If You Don’t Blow Your Own Horn …

Our founder (Dr. Paul Hersey) had an enviable repertoire of catchy phrases. They were the kinds of things he would seemingly roll out randomly, and in so doing, give those within earshot the opportunity to pause for a moment in thoughtful consideration. This is one of our all time favorites:

“If you don’t blow your own horn … somebody else is going to use it as a spittoon”

And, before you start conjuring up negative imagery associated with boasting, we want you to know we wholeheartedly agree with you; taken to an extreme, “horn blowing” can produce an experience somewhere between appalling and unpleasant (few of us would voluntarily sit around and listen to some braggart go on and on about how wonderful he/she is).

However, on the flip side of that coin, we believe you find positive effects like pride of workmanship and the process of sharing best practices. It is for this reason that if someone has legitimate interest in finding out about “the best thing you have ever done,” it doesn’t hit us as smug or vain to answer the question or even volunteer the information in a respectful way.

So, in the spirit of Dr. Hersey, and for the express purpose of sharing a best practice or two, we would like to dedicate this blog to describing what we feel is “the best thing we have ever done.”

Suffice it to say, we were humbled as we reflected on the opportunities we have had over the last 40 years to partner with a wide variety of top-notch clients on cutting-edge work in the field of leadership development. But, after considerable discussion, we found ourselves converging on work we did with Merck in the design, development, delivery, and evaluation of their Management Foundations (MF) Curriculum. What started out to be a comparatively simple “bridge offering” for newly promoted managers that introduced core, common, and critical management skills, blossomed into a blended program of study that has been recognized by Bersin & Associates as well as ASTD as a “best-in-class blended curriculum.” Management Foundations has been translated into seven languages and, at present, there are over 4,000 manager graduates worldwide. Here is a brief overview of the components that make up the experience:

  • Two “bookend” ILT courses house seven web-based modules and a minimum of four virtual classroom sessions
  • There are also ongoing mentor-driven activities and self-directed resources that complement learner progress
  • The Setting the Foundation classroom experience introduces learners to Situational Leadership® by way of participation in an immersive people management simulation
  • The web modules and virtual classroom workshops provide a “deeper dive” into the enabling competencies of Situational Leadership® (i.e., diagnosing Performance Readiness®; accelerating development; reversing regression, etc.) as well as the foundational skills of performance management (i.e., establishing performance objectives; providing performance feedback; conducting performance appraisals, etc.)
  • The Blueprint for Success classroom experience is an assessment center of sorts where learners apply what they have learned and receive feedback on their performance

In 2012, Merck partnered with Brinkerhof and Dressler, two professors from the University of Michigan and the University of Wisconsin, respectively, to conduct an objective study of the MF program as well as its value to the organization. Brinkerhof and Dressler distributed online surveys to participants to report behavior change and conducted in-depth behavioral interviews to understand how the learnings are reflected in the behavior changes. We feel the findings could not have been stronger:

  • Ninety percent of the respondents stated that the Management Foundations program helped change one or more managerial actions, and those actions have led to or will lead to the achievement of specific, clear and valuable business outcomes
  • The managerial actions most impacted by Management Foundations were:
    • Coaching and performance feedback
    • Strategies for compensation / differentiation / calibration processes
    • Leading through change
  • The study identified the following as three of the most prominent examples of direct managerial impacts:
    • Style-based coaching and mentoring
    • Increased staff commitment and engagement
    • Accurate performance calibration and more frequent and productive performance discussions

As previously mentioned, we feel that this kind of reflective activity lends itself well to the sharing of best practices. While we understand the investment and commitment needed to implement a program of this magnitude, we also agree with the words of Fred Fiedler and Martin Chemers, authors of “Improving Leadership Effectiveness: The Leader Match Concept,” in that, “the quality of leadership, more than any other single factor, determines the success or failure of an organization.” With that being said, we offer the following as learning points for those of you currently investigating large-scale management development programs similar to the award-winning Management Foundations program:

  1. Be careful of incorporating virtual components simply for the sake of incorporating virtual components (make sure the modality of delivery selected matches up with your capacity to effectively deploy it)
  2. You simply can’t spend enough time planning for the challenges associated with translating a blended curriculum of significance into multiple languages
  3. Develop your evaluation plan on a parallel track with your learning objectives
  4. As always, securing executive-level support across your enterprise is absolutely critical

At The Center for Leadership Studies, we very rarely “blow our own horn.” Our sole purpose for doing so here is to highlight “what we feel good looks like” and to offer some points of consideration as you look to potentially embark upon a similar endeavor.



Reflect upon your career as a professional in the field of leadership development and answer these questions:

  1. What is the best thing you have ever done (i.e., Project you worked on? Block of instruction you developed? Program you delivered? Coaching you provided? Etc?)?
  2. What made your “best thing” your “best thing” (i.e., What results were produced? What outcomes were achieved?)?
  3. What did you learn from that experience (i.e., Was it a one-time deal where the stars happened to align somehow)? Or did you learn / discover something that could definitely be applied elsewhere in the spirit of continuous learning? If so, what was it?

From our perspective, development is too often defined by reflecting on what went poorly and figuring out what you need to do differently. We believe there can be a comparable benefit from reflecting on what went well and figuring out a way to replicate it!