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.
Three weeks ago, I had the pleasure of working with two executive teams. Their businesses are very different. One is over 20 years old with almost 4000 employees. The second is a start-up driving towards commercializing its first product. While different, both of them were exploring a common question. Who are we today and who do we want to be?
In both cases we started with who the team wanted to be so we could frame that sometimes more difficult conversation – who are we now?
Answering this question requires that these executives become aware of and more comfortable with the answers to several other, deeper questions about themselves and the team:
- Do we fully understand who each of us is? Do we understand how each of us filters information, makes decisions and communicates?
- Are we aligned around a common vision of where this company or department is going? And how are we, as a team, are leading it? This may seem obvious, but misalignment amongst leadership is a common cause of organizational dysfunction and average performance.
- Are we role-modeling the characteristics we want this organization to exhibit?
- How are we pushing each other to step out of our comfort zonesin a productive and effective way? Innovation doesn’t happen when everyone is comfortable.
- How do we provide impactful feedbackto each other so that we increase the team’s effectiveness rather than diminishing it?
- What about when the inevitable happens – when we’re sometimes annoying each other? Are we avoiding certain people? Aggressively confronting them? How well is it working? There’s a third option that gets better results.
Why so many questions? Because good answers require good questions. In today’s environment, personal and organizational curiosity is a prerequisite for leadership and business growth. And if you’re not digging deeply…, you’re limiting the depth and speed of your growth.
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.
Yesterday, I had the opportunity to spend time with job seekers at the Harvard EdPortal. We were discussing the importance of being change ready and resilient. We talked about how important it is during a job search. And, how important it will continue to be once they land their next opportunity.
Here are the five tips I shared with them on being resilient in the ever-changing world we live and work in.
Stay positive — what is the opportunity?: The natural human reaction to change is to think about what you are losing or have lost. Instead, think about what opportunities a new or unexpected situation is affording you. How can this benefit you even as you help the organization? What skills do you bring to the table that will help you thrive? What will you need to do differently to make that happen?
Focus on what you are learning: Every experience in life allows us to learn something, and nowhere is this more true than in a changing environment. It may be we learn more precisely what it is we like to do (or not do). Or where we excel and where we struggle. If we remain open-minded, we often find new ways of seeing and doing things. New experiences can also tell us what we need to unlearn. What is it that is no longer serving us well? What mental models are getting in the way? The greatest skill development comes when we are faced with new challenges – if we face them with energy and intention.
Change ‘either/or’ to ‘both/and’: Too often, we look at situations as “either/or.” For example, I may think that I either stay or I go. It’s either good or bad. More often, especially in the complexity we face today, we need to move to thinking “both/and.” Both/and thinking would be more like “How can I stay and contribute while preparing for the possibility of leaving?”
Identify what is not changing: Even though it may seem like everything is changing, there are many things that are not. Who you are as a person, what you bring to a situation, and the skills, experience and capabilities you have are not changing. In a more tangible way, there are probably many things about your organization that are not changing. Does it have the same mission? Are its core values immutable? Is what delights your customers the same?
Focus on what you do control: Usually we have more control than we initially recognize. Too often people feel like change is something being done to them. They feel there is no option but to just accept it as it is. In some ways, this can be true. For example, if your company is being acquired, you can’t stop the sale from occurring. You do, however, control how you think about and respond to the change. You can choose to resist or make the best of the situation. You can ask how to best contribute to the new organization. You can seek out information, education, and new projects that align with the changes. You can provide constructive feedback in a positive way at the appropriate times. You can reach out to help others make adjustments. Ultimately, if the new situation isn’t to your liking, you can opt to move on – maintaining your relationships and reputation as you go. Control is much more of an internal state of mind than an objective, immoveable reality.
Build a support system: The most resilient people are not resilient because they can face any situation on their own. They are resilient because they have a network and support system that helps them in a variety of ways. Sometimes it’s emotional support. Sometimes it’s resource support. Sometimes its expertise. Sometimes it’s something you don’t even know you need yet.
