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Leadership Out of Balance

Leadership is often described as the act of leading a group of people or an organization. Leading well requires knowledge, skill, and an ability to balance the immediate gratification of the near term with the security of the long term.

According to author and organizational consultant Warren Bennis, leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality. He also said the difference between a manager and a leader is that a manager does things right, while a leader does the right things.

Today, great leadership is rare and all too often personified in the media as famous wealthy men running big companies that return strong shareholder value. But are huge financial returns the ultimate sign of great leadership?

The corporate world generously compensates CEOs focused on quarterly earnings and meeting Wall Street expectations often at the expense of doing what’s right for the customer, the employees and ensuring the company is around in the long term. Though these CEOs may spout “customer focus” and “concern for our employees” in speeches, annual reports and corporate websites, these words seem incongruent with their actions.

In politics, our elected officials should be concerned with governing, but they currently spend about half their workday raising money in order to ensure they are re-elected. The U.S. congress currently has a 14% approval rating, which means we now trust used car salesmen more than our so-called representatives.

Today’s imbalance in leadership seems to stem from too much focus on what’s in it for me rather than what’s in it for us. Leaders who focus primarily on their own self-interest cannot possibly instill the confidence and loyalty necessary to lead others most effectively.

In Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t, author Simon Sinek suggests that the best organizations foster trust and cooperation because their leaders build what he calls a Circle of Safety. This separates the security inside the team from the challenges outside.

This Circle of Safety enables teams to be stable, adaptive and confident where every member feels they belong and are focused on the right things.

Part of the challenge in creating such a circle requires leaders at every level to maintain balance of four chemicals found in our bodies. These chemicals control our feelings, which are the primary drivers for all our decision-making whether we are aware of it or not.

Chemicals such as endorphins and dopamine function to get us where we need to go as individuals. Endorphins provide the “runner’s high,” which are able to mask pain and enable us to complete a marathon or complete a work project well into the night. Dopamine provides a feeling of satisfaction once we complete an important task on our to-do list. It provides incentive for progress toward reaching our goals.

These two are what Sinek refers to as the selfish chemicals and they provide us with short-term rewards, which can motivate us to accomplish great things and, under the right conditions, can also become addictive.

On the other hand, serotonin and oxytocin work to help strengthen our social bonds so we are more likely to work together and cooperate well. Serotonin and oxytocin are what Sinek describes as the selfless chemicals and they are sorely missing in leadership today.

Serotonin is responsible for the pride we feel when those we care for achieve great things. As the boss, serotonin works to encourage us to serve the employees we are responsible for. And as the employee, serotonin encourages us to work hard to make the boss proud.

Serotonin more than any of the others is seen as the leadership chemical.

Oxytocin is the chemical that helps us direct how vulnerable we can afford to make ourselves. This social compass helps determine when it’s safe to open up and trust or when we should hold back. This might be the drug most closely aligned with emotional intelligence.

Oxytocin makes us better problem solvers and enables us to accomplish more in groups than we can alone. It has also been found to contribute to us living longer.

The goal of any leader should be to find balance. If you remain addicted primarily to endorphins and dopamine, no matter how rich and powerful you become, you will likely feel lonely and unfulfilled. On the other hand, if you are focused too much on serotonin and oxytocin, you may lack the measurable goals or ambition necessary to reach important feelings of accomplishment.

Leadership in balance requires focusing on the present and the future. It means serving customers and employees as well as shareholders. And it is a balance of short-term growth and long-term viability.

The Value of a Mentor

In my work as a leadership coach I often request that my clients recruit colleagues to assist them in achieving their goals. That’s because leadership is a team effort and every leader needs others to direct and support their growth.

As a coach I can help provide focus, add perspective, and ask the hard questions, however, I cannot observe day to day behavioral change that contributes to the success of my clients meeting their goals.

Coaches can provide continuity and support; they also hold their clients accountable and maintain confidentiality.

But a coach cannot be there at the exact moment when clients try out new behavior in the workplace. They cannot witness risk taking as it happens. Unless I’m shadow coaching and happen to be there for learning moments, I am reliant on my client relating to me the details of what has taken place in these situations.

That is why it is so important to enlist others in your leadership development. And other people can be recruited both informally as well as formally.

You can informally enlist coworkers who can observe your efforts and provide constructive feedback in real time. Any trusted coworker can do this, but he or she needs to be asked. Most likely, he or she will be flattered and more than happy to help.

A mentor, however, should be more calculated and intentional both in choosing someone and in driving the relationship. A good mentor can provide experiential knowledge and a perspective from inside the system. He or she can help you navigate your organization and your career in ways you may be unfamiliar with.

Mentors may provide relevant cautionary tales and appropriate examples from which you can directly apply to your particular situation.

