Know Any Toxic Bosses?

As I was preparing for this week’s newsletter, one word seemed to be showing up over and over again in what I was reading. The word: toxic. People are talking about toxic bosses. Articles are referring to toxic cultures. Even as I was preparing a program for MassTLC’s Recruiters Academy, I was looking back at a workshop I did for The Boston Club about managing toxic relationships. Some interesting things came to light. Here are a few:

Eight Qualities.  In one of the most thorough studies of management behavior ever, Google identified 8 qualities of toxic bosses. They include: being frustrated when you have to coach employees, double-checking every employee’s work (the micromanagement we all love to hate), you’d rather stay in your office than talk with your team, and, interestingly, you feel constantly behind and split in too many directions. I hear the last one from many leaders. If you’re unable to manage your workload, it’s difficult to help others manage theirs. You can see the complete list here.

Gallup surveys say that as often as 82% of the time, companies make mistakes in whom they choose to be managers. Not all bad managers are “toxic,” but a percentage will be. How does this happen? Are we putting too much weight on past results to predict future performance? Especially when the past results and how they were achieved don’t resemble what’s required in the future?

Economics of Toxic Cultures.  A recent article in HBRmakes an argument for the economic reasons companies don’t fix toxic cultures. It states that cultural capital is a type of asset that’s analogous to physical capital or human capital. Just like these assets, there are risks associated with how you manage your culture. Too many companies don’t manage the cultural risks purposefully and aggressively enough and it often leads to toxic environments.

Peter Drucker famously said “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”  Toxicity can start at the personal level and quickly spread across a culture. Too often it’s tolerated because it’s a single person or someone who gets results. We think it can be contained. Containment isn’t the best strategy. It’s too easy for the figurative walls to break and allow the toxins to seep out.

Next week, we’ll talk more about how to deal with a toxic boss.

Which Blind Spots are Hurting You? Your Team?

“Knowing yourself is the root of all wisdom.”
– Socrates –

One time when working with a coach to prep for a job interview, I was videotaped.  I was completely unaware of some of the things I was doing.  With the help of the coach I was able to see the behaviors that could interfere with my success.  I was made aware of my blind spots.

The most successful leaders I work with are always looking for ways to continue improving, and that includes uncovering and addressing blind spots… which often change over time.

Blind spots can be feelings and thoughts we have, mental models we employ or behaviors we exhibit that we aren’t fully conscious of.  Or behaviors that we just aren’t aware are producing a negative result.  These could include overestimating your change agility or being too data driven.  Perhaps relying too heavily on your own enthusiasm for a project, or not knowing about a new market disruptor that is about to impact your business.  And we are all familiar with leaders who don’t see how their communication style is impacting others.

Not understanding your blind spots can significantly limit your success as a leader.  It limits your team’s performance.  It can even cost your company its market and customers. 

Some leaders don’t understand that they are shutting down innovation or new thinking.  I work with teams all the time where performance is hurt by members who don’t realize, for example, that they’re interrupting too often, or conversely, not vocally contributing enough.

Kodak famously had a blind spot about the impact of digital photography on their market.   They chose to do nothing with the very technology that was invented by one of their own engineers in the mid-1970’s. From the executives’ viewpoint, they were incredibly successful.  They dominated the market.  Why worry?

Other people usually see your blind spots long before you do, so you don’t want to be unaware of them for long.

One of the best way to discover them is through frank feedback from others, coupled with self-reflection.  Here are three approaches to gathering feedback that, when used effectively, will uncover your blind spots:

  • Conversations focused on feedback.  You may be thinking, I’ve asked people to give me feedback and I don’t’ get any.  Don’t discount the fact that you may be getting feedback, but it’s either too subtle or you’re not tuning into it. Remember – it’s a blind spot. And many people are reticent when given general invitations. Can I really give feedback about anything?  It’s more effective to ask for feedback about specific situations or behaviors.  If you’re having trouble with employee feedback, ask a peer you trust.  If it’s a team issue, ask someone who worked with you on another team.  Finally, if you’re known for not asking or for not reacting well to feedback, it’s going to take a while.  Be patient.  Keep at it.
  • Formal 360 feedback.  Handled correctly, this can be a powerful tool for collecting feedback because it is often gathered by someone other than you and then shared with you. This can help people feel safer about sharing what may be unpleasant for you to hear. I use a mixed approach of a survey tool and confidential interviews to help the executives I work with gain a 360 perspective.
  • Validated, reliable self-assessment toolsthat generate in-depth feedback about your personality preferences.  They are predictive of how you typically behave in various situations. I’ve found Insights DiscoveryTMto be one of the best of these tools.  It’s easy to use and utilizes a straightforward framework that generates nuanced, personal results.

