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How to Defeat the Sunk-Cost Trap Bias in Program Decision-making

by Dr. Mary M. Gillam

How many of you remember the infamous enterprise resource planning systems or ERPs? Although some ERP system implementations were successful, some never made it pass go. Yet, they continued to get funded. Why? Can psychological traps in decision-making be the culprit?

In the early 2000s, the military launched several ERP system implementations. Without rehashing history, unfortunately, there were many failures. For example, one specific program was designed to help streamline the maintenance and logistics supply chain. By replacing outdated systems with a more robust and single integrated system, this ERP program was poised to meet that objective. Yet, as history would record, that was not the case.

As a former Director of Information Technology in the Air Force, I was very familiar with several of these programs. Although, there were many factors that contributed to the failure of some of the ERP system implementations, sunk-cost decision-making bias was a prime candidate. For example, according to congressional testimony and numerous publicly released documents, for seven years over $1 Billion was allocated to one specific ERP program that returned zero for its investment. Imagine what would have happened if the decision to finally cancel the program had not been made?

So, how can decision-makers avoid the sunk-cost trap bias? I propose five things:

  1. Foster a workplace culture in which program managers are not afraid to present an accurate picture of the project.
  2. Be prepared to modify and reduce program requirements in an effort to eliminate any additional sunk-costs.
  3. Acknowledge the sunk-costs and assess the risks involved in making a change.
  4. Do not allow sunk-costs to force you to continue making obtuse program budget allocation decisions. And finally …
  5. Do not be afraid to cut failing programs.

Effective decision-makers must be willing to make unpopular decisions. Programs are always subject to potential schedule delays, cost over-runs, and project modifications. Having the fortitude, to stop a failing program, enables management to avoid falling victim to the sunk-cost trap bias.

Now that you have been warned, do not let this trap capture you.

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Is Cultural Intelligence and Millennial Engagement Part of Your Leadership Arsenal?

by Dr. Mary M. Gillam

Adopting these two strategies can help organizations grow their leadership team, gain global influence, and maximize millennial contribution.

In his book, The Science of Leadership: Lessons from Research for Organizational Leaders, Julian Barling (2014) asked a very profound question. “Do leaders matter? If so, in terms of what outcomes?” This discussion intrigued me. As I read the chapter, I contemplated, from an outcome perspective, how can organizational leaders continue to grow their leadership team, gain global influence, and maximize millennial contribution?

Based on training and research conducted at the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University coupled with real-world experience, I propose two strategies. The first strategy alerts organizational leaders to cultural biases in global strategic planning. Lack of this awareness can invoke personal idiosyncrasies, create blinders, and prohibit productivity. The second strategy is critical to reducing the high millennial turnover rate in organizations.

1. Invest in Cultural Intelligence Awareness Training

Economic globalization is driving the need for leaders to understand multicultural differences in business operations. Since many businesses are establishing a global footprint, developing leaders with high cultural intelligence is a vital skill. Although there are many instruments available to aid in this training, I previously used the Globe Smart Five Dimensions of Culture Awareness Tool. By using this tool, I was better prepared to engage with a small management consulting firm in Cape Town, South Africa.

So, why is cultural awareness important in strategic planning? Several years ago, I worked with several countries in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). My team and I were responsible for developing security-cooperation engagement activities for these countries. Since the United States’ goal was to eliminate safe havens for terrorists, especially on the African continent, we wanted to build trust and influence with our African partners.

Imagine if we had approached this engagement with a US-centric only mentality. Our efforts in this region of the world would have failed. Because we could not afford to allow our cultural differences to disrupt productivity, we invested tremendous time and research studying these countries. Our cultural awareness training enhanced our ability to collaborate and engage effectively with these global partners.

2. Maximize Investment in Millennial Contribution

How is your company measuring its investment in its millennial workforce? Are you allowing talent to walk out the door? In The 2016 Deloitte Millennial Survey: Winning over the Next Generation of Leaders, researchers cited, “More than 44 percent of millennials are now in leadership positions, but most believe they are receiving little to no development in their roles…Millennials still feel left out; only 28 percent believe their organization is fully taking advantage of their skills” (p.6).

As the host of a local television show titled, Leadership Table Talk, I recently interviewed several millennials regarding their perspective on leadership development in technology-driven organizations. Having spent over 35 years in the telecommunications and information systems technology business in both the military, government, and corporate America, I was curious about their perspective. The prevailing narrative from these interviews was “we just want a chance to contribute to the overall success of the organization.” What can we derive from this feedback? I purport that if organizations fail to engage effectively the talents of their millennial workforce, turnover rates will not decrease but increase – at an alarming rate.

