Is the Term Leader Obsolete?

Umair Haque believes that leaders are responsible for the breakdown of our institutions and organzations.  In some ways he is right.  an updated persepctive on how we should manage our institutions would be healthy.

Clearly, most of those aspiring to the leader label have let us down. So now what? I propose that we develop a cadre of leaders who are willing to stand by a set of prescribed principles and virtues; further, I would suggest that we update the definition of leadership to incorporate the unique features of a global society.

Is it possible that the term “leader” has lost its allure, its freshness.?  Is it time to dump it and move on to a more meaningful term that has not as yet been blemished by organizational theory and practice — something more hip, with a little more pizazz?  That’s where Umair Haque is choosing to “lead” us — on a magical mystery tour of terminology and semantics.  But there is some truth in his offering.

Blogging for the Harvard Business Review, Umair Haque launches in by condemning the leadership of world leaders; in his words, ” This relationship isn’t working out…We’ve tried to make it work.  But it’s not us — it’s you (really)”.  To this extent, I agree — many of those in positions of leadership are just not getting the job done.  And it’s embarrassing.  In this global society, every failure, every demolition is a condemnation of the capitalist principles we have been dumping on the rest of the planet.

After a great deal of careful thought about leadership as a concept, Mr. Haque suggests that the problem is “leadership itself”.  In his view, rather than continuing with a “relic of 20th century thinking”, we should be “rebooting” leadership — coming up with a new way of managing people and institutions.

Haque suggests that the way we define leadership and the way we allow individuals to execute it is the problem. Let me present an alternative interpretation. The problem is not that leadership is obsolete; the problem is that the concept is in fact too advanced.   There are still many who are oblivious of what leadership means in spite of the masses of literature on the subject.  Just as our religious teachings and writings espouse love for humanity, there are those who will subvert their intent via  convenient misinterpretation.  There are others who chose an expeditious path or fear the loss of control that they feel would accompany embracing true leadership.  Leadership concepts seem clear enough; still leaders, due to ignorance or for personal reasons chose to abandon the game plan.

Following are summaries of Umair Haque’s arguments:

  1. Leadership skills were developed for a 20th century economics; the skills are not timeless.  He provides a couple of definitions of leadership that seem to support his view.  Really?  Leadership IS a timeless concept.  There have been leaders well before the 20th century and there will be leaders long after.  Leadership is a concept that continues to be redefined as the times dictate.  Most recently, the internet has created a need to re-examine how we can lead in a networking environment.
  2. Leaders do not lead.   Large emerging organizations create a need for someone to be a leader — specifically to navigate the politics of being a leading organization.  The role he describes is more of a manager of complexities.  There are individuals “lucky” enough to be the heads of organizations that were “lucky” enough to be every successful.  We have incorrectly assumed that these are great organizations with great “leaders”.  Being in the right place at the right time does not make someone a leader; leadership is earned just as respect is earned.  Still, there are organizations that experience success because of leadership.  And there are examples of this success cited in Mr. Haque post.  In fact, I was fortunate enough to work for a leader who worked the leadership principles with excellence.  And because he did his organization thrived.
  3. Leaders are employed to lobby for and help sustain dying organizations that would serve society best by dying a gracful death.  I agree.  There are individuals who fill this role and who are retained for this purpose.  However, I question whether these people are in fact leaders.  Calling someone a leader does not in fact a leader make.
  4. Since our institutions and organizations are in fact broken and outdated, our greatest challenge is not leadership but “building” better organizations.   Calling those who run our organizations by a different label isn’t going to change the quality of leadership or buildership.  In my mind, we still simply don’t get it.  Further, what Haque is suggesting is a redefinition of what leadership means.  Since we must address the challenges of the day, this is a healthy process.
  5. Leadership is the art of becoming, well, a leader. Constructivism, in contrast, is the art of becoming a builder — of new institutions. Like artistic Constructivism rejected “art for art’s sake,” so economic Constructivism rejects leadership for the organization’s sake — instead of for society’s.  I think it is healthy to continue to find new ways to look at the world and refine our thinking.  I think a number of the principles identified in this post are worthy of inclusion in a revised definition of leadership;  just as Bill Murray continued to relive Ground Hog Day until he understood the message and got it right, humanity will continue to experience disintegration and disunity until we get it right.  Still inventing a new term simply does not address the issue.  For a person to lead, they must understand the principles of leadership and  commit to understanding and executing the principles.  The people Hague is talking about in his article simply are not leaders.  Haque provides a list of individuals he calls either leaders or builders.  In my model, there are those who lead successfully in a particular way and there are those who lead for the purpose of building.  Further, in this list, there are some who are still trying to make their case as leaders who build (Obama) and those who have no business in a list of leaders (Palin).
  6. The 21st century doesn’t need more leaders – nor more leadership. Only Builders can kick start the chain reaction of a better, more authentic kind of prosperity.   What we need are more leaders who understand leadership and have the commitment to work it; I agree that “builders” are a critical part of this definition of leadership.
  7. Finally, Haque provides an arbitrary and convenient set of principles of constructivism.  For example, in his first principle he implies that leaders don’t learn from experience.  I think that true leaders would disagree with this belief.  I could spend a complete post examining these rpinciples.

