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.
4 Reasons Strategy Isn’t Just for Executives Anymore
Add strategy development to your mid-level leaders’ job description. Sound a little radical? Let me explain.
There are 4 reasons why you need to do this.
The environment your company is working in is probably more complex than ever. Your market has new competitors. Probably even disruptors, either known or emerging. As soon as a new technology is implemented, and sometimes before it’s fully socialized, it feels like it’s already out of date. Even though it feels out of date, it’s probably more powerful than you could have imagined five years ago so how work gets done is changing. On top of this, your customers are demanding more of you, have more information than ever before, and have more choices.
This type of environment demands responsiveness, not just tactically but also strategically. If strategy is being developed by a few people at the top, it’s difficult to respond as quickly as is needed.
Enter the mid-level leader. These roles sit at the nexus of strategy and execution. They are close enough to the market and customers to have real-time information on what’s working, what’s not, what’s percolating under the surface, and what’s on the horizon. They can more readily evaluate how the strategy is working or not. They can explore and assess new opportunities and approaches without the risk of large scale, untested change.
Here’s the rub. As a recent article in Strategy + Business says “ “Most companies have leaders with the strong operational skills needed to maintain the status quo.” I’m working with a client that is struggling with this right now. They have strong functional leaders who need to be focused strategically to reach an aggressive product launch timeline. The article continues, “But they face a critical deficit: They lack people in positions of power with the know-how, experience, and confidence required to tackle what management scientists call ‘wicked problems.’ Such problems can’t be solved by a single command, they have causes that seem incomprehensible and solutions that seem uncertain, and they often require companies to transform the way they do business.”
One necessary transformation is creating cultures and processes that allow for continual partnership between executives and mid-level leaders focused on strategy. This partnership needs to:
Want the good news? I mean, in addition to being more responsive to market pressures? Engaging your mid-level leaders in strategy is a critical development and evaluation opportunity for high potentials and your succession planning. And it can be a powerful retention lever. Of course, not every mid-level manager needs to be involved in strategy and it’s not an on/off switch. Ramp up deliberately and planfully and re-evaluate as you go.
How should you handle a bad situation?
Facebook is facing a crisis. Cambridge Analytica used 50 million users’ personal information without their permission to create targeted campaigns during the 2016 presidential campaign. Users want answers. The media wants answers. Congress wants answers. Still, during this storm, Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg was conspicuously absent. From news accounts, it’s not just that he wasn’t appearing in public. He also seems to be invisible internally. One news account was speculating that we had more concern about protecting his brand than facing the bigger issues. He broke his silence yesterday, after #WheresZuck took over social media. By not being present, his leadership brand has taken the hit.
Crisis situations (and even garden-variety mistakes) often involve rapid rates of change in stakeholder perceptions and actions. How should leaders handle it when things go wrong? When poor decisions are made? When they simply make a mistake? Here are four tips:
How have you seen leaders handle bad situations?
How hard is it to get 100% of even the smallest group of people to agree on anything, never mind a whole company? We’ve all struggled with that dynamic. But when it comes to culture change, Konica Minolta CEO Shoei Yamana believes the number is a lot smaller:
“Across a big company it is impossible to get 100 per cent of people to change. But you only need 20 per cent of the people. If I can do that, I am 100 per cent confident I can change the whole company.”
Last week, the Financial Times asked me to share my perspective on culture change. Their How to Lead feature was a profile of how Yamana is moving Konica Minolta past 140 years of success into a new business model. I shared my perspective in their companion piece Ask the Outsider. While his journey is focused on leading a traditional, 45,000 person, Japanese company through a major shift, his insights can help anyone who is trying to change mindsets in their team, department or company.
What do you think? Is 20% buy-in the tipping point for change?
At NextBridge, we advise leaders and leadership teams on successfully changing their organizations and cultures.
What conversation would you like to have? Call me at 978-475-8424. I’d love to hear what you have to say.