Posts

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.

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.

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

Why Should I Follow The Leader?

Earlier in my career, I was interviewing with the SVP, the chief people officer, for a senior role in a large organization.  He was still fresh to the company, having been there about 6 months.  I asked him where the firm was going and what made him get up in the morning and go to work.  He looked at me and with a shrug said, “Edith, it’s insurance,” like it was the craziest question in the world.  How silly to expect that a senior leader, six months into his job would be able to articulate a compelling picture of the place he worked.  He had a golden opportunity to communicate his vision of what this organization was about and where it was going and he came up with nothing. There was no second interview.

This story is not meant to reflect badly on the insurance company. I know plenty of executives in insurance companies who would answer that question very differently.

This SVP obviously wasn’t able to communicate a vision. Over the past 18 months, many of our organizations have been lacking in “the vision thing.” We’ve been focused on a lot of things that were important but  that people perceive as negative — cutting costs, losing sales and revenues, reducing headcount.  But as the recovery starts, we need to think about where we want to go from here, because it won’t be where we were before 2008.

Whether you are hiring to rebuild your team, developing employees, or trying to retain or more fully engage your talent, the first step for taking performance to the next level and creating competitive advantage is to develop Compelling Clarity. Compelling Clarity is about creating a vision and expectations that are so clear it is difficult to say ‘where are we going?’ or ‘what should I be doing?’and so compelling no one needs to ask ‘why am I doing this?’ Instead, they say ‘I need to be a part of this.’

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Where does my organization (or division or group or…) need to go?
  • Why are we going in that direction?
  • What will we look like a year from now?
  • What top priorities will get us there?
  • How will we know we’re successful?
  • Why do I want to be a part of this?  Why would someone else want to be a part of this?

If your answer is “I don’t know” to any of these you’re going to be less able to attract or retain top talent as you move forward. You’ll be appealing to people who want a job but not attractive to people who want to make an impact.  Without a sense of where they’re going, you’re people can’t perform at the high levels you need.

Be ready to talk about your vision.  Gauge the reactions to it.  After all, you don’t want to find yourself saying, with a shrug, “Edith it’s…”

 

Four Ways Bosses Add Value

Effective LeadershipThere have been many times when I’ve witnessed an epiphany happen for bosses. It’s the moment they realize that having the answer is not the only way they add value. Too often, even experienced leaders believe that the most important part of their job is to have all the answers. Having the answer is only one way that bosses add value and, while it has short term benefit, over the long run these four actions can be even more valuable:

        • Listening: One of the ways people grow is to be given the opportunity to think through situations and issues and to have someone who will listen to their ideas and potential solutions. Strong working relationships are forged when there is opportunity to speak knowing the other person will listen.

        • Asking questions: Telling someone an answer gives them the benefit of your thinking and experience. Asking questions allows the individual to learn from your thinking and his own thinking. Effective questions are not those that are ‘gotcha’s’ or ones meant to show the other person how much you know. Effective questions help the individual think about problems and issues more broadly. They ask them to consider the ‘why?’ of a situation, the implications of taking a certain action, the perspective of others involved or the pros and cons of a certain course of action.

        • Recognizing and reinforcing: Recent research shows that the average ratio of positive to negative feedback by high performing team is almost 6:1. For low performing teams, its about a 1:1 ratio. In the same research, for better than average performers, positive feedback raised performance for 62% of them by as much as 24%. Since most of a boss’ team is made of up these better than average performers, the value added by recognizing and reinforcing performance has an exponential impact on results.

        • Visibility: There are two types of visibility. Boss’ add value when they give the people on their team visibility into what is going on in other parts and levels of the organization. Whether someone aspires to be ‘the boss’ one day or not, it’s important to know what others view as important, what’s valued, what’s not important or even career limiting. It’s also important to raise your team members’ visibility within the organization. You add value to their career and add value to your own by showcasing the great people you have hired and developed.

Next time you’re thinking that your main job is to give your team the answer, think about these other opportunities to add value. Are you adding as much value as you can?

What To Do When A Senior Leader Leaves

Executive ExodusI’ve been hearing from some of you about changes that are occurring in your company.  A few people have talked to me about senior leaders leaving their organizations — their manager or the executive who leads the division, department, or group.  Anytime someone leaves a work group it’s disruptive to the group but when a senior leader leaves, the organizational shock waves can really knock you back.

When a senior leader leaves and you are a leader in the organization, you are in a difficult position.  You are trying to navigate this change yourself and trying to provide guidance and support for others.

It’s common when a senior leader leaves, that the organization and you as an individual:

  • Feel like the rudder has come off the boat. As much as we talk about shared leadership, there are special expectations of leaders at the top.  They are the ones who establish a vision or direction and guide the organization in pursuit of that vision.  Without that, we feel we’re in a boat without a rudder.
  • Aren’t sure what to do.  People start to ask “is this still important?” “I was in the middle of this big project, will it continue?” “What about…?
  • Wait for the other shoe to drop. Now that X has left, how soon will it be until others leave?
  • Wonder what that person knows that they don’t. People will often question why the person left and because the reason isn’t often public information, people fill in the blank with negative reasons.

You’re thinking these things and you’re pretty sure you’re people are, too.  How do you lead now?

