Jennifer Recommends

June 2nd, 2016 Jennifer Selby Long Posted in Jennifer Recommends | No Comments »

SandAptDo you live in the San Diego area? Are you interested in how personality type and gender influence personal financial decisions – who’s most likely to get rich and who is at risk to be poor?

If so, mark your calendar for September 17, 2016. I’ll be exploring this topic with the San Diego chapter of the Association for Psychological Type. You’ll have an opportunity to understand your money personality, explore your relationship with money, and learn how to help yourself and others build a healthier relationship with money.

Longtime Traveling Light readers know this has been a side project of mine since 2007, when I conducted the first comprehensive study on how personality type and gender combine to influence financial behavior.

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In the News

May 30th, 2016 Jennifer Selby Long Posted in News | No Comments »

CIOWebsiteheadingI’d like to thank the CMI-Fisher East Bay CIO Roundtable for hosting a terrific panel discussion on Effectively Managing the Multi-Generational Workforce. They were so open to exploring my recommendations and perspectives on this topic.

Tricia Emerson, President of Emerson Human Capital, moderated the panel. I was joined by Rajeev Behera, CEO of Reflektive; Deidre Paknad, CEO of Workboard; and Margaret Graziano of Keen Alignment.

If you are the CIO of a company in the San Francisco Bay Area and would like to connect with other CIO’s over breakfast, check them out at

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Who is the Most Powerful Person in the Room? The Lightening-Fast Way to Figure It Out

May 17th, 2016 Jennifer Selby Long Posted in Building Relationships, Communication | No Comments »

Business people laughing

This may be the shortest article I’ve ever shared with you.

The fastest way to figure out who’s in power is…

Are you ready for this?

It’s humor. Noticing the dynamics around humor is a failsafe way to figure out the power structure of almost any group of people, any time, anywhere.

First Observation: Who makes jokes?

I’m not talking about “A chicken, an eagle, and a turkey walk into a bar…”

I’m talking about little comments that are intended to be funny, such as:

“Ah, really? Don at Manchester Supply wants to meet with us. Did he wake up from his pricing coma?”

“Hmm. You’re saying Anita missed the deadline. And remind me, who is Anita’s boss?” (Said to Anita’s boss in a gentle, leading manner, with eyebrows playfully raised.)

Second Observation: Whose jokes always get a chuckle, even if they’re not funny?

Not everyone is funny, and not every joke is funny. However, if others react affirmatively to the joke, regardless of how funny it really is, you can bet this person wields power, regardless of his or her title.

You’ll really notice this dynamic if the comment is so far off the mark that it’s downright awkward. How are people reacting if the joke is not funny, badly delivered, or offensive in some way? If you tune in to the reactions in the room, you may feel the tension rise to a level that just doesn’t happen when a powerless person fails in his or her attempt at humor.

Why is the tension exponentially higher if a powerful person’s humor is off the mark? Because everyone in the room is now stuck between the utter dishonesty of laughing and the risks associated with embarrassing a more powerful person by not laughing.

Third Observation: Who gets to dismiss comments as not funny or even offensive?

The more powerful a person is, the more control they have over the humor expressed by others.

Imagine a general manager in a meeting with his or her extended staff. Imagine someone making a snarky comment about a vendor, unaware that the general manager has mended relations with the vendor and now thinks highly of them again.

The GM doesn’t laugh.

The person who shared the snarky humor about the vendor isn’t going to share it again, ever. The humor has been squelched.

The same applies to more serious situations in which humor is inappropriate or even offensive. The reaction of the most powerful person determines what happens next. For this reason, I often encourage clients to reflect very carefully on how they respond to humor. It’s a surprisingly powerful moment of truth for their teams.

By looking for these three simple clues about humor, you will know within minutes, in any meeting, who wields power.

What clues do you look for to understand the power dynamics in a room? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.


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Why T May be the Most Important Letter in Culture

March 21st, 2016 Jennifer Selby Long Posted in Cultural Fit, Leadership | No Comments »

Diverse Team at Work

“I can’t wait to see what HR is going to do with this.”