I like that fact that Mr. Haque is starting a consultation on this issue.  He is quite right in assuming that many individuals that we call leaders are in fact failing to lead.  He is also right in stating that these people are in key positions and their lack of quality leadership has contributed to the deterioration of our  institutions.  However, twinning the concept of leadership with these absent landlords of leadership is problematic.

Put the blame where it belongs — not on the concept, but on the individuals failing in their responsibilities.  Continue to refine the definition of what leadership means by adding ideas such as inclusivity, unity and the good of all.

Leading Employees Through the Process of Change

This ladder is the perfect metaphor for the challenge of change.  It is an uphill battle full of twists and turns.  Those having an attitude of change require commitment, persistence and patience.

This ladder is the perfect metaphor for the complexities and dimensions of change. It is a frustrating uphill battle full of twists, turns and disappointments. Those having an attitude of change must be armoured with commitment, persistence, patience and lots of love.

I am sure you have heard it said that the only constant in this world is change itself.  And it is for this reason that I keep coming back to the topic of change, examining it from different perspectives.  With change going on around us at an alarming pace, our greatest wish might be to have the capacity to truly and comfortably keep up!   If only managers and employees could embrace change and alter their thinking “on demand”.

In my book, “Stepping Stones: Values Based Stories and Strategies for the 21st Century”, I acknowledged that change itself is a worthy value and allocated one whole chapter to the topic.  Change is simple to embrace when you are leading a process; as the conductor, you can detach from the anxiety of change because it is others who must comply with the flick of your baton.  However, when you are at the epicentre of a tumultuous and turbulent operation, you must share in the discomfort.  Yes, ain’t change wonderful!

In a previous post, I also introduced brief therapy. Most therapeutic tools address change directly using a rational approach, while confronting the conscious mind; brief therapy, in taking on the most difficult disorders enters through the back door, tapping into the sub-conscious mind and using the element of surprise and what many clients would perceive as being irrational, maybe even nonsensical  assignments.  While many therapies fail, brief therapy is claiming sensational enduring breakthroughs for clients who had given up any hope of emotional health.

Many direct techniques seem promising at first glance; however the relief of symptoms is not lasting and after yielding partial and temporary results from yet another magic bullet, clients simply give up and learn to accept their albatross.

This leads me into my most recent discovery on the process of change.  Not a therapy, the work of David Logan, a participant in the annual TED seminars (filmed March, 2009; posted Sept.2009), offers a model on how change occurs and thus some insights on how change agents can address the subject.   In this presentation, he is talking about tribal leadership — in his language, the people we associate with everyday form into tribes of  people ranging in size from 20 -150 members.

David Logan infers that tribal association influences how we understand and then participate in this world.  The weaker the tribal association, the weaker the capacity of the individual to participate in significant change.  He breaks down this human understanding into five categories or stages.