Studies over the past 40 years have repeatedly demonstrated that mentoring is the single most valuable ingredient in a successful career.

Some suggestions for what to look for in a mentor include:

  • Organizational Insight – Someone who has been in your organization longer than you and appears to have navigated it well could be especially valuable in your career growth.
  • Specific Expertise – This would be a person who has dived deeper into your functional role and really understands the nuances of what you do. This is often some senior member of your team or your own boss.
  • Unique Perspective – Often it is someone outside the organization yet closely aligned (ex. director on the board, corporate partner, third party vendor, customer) who can provide a different point of view that can broaden your own perspective.
  • Business Wisdom – Most likely this is a more experienced person either inside or outside your organization who can give you the advice you need to face the specific business challenges you face. Don’t dismiss those who moved to a different type of business or even retired.
  • Work/Life Balance – Those who seem to have it all together balancing the stress of a busy career as well as family life may be able to lend some insight into how you can accomplish it all as well.

Choosing a mentor ultimately depends on what you’re looking for in the mentor-mentee relationship. It should be a match not only based on your needs but choose someone you trust and feel comfortable being around. Regardless who you choose, be sure you are respectful of their time and guidance.

Working with a coach can help you identify what to work on, how to go about achieving it, and hold you accountable for getting it done. The people you work with are your best resource for supporting these efforts. And a mentor can help sustain your growth over the long term.

Effective Leadership: The Theory & Practice

Are leaders born or made? That appears to be an on-going question, but if you simply search for “leadership” on Amazon, you’ll find 124,676 titles currently available. There are, obviously, things to learn about leadership whether you are born a leader or are becoming one.

And becoming a more effective leader requires both knowing why and how. Leadership theory enables you to understand the why; leadership practice provides the how. Both theory and practice are essential.

Understanding the theory behind effective leadership provides a foundation for deeply knowing your self and your intrinsic motivation.

“Leadership is an uncommon composite of skill, experience, and ripened personal perspectives regarding the nuances and complexities of life,” write M. A. Soupious and Panos Mourdoukoutas in their new book The Ten Golden Rules of Leadership: Classical Wisdom for Modern Leaders. “Only those men and women who have cultivated a carefully conceived philosophy of life are capable of genuine leadership.”

This book provides ten rules such as “know thyself” and “do not waste energy on things you cannot change” to provide an overall theory for leaders to operate. Using inspiration and guidance from philosophers such as Aristotle, Hesiod, Sophocles, Heraclitus and Antisthenes, the authors contend this classical wisdom can be applied to the modern workplace.

The authors further posit that what distinguishes a real leader from a mere administrator, is “a unique series of perspectives and values.” This means employing methods and approaches reflecting clarity and insight that come from a well-examined life.

The practice of leadership requires a variety of methods and exercises to alter your mindset and behaviors to be more effective.

From the practice side of leadership learning is a book titled The Inner Edge: The 10 Practices of Personal Leadership by Joelle K. Jay. Here you’ll find helpful exercises for you to develop your inner life in service of improving your overall leadership capacity.

Jay outlines in practical terms how a leader’s inner life impacts his/her outer life:

“Your inner edge is the you behind the scenes: your thoughts and motivations, your aspirations, your plans, your decisions, your strengths and weaknesses, your values, and your way of becoming a success. Your outer edge is the you that you show the world: your words, your actions, and your interactions with the people around you. Your inner and outer edges are intimately related. The way you feel influences the way your act. Your actions affect your results. Your results determine the way you experience life. In order to be effective as a leader and in your life, you need to spend time on both your outer and inner edge.”

Using many examples from her executive coaching practice, Jay provides step-by-step exercises on how to make progress with each of the 10 practices. I think the practice called Find Fulfillment may be the most important, yet is rarely employed.

Finding fulfillment means ensuring your work and values are in synch. This requires deep introspection to be certain that what you do is aligned with who you are.

“When you find fulfillment, you don’t get burned out; you get fired up,” writes the author. “You put your talent to work, but you’re the one who feels rewarded. You experience those moments of greatness. You also get to lead a great life.”

Another practice she points to is All . . . All at Once, which involves putting the other nine practices to work together as one. The practice involves a state of mind where you can combine different ideas and think about them at the same time.

This integrative thinking is the mark of an exceptional leader, according to Roger Martin, dean of the Rotterman School of Management at the University of Toronto. “It is this discipline—not superior strategy or faultless execution—that is a defining characteristic of most exceptional businesses and the people who run them.”

Whether born or made, a leader can become more effective through a combination of theory and practice. Becoming a more effective leader requires knowing your inner self in order to best align with your outer self.

“In order to be a leader,” writes Jay. “. . . you’ve got to bring that learning and self-awareness out to the people you lead.”

Profiling Leaders: Tall, White & Male

When you think of a leader, how often do you conjure up the image of a woman or person of color?