Simply becoming more self-aware and identifying your blind spots is not enough.  You can know that you’re coming across as a jerk and still continue to be a jerk.  You need to be purposeful in applying that awareness to your own improvement.  Some people refer to this as mindfulness – being self-aware and acting with intentionality.

Follow up on your new awareness with an intentional approach for development.  It should include:

  • Yourself through coaching or numerous different learning opportunities
  • Your team through conversations focused on how each other’s strengths and blind spots impact the team, as a start
  • Your organization through purposeful development of a culture of self-awareness and intentional action.

There are a number of strategies and techniques you can employ to overcome blind spots.  If you’d like to continue the conversation, please contact me at 978-475-8424 or e.onderick-harvey@NextBridgeConsulting.com.

Creating a Leadership Philosophy

Leadership PhilosophyWe often talk about leadership styles and leadership behaviors but don’t often talk about our leadership philosophy. However, it is a critical part of understanding ourselves as a leader.  It is this underlying philosophy that has broad impact on our actions as leaders.  Leadership philosophy is a concept I’ve learned from my colleague Michael Maccoby.

We all have a life philosophy.  Our life philosophy is a way of putting our values together to guide how we behave.  We knowingly or unknowingly live our lives in accordance with this philosophy.  A leadership philosophy integrates our organizational purpose with the practical values and moral reasoning which you believe are essential to achieving that purpose.  It also includes how we define and measure results. Effective leaders are very aware of their leadership philosophy.  They not only communicate their philosophy, they can be trusted to act in accordance with that philosophy.

Think about your leadership philosophy.  What is it and what impact does it have on you, your team and your organization.  Ask the following questions:

1. What is the purpose of our organization?
2. What is my purpose as a leader?
3. Which organizational values support that purpose?
4. How do my personal values align with these organizational values?
5. What ethical and moral reasoning do I expect from myself and my people?  Do we work simply to avoid punishment and gain rewards? Do we operate in terms of what is good for my organization and myself without regard for my impact on others?  Do we function in a way that benefits or does not harm all those who may be impacted by our actions?
6. How do we define results?  Is this consistent with my leadership philosophy?

Once you’ve crafted your philosophy, validate that it is meaningful to you. Read it several times over the next two weeks.  Does it resonate with you?  If someone asked you, would you stand behind its representation of you to others?

 

Re-frame Your Feedback

I have a leadership challenge for you. You will need to execute this challenge at the most foundational level of the leadership experience — in the one-on-one relationships you have with individuals on your team or in the company. The challenge relates to feedback.

I’ve found over the years that giving feedback is often not the favorite part of the leadership conversation. I believe this is true because for many of us feedback means hearing something negative. We only think about giving feedback when it’s about what someone is not doing well or about a mistake that person made or about what that person needs to do to improve. For the next week, my challenge to you is to make

Feedback = Positive

One of the things research has proven over and over again. but hasn’t seemed to make it into leaders’ thinking is the power of positive feedback. Several years ago The Corporate Leadership Council did research on the impact of one-hundred-plus performance management practices on bottom-line results and employee satisfaction. Positive feedback was one of seven practices that had significant impact on both results and satisfaction, and the impact was far greater than feedback that was focused on the negative. The ratio of positive feedback and developmental feedback that seems to have the biggest impact is about 4:1 (i.e., 4 positive, 1 negative).

So, your challenge is to catch people doing something right this week. Focus on a couple of team members and try to get close to the 4:1 ratio.