The first and least developed stage is “life sucks” and about 2% of the world’s population find themselves mired in the misery of this tribe.   They associate with individuals who have a commom understanding of the world and have severed from functional tribes to practice their own dysfunctional behaviour. Their group behaviour is justified by the fact that the complete tribe shares the “life sucks” perspective.  They are not positioned to participate in any meaningful change proecss.

The second stage is “my life sucks”. Sadly, 25% of people are stuck here, lacking belief in themselves and their capacity.  Although this is still a negative and a dysfunctional behaviour it represents an evolution in that the individual has escaped from the constraints of negative group behaviour.  The individual no longer acknowledges the need for membership in a reinforcing dysfunctional group.  Still their limiting vision of their personal reality affects the contribution they are capable of making in this state.

The third level, representing 48% of the population, is “I’m great” The positive side of this tribe is that the individual sees their own value.  On their own, they do their job effectively.  The challenge is that they do not value others.  The absolute limitation of this behaviour is that they cannot particpate effectively on teams of positve likemanided people.

The fourth level is “We’re great”, and it is great that almost 22% of folks have aspired to this level.  These are people who work in teams to achieve common work goals; with excellent leadership they have accepted a work vision and are working cohesively.  They have aspired to group benefit.

The final and optimal stage is “Life is great” and only two percent can be found at this level.  These are people who have a world embracing view, who are working for a fundamental global change.

In David Logan’s interpretation, true leaders only exist at level five.  Since his interest is in a world embracing change, leaders must be at this level; of course, it could be argued that leaders at level four indirectly support movement to level five, by drawing membership in level four.  Still at stage four group size is limited.  There is still a comparative view as opposed to an all inclusive stance found at stage five.

Since, as Mr. Logan points out, individuals only have the capacity to move up one level at a time, absolute change is a long term challenge.  Following are four difficulties that leaders, alias change agents must address:

  • What kind of manager are you?: Where do you fit on the continuum?  If you are reading this blog, there is a good chance you have at least reached stage three.  If, however, you intend on leading your employees to the promised land, you will need to embrace “life is great”.  It is interesting that this stage is strongly consistent with the writings of the Baha’i faith.
  • Considering your workplace, at which stage do the members of your group reside?: In the absence of leadership, your employees could all be members of different tribes — that is, at different stages.   It is interesting how the five stages come together and give the illusion of a cohesive community.  A conscientious manager will invest in truly knowing both thee limitation and the potential of the employee.
  • Develop strategies to gradually move all employees up the ladder: Knowing that your employees most likely will be sitting on different rungs of the ladder, you will be called upon to develop customized individual programs. It will not be easy.
  • Patience will be your greatest friend: As you try to inspire your crew to step up a rung, they will occasionally succeed and they will just as often fail.

This model highlights the importance of one of my persistent messages – that the true leader manages people; when epople are effectively managed, they will effectively deliver products and services.  What is your view of this model?  Please let me know what you think.

Happiness in the Workplace

The Dalai Lama tells us that happiness is more than a state of being it is also our life purpose.  In the workplace this means that we have a responsibility to model positive team building behaviour, even in the fce of those who chose onflict and destructuve behaviour.

The Dalai Lama tells us that happiness is more than a state of being it is also our life purpose. In the workplace this means that we have a responsibility to model positive team building behaviour, even in the face of those who chose conflict and destructive behaviour.

A young associate of mine recently shared with me, “I don’t have to like you to work with you”. I was shocked and amused by his comment. Shocked because I thought of him as a person who selected his acquaintances and clients with great care; although highly motivated and determined, he had a gentle, loving nature and clearly cared about the people who crossed his path. Amused because, I found myself judging him based upon his age – in my reactive analysis, he was just too young and inexperienced to have worked in a situation where there was interpersonal conflict. He was unable to mark the distinction between a loving work environment, where employees collaborate and support and enjoy time spent together at work and often beyond; and, of course, a destructive work environment where workers oppose each other and willingly undermine competitors to further their own advancement.

Only yesterday I was consulting with an associate and he commented on his workplace saying that their top man was toxic to the organization.  The bad news is that this person will not be leaving the workplace tomorrow.  So what can you do, in fact what must you do to create a work environment where a senior person makes life a living hell and you have no power to escape the influence of this person?