The other day, I overheard someone wonder aloud what HR was going to do in response to particularly troublesome behavior by a group of managers.

As an anthropologist of company cultures, I see this question the same way a field anthropologist might see a shard of pottery: it’s an artifact that can give me insights into the culture, values, and unquestioned assumptions of that culture.

So, what does this artifact tell us?

It tells us there’s a very real possibility that the CEO, CHRO, and the rest of the senior leadership team are not fully aligned around what the culture should be.

Why? The comment indicates that HR is responsible for ensuring that managers consistently behave in ways that create and maintain the culture, and reflect the company’s values. However, culture emerges from the day-to-day behavioral choices of the CEO in particular, and the entire senior leadership team, not just the CHRO. It’s their responsibility to make it happen throughout the organization.

Why can’t we just let HR handle it?

It doesn’t matter what HR does to build the culture if the CEO serves as a role model for a culture built on a different set of values. Employees will follow the CEO’s lead every time, and they don’t just take their cues from what you reward. They also take their cues from what you tolerate, put up with, and don’t address.

In fact, these cues are much more powerful, because the human brain is hard-wired to notice and respond more powerfully to misalignment than alignment.

For example, if innovation is a core value, what’s the worst innovation-quashing behavior you tolerate today? For example, do mediocre “innovations” never get killed off so their resources can be reassigned to more promising projects, those with break-through potential? If so, might it be because you don’t reward managers who have the courage to get honest and stop advocating for resources for the mediocre projects they’ve been leading?

What if you want to emulate the most financially successful companies by developing a highly inclusive culture? What exclusionary behaviors do you tolerate? In average and poor-performing companies, people who don’t fit into the dominant group are constantly on the receiving end of “micro-inequities” and “micro-insults,” so over time they speak up less and less.

Here’s a common example. How many times have you heard a man call other men “ladies” in a gently mocking manner? That’s using the very definition of what I am (a woman) to make fun of men. Think about it. Would you ever say, “O.k. Hispanic people (or old people, or black people). Meeting’s over!”

If you’re having trouble recruiting women – or any other demographic group — while your competitor is not having any trouble at all, ask yourself what you are tolerating that they are not.

Here’s a truth serum that cuts straight to the heart of the issue.

Ask yourself, “What is the worst behavior I tolerate in others with regard to this value? What about the entire leadership team? What is the worst behavior we collectively tolerate with regard to this value?”

This will be an extremely uncomfortable conversation, to say the least, but it cuts to the chase and helps you begin exploring any gaps between the culture you have created and the one you want to create. There may not be precise right and wrong answers, but you’ll begin the journey to ensure cultural alignment and authenticity.

It helps to have professional facilitation, but even if you don’t want to invest the money in an outside expert, have the conversation anyway.

Do we make culture building too hard?

I would say yes, we do. It’s simple. Don’t make it complicated.

There’s an adage that your leadership will be established by the first person you hire and the first person you fire. The same applies to the culture you establish. It comes down to the senior leaders’ behaviors, particularly the CEO.

Bottom line — four things define culture:

  1. the behaviors you exhibit
  2. the behaviors you encourage in others
  3. the behaviors you discourage in others
  4. what you do when they do the wrong thing anyway

That’s it.

As long as the CEO, CHRO, and other leadership team members are consistent in these four essential leadership choices, then a strong, strategic, and forward-thinking HR team can ensure that the recruiting, leadership development, organizational development, compensation, and all other processes and systems support the culture you are working hard to create.

What do you think? Drop me a line in the comments below. I love hearing your perspectives.


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How to Keep Employees from Jumping Ship

September 17th, 2015 Jennifer Selby Long Posted in Building Relationships, Change Leadership, Hyper Growth | No Comments »

QuitorStayHigh attrition is frustrating, expensive, risky – and 100% curable.

In a recent conversation with one of the panelists for the upcoming MBTI Users Conference, I was reminded of the situation we had faced, the intensity of it, and how dramatically things changed in just a year. It’s a great example of how you don’t have to live with undesirable attrition just because the job market is ferociously competitive.