In summary, economic globalization continues to drive corporate engagement with other countries. By developing a cultural intelligence awareness-training program, organizations can grow their leadership teams and global influence. Likewise, by strategically engaging the millennial workforce, organizations can maximize their productivity, and retain their expertise.

About the author:

Dr. Mary M. Gillam is the owner of Executive Leadership Enterprise & Management Services located in the Washington DC metropolitan area. She is a retired Air Force Colonel and former member of the Senior Executive Service Corps with the Department of Defense at the Pentagon. She is the host of a local television show, Leadership Table Talk, and the inventor of the board game, The Leadership Build Zone. An Amazon #1 best-selling author, she is also the creator of the C.O.R.E Leadership Development Model. Her website is http://www.executiveleadershipbiz.com.

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Does Leadership Matter?

by Dr. Mary M. Gillam

In May 2003, Harvard Business Review published the article “IT Doesn’t Matter” by Nicholas Carr. Challenging the traditional paradigm of thinking that information technology (IT) added strategic value to the organization, Carr’s article provoked much debate in the information technology community. As a former chief information officer, director of information technology, and director of technology, innovation, and engineering, I immersed myself in the debate.

However, as I reflect on how Carr’s article disrupted the IT narrative in 2003, I thought what would happen if the same disruption ignited the leadership value-add paradigm today? Does leadership matter? Can organizations survive without leadership?

As a retired Air Force Colonel, I would like to approach this topic militarily. Imagine being on the battlefield without a strategy for success? Who is in charge? With no commander’s intent, what is the game plan for mission execution? For non-military audiences, commander’s intent is the desired outcome or end-state.

Now, imagine if a corporation, government agency, non-profit, or small business operated with no vision for organization success. With the absence of leadership, then what are the expectations for getting to the next level of organization performance? Is there a path forward? If so, who is orchestrating that path?

“Where there is no vision, the people perish” (Proverbs 29:18, KJV). In essence, they are left unrestrained.

As a critical thinker, what level of success would you expect for either of the above entities if leadership were absent? The obvious answer would be minimal because leadership does matter, and leaders are expected to lead.

One example of a military giant who was successful in his endeavor to lead was Alexander the Great. In high school, I was a history buff. I loved world history. Capitalizing on that knowledge, I wrote a play about the exploits of Alexander the Great. As the King of Macedon, Alexander proved to be a remarkable leader and military strategist creating the largest empire in the ancient world. Age did not preclude him from proving his leadership merit. All of his conquests occurred prior to age 32, which were extraordinary. Despite all of his wins on the battlefield, unfortunately, malaria would cause his demise. Yet, Alexander the Great proved that leadership does matter

Another example of a powerful military leader who proved the significance of leadership was the late General Norman Schwarzkopf. During General Schwarzkopf’s tenure as the Commander of the United States Central Command, I was assigned to the Joint Staff Directorate of Intelligence at the Pentagon. History will forever credit General Schwarzkopf with orchestrating the victories in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm.

A profound military strategist, General Schwarzkopf provided the leadership critical for military success. Not only was the general large in statue, but large in integrity and honor. These traits were exemplified in his best-selling book, It Doesn’t Take a Hero.

In summary, the absence of leadership can create chaos not only on the battlefield but in organizations. For teams to be effective, there must be congruency in goals and objectives. Therefore, bonafide leaders can be the conduit that binds organizations together vectoring team members in the right direction.

About the author:

Dr. Mary M. Gillam is the owner of Executive Leadership Enterprise & Management Services located in the Washington DC metropolitan area. She is a retired Air Force Colonel and former member of the Senior Executive Service Corps with the Department of Defense at the Pentagon. She is the host of a local television show, Leadership Table Talk, and the inventor of the board game, The Leadership Build Zone. An Amazon #1 best-selling author, she is also the creator of the C.O.R.E Leadership Development Model. Her website is http://www.executiveleadershipbiz.com.

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Is Your Leadership Talent Walking Out the Door?

by Dr. Mary M. Gillam

Is your business stuck in a leadership rut? Is money walking out the door in the form of highly qualified employees due to a lack of promotion and leadership opportunities? Many studies suggest that millennials are leaving companies due to the lack of skills integration and promotion opportunity.

As a forward thinking business owner, have you considered expanding your leadership pool through strategies of diversity and inclusion?