The loving, nurturing, helpful workplace contributes to improved health, while the stress and anxiety caused by an indifferent workplace lead to disease.

Could this be why the Dalai Lama (Vancouver Sun, Compassion for our Fellow Human Beings is the Key to Happiness, Sept. 25, 2009) says that the purpose of life is happiness. As the Dalai Lama cites “every human being wants happiness and does not want suffering”.

The Dalai Lama suggests that our mental development is of the greatest importance to each of us and this should be where we invest the greatest time and effort; and why is this important? As the Dalai Lama points out, “I have found that the greatest degree of tranquility comes from the development of love and compassion. The more we care for the happiness of others, the greater our own sense of well being becomes”.

To my young friend: it is not enough to work in an environment where we are polite and courteous to each other. We must invest in caring about the people in our lives and, yes, this includes the workplace. The Dalai Lama adds that “True compassion is not just an emotional response, but a firm commitment founded on reason”. The extreme of this commitment is unconditional love, where an individual continues to love in spite of the hurtful intentions of others.

So here are a few suggestions on how you can make a significant contribution to your workplace:

  • Treat your work as service: To take a service approach requires you to care for your colleagues and clients. It is not enough to deliver a service or product at the margin. You must be sure that the work you undertake is truly meaningful and appropriate.
  • Spend time with your colleagues and clients: This means that you must get to know them. You must be willing to listen to their ideas and they must know that you feel they are worthy.
  • Try to understand the motives of others: Nine times out of ten, people’s intentions are constructive and positive. They are in fact doing what they think is integral and worthy. Avoid your first response to react and take the time to dig a little deeper. This could pay huge dividends.
  • Think of your colleagues as family: Typically family protects family even when they can see the error of their ways. Be responsible to them by offering needed support and by occasionally offering a little honesty.
  • Use life tests as opportunities to grow in compassion: Understanding that more compassion in the world is a good thing is not enough; as the Dalai Lama points out, conflict creates the training ground for personal growth, “…and who creates such opportunities? Not our friends, but our enemies“. He says that we should start by feeling gratitude when a challenge is sent our way.

In conclusion the Dalai Lama puts an optimistic spin on the condition of man. He points out, if hatred and anger had been the predominant emotion on this planet, the human species would have ceased to exist. In his mind, it is the love and compassion that we show for each other that has permitted the human world to survive and thrive in many ways.

Please tell me what you think.  The person who chooses to lead in this way will surely become an ambassador of love.

The Workplace as Sanctuary

Every manager wants that devoted employee who seemingly will work long hours and take on ungent tasks.  Take a closer look because it may just be too good to be true.  The workplace may seem like a sanctuary in the shop term for employees escaping difficulties at home; however, in the long run a manager may lose a highly trained and valuable resource.

Every manager wants that devoted employee who seemingly will work long hours and take on urgent tasks. Take a closer look because it may just be too good to be true. The workplace may seem like a sanctuary in the shop term for employees escaping difficulties at home; however, in the long run a manager may lose a highly trained and valuable resource.

Strengthening Workplace Relationships

For some employees their workplace is a sanctuary; compared to the realities of their home life, it is a paradise.

These employees look forward to going to work in the morning, often choosing to arrive early and they are reticent to accept the end of the work day, regularly opting for overtime beyond the hours of darkness. In fact, they will choose to hang out in the quiet corridors of the workplace on weekends rather than finding themselves immersed in the anxiety and stress of homelife.

When the stress of addressing a problem at home becomes overwhelming, flight to what is perceived to be a safe environment is rationalized. The kinds of stress that may provoke this response include family violence against men and women, relationship dissolution, financial distress, depression in various forms, and emotionally and physically draining health issues affecting a family member.

What are the implications for the workplace? To begin, the line between home and work is becoming blurred. And just as some teachers believe that their role is teaching and not character formation, some managers believe that their role is solely to deliver services and products. They would gladly prefer to ignore than engage in this issue, usually because they are competent managers of services and products, not people.