The client was a new law firm that had exploded onto the scene after stunning their peers with an asbestos litigation settlement that eclipsed those achieved by the largest firms with the most famous lawyers in the country. Almost overnight, the firm quintupled in size, and would go on to double again over the next 18 months. Amidst constant recruiting and hiring for new positions, the managing attorneys and small HR team found themselves constantly seeking replacements for the staff who kept quitting.

Unlike most other types of law, asbestos litigation requires a very large staff with a high level of interdependency. The typical law firm is essentially a cluster of mini-firms, with each attorney having his or her own staff who mostly work with each other instead of across the organization. You can, I’m sure, already see the challenge shaping up: young partners and even younger managing attorneys, with no exposure to – let alone experience in — leading matrixed organizations, suddenly found themselves trying to manage a complex start-up in midst of hyper-growth.

It was the worst of all worlds. Staff attrition was approaching 50% a year. Attorneys with asbestos experience often left in under a year, leaving behind only those with little experience. The partners and attorneys essentially never left the office, which had boxes and boxes of files piled up in every workspace and out into the passageways between the cubes.

Meanwhile, the dot-com boom provided hundreds of nearby companies that offered better salaries and the promise of stock options to any attorney or staff person who could fog a mirror, so the firm was losing lots of people to a different industry.

It was a vicious cycle.

So, what did it take to turn it around and cut unwanted attrition to the low single digits?

1. Shore up the basics.

The first order of business was to find out how the fundamentals compared to the competition. By fundamentals I mean the non-sexy stuff that you don’t read about in engaging Harvard Business Review leadership articles: salary, bonus, benefits, and perks.

Smaller organizations don’t generally have access to reliable comps, but that doesn’t mean they can’t get a reasonable estimate through exit interviews and tapping their networks. Sure, exiting employees will probably exaggerate their new compensation a bit (or a lot), but by using good old common sense, you can get a reasonable ballpark.

In the case of this particular firm, they figured out the approximate mid-point for each job and in most cases this meant giving the employee a raise. This set off a nice morale boost.

They also recognized that their vacation policy was too skimpy, so they bumped it up.

I can’t emphasize enough that if you are in a service business today, you have to keep pace on all of these fundamentals, even if you’re worried about how to pay for it. You don’t have to pay the most, but you have to stay competitive.

2. Develop the dickens out of your managers.

If you remember only one thing, make it this: employees don’t leave companies. They leave bosses. 

This reality makes it much simpler to focus your attention when both time and money are tight. Develop your managers, and leave it to them to develop their people.

For this firm, I conducted a needs assessment. The assessment was thorough but relatively brief. The dynamics of a smaller organization should not take long for a reasonably competent management consultant to interpret and assess. If your firm is small, run away from anyone who says it will take weeks.

Based on the assessment, I worked with the founding partner and the HR team to design and implement leadership development for all of the managing attorneys and functional staff managers. We focused on three areas: understanding the partners’ vision and what it means in terms of your day-to-day choices, how to lead as a team, and what competent leaders do.

Because this was a highly specialized law firm, we collaborated to create this leadership competency model rather than use a commercially available model.

3. Embed feedback everywhere.

We designed feedback into everything in the firm that we could possibly utilize for this purpose. Feedback given, considered, and acted upon ultimately creates a self-improving system.

It extended from a 360-degree feedback process for the partners and managing attorneys to 1:1 coaching and feedback for the partners, to ensuring that thoughtful feedback was a critical part of the HR director’s role.

As the firm was so new, we were able to design a simple performance review process that gave staff their first opportunity to hear well-articulated, more objective feedback and to focus their individual development. Were I working with them on this today, I would simplify it even more, and focus on real-time feedback on an ongoing basis. This willingness to give and receive feedback in real time has proven a game-changer for many of my clients.

4. Restructure and reorganize if it helps the workflow.

One of the things I most enjoyed about working with this firm was that they had no preconceived notions about professional management and leadership. They hadn’t been exposed to anything. So without overthinking it, the partners would restructure and reorganize either because they saw a better way, or because one or more managers came to them with the idea.