Today there are a number of famous women and minorities in positions of power: Mary Barra of General Motors, Meg Whitman of HP, Satya Nadella of Microsoft and President Barack Obama to name but a few.

But they are vastly under represented by a long shot.

In the U.S. women currently represent about half the population and minorities make up 37.4%, when you subtract the white, non-Hispanic or Latino population. In spite of this, leaders in business and politics are hugely over-represented by white males.

As of 2013, women led just 4% of Fortune 500 companies and African Americans led only 1%. Though blacks, Hispanics and American Indians represent about 30% of the overall population, they hold only 3% of senior management positions at American corporations and nonprofits.

Educated like Leaders
According the Pew Research Center, women have been earning college degrees at a greater rate than men since the early 1980s and they currently earn about 57% of all bachelor’s degrees. Racial minorities represent almost a third of all bachelor’s degrees.

The Council of Graduate Schools 2013 report stated that the same held true for Master’s degrees as women are earning advanced degrees by a larger margin than men in every field other than engineering, mathematics and computer science, and physical and earth sciences. Women earn advanced degrees in business at a rate of 53% versus 47% for men.

Look like Leaders
The Economist magazine recently wrote that getting to the top has as much to do with how you look as what you achieve. Despite this supposed age of diversity, we are still led primarily by white men. In fact, our leaders are not only likely to be white and male, but also tall, relatively fit, have a deeper voice and good posture.

In his best-selling book “Blink,” author Malcolm Gladwell found that 30% of the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies are 6 fee 2 inches or taller, even though this represents only 3.9% of the population of American men.

Overweight people are often judged incapable of controlling themselves, and this reflects poorly on their potential to control others.

Sound like Leaders
Quantified Communications discovered that when people were asked to evaluate speeches delivered by 120 executives, voice quality accounted for 23% of listener’s evaluations while content of the speech only accounted for 11%. (It’s not what you say, but how you sound when you say it that matters.) Another study found that male leaders with the deepest voices earned $187,000 a year more than the average.

Diversity in Leaders
Some suggest “covering,” which is a term proposed by sociologist Erving Goffman, that basically describes the process of downplaying aspects of one’s identity. Examples might be a black person who refrains from associating with African-American colleagues, or a woman who shies away from discussing her role as a mother. This seems to suggest you should lead by what others want you to be rather than who you are.

As much as we want a diverse workforce, a diverse board of directors, a diverse executive management team, it seems we are still a long way from realizing a diversity of leaders at the very top.

The Economist article posits that given the number of qualified candidates, selection committees simply end up choosing leaders who look most like themselves. This results in tokenism rather than genuine equalizing of opportunity.

I’m not suggesting women and minorities necessarily make better leaders than white men. However, unless we are wiling to empower them with the same opportunities to lead us, we will limit our options to find exceptional leaders.

Though there are fine examples of women and minorities rising to leadership positions today, they are vastly under represented in both business and politics. Until we judge our potential leaders based on the content of their character and competence rather than the color of their skin and makeup of their gender, we will continue to miss out on realizing our full potential for creative solutions to the challenges we face.

Effective Teams Begin with Trust

Dysfunctional teams can produce results, but not consistently and not over the long term. An effective team that produces results consistently requires many attributes, but they all must begin with trust.

More than anything else, trust enables people to work together effectively.

Stephen M. R. Covey, author of The Speed of Trust, says this workplace trust is a function of both character and competence. Character includes integrity, motives, and your intent with other people. Competence is your capabilities, skills, results and track record. Both are essential for trust.

Trust lays the foundation for two or more people to function effectively because it instills assurance that the other person(s) can be relied upon.

In Patrick Lencioni’s book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, he describes a lack of trust as an “unwillingness to be vulnerable.” This ability to be vulnerable is essential for people to feel connected—in both our personal and professional relationships—and that enables us to trust that we can count on each other.

In his book, Lencioni describes how trust shows up in teams.

When there is an absence of trust, team members:

  • Conceal their weaknesses and mistakes from one another
  • Hesitate to ask for help or provide constructive feedback
  • Hesitate to offer help outside their own areas of responsibility
  • Jump to conclusions about the intentions and aptitudes of others without attempting to clarify them
  • Fail to recognize and tap into one another’s skills and experiences
  • Hold grudges
  • Dread meetings and find reasons to avoid spending time together


When there is trust, team members:

  • Admit weaknesses and mistakes
  • Ask for help
  • Accept questions and input about their areas of responsibility
  • Give one another the benefit of the doubt before arriving at a negative conclusion
  • Take risks in offering feedback and assistance
  • Appreciate and tap into one another’s skills and experiences
  • Offer and accept apologies without hesitation
  • Look forward to meetings and other opportunities to work as a group

Successful teams demonstrate confidence that every team member’s intentions are good and they can feel safe within the group.

