Tony Schwartz describes CEOs as Chief Energy Officers and writes here about his experience of re-orienting a meeting where he was feeding the group many new ideas with enthusiasm, and not receiving the warm welcome he had hoped for. Instead he was hearing about people’s stress and lack of recognition for the work done so far.
My two favourite points in his response:
“Because human beings have a strong “negativity bias,” we pay more attention to our bad feelings than to our good ones. It once clearly served our survival to be vigilant about what might go wrong and that instinct persists. Today, it may serve to buffer us from disappointment, but it also promotes disproportionate and destructive discontent. The simple question “What’s going right?” provides ballast in tough times.”
“The highest skill — whatever your role — is the willingness to embrace opposite feelings without choosing up sides. Acknowledging bad feelings is key to being able to address what’s causing them. Recognizing they’re only one part of the story frees us to notice what we feel good about and grateful for, which helps us to feel positive even in the face of ongoing challenges.”
I’d add a third observation from the first rate materials and training that I have received from the National Managers’ Community in the Government of Canada: Behind every complaint is a commitment. Whereas in my early days as a manager my instincts might lead me to wonder why people were “just being oppositional” when work needed to get done, when now I take the space for explorations of the values that people are indirectly expressing when they are complaining, I have found important information that may provide a jumping off point to a better working relationship. The number one reason that people are complaining: they want sufficient time and space to submit a good product.
This is a great article on why taking some time to ascend in your career has benefits.
The article lists many good reasons to take a measured approach to promotions including avoiding burnout and gaining the skills you’ll need to succeed. And my favourite of all:
“Following a “deliberate” path may prevent the problem experienced by any number of hard-charging executives: getting to the top of the career ladder only to realize it’s leaning against the wrong wall.”
I’ve read two pieces recently on the need the need to manage discomfort with uncertainty. Though there is a a good evolutionary reason for discomfort with things that don’t fit regular patterns, many types of work require a certain comfort with uncertainty. They’ve suggested that the MCAT add questions on dealing with ambiguity.
Seth Godin argues that you have to keep “levelling up” and not assume you are ever fully baked and that your knowledge stash would be complete.
Using some extreme examples such as the Waco hostage taking and the rise of the Nazis. author Jamie Holmes talks about the benefits of holding space for grey areas to advance thinking. What I appreciated most was the need to keep alternative perspectives on the table as long as possible because they might present solutions. I also appreciated the reminder that divergent approaches may be seeking the same end game – I tend to crave closure on big ideas and fact checking whereas others crave more perfectly presented documents – same craving with different stripes – closure and certainty.
I liked this piece on the importance of humility in leadership. I have posted here and here on this issue, but this one brought more practically to the subject which I appreciated.
The need for humility in leadership may not be obvious when you think of the stereotype of leaders who should be confident taking decisions and giving direction. To me the why of humility in leadership is a fusion of understanding that: you need a lot more information than you have to do your job, you may be your best version of a leader when you are in service to everyone, and that humility will help you build endurance for the journey.
From this piece, I particularly liked the test to ask yourself the question “How do you act when you are interrupted?” (and ask yourself how you’d react when you are busy and when it is someone below you on the org chart).
It’s a brilliantly simple question and it hits at an area of deliberate growth for me in the past few years. I work in an open concept office so there is no easy way to signal when I am trying to get through something and would prefer not be interrupted. Though I am sure that I have spent too long acting perturbed that I have been interrupted, I have now taken the decision to treat my entire work day (with rare, clearly announced exceptions) as if I am hosting office hours. This isn’t to say that I can give each conversation its due at the moment it is proposed – sometimes a sit down meeting is more appropriate and at times I am on my way somewhere. That said, as a default, I want to be as present as I can for what people are coming to say.
I have learned good habits on this from observing others. I used to marvel at senior leaders who acted as if they had all the time in the world to listen to you brief when I would be distracted at thinking about how busy they were and how I didn’t want to waste their time with a long briefing. I then resolved to also be calm and clearly in receiving mode when employees would come and talk to me since expressing irritation, anger or panic do not support receiving the information needed.
Humility may save you from a mindset that won’t serve you well when you hit unfamiliar terrain. The more you think you should (already) know how to be a good leader including from being told that you have inherent talent for the job, the less prepared you are to succeed when you reach an unfamiliar situation. Carol Dweck makes a great point in this piece on mindset and leadership – it is much easier to have humility at the beginning of your management career and this wanes over time. So the ultimate question is how to continue to show humility the longer you stay in a management role and no matter the stress you are feeling.
I’m enjoying the new series of short books (long essays really) put out by the TED group. These are single topic books that you can buy for your kindle for approx $10-$15 Canadian. I’ve enjoyed all that I’ve read including this first one called “Beyond Measure.” The book is a good and easy read but I’d welcome a longer treatment of the topic – it’s an important one.
The thesis on this one is that great teams are made by something difficult to measure and this is a strong work culture. The author calls it the secret sauce of organizational life. Culture is comprised of small actions and though often beyond our control as managers, it is happily non-linear in its spread.
You can create a strong work culture by building trust in an environment that generates the best ideas.
Unhelpfully. our brains like efficiency and search for matches including in hiring when we tend to hire mirrors of our selves not people who will help us be windows to the outside world. This means we don’t get the best ideas.
To generate a stronger team culture where new ideas are introduced including ones that will run against the grain, we need courageous leadership. This is a culture that will see people calmly raise issues and concerns. Unanimity is a sign that participation isn’t really whole-hearted. (She uses harrowing examples of plane crashes caused by bad work cultures and lack of communication, to illustrate this point).