By tinkering with and sometimes overhauling the workflow, they were able to drive out a great deal of the inefficiency and errors that employees had found discouraging. As the employees experienced this improvement, they stuck around.

5. Build the culture by acting on your values.

Culture is shaped by behavior and behavior is shaped by values. Employees need to know what you stand for. Interestingly, in part because they had not had exposure to the types of discussions and development that managers in big companies receive, they were in some ways even more clear, and they acted quite decisively.

For example, when an employee behaved in a way that felt harassing and hostile to another employee, the HR director interviewed both parties and others who had been present, and brought the data to the partner. He fired the employee immediately, without notice and without severance pay.

I’m not suggesting that such decisiveness is always the best call (at times, it wasn’t), but his actions made it utterly clear what his values were, and those who agreed with his values decided they wanted to stick around and give him a chance to grow as a manager and a leader.

What have you found to be most essential to keep valued employees from jumping ship? Do you agree, or vehemently disagree with my advice? I’d love to hear from you. Drop me a line at

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Should You Quit Your Job?

August 24th, 2015 Jennifer Selby Long Posted in Change Leadership, Professional Development | No Comments »

JumpingShipAs we head into back-to-school season, many professionals find themselves thinking about changing employers to progress farther, faster, or just differently in their careers.

There’s certainly no shortage of opportunity at the moment, but that doesn’t mean a change is right for you. Maybe it is; maybe it isn’t.

The biggest mistake most professionals make is to inadvertently focus on near-term discomfort (frustration, boredom, overwhelm – take your pick) at the expense of long-term strategy.

I made this mistake myself when I was in my mid-twenties, and so exhausted from my demanding (yet remarkably boring) job that I pounced on the first unsolicited offer that came my way. I wound up in the backwaters of a company that would have been perfect for the movie Office Space.

This is a big decision, so here are four tips to help you make the right one, not just for today, but also for your success and happiness in the coming years.

Is the company growing?

Companies that are stagnating are full of employees with nowhere to go. This doesn’t bode well for you, unless you love your role and don’t want anything to change, in which case, you’re probably not reading this article, anyway.

On the other hand, some companies are exciting because they are failing, which always makes for a certain amount of drama. A failing company is only a good place to stay if you want to take a stab at honing your turnaround skills or find the financial incentives to be utterly irresistible.

The sweet spot for many people is a company that’s in rapid growth after a strong market position has been established, with the exception of those of us with a more entrepreneurial bent. Even if you consider yourself “not a businessperson,” take some time to learn about your employer’s market position in order to understand the bigger picture.

Are you still learning something that will be useful to you five years down the road?

Believe me, I hated working for a global accounting firm in my first job, but as a liberal arts grad, I learned the nuts and bolts of business and how to do detailed, accurate analysis of business problems. If I had quit too soon, I wouldn’t have had the knowledge to land a much better job down the line.

If you don’t know the answer to this question, ask several people who are already doing what you want to be doing in 3 – 5 years. Sometimes it’s worth sticking it out a little longer to master a skill or acquire essential knowledge that will be hard to get elsewhere.

Often this advice is stereotyped as applying only to young professionals, but with careers now spanning almost five decades, I encourage all professionals to view their current role through this lens.

Are you in a company that promotes on merit or are there a few too many signs of favoritism?

“Bro culture” is real thing, for example, and if a woman is getting consistent indirect messages that her career isn’t going to go anywhere, she should consider taking her skills to a company with less cultural bias. Companies that have less bias overall perform better, too, providing more interesting and exciting opportunities for their employees.

Bias exists in more benign forms as well, such as when the founders of a small family business provide more opportunities to their own children than to other employees because they want to pass the business on to their kids some day. Whether you agree with that choice or not, it’s theirs to make, and you are very, very unlikely to talk them out of it. If their business can’t provide the opportunities you want, it’s time to let go and move on.

Be careful to check your ego when reflecting on the very touchy subject of bias. It exists in many forms, but it’s not always at play as a powerful driving force.

For example, I have seen people utterly furious that someone else was promoted, when in fact the other person had performed far, far better in the role and voluntarily taken on many additional responsibilities. Yet, the furious coworker remained convinced that it was entirely due to bias.