When you provide your positive feedback, remember a couple of guidelines:

  • The feedback should be specific and situational. Tell them the specific situation you are talking about.
  • It should focus on behavior. What did they do or say that created a positive result?
  • It should describe the impact of their behavior. What was the positive impact they created? How did it affect you or the team or the company or the customer.
  • Avoid vague feedback like “great job” or “way to go.” One of the reasons to give positive feedback is to help someone replicate the behavior and results in the future. If he’s not sure what you’re talking about, it’s harder for him to make it happen again.

The Moral Compass of a Leader: Learning from Revolutionary Leaders

Moral IntelligenceA radical group of leaders created a new country in the late eighteenth century – the United States of America. When you look at the leadership characteristics of this group, with the likes of Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Benjamin Franklin, the lessons we can learn from them are as relevant today as they were three centuries ago.

Leaders have a strong moral compass and stand up for their beliefs, sometimes against immense odds. By signing the Declaration of Independence, the members of the Continental Congress were committing treason which is a pretty serious statement about their beliefs. At the core, their decision to sign the Declaration and commit treason was based on their personal moral grounding about the rights of government and the rights of the people. They used that moral compass and their integrity to guide them against the superpower of the day.

In their book, Moral Intelligence, Doug Lennick and Fred Kiel, state, “The most successful leaders in any company are likely to be trustworthy individuals who have a strong set of moral beliefs and the ability to put them into action. Further, even in a world that occasionally rewards bad behavior, the fastest way to build a successful business is to hire those people with the highest moral and ethical skills you can find.”1 If you look back over the past several years, in the wake of high-profile business scandals like Enron, the Bernie Madoff ponzi scheme, and the behavior of some Wall Street firms leading up to and during the 2008 economic crisis, some would assert that too many business leaders lack a moral compass. The importance of a strong moral compass is as important today, if not more so, as it was 240 years ago.

Leaders listen. The conversations and debates that led to the Declaration were often heated. Different delegates held very different views about independence and about each other. Each one’s views were heard and debated. Unity is possible only if each person feels he is heard and his ideas are given a fair shake. Each person in that room was at times a leader and at other times a follower. Yet, at every turn, each was grounded by his personal moral compass.

Leaders stand as one. After the debates and conversations, compromise was reached, and once each signed his name, the group stood as one behind the words on the page. Benjamin Franklin marked the occasion with the words, “We must all hang together or assuredly, we shall all hang separately.” Their belief in the concept of independence superseded potential personal injury or gain.

The Leadership Multiplier Effect

A third of all CEO’s surveyed by The Conference Board say the most pressing issue they have is attracting, developing and retaining the right talent. Two of the biggest factors in engagement and retention are trust in senior leadership and the relationship people have with their managers. With 75% of employees in a recent Gallup Organization survey reporting that they are unengaged or actively disengaged at work, leadership is not successfully addressing this issue.

Leadership excellence has a multiplier effect on organizations. Investing in developing leaders, increasing the leadership multiplier effect, is a short-term and long-term strategy that allows your organization to adapt and thrive in various economic circumstances by attracting, retaining and engaging your human capital.

What is the Leadership Multiplier Effect?

Resources spent on leadership development have a cascading effect throughout the organization. The effective leader creates exponential value for the organization through his or her influence on the strategy, people and processes in the organization. One leader’s effective decisions and actions has a ripple effect that can impact dozens or hundreds of employees, positively changing business performance for the entire department or business unit. Likewise, the impact of poor leadership decisions and actions can lead to the decreased ability to attract, develop and retain the right talent.

In addition, effective senior leaders model behaviors and skills for other leaders in the organization. They set the tone for the leadership practices that define the organization and its culture. They demonstrate the business skills that address business issues and create innovation. They define and operationalize high performance through their interactions with each other and the entire organization.

As others mature in their leadership roles, their effectiveness is increased for having been effectively developed and for the role-models presented by senior leadership. A cascade is created. With more effective leadership focused on the right things at all levels in the organization, factors impacting business performance improve. Groups led by effective leaders are more engaged resulting in higher productivity rates, increased willingness to give extra effort, and greater acceptance of change. In other words, effective leadership creates an environment that attracts and retains high quality talent.