She makes a good point there is often more give in most systems than we’d expect for raising new ideas. The challenge is to solicit discomforting data which will help us elaborate what we’d see if we were wrong. She uses a great example of US intelligence sniffing out the end of the cold war in her text. Basically, the top gun had been told that the cold war was in full force but when he stated probing if contrary data was available he found it. (meat being stolen from trains with no state recourse).
Hearteningly, she tells us what it takes to get collective intelligence in a team: ensuring each person speaks an equal amount of time, getting a group that is socially sensitive (to needs of others, group dynamics) and groups that include more women (this is thought to be linked to the second element).
The higher the social capital of a group, the better it can deal with conflict. The capital is created through a culture of trust and the ability to build on good ideas to make them even better.
Finally she cites “Project Oxygen” the study Google did on what makes a good manager. Subject matter expertise was found at the bottom of the list which was a surprise to many. At the top, good managers were ones who believe in and care about their staff and take an interest in their lives and allow employees to sort things out by asking them questions instead of giving direction.
The crux of the advice is that as tempting as it is to vent (belittle, demean) and make yourself feel better in the guise of holding people accountable, it’d be better to focus on how to help the person perform better.
Where Bregman really hits the nail on the head for my money is the remind us that high performing employees already feel your disappointment acutely when you express that something hasn’t hit the mark. You don’t need to spend more time on the disappointment piece but rather on how to build confidence to hit the mark the next time out. This is through building trust that you can get across the finish line. Best piece of simple advice, take four deep breaths before you react in the moment to figure out how to recalibrate to give your employees what they need to get over the next hurdle.
I read many more articles than I post on this blog. One of my filters is that I generally post things with which I agree.
But, in this instance, I feel that this article missed enough nuances for me to want to mount a response.
The basic premise advanced here is that nasty work environments with lots of negative feedback, are better at advancing complex tasks and get better results. The prescription here is something less than a toxic work environment but somehow lands with a place where we’d allow employees to feel “anxious and depressed” in the name of achievement.
I agree wholeheartedly that we need to respect employees by giving them honest feedback about what’s working and what’s not working. Yes that’s the basic work we need to do. Are we hardwired to be good at this as managers? Not always. I know that I was terrible at this at the beginning of my management career for a variety of reasons. One of my greatest ongoing learnings is how to give meaningful feedback about how to get from here to there.
We also need to respect those who give us feedback enough to want to rise the the challenge of what they ask of us. I learned gobs from a phone coach who was helping me brush up my French skills. I felt like I was in the conjugation Olympics every Friday morning at 8:30. She kept me on my toes and yes I did want to please her. As is elaborated in the Talent Code, as Daniel Coyle kindly confirmed for me by email this week: you should avoid coaches who treat you like eager waiters and seek out coaches who scare you a little.
Can this cross the line into someone who belittles or humiliates? Absolutely not. Are environments where employees feel worn down and depressed ones that are also creative hotbeds? I find this hard to believe.
“… What this means at work and at home is that we have a very hard time listening to someone if we are angry with them, or if we feel they are treating us unfairly. And in fact, this is true. It’s almost impossible to take feedback from someone who you feel is treating you unfairly, even if the feedback makes perfect sense. And this turns out to be one of the primary reasons we reject even useful feedback.”
So in sum, yes, employees do need the straight goods on what is working or not working. What we also need is:
The ability to articulate what isn’t working while providing the tools to get from here to there.
Feedback that leaves the door open for a shared responsibility for how we got to where we are and along with the hope that we will get where we need to go, together.
Feedback from a source we respect – that won’t pander but won’t demean.
A work environment which spends more time affirming what is working than what is not working. To paraphrase a wise colleague, you can’t over do positive feedback. When you do have to show up with the news that things didn’t go so well, you will have the credibility to be heard.
An excellent article from the Harvard Business Review.
They discuss strategies for disagreeing with your boss that range from contracting upfront to disagree (when emotions are at neutral) and then later on, asking for and getting permission to disagree.
Most helpful to me was the nugget taken from the negotiation discipline to discuss intent and shared purpose in the context of a perceived disagreement:
“Discuss intent before content. When the boss gets defensive, it’s for one of two reasons. The first is because she believes your dissent is a threat to her goals. Defenses are far less often provoked by actual content than they are by perceived intent. You can be far more candid about your view if you frame it in the context of a mutual purpose that the boss already cares about. If you fail to do this, the boss may believe your disagreement signals a lack of commitment to her interests.”
Seth Godin has written a gem of a book called “The Dip” on the difficult decisions we often need to take as to whether to push through challenging situations versus throw in the towel. I’ve read it a couple of times and though it’s a good read, I am not much closer to knowing on a day-to-day basis when to push through and when not to. This has lots to do with the fact that I am generally hard-wired to do so. What has been more important to me of late is that I am now more more conscious that you shouldn’t push through just because you tend to preserve through things – you should take a step back and ask, who does this serve and why? Once you have decided that you should push through, it is always useful to have support as to help pushing past the dips in motivation. Some of the ways from the article hyperlinked below:
“You embrace the uncertainty and discomfort. Lots of people avoid these two things, but without them, you never get good at anything. You never learn anything worthwhile. Embrace these things and grow. […]
You do it not for success or some end goal, but for the sake of learning. You don’t want to give up every time you face resistance.You let yourself be moved by curiosity: wanting to know what it’s like to get past this, to push through discomfort. You want to find out how this chapter ends. […]
You pause and remind yourself of the reason you started in the first place: it’s not for personal success but to help people, to strengthen yourself, to inspire others, to make someone’s life a little better, to put a smile on your face. And then you ask yourself: which is more important, this reason for doing this project, or your personal comfort?”