During a 1976 speech in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, former president Jimmy Carter said, “We have become not a melting pot but a beautiful mosaic. Different people, different beliefs, different yearnings, different hopes, and different dreams.” What an amazing descriptor when it comes to describing diversity. According to the United States Census Bureau, the US population is becoming more multicultural and diverse.

Today’s workforce reflects a barrage of different ethnicities and cultures worldwide. With their wealth of knowledge, experience, and innovative thinking, many of these individuals have become the catalyst for growth and expansion in their respective organizations. Since many of these individuals are multilingual, they have become major contributors to their companies’ ability to reach a broader market. However, in order to preserve this level of success, effective leaders must master the art of maximizing the leadership potential of its multinational workforce. In principle, this becomes the heart of diversity.

When many leaders think about diversity, the term compliance appears at the apex of their action list. For years, diversity has been viewed as a compliance issue. Many leaders ask, “Is my organization in compliance with various requirements stemming from Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other related directives? How effective are my diversity initiatives? What metrics do I have to substantiate them?”

The above questions have dominated the narrative of many business leaders who have worked diligently to ensure compliance with the legislation. Yet, in some instances, the people most impacted by the legislation remains under represented at some of the most senior levels in the organization.

Today, we live in a society in which diversity and inclusion across the entire spectrum of the organization matters.

In order for business leaders to be effective in the global marketplace, they must recognize and harness the skills and talents of individuals from across the organization.

At the epic center of diversity is the inherent need of individuals to have their voice heard and their talents and abilities recognized. Diversity is not just about compliance but inclusion. When it comes to leader development, everyone deserves a chance to grow and advance as a leader.

Opportunities for leadership training, education, and mentorship should be distributed equally. Devising a leader development strategy to explore the abilities and skills of individuals across the organization is essential to creating a culture of inclusiveness. If you want to build an inclusive organization, start with building an inclusive team!

About the author

Dr. Mary M. Gillam is the owner of Executive Leadership Enterprise & Management Services located in the Washington DC metropolitan area. She is a retired Air Force Colonel and former member of the Senior Executive Service Corps with the Department of Defense at the Pentagon. She is the host of a local television show, Leadership Table Talk, and the inventor of the board game, The Leadership Build Zone. An Amazon #1 best-selling author, she is also the creator of the C.O.R.E Leadership Development Model. Her website is http://www.executiveleadershipbiz.com.

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Are You Ready for College? 6 Tips for Success

by Dr. Mary M. Gillam

How many of you are Star Trek fans? As a child of the early sixties, Star Trek was one of the first television series that I watched consistently. For years, Star Trek enthusiasts witnessed Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, and other cast members step into a fictional transport machine. After experiencing some type of metabolic change, the individuals were transported through space, and later appeared in a new location. Having majored in chemistry in college, this phenomenon always intrigued me.

Now you are wondering, what does Star Trek have to do with this discussion on leadership? Well, just imagine entering a time machine and returning to your former college campus. For some of you, this may result in your experiencing serious heart palpitations. Relax; remain calm. This is just an example.

However, as a professional today, what leadership tips do you wish every college student knew prior to starting school? Below are six tips that I shared with a group of undergraduate students.

  1. Believe in yourself and your ability to make a positive difference in the world. Despite the economic predictions regarding the job market, college attendance remains a positive and viable experience. Having made the decision to attend college is the first step in which you are transitioning from being a teenager to young adult.
  2. Don’t allow a moment of temporary pleasure lead to a lifetime of regret. For some college students, this may be your first time away from home. However, you are responsible for your actions and decisions. Many people have placed a great amount of trust and confidence in you and your ability to make wise choices. Now, it is up to you to prove them right. Successful leaders learn to make wise decisions.
  3. Seek out sound counsel from people who have your best interest at heart. As a college student, you are going to be bombarded with many things, both positive and negative. Some people will advise you to forego your inhibitions and enjoy your college years. Watch the counsel or advice that you receive. Weigh it with caution because not everybody has your best interest in mind.
  4. Maximize your college education. Enlighten your thinking on a continuous basis. Leaders at all levels understand that you must continue to learn. There is an old funny adage that states, “Get as much as you can, and can as much as you get.” When it comes to learning, make it a priority.
  5. Develop your team building skills. College continues to provide opportunities for students to grow and develop their team building skills. Whether doing research, participating in study groups, or volunteering to lead or support an activity, there are opportunities where you can thrive and excel.
  6. Protect your image. Don’t make the mistake of posting materials on social media that can haunt you in the future. Your college years will go by extremely fast. Things you do in college can affect your ability to get future employment.