Ensuring the effectiveness of your leaders is critical whether your business is expanding or contracting. When your business is expanding, bringing on new people, introducing new products, serving new customers, leaders need to integrate and assimilate the growth. They need to plan strategically for growth, effectively develop their teams, establish business practices and maintain the engagement people feel in those initial few months on the job.

When business is contracting, leaders need to manage the change brought on by staff reductions, reduced revenue streams and increased cost constraints. They need to maintain the remaining staff’s focus and morale. Need to maintain customer service levels, identify how to do more with less.

Optimizing the Leadership Multiplier Effect

For the leadership multiplier effect have its maximum impact, leaders must be developed effectively. Effective development includes:

1.  Identifying the core of effective leadership. What makes leaders effective? One way to start thinking about leadership effectiveness is to identify what results you want the leader to achieve and use this to identify behaviors that are effective in achieving those results.

2.   Communicating what is expected of a leader. This communication is not always in words. It’s important to understand that how you select, how you assign resources, what people are held accountable for and how you recognize and reward say a great deal about your expectations of leaders.

3.   Assessing your leaders against your model of effectiveness. If some are less effective than you need, identify a strategy for addressing it. It may be development, assignment changes, or an exit strategy. No matter what strategy seems most appropriate, it should start with a frank conversation with the leader.

4.   Identifying potential leaders within your organization and outside your organization. Do you have the bench strength you need? Also remember that leaders aren’t just those with formal titles but also those in roles that are pivotal to business success.

5.   Developing leadership effectively. Formal learning experiences, business-driven assignments and projects, coaching, mentoring and other leadership development experiences need to align with the business strategy and the expectations you’ve communicated about leadership within your organization. Utilize a suite of development activities that build leaders throughout their careers. Developing leaders is process not an event. You must take a planned approach to leadership development, not one that only addresses obvious flash points that may be ignoring underlying causes.

By taking advantage of the Leadership Multiplier Effect, you will optimize talent and create competitive advantage.

Getting Real is Now an E-book

Getting Real Front Cover

It finally happened…Getting Real is available as an e-book.  

Get one for yourself. Share this with a friend or colleague. Don’t miss what Marshall Goldsmith calls “instrumental in taking your personal leadership strategy to new heights.”
Available on Amazon.
Cheers!
Edith

About Edith Onderick-Harvey

Edith Onderick-Harvey is a highly regarded consultant, leadership and talent expert, and speaker. She is the author of the Amazon bests seller Getting Real:  Strategies for Leadership in Today’s Innovation-Hungry, Multi-Tasking, Time-Strapped World of Work. Edith is frequently quoted in the media including The New York Times, CNN.com, HR Executive, and American Executive.  As the President of Factor In Talent,  Edith works with leaders to take performance — their own, their team’s and their organization’s — to the next level.

If I Were Advising Presidential Candidates

2016 ElectionThe 2016 Primary Elections are well under way. We’ve been inundated with speeches, sound bites, photo ops, small town conversations and big city rallies. Every four years, candidates encourage us to make a change. Unfortunately, many of them go about it the wrong way. If I were advising these candidates, here is the first thing I would tell them. Quit talking about how you are going to stop what the other candidate is doing. Stop telling us how we’re going in the wrong direction. Instead, tell us where you want to help us go. To steal a line from a 1990’s campaign, it’s the vision, stupid.

Whether you’re a politician, executive, nonprofit leader or a leader by action and not title, Rule #1 for leading change is to create a compelling vision. For people to want to make change, they need to fight the brain’s natural inclination to recoil from change. If you want people to accept your challenge, you need to not just talk to their heads. You need to speak to their hearts.

Visions inspire and engage people to take a journey with you to a place that invites them to be something greater than themselves. It’s about taking action, not having a reaction. It engages them to achieve something they cannot do alone but can achieve when they act in concert with you and others. It talks to those things that they value. It is vivid, aspirational and a stretch.

If you’d like a tip sheet on creating a compelling vision for change, email me and type ‘change vision tips’ in the subject line.

Push and Pull

Push and Pull

Over the past year, I’ve been working with an amazing business coach who has been helping me take my thinking to the next level. One of the biggest take-aways for me has been thinking about the balance of push and pull energy.