I’ve also been in painful conversations in which I had to break the news that the individual who wanted to be promoted was not responding to the coaching and feedback that would bring him or her up to the standard for the current role, let alone the desired role.

It’s easy to look at someone else and ask how he or she could be so delusional, and to assume that you’re not that way, but to some extent we’re all at risk of being a little delusional. The only process that consistently prevents delusions is to seek out feedback and listen to it carefully. It can help you balance out your own perspective when you hear the perspectives of others.

Have you been job-hopping far more than your peers?

It’s worth taking a look around to see how your job-hopping track record compares to others who are in your profession and age group. If you’re on the far end of the bell curve, it’s time to ask yourself why you are quitting so often, and what impression this may leave with the best potential employers.

By the time a professional is in his or her late 20’s, most employers want to see more stability, at least 2 – 3 years each at two or more employers. Recruiting, hiring, and training are expensive processes. They don’t want to hire someone who seems to have a hair trigger as soon as the honeymoon is over.

A resume with several short stints during rough economic times, however, or during a significant transition, will not send up a red flag. Most employers understand that if your employer went under in 2009, six months after you started, those two events are unrelated.

In short, examine the current and potential growth of your employer, assess the long-term relevance of the skills and knowledge you’re amassing there, look for signs of bias in yourself and others, and get the tempo right for changing jobs, and you’ll be in a great position to confidently make the best choice for your needs.

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How to Lead People Who Know More Than You

July 31st, 2015 Jennifer Selby Long Posted in Leadership, Management | No Comments »





These words all describe what happens when you manage people who know more about their profession than you do. This happens because most managers try to lead experts the same way they manage people who are more junior.

Let’s face it – every leader who climbs above a first-line manager role will be in this situation. Whether you’re leading seasoned experts in your own field or broadening your scope to include functions in which you’ve never worked, you suddenly have to figure out how to lead people – a lot of people – to whom you seemingly have no value whatsoever to add.

And trust me, because they tell me openly, that is their assumption upon learning someone with less experience or from a different professional background is the new boss. Until you prove otherwise, they’ll just quietly hope you get promoted again or moved to another function, so you’ll soon be out of their way.

So what’s a leader to do when those you manage know more than you? Start with these three guidelines to become the best boss they’ve ever had:

If the employees are in a different profession, learn the basics of their profession and business situation well enough to understand each team member’s needs and concerns — but never, ever kid yourself about your true level of knowledge.

Do your research. It’s your job to understand the gist of what they do so you can understand what they need to produce superior results. Don’t show up for your first round of 1:1’s entirely clueless. You will gain their respect (at least a little) by showing up for these discussions prepared with basic knowledge and lots of good questions.

However, don’t try to show off the fact that you did some homework by making bold statements. You’ll kill your credibility. Your knowledge is the tip of the iceberg compared to theirs.

Share what you understand to be the basics of their situation, goals, and challenges they face, and ask for their feedback, corrections, and additions. Be honest that you understand you’re of little use in personally developing their expertise, but that you are committed to advocating for the resources they need to do their jobs well and to develop their careers with the company.

The greatest general managers recognize that it’s not their job to know everything. It’s their job to set direction, mobilize resources to get results, build the strongest and most productive teams they possibly can, and build a resilient organization for the future. They recognize that they can’t be good at all of these things while also developing deep expertise in every part of the business, and their people respect them for that.

Don’t actively manage anyone over 25 years of age unless there’s evidence they can’t self-manage.

More often than not, the employee who knows more than you also has several more years of professional experience than you, and certainly more years handling the workload unique to his or her job.

The exception to this can be employees who are in their first or second job. You will likely need to be more actively involved in managing their work not only to hit goals and deadlines in high-stakes, complex, and ambiguous situations, but also to help them develop their professional skills in self-management and collaboration. It’s a lot different from school, and they don’t have a great deal of experience, yet.