In retrospect, I wish someone had shared these tips with me. They are life-changing and will keep you on orbit for success. So, as you begin your college experience, remember that college is more than just fun, it is an educational journey for life.

About the author

Dr. Mary M. Gillam is the owner of Executive Leadership Enterprise & Management Services located in the Washington DC metropolitan area. She is a retired Air Force Colonel and former member of the Senior Executive Service Corps with the Department of Defense at the Pentagon. She is the host of a local television show, Leadership Table Talk, and the inventor of the board game, The Leadership Build Zone. An Amazon #1 best-selling author, she is also the creator of the C.O.R.E Leadership Development Model. Her website is http://www.executiveleadershipbiz.com.

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How to Build Team Congruency through a Shared Vision

by Dr. Mary M. Gillam

Have you ever worked in an organization in which the leader’s vision was unclear? Although there was a designated boss, the role appeared to be in name only. There was no consistency in the message. Organizational priorities, goals, and objectives changed continuously. The organization was existing; yet, in chaos.

No organization destined for greatness will survive without a vision. The old adage, “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there” is not conducive to running a successful business.

Effective leaders are vision architects who understand that in order to build team congruency, there must be a shared vision.

So, why is the leader’s vision important? Without a vision, employees are frustrated due to the lack of guidance and direction. They are starving for leadership. Their bodies report to work daily; yet their hearts are adrift elsewhere.  Buy-in has not been achieved.

When there is a lack of organization congruency among the leader and the team, there is no shared vision. Likewise, there is no sense of strategic alignment. It does not take a multitude of research to discover that this is a recipe for business disaster.

How can a leader build team congruency? Here are three recommendations.

1. Effective leaders are vision-builders. These leaders go beyond establishing the vision. In essence, they are vision architects. They strive to make the vision “plain.” With each leadership stone such as character, integrity, ethics, honesty, wisdom, etc., they build an organization that is “team-centric” and not “I-centric.” Success demands that the team understands where the leader wants to take the organization. The team should not be left speculating about the leader’s intentions. Consistency in purpose and open communications should prevail.

2. Effective leaders are investors. They invest time in creating the vision and communicating its attributes and parameters to the team. These leaders see beyond the present situation. They are the generals who possess the strategic game plan for where the organization is going in the future. With hard work, commitment, and dedication, their goal is to build a team that will outlast them.

3. Effective leaders are transparent decision-makers and self-motivators. They are hard-chargers, but focused in their activities. These leaders understand what is required to move the organization forward. Although their personality can differ, they are primarily charismatic and inspiring. Their passion for success is contagious.

In summary, effective leaders maximize their opportunities to grow and develop their teams. In propelling the organization forward, they establish a clear and compelling vision. They communicate its purpose. Finally, they empower the people to make the vision a reality.

About the author

Dr. Mary M. Gillam is the owner of Executive Leadership Enterprise & Management Services located in the Washington DC metropolitan area. She is a retired Air Force Colonel and former member of the Senior Executive Service Corps with the Department of Defense at the Pentagon. She is the host of a local television show, Leadership Table Talk, and the inventor of the board game, The Leadership Build Zone. An Amazon #1 best-selling author, she is also the creator of the C.O.R.E Leadership Development Model. Her website is http://www.executiveleadershipbiz.com.

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Is Your Leadership Development Program Working?

by Dr. Mary M. Gillam

When you think of a leader, what image or person comes to mind? Is it the President of the United States (POTUS), your pastor, military member, corporate executive, principal, football coach, teacher, or could it be the little elderly lady who has spent years mentoring girls from broken homes? How you answer this question depends upon your definition of leadership and the characteristics that you believe leaders should possess.

After examining much of the literature, I elected to define leadership as:

“The ability to influence the behavior of others to the extent that they are willing to engage in activities that promote accomplishment of the organization’s mutual goals and objectives.”

The key word is influence. Having the ability to influence, motivate, or change another’s behavior to achieve common goals is part of the experience.

As leadership development continues to evolve, senior executives must be able to maximize their employee’s productivity by unleashing their leadership potential. They must have the ability to influence the leadership development behavior of their team.

For years, leadership theorists postulated that leaders possessed certain traits. They depicted key behaviors, or responded to situations in a way that characterized leadership. Some advocates even suggested that if you were born into a certain family, then you automatically possessed a certain degree of leadership potential. However, as time progressed paradigm shifts began to occur in the thinking and logic of many theorists.