A sensitive manager will observe and recognize this behaviour and will immediately confront the employee on the cause; together they will seek out appropriate solutions.  The work focussed manager will be elated that he has an employee who can take on excesses of work and overtime and will often be oblivious to the cause.

Failure to address the problem will result in an exacerbation of problems for the employee at home; the greater the stress at home, the more this will influence the employee’s and the unit’s productivity.  At some point, the manager will be faced with decisions about dismissing this employee.

Even if some managers do not have the tools to recognize a problem brewing, the good news is that someone in the work area will usually pick up on the clues and inform their superiors.  Given this good fortune, the role of the manager is simply to problem solve — to identify support available for this employee and either to recommend or require that the employee start a process of healing.  In larger organizations these supports are readily available and widely advertised; in smaller organizations, managers will have to be creative and may be well advised to incur some cost to retain a highly trained and valuable employee.  In addition, managers observing an empathic approach to workplace related problems will build trust and loyalty for the business.

The message for the manager is simple: Be proactive – look for the early signs – seek out competent help – confront the employee – demand some form of therapy – be visible (as you can be; some issues will demand absolute confidentiality) in your behaviour.

Once again this is the difference between a manager that manages products and services and a manager that manages people to deliver services and products. Which one are you?

The Advantages of Being Single in the Workplace

So you are single in the workplace and you are trying to establish whether

 Change your thinking…..Set your course      * Home     * About Me     * About Shiftack     * Stepping Stones     * Contact  The Advantages of Being Single in the Workplace 2009 November 23 by Craig Angus In curcumstances such as this where it is clear that one group is disadavantaged relative to another, it is normal to expect that an adversarial attitude would evolve over time; sadly, growth opportunities will disappear. The creative employee or manager will "flip the concept" and look at the isue with new eyes -- the result will be a motivated, excited and prosperous employee. What is most exciting about this approach is that control rests in your hands.  In circumstances such as this, where it is clear that one group is disadvantaged relative to another, it is normal to expect that an adversarial attitude would evolve over time; sadly, this negative approach to the problem will cause opportunities to dissolve before your eyes. The creative employee or manager will "flip the concept" and look at the issue with new eyes -- the result will be a motivated, excited and prosperous employee. What is most exciting about this approach is that control rests in your hands.

In circumstances such as this where it is clear that one group is disadvantaged relative to another, it is normal to expect that an adversarial attitude would evolve over time; sadly, growth opportunities will disappear. The creative employee or manager will "flip the concept" and look at the issue with new eyes -- the result will be a motivated, excited and prosperous employee. What is most exciting about this approach is that control rests in your hands.

being single is workplace purgatory or at the other extreme, a powerful bargaining position.  The simple and honest answer is that it is both.

But first, let’s talk about the overpowering evidence of single discrimination.  In her blog, “Nine to Thrive”, Michelle Goodman interviews psychologist and author Bella De Paulo who lists the “top issues plaguing singles in the workplace”:

  • Married workers can include their spouses and children in their health care packages, while singles experience a negative skew in benefits by only having the right for personal coverage.
  • De Paulo actually found a number of studies that revealed the shocking news that married male employees were paid more than their single counterparts.  One case study found a salary discrepancy of almost one-third.
  • Married employees experience favoritism when holiday and vacation time is being allocated.
  • Singles are more likely to be imposed upon to work overtime or to take on time-consuming and travel assignments.
  • There is a perception that the “life” of a married person has greater value than the life and time of a single person.

This is not a new issue as  Gillian Flynn explains in her 1996 article written for Personnel Journal.  Citing a survey of single and childless workers, Flynn noted that 80 percent or more of single/childless employees (1) felt they were excluded from work/family programs, (2) believed they were not receiving as much attention from management as employees with spouses and children, and (3) felt they were carrying more work burden than their married counterparts.  That is, they were contributing more, but receiving less benefit.