Push energy is what you do when you are advocating, telling, putting your opinion or expertise out there first. Pull energy is about asking, inquiring, allowing the other person to bring what they need to into the conversation.

Often, the leaders I work with struggle with this balance. Too often, they rely on push energy — focusing on telling others what needs to be done, building and selling a business case, pushing to get a change accepted. Don’t get me wrong. These are things that all need to be done and should be a part of what leaders do. It’s what people look for at certain times from their leaders. But, when we rely too heavily on the push, we are often met with indifference, resistance and compliance rather than engagement, enthusiasm and interest. When we rely too heavily on pull, people can sometimes feel like they don’t get our input or perspective. They are sometimes thinking, ‘just tell me what you want!’

Over the next several days, notice how often you are relying on your push energy to get things done and how often you are using pull energy. Take notice of the balance. If the balance is too much in one direction or the other, how can you shift your behavior to reset the balance?

The Journey to Excellence

Tom PetersBack in 1982, Tom Peters went In Search of Excellence and profiled 40+ companies who were examples of excellence.  If we look back at that book some of the companies are gone now or are not what we would hold up as examples of excellence.  That’s because excellence is not an end state.  It’s an organizational state of being that’s characterized by continuous movement in pursuit of ever-higher achievement.  In a culture of excellence, you are never done or…you never quite arrive.

The drive for excellence — for continually improving on even our most outstanding achievement —  when paired with the compelling clarity I spoke about in my last newsletter sets the stage for achieving or even exceeding the goals defined in the strategy.  The question is how do you create a culture of excellence and performance?

Excellence is about self reflection:  Without knowing who and where you are in your journey, it is difficult to continually pursue ever higher levels of personal or organizational achievement.  What values are of core importance to me?  How do I add value? What values are core to the organization?  How do we add value for our customers? Am I clear where I am taking my organization?  Am I communicating a standard of excellence?

Excellence is about continual, personal growth: Without professional growth, our performance, and that of our organization, will not be characterized by excellence.  Leaders need to be a role model for their teams.  They should ask “how can I use my strengths more fully to achieve the results we need to be successful?” It’s equally important to ask yourself and others,  “what do I, as a leader, not know and need to learn?  What skill do I need to develop and how should I apply them?”

Excellence is about setting the expectation for excellence: In environments that achieve excellence, the standard for it is communicated broadly throughout the organization.  The communication isn’t just verbal.  It’s communicated in goals and objectives.  It’s communicated in everyday actions.  It’s communicated in the quality of anything that’s produced, from emails and meeting agendas to products and services. It’s communicated in processes that focus on continual improvement.

Excellence is about creating a culture that looks at behaviors and results: Cultures that only look at results can become toxic.  It can be too easy to turn a blind eye to unacceptable behavior because “hey, he/she gets results.”  Leaders need to be as concerned with how people achieve results as with the results they are achieving. How do we meet our customer’s expectations, meet our business goals and behave ethically and with excellence? What behavior do we hold up as the gold standard in the pursuit of results?  What behaviors are completely unacceptable?

Excellence is about tapping into each person’s drive for excellence: The neuroscience of excellence tells us that higher and higher performance comes from the need to direct our own lives, to create new things and to improve ourselves and our world.  In his book, Drive, Daniel Pink talks about tapping into the third drive — the drive produced from engagement in the task itself when the task allows us to experience autonomy, mastery and purpose. Too many of our organizations are using what Pink calls the second drive – the carrot and the stick – to try to create higher levels of achievement. What we know is that this only takes achievement to the level of what one needs to do to get a reward and to avoid a negative consequence.  It doesn’t lead us to excellence.

Excellence is about improving those around you and managing performance: As the saying goes, the tide lifts all boats.  In order to instill a culture of excellence, leaders need to manage performance and development proactively by praising excellence and having the difficult discussions that are needed to improve performance.  Too often we short circuit the ability to achieve excellence because we are unable to give the difficult feedback that allows others to build their capacity to contribute.  Unfortunately, many of our performance management practices also drive a trend towards mediocrity by relying too much on the carrot and stick.

As Tom Peters did almost 30 years ago, go in search of excellence in your organization.  Model it, practice it, celebrate it and watch the impact on performance