As a former Senior Executive Service (SES) member with the Department of Defense, and a retired Air Force Colonel, I have served in numerous leadership positions. With a combined 35+ years of information technology, leadership and management experience, I believe, no I am convinced that there are many people with latent/undeveloped leadership potential. They possess an inherent degree of undiscovered leadership talent. Unfortunately, sometimes, their leadership potential lies dormant and simply requires an external source to “coach” them through their leadership journey.

I have worked in many organizations where some employees were literally regulated to performing certain tasks because they were not deemed “leadership material.” Yet, on numerous occasions, history has proven this strategy flawed. When given the opportunity, many of these individuals excelled in leadership roles.

Organizations destined to win must continue to invest in leadership developmental programs that augment and enhance an employee’s professional growth. I often encourage senior leaders to practice seeing beyond the present. Is this individual a hidden leadership gem just waiting to be discovered? What are you doing to enable that individual to grow and develop as a leader?

In summary, I believe that the art of genuine leadership is developing the next generation of leaders. As senior leaders, we must look beyond pedigree and expand our development of future leaders across the board. We must continue to motivate our team members to elevate their potential. Additionally, we must encourage them to collaborate and partner with the leadership potential that resonates inside of them, so that they can reach the leadership destination that is before them.

About the author

Dr. Mary M. Gillam is the owner of Executive Leadership Enterprise & Management Services located in the Washington DC metropolitan area. She is a retired Air Force Colonel and former member of the Senior Executive Service Corps with the Department of Defense at the Pentagon. She is the host of a local television show, Leadership Table Talk, and the inventor of the board game, The Leadership Build Zone. An Amazon #1 best-selling author, she is also the creator of the C.O.R.E Leadership Development Model. Her website is http://www.executiveleadershipbiz.com.

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How Effective is Your Leadership as a Change Agent?

by Dr. Mary M. Gillam

What happens when leaders are challenged with having to implement changes within their organization? Given the state of the economy, effective leaders must learn how to successfully implement changes that will produce positive, long-term, strategic results.

Although there are many ways to measure the effectiveness of an organization, leadership is critical to the overall process. Effective leaders are worth their wealth in gold. They are the face of the organization-master of the “brand.” Unfortunately, some people are thrust into leadership roles and are ill-prepared for the challenges associated with sound, effective leadership. Organizations destined for greatness must have leaders who understand the essence of leadership.

Many of our former presidents have written extensively on the topic of leadership. For example, Dwight D. Eisenhower, the 34th president of the United States once said, “Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.” Effective leaders are motivators, good communicators, and have mastered the art of listening. They are also visionaries, and change agents. Effective leaders adhere to the core values of integrity, honesty, and service-before self. They are confident, creditable, and knowledgeable decision-makers who play different roles and possess a myriad of talents. They believe in the overall health and well-being of their personnel and the organization.

Effective leaders advocate for change that yields positive outcomes. As the visionary for the organization, effective leaders have the ultimate responsibility to position the organization on the path for continuous economic growth and sustainability. Not only is their reputation on the line, but the integrity and life-blood of the entire organization is at stake.

Given the myriad of responsibilities and expectations levied on the leader, sometimes changing the dynamics of the organization may become essential in order to accomplish the desired outcomes and achieve the bottom-line. Change can be arduous and present many challenges in organizations. For example, changes within the environment (e.g. economic, global, and technological) have impacted many organizations both internally and externally. In many instances, the rigid organizational structure of the past has been superseded by flexible organizational design constructs. As one writer wrote, “Change is inevitable.”

Unfortunately, sometimes change can be extremely complex. Despite the fact that people are characterized as an organization’s greatest asset, what happens when a leader has to “change players on the team” due to economic down-sizing, outsourcing, or strategic differences of opinions? This is probably one of the most difficult change dynamics that leaders have to endure in an organization. Yet, at times, it is the path forward. Effective leaders have to sometimes make difficult choices-which may involve building a whole new team.

About the author

Dr. Mary M. Gillam is the owner of Executive Leadership Enterprise & Management Services located in the Washington DC metropolitan area. She is a retired Air Force Colonel and former member of the Senior Executive Service Corps with the Department of Defense at the Pentagon. She is the host of a local television show, Leadership Table Talk, and the inventor of the board game, The Leadership Build Zone. An Amazon #1 best-selling author, she is also the creator of the C.O.R.E Leadership Development Model. Her website is http://www.executiveleadershipbiz.com.