  • Reiterate that, unless a new person has been put in the role already and made a significant announcement, the direction has not changed. Clients and customers still need what they needed yesterday.  The products or services you provide haven’t changed.  You work in the same locations.
  • Use the opportunity to solve challenges collaboratively. If the person who left was your direct boss and you now find that you don’t have a sounding board, find a colleague you trust and can collaborate with around ideas and solutions to problems.
  • Take the bull by the horns. This may be that opportunity to shine you’ve been looking for.  When the world seems to be falling apart, if you are able to keep yourself and those around you together, you’ll be remembered.  Review what your team is doing.  Assess what the priorities are.  Maintain focus and direction.
  • Open up the dialogue. Talk and listen to the people on your team and the people around you.  Listen to the anxiety and concerns they’ll have, no matter how outlandish they seem.  Assure your people that, as of right now, you are still pursuing certain projects,  your customers still have needs, and that the business is still functioning as it was.  Let them know that the situation will probably be fluid and dynamic for the foreseeable future and commit to sharing what you can as soon as you can.
  • Talk to the new or interim leader as soon as you can. Introduce yourself and let him or her know that you want to provide whatever support you can during the transition.  Ask what he or she plans for the next 60 – 90 days.  Help this individual learn about your team. Position yourself to be viewed in a very positive way.  Do great work and help your team do great work.
  • Prepare for what may be next. It’s no secret that new senior leaders often change the membership of their new leadership teams.  If you reported directly to the previous incumbent, be prudent and prepare for the possibility that you may find yourself in different circumstances when the new leader is done putting his or her team in place.  Dust off your resume.  Make sure your network is working.  Think about what your next move could be if you needed to move on.

 

Quiet Leadership

Quiet Leadership

I had the opportunity this weekend to recall a fascinating story I read in The New York Times several years ago, about a leader most of us would never have heard about had they not chosen to write about her. She was about to retire after 25 years of leadership in her role as CEO of a $4.2 billion hospital network, one of the largest Catholic hospital networks in the nation. Formed in 1986, it consolidated the management of 15 hospitals and 2 nursing homes in Missouri, Oklahoma, Illinois, and Wisconsin.

 

Here are some statistics and facts from her time as CEO:

  • During her 25 year tenure, operating revenues quintupled to $3 billion in 2010.
  • The hospital network produced a net income that year of $247.9 million and provided $115.4 million in uncompensated care.
  • A decade ago, she led a relentless campaign to improve performance resulting in the first Malcolm Baldridge Quality Award given to a health-care company.
  • She pays blue collar workers in the system above scale.
  • She has turned away arrangements with doctors who do not accept Medicaid.
  • She preaches about the dignity of patients.
  • She has made her hospitals smoke-free and banned the use of foam cups and plastic water bottles.
  • She has worked for free.*

Sister Mary Jean, a Franciscan nun, is characterized by those who know her as having iron-willed competence and unblinking compassion.  Her values-driven approach is what makes her health-care system distinct from some of its secular competitors yet does not seem to have detracted from its success. Those who underestimated nuns as managers “made a mistake,” Sister Mary Jean said.  Based on her track record, I think she’s right.

*Because of her vow of poverty Sister Mary Jean accepted no pay for her work but the health-care system compensated her $1.9 million in compensation for the labor of all of the Franciscan Sisters of Mary who worked in the system.

What Storytellers Can Teach Leaders

StorytellingPicture this scene.  We come into work on Monday morning and everyone is gathered around the coffee station, talking about their weekends.  Several people share the litany of activities they were involved in — ‘we went to Home Depot, watched my daughter play soccer and caught a movie.’  You start to think, “I really need to get to my desk and get to work.”  Then someone says, “Let me tell you what happened at this event I attended Saturday night.  We were all sitting down to dinner when…”. Your ears perk up, you really start listening and that work you needed to get to can wait.  You’re pretty sure you’re about to hear a great story.  Odds are that story will be repeated by everyone in the group to at least one other person.  On the other hand, very few people will remember the trip to Home Depot.

Leaders can learn a lot from great storytellers.  Leaders need to influence people to move in a particular direction, to buy into a vision, to join you in tackling a challenge.    Great storytellers know how to convey information so that we respond both emotionally and intellectually. In a post from American Economist Olivia Mitchell, she shares tips on how to tell stories like one of the great storytellers, Malcolm Gladwell (author of Outliers, Blink, The Tipping Point).  She uses examples from a chapter in Gladwell’s book Outliers to illustrate her points.

1.  He starts with one subject

Gladwell’s book explores why certain people are exceptionally successful.
We hear personal stories and detailed statistics – but Gladwell always starts with a story about one particular person.

2.  He paints word-pictures

Before he starts his story, we get a description of the main character. So as Gladwell tells his story, we can visualize the person in our minds.

3.  He gives us detail

He describes in vivid detail the circumstances that the character faced.
He gives examples that bring it to life.

4.  His characters speak

Gladwell doesn’t just narrate a story – he has his subjects tell the story in
their own words:

5.   He makes us curious

Gladwell tells the character’s story without revealing exactly why it’s
important.  He creates a bit of a mystery and promises to unravel it.

6.   He multiplies the story

He uses more than one example.  He uses an example of one person and
then shows how it is a story shared by many, many people.

7.  The clincher

Gladwell adds the clincher to prove his point.

The power of stories is real.  A large part of my work is facilitating teams and groups.  One thing I’ve noticed is the impact of stories on involvement and engagement.   When I start a sentence with “Let me tell you about a time when..” or “let me tell you a the story of…” The heads in the room pop up, people lean forward, IPhones they were looking at under the table are put away.

We all are looking for that emotional connection in the sea of facts and information we’re exposed to at work every day. Stories from leaders make them more human, help people identify with the what and why of a situation and to take action.  How have you used stories today?