Granted, the exact age of 25 is a bit arbitrary, since for some highly specialized professions, a 25-year-old still has 3 – 5 more years of education to complete, and for go-getters who are already working in their teens, the age of 25 feels more like 30. Use your best judgment here. Just don’t leave inexperienced employees feeling lost, even if they are super-smart in their areas of expertise.

Assume mid-career professionals are self-managing, unless you see evidence otherwise.

At this stage, they don’t need a boss to personally direct and develop them. What they need is an effective advocate in the organization: someone who builds bridges where needed, sets boundaries where needed, and secures resources needed to get the job done well. Find out what they want to accomplish and the barriers they see in the way, and then double down your efforts to remove the barriers.

Also assume that all late-stage and second-career employees are self-managing. Invest the time to learn their interests and motivations for working in this profession at this stage in their careers and lives. What you learn may surprise you.

Fill the mentor gap by someone better qualified.

Warning! You may have to shove your ego aside to do this. I certainly know I do in these situations, and it’s not always easy.

Find at least one top performer in their profession, inside the company or out, who knows even more than they do. If you share the same profession, but simply have fewer years of experience, the same advice applies. Connect the team with this person as a resource, for those who would like to take advantage of it.

Even if team members don’t want to talk with a mentor for some reason, you will benefit from getting the mentor’s advice, and you’ll gain priceless perspective on the profession or industry.

In short, the biggest complaint I hear from people who work for bosses who know less than they do is that the boss tries too hard to be a boss, and not hard enough to be a leader. If you focus on these three tips, they will be eager to keep you around, instead of quietly cheering when you move on.

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Jennifer Recommends

July 28th, 2015 Jennifer Selby Long Posted in Jennifer Recommends, MBTI | No Comments »

MBTI User Conference_logo_r6Are you responsible for making business decisions about the MBTI® in your company? If so, be extra smart by attending the first-ever MBTI® Users Conference September 28-30, 2015 in San Francisco.

I’m bringing an all-star panel of business leaders to join me in sharing the secrets to massively increase your MBTI® return on investment by using it in business units and functional areas — in a very different way than you use it in enterprise-wide leadership development.

The publisher of the MBTI is offering a conference discount for my readers only. Use Promo Code SELBY to save $150 off Standard Conference registration.

This is not an affiliate program and I do not receive a commission – I’m recommending the conference because I know you should be there.

Check out the agenda here: – toggle8

CPP’s 2015 MBTI® Users Conference will be filled with exclusive content accessible only in person.

Featuring an impressive array of MBTI experts to help you tackle today’s most pressing issues, learn about growing trends, and apply your takeaway learning, this lineup has something for everyone. You’ll join industry leaders and peers to hear about and discuss:

  • Making the most of your MBTI investment to impact ROI
  • Presenting to a group of all different MBTI types
  • Accelerating business strategic alignment
  • Flexing MBTI type preference to get ahead
  • Delivering global leadership development programs
  • Connecting an organization’s self-awareness to an engaged workforce
  • Boosting collaboration with cross-generational teams
  • And more

Learn more at and remember to use Promo Code SELBY to save $150 off Standard Conference registration.

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In the News

July 26th, 2015 Jennifer Selby Long Posted in News | No Comments »

infoworldIf you are responsible for nurturing potential leaders in engineering, or you are interested in breaking in to management, have I got a hot article for you: InfoWorld Programmers Guide to Breaking into Management.

Ace reporter Paul Heltzel interviewed me, along with an impressive line-up of chief software architects, VP’s of Engineering, and technical recruiters, to create his tightly focused and spot-on list of recommendations.

Likewise, if you are one of the Traveling Light readers who isn’t yet in a management role, first of all, congratulations for thinking ahead and reading this newsletter on a regular basis. You are one smart cookie. Read the InfoWorld article so you can take action today to further your career in the future, even if you aren’t a programmer. Much of the advice is applicable to other professions as well.

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In the News: Fast Company

July 1st, 2015 Jennifer Selby Long Posted in News | No Comments »


Are you or is someone you know considering changing careers?

If you are even slightly established in your current career, this can be extremely challenging. However, several of my clients have very successfully pulled this off with aplomb.

Check out my tips in this Fast Company article by Gwen Moran:

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