. Their last six months on the job were marginally productive. Julie’s team was physically diverse, but most tended to think the same way.

Our leader-persona assessment led to some interesting observations. First, her team was imbalanced toward detail-orientation. This partly explained the innovation problems — she did not have Mavericks or Pioneers who were hard-wired to challenge the status quo. Her Operators and Reconcilers worked very hard to come up with new ideas, and some ideas were very good. But the work exhausted them, contributing to the high turnover for these positions.

Second, she had Jim, her only Maverick, working as the chief of staff, which meant he was trying to play the Reconciler role of building and managing consensus among the team. Jim was a super policy advocate, but he was terrible in this new role. Julie, an Operator, found herself constantly refereeing disputes among the team – something Jim was supposed to handle. She was tired of it. Jim was growing frustrated, too, and she did not want to lose him.

Julie put Jim back in the advocacy role. She is seeking more Mavericks or Pioneers to support her need for innovation and is hiring a Reconciler for the Chief of Staff position.

5. Involve your team in creating the annual business plan. Like most nonprofits, Julie had a 5-year strategic plan. She outsourced the work to a team of consultants. They listened carefully to Julie and the board about the challenges the nonprofit was facing and the main capabilities and initiatives to advance their cause. The consulting team produced a very well-organized strategic plan that was supposed to result in $2 million growth.

The problem was that no one other than the consultants really understood the theory of success, so everyone just kept doing what they had been doing. This was not going to yield better results. Her team was like the other 90 percent who failed to execute their strategies successfully.

Create a new strategy

Julie worked with us to create a simple new strategy to address the changes in the environment. She explained the updated approach to her team and how each of their efforts contributed. Using SLA’s implementation plan model, she had her teams develop their annual tasks and requirements. They were, in effect, aligning their own work plans for the year to the strategy. Dedicating three one-half days to this effort was painful.

But the payoff was immediate. There were no more unresourced, pie-in-the-sky ideas, disconnects between activities and desired outcomes, or competing silos. By outlining the needed resources and setting their own deadlines, the teams gained ownership and accountability for the execution.

Julie reckons that change alone boosted employee engagement from about one-third to about two-thirds.

These five new habits are helping Julie double employee engagement, effectively doubling her workforce’s productivity at very little cost.

Julie is an amalgamation of clients who have experienced these challenges and outcomes.


What is your organization’s ideal workplace culture?

Ideal Workplace Culture

Organizations thrive when their official values and workplace culture are in sync. Major problems occur when those values are mis-aligned, leading to employee turnover and disengagement. These problems drain your revenues — it’s like having a big hole in the bottom of your bucket. 

89% of employees who leave within 18 months do so for culture reasons. Replacing them may cost between 50% and 200% of that position’s annual salary. Workplace incivility costs an estimated $14,000 per affected employee. Getting the culture right helps your team grow sustainably.

Workplaces develop one of 4 dominant cultures: Innovative, Collaborative, Authoritative, and Cooperative. Find out which workplace culture is best for your company and the values that support it. 

Hiring the right talent that fits your culture will improve employee retention and engagement.

Three Ways to Reduce Employee Turnover

Reduce Employee Turnover

Reduce employee turnover

“Employee turnover is killing us,” Johnny told me. “We had a nearly 100 percent turnover last year. We can’t create any momentum. Projects get stalled. Our leaders get consumed in the hiring process rather than serving our clients. Our clients get upset. We cannot survive like this.”

The Problem

Employee turnover is a silent revenue-killer. Employees tend to leave organizations due to unhappiness rather than seeking better pay and benefits. Hiring and training a new manager could be as high as 50% – 200% of the position’s annual salary.

What Gives?

Employers tend to hire for talent rather than for culture. A myriad of technological tools rarely help. As a result, employers often hire people who are not a good fit for their culture. This practice can create a toxic work environment that drives away your talent. 46% of employees reportedly leave within 18 months, 89% of those due to culture.


1) Define your ideal workplace culture (our tool can help – click HERE).

2) Align your values and workplace culture

3) Screen for qualified people that fit your workplace culture. It is much easier to train jobs skills than to change a person’s workplace habits.

Heading over a cliff

“Johnny” was a senior leader in an organization that was heading over a cliff. Employee turnover was a symptom of larger issues: a chaotic work environment, shifting priorities, and no strategy. “Winging it” had enabled the organization to seize emerging opportunities and gain some early clients. But that mode of operating had become a habit — the company was chasing cash. They were in peril.

The BIG 3

They needed help getting the 3 BIG things right: Leadership, Culture, and Strategy. This included creating a proper strategy and implementation plan, instituting some procedural discipline, and getting the culture right. The last one would be the most challenging.

The company had tried to address the problem by organizing “culture days.” They spent time doing interactive exercises to get to know one another better. They had so-called “radical candor” sessions. They argued over and selected their values. They felt good for a few days. Things seemed to get better.


Then reality struck. Within a week the same old problems and practices were back. Employees grew more disillusioned. Several quit.

“We’ve got to stop the bleeding,” Johnny told me. Even the best strategy would not overcome the culture problems the company was facing.