Resilience is a multifaceted skill, which can be purposefully developed over time. It’s also a state of mind. As either a job seeker or a leader looking to develop resilience where you are now, it begins with how you think about the challenges and changes in front of you. What are you focused on?
We’d love to hear your tips for building resilience. Share them with us by clicking here.
Bad behavior. Harassment. Assault. Over the past few weeks we’ve seen a tidal wave of reports of sometimes unbelievable behavior by leaders in politics, media, and many other industries. None of this is new. It’s just coming to the surface. And, for those of us who are old enough, it’s not surfacing for the first time.
These incidents and behaviors didn’t happen in a vacuum. The ones that don’t get media attention don’t happen in a vacuum either. Whether in a corporate, government, educational or non-profit setting, organization cultures have either implicitly or explicitly permitted them to happen. You may look at your organization and say, “that doesn’t happen here.” but I think far more of you would say, “yes, it does or could happen here.”
Now is the time to take an unvarnished look at your culture and ask some difficult questions:
- What does our culture reward? If someone gets things done or gets great results, are bad behaviors ignored?
- Are some powerful people’s behaviors the elephant in the room? Is it common knowledge that they behave in an unacceptable way but no one addresses it?
- When concerns are voiced, are they ignored or shrugged off as “just how that person is”?
- Is favoritism common? Is it an unspoken rule that some people can say some things while other people can’t?
- Is it a significant concern that, if someone raises an issue, there will be retaliation?
These aren’t easy questions. Your company may currently be very successful (making money or impact or enjoying a great public reputation). However, answering yes should be viewed as a warning sign that your culture may be permitting very bad behavior and your good reputation may be short lived.
How do you build and execute strategy successfully in the context of how we work today? I think that’s a big question for any company – large or small – because the landscape is changing so quickly.
Traditionally, strategy was built by a relatively small number of senior executives and then cascaded down through the ranks to be executed. Roles were clear. Executives developed and monitored. Middle managers made sure work was aligned. Everyone else executed.
In this approach, those senior executives had the best vantage point to know what the strategy should be. Markets and competition were relatively stable. The executives had often spent years in the industry and often grew up in the firm.
Fast forward to markets that change rapidly, competitors who enter quickly and at times disruptively, and organizations where few people spend their entire career. The traditional strategy development model doesn’t work.
In our opinion, there needs to be a very different approach. Here are five ways we need to approach strategy development and execution differently:
- Strategy development needs to involve more than just the most senior executives. Strategy is becoming more fluid and iterative. There is information, data, and people throughout the organization that need to be included. Leaders at highest levels of the organization with years of experience don’t have enough expertise because what created today’s success may or may not create tomorrow’s.
- Mid-level roles – whether it be mid-level leaders or high-expertise individual contributors – need to be redefined. These roles are no longer just about executing strategy but about shaping and influencing it. They have information and perspective that the organization needs to compete.
- Strategic-thinking needs to be a capability that is viewed as necessary at all levels in the organization. The behaviors will look different but it can’t only be valued and assessed at the most senior levels.
- Communication and alignment around the strategy need to be continual. Agility in an organization allows people to be proactive when opportunities arise. Alignment ensures that resources are put behind the right opportunities. Discussions about strategy and opportunities needs to be part of the ongoing conversation at all levels in the organization.
- Risk needs to be part of the plan. Organizations cannot seek perfection at the expense of good. Failure will occur as new opportunities are pursued. For many organizations, this is a real culture shift and one that will need to be approached intentionally and purposefully.
The benefits of rethinking strategy in this way? Increased speed and innovation. A more responsive organization. Improved execution. Higher engagement levels. However, getting there won’t happen overnight. You need a plan.
We’ve worked for over 20 years helping organizations clarify and execute their strategy. We also know how to help you thrive during change. How can we help you?