Clearly, over the years, management has become more family friendly.  This accommodation has been made at the request of employees with families — a concession designed to retain and attract quality employees in an increasingly competitive work environment.  There was a time when employees would be timid and apprehensive in job interviews hoping and wishing with fingers crossed that they had secured employment.  However, employers now  prepare a package for prospective employees, knowing they will also be  on the firing line during interviews.  The organization nows shares some of this timidity and apprehensiveness hoping they will not face rejection from a high quality prospect

Single and married employee represent different values to employers.  In the eyes of employers, the married employee is seen as a stable resource that depends security to meet family requirements.   Employers feel that a family is an anchor of sorts that will requires spouses and fathers to insist on a stable work environment.  The family employee will leave promptly at 5 but can be counted on to deliver a quality product during normal working hours.  The family employee will likely stay in one organization longer, since the interview process is a stress-or and results in some family instability.  The downside of the family employee?  The more present they are in their family responsibilities, the less they can be counted upon to deliver on urgent needs and perform unlimited overtime.  Finally, the married/family employee is the morn — that is, the family employee is more likely to have more in common with other employees; and in simple terms majority rules — the majority will drive new human resource polices and programs.

While the family employee is an ocean liner, the single employee, in the eyes of managers, is a PT boat — having the flexibility to change directions  quickly.   The single employee will stay later, stay longer and take on more urgent work.  It is hard for managers to think of singles as being loyal, because there is nothing preventing them from leaving tomorrow and causing the organization another costly staffing effort.

The fact of the matter is that this thinking is faulty and discriminatory.  Many married employees think career first and many single employees have time consuming interests away from work.  Many married employees consider overtime a necessary part of advancement, while many single employees would prefer to avoid the stress of short deadlines that involve excessive overtime.  Although this may be true, in some organizations, singles still face this form of discrimination.

Given this reality, singles do have choices:

  • Get married: I would not recommend this action, until you are ready; and of course this may never be the right step for you.
  • Leave: move on and find that organization that respects your status and your right to say no and not punish you for it.  Again, this assumes that you are not particularly motivated or are unable to change your thinking.
  • Play the game to advantage: there is a strong possibility that one day you will be married and will prefer to focus on family.  (There is also the assurance that about half of married employees will one day be single).  But for now, let’s have some fun and make this into a game.  And what is the game?  Use my singleness to advance as quickly as possible in this organization.   First, you will be exposed to work assignments that are above  your current level in the organization.  This means that in essence you are training for you superior’s job.  When these employee s head off on vacation or illness leave or maternity leave, you will be first in line to replace them on an acting basis — this means more experience and greater recognition that you can do the job and more bonding with senior persons.  When an opening occurs, you will be first in line to aspire to these higher levels.  And then?  Continue the process.  You will advance at a faster rate because of the experience and the visibility ans the attitude.  The good will that you will build with the management of your organization will stay with you for your tenure in that organization.

Changing your thinking is not a simple task.  First you must be aware of the possibility and the advantage of change.  I have employed this strategy with many employees and it has paid handsome dividends.  What do you think?

Principle-Based Management

hockey-hitA couple of weeks have passed since Ben Fanelli, a 16 year old rookie defenceman playing with the junior Kitchener Rangers of the Ontario Hockey League, was seriously injured by a viscious hit.   Hits like this one occur just about every game in amateur and professional hockey.   It’s part of the “code”.  Hockey is a macho sport and hitting is a tactic used to intimidate, in particular the skilled puck-carrying players on opposing teams; the end goal is to make these players think about something other than slick, efficient puck movement and thereby force errors.  In the eyes of sport officials, you cannot eliminate hitting from the game and retain the inherent nature of the sport.  Therefore,  responsibility lies with the player about to be hit to keep his head up and protect himself at all times; God forbid that a player is seriously injured, then officials will point a finger at the offending player who through some convoluted interpretation of the rules must be held accountable for the injury.    The issue here: a principled approach to responsibility for the consequences of hitting in the game is absent.

Since the beginning of the NHL hockey season, a number of star players have been seriously injured, mostly with concussions; and Ben Fanelli came close to losing his life.  He still has a major battle in his future to restore his health, let alone the possibility of returning to serious hockey.  The trend towards  serious injury has been increasing in recent years as players are bigger, faster, stronger, their equipment harder and their training better.  There used to be an unwritten rule that protected the best players; however, this has vanished with the respect for life and limb of opposing players.