Trust within a team often requires that individual members demonstrate relational trust. Covey identifies 13 behaviors that strengthen relational trust. These are: talk straight, demonstrate respect, create transparency, right wrongs, show loyalty, deliver results, get better, confront reality, clarify expectations, practice accountability, listen first, keep commitments, extend trust.

These behaviors don’t demand that everyone be an outgoing extravert who shares their entire lives with everyone at work. Instead, it is the ability to be open and transparent about who you are in a professional sense.

The ability to be open with each other is not so much about sharing personal information as it is sharing your knowledge, skills and experience with regard to the work you’re doing. And it is about the team members’ perception of your integrity, authenticity and level of caring.

The perception of these attributes will determine whether you are someone of character and competence team members are able to work with. And that is the trust they need to function effectively as a team.

Work Friends & Social Recognition

All of us want to feel valued for our contribution in the workplace. But there may be a disconnect between what employers think drive this feeling of being valued and what employees actually want and need.

It turns out that peer relationships can greatly impact our level of commitment and engagement. And the more friends we have at work, the more likely we are to trust co-workers as well as leadership.

Another area is in years of service recognition. The days of the gold watch or pin for various years of service no longer suffice as recent research has show that employees are more likely to be moved by emotionally-driven, social recognition.

These are the findings of research by Globoforce in a report called “The Effect of Work Relationships on Organizational Culture and Commitment.” The Fall 2014 Workforce Mood Tracker recently surveyed 716 randomly selected employees in the United States who were working in companies with at least 500 employees.

When we consider that most of us with full time jobs spend more time with our co-workers than we do with our families, we shouldn’t underestimate the importance of these relationships.

Among the research findings with regard to peer relationships:

  • 93% value the respect of work friends or colleagues and 63% of them find it extremely important or very important.
  • 74% claim to have a shared history and memories with co-workers.
  • 89% say work relationships matter to their quality of life, with more than half (55%) saying it is extremely important or very important.
  • Employees with friends at work are twice as likely to trust leadership than those without friends.
  • The more friends one has at work, the higher level of pride they take in their company as well as their co-workers.
  • The more friends an employee has at work, the less likely they are to leave. In response to: “Would you accept another job if it were offered to you?” those with no friends at work were 42% likely, while those with 1-5 friends 38% likely, and those with 6 to 25 friends only 30% likely.
  • Highly engaged workers: no friends 28%, 1-5 friends 37%, 6-25 friends 48%, 25+ friends 69%.

 

Clearly, having friends at work can directly impact trust, engagement, retention and overall quality of life.

When it comes to recognition, the survey also found that meaningful recognition matters, and when not tied in with co-workers can actually negatively impact the employee. Among the findings on recognition:

  • Employees feel more valued when peers participate in anniversaries. 70% vs. 24% feel more valued when celebrated with peers in addition to the company as opposed to the company alone.
  • Workers with peer-celebrated milestones are less likely to leave the company for another position. In response to the question: “Would you accept a new job if it were offered to you?” 74% said yes when there was no celebration at all, 66% said yes when celebration was with company only, and only 52% said yes when celebration included co-workers.
  • When employees report their last company milestone as “an emotional, moving or poignant experience,” they are significantly more likely to see that anniversary as positive and three times more likely to say it made them feel more valued.
  • Employees were more likely to report a positive experience when the formal recognition experience was tied to company goals and values. They were also three times more likely to say it made them feel more valued.
  • When asked what could make the milestone experience more meaningful, 65% said shared stories and memories, and 72% said they like the idea of including a retrospective of their career accomplishments.

 

Emotional anniversaries and recognition make employees feel more valued with higher pride, higher engagement, and are more reflective and likely to renew their commitment to the company.

So how do you encourage workplace friendships and provide more robust, meaningful recognition? Obviously, a friendly and welcoming workplace is more likely to encourage people to socialize. Specificity both positive and negative when providing feedback is extremely helpful. Also, you can encourage other’s opinions and viewpoints when determining policy decisions and workplace issues.

Peter Drucker once said “culture eats strategy over breakfast.” Staying on top of your company’s culture to keep it positive and aligned with your values will go a long way towards encouraging friendships and making recognition more meaningful. Never underestimate the power of your company’s culture.

A product called TINYpulse can capture anonymous feedback from team members to reveal insights, trends, and opportunities to improve retention, culture and results. Think of it like the old fashioned “suggestion box” only it can be done with quick online surveys directly pushed to employees. This will help keep them involved and encourage them to feel their opinions matter.

Finding ways to foster friendships as well as acknowledging years of service by including co-workers in the recognition will go a long way in making employees feel valued. And feeling valued is what will make employees more engaged, productive, and less likely to leave for another opportunity.

 

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