“How well do your values align with your workplace practices, Johnny?”

“Don’t you mean: how well do our workplace practices align with our values?”

“Is there a difference in the two statements?” I asked.

“The answer on alignment is ‘Not well.’ The way I phrased it suggests we should align our workplace practices with our values. That’s what everyone teaches. You phrased it differently — your values should align with your workplace practices. Isn’t that backwards?”

Employee turnover plunged

Their values list was heartwarming — focused on cooperation and happiness. The founder actually ran the company on creativity and agility — even if that meant a chaotic work environment. No amount of culture days would change the founder’s DNA.

Johnny understood that he needed to hire employees who could thrive given the organization’s realities. To add candor and avoid cynicism, he recognized that the company would need their values to reflect what they expected in practice.

Johnny began to hire for culture. The company had what we call an Innovative culture. They valued creativity and results over process and co-working relationships. In the hiring process, Johnny deliberately sought qualified people who could thrive in their workplace. Employee turnover plunged.

Hire for culture – deliberately

Gregg Williams, the interim Head Coach of the Cleveland Browns in the latter half of 2018, hires deliberately for culture. He emphasizes a cooperative culture: teamwork and execution over individual stats and player creativity. He starts players who show they have bought into the culture. The Browns won 5 games in the second half of the season — more than they had in the previous 3 seasons combined.

Aligning values and culture improves employee engagement and reduces turnover. Use our tool below to discover your ideal culture archetype — Cooperative, Collaborative, Authoritative or Innovative. Once you have established your ideal culture, align your values accordingly.

The bottom line

Hire qualified people who fit your company’s culture and you will reduce the costs associated with turnover and disengagement.

Uniformity Versus Diversity

Uniformity versus diversity

Uniformity Versus Diversity

What is stronger: uniformity or diversity? Pundits upset about the lack of ruthlessness in Game of Thrones’ latest episode are missing a better point about leadership.

[Spoiler alert] Episode 2 led watchers to gird themselves for the death of beloved characters. After all, who could forget season 1 in which Robert Baratheon and Ned Stark met their unexpected demise? Who would it be this time — Danaerys, Jon Snow, Tyrion, Varys, Sansa, Arya? All of them survived, winning the epic battle against the Night King.

The end of the Night King sets up a more interesting struggle between Team Targaryen and Queen Cersei. This struggle pits uniformity against diversity.

Good fiction prompts us to question conventional wisdom. The upcoming struggle gives us an opportunity to explore the limits of uniformity and diversity.

There is no “I” in Targaryen

Team Targaryen represents diversity — there is no “I” in Targaryen. Daenerys has encouraged debate among her counselors, permitted them to challenge her thinking, and empowered some questionable leaders who have unexpectedly risen to the occasion.

The coalition fought as one against the Night King, but that epic threat masked an emerging leadership struggle as the North refuses to bow to Daenerys and will only follow Jon Snow. The latter’s revelation as the last surviving male Targaryen complicates questions of power and authority.

The Symbol of Uniformity

Cersei, meanwhile, is the symbol of uniformity. It’s her way or the highway. Even her brother and lover, Jamie, left for Team Targaryen when Cersei’s demands became too much to stomach. She is systematically shedding all naysayers and anyone not fully prepared to obey.
After seeing the seven kingdoms tear each other apart, Cersei sees strength in uniformity. She believes they can act faster and strike more decisively than the Targaryen coalition and hold together in the face of adversity.

Team Targaryen

I’ll be watching to see how Team Targaryen’s leader team adjusts in the face of diverging interests. Jon Snow’s ability as a Reconciler in keeping the coalition together and gaining consensus on a shared vision and strategy will be essential for success. Can Daenerys set aside fears of being displaced and empower Jon to play that role? Team Targaryen will also need the ideas of Tyrion (Maverick) and the systematic thinking a Varys (Operator) to create blind spots for Cersei and exploit them.

Team Cersei

I’ll also be watching to see how Cersei (Maverick) attempts to create and exploit fissures within Team Targaryen. Her best strategy is to get her opponents to paralyze themselves. Cersei is brilliant, but can she anticipate and neutralize her opponent’s creativity while acting decisively faster than they can? Will she listen to wise counsel that challenges her thinking?

More broadly, well-crafted fiction can help us explore the conditions that can turn diversity into unity and prevent uniformity from blindness and insensitivity.

What to learn

Want to learn more about balanced leader teams and ways to turn diversity into a strength? Take our “Which Team Targaryen Leader Are You” quiz. Find out which Game of Thrones leader leads like you and how to bring out the best in yourself and others.

Which Team Targaryen Game of Thrones Leader are you?

Which Game of Thrones Leader are You?

Winter is coming. The Game of Thrones final season is upon us. Did you know that Daenerys Targaryen, Tyrion Lannister, Jon Snow, and Lord Varys represent the four main leader-personas? 

This gives Daenerys a balanced leader team and a big advantage in the coming war. 

Take our assessment to find out which leader in the Targaryen team you most closely resemble.

P.S. Be on the lookout for our Team Cersei assessment and our analysis of the coming war.