Since this form of intimidation has become an important tool for coaches, each team recruits and trains a number of players best suited to this style.  League officials, miopic in their view, can only see the hitting in the narrowest context.  As a result nothing is done to protect the immediate or long term health of players.  In the short term, league brass need to protect valuable marketing assets; in the long term, officials need to consider the impact of serious hits on the health of players who will become fathers and husbands.

Given this context — an absence of appropriate rules to control the impacts of hitting — it is not surprising that the junior league needed a scapegoat to bear the brunt of the Ben Fanelli injury; Michael Liambis, a 20 year old veteran of the Erie Otters who delivered a hit arguably within the rules of the game has been outrageously suspended for a full year — a length of suspension which is unprecedented in the sport and which effectively ends his junior career.  What a burden to place on a young man!  He must deal with the suspension and the guilt, because the league says that he did something wrong and should be punished.  I hope he has found a competent therapist to help him through this ordeal.

To reinforce this picture of ambiguity, in professional hockey, if a hit does not result in an injury, it will usually go unpenalized.  If an injury results from the hit, the “offending” player is removed from the game pending a hearing by the league.  Usually a suspension results.

I agree with the junior league that someone must bear responsibility for the Ben Fanelli hit and, in my view the needless injury of this young player.  I disagree with the league that that the message should be sent at the expense of this boy’s junior career.  Clearly, responsibility lies with the league itself and for that matter all professional hockey leagues.  Ambiguous guidelines result in arbitrary decisions.

Come on hockey officials!  It is time to “fess up”.  With this kind of hitting in the game, you are quite fortunate no player has been killed.  You are quite lucky that more players have not suffered brain injuries.  It is surprising that more players have not been paralysed.  Are you waiting for the worst?

The Ben Fanelli hit is a wake up call.  “WAKEUP” before more serious injuries occur.  Extricate this abyss of ambiguity and confusion and replace it with a well thought out principle based solution.  Stop blaming players and show solid leadership in this area.

In closing, how about a little justice for Michael Liambis?  It would be appropriate to see the Ontario Hockey League relent on its severe punishment of Michael Liambis and allow this young man to finish his junior hockey career.  Michael, I am in your corner.

Do you know of situations in your workplace where ambiguity is used to advantage by your employers?  What should the principles be in this area?

How Not to Build Employee Morale

There are many effective techniques for team building that produce positive sustainable results.  Managers should use judgement in selcting exercises that may in the long term jeopardize the health of the organization and are clearly on the surface inappropriate.

There are many effective techniques for team building that produce positive sustainable results. Managers should use judgement in selecting exercises that may in the long term jeopardize the health of the organization and are clearly on the surface inappropriate.

Strengthening staff morale is difficult at the best of times; however, during a recession it is exponentially more challenging.   Employees are terrified that their positions may disappear.  Others are frustrated by the loss of promotions and bonuses.  Employers are under pressure to maintain production with fewer employees.  Clearly,  a good time is not being had by all.

So, considering the difficulty of the challenge, there is no better time than now for managers to securely affix their thinking caps and invent new and better ways of keeping employees motivated and committed.

Ben Leach at the reports on a very innovative approach to morale building.  On the advice of a business psychologist, a marketing and design company in the UK decided to work in the nude for a day.   (That’s right, in the nude.  Yes. I am shaking my head in dismay).  The psychologist, who long had this tool in his repertoire, considered it the most powerful team-building tool he could recommend.   Going nude for a day would be the optimal “stretch” for employees, making the shedding of inhibitions a walk in the park by comparison.  The end result was that colleagues and bosses  would communicate more openly and honestly.

A skeptic might coach me to “wake up” and acknowledge the obvious.  This ploy had little to do with motivating employess and everything to do with marketing a small marketing firm looking to increase market share.  The CEO might suggest to employees that  in difficult times employees must be prepared to “stick their necks out”, “take one for the old gipper”.   Bottom line: if we can attract publicity doing something outrageous, companies will be curious about other breakthrough marketing concepts we may have in our bag of tricks. Our jobs will be protected, our company will grow.

Whether this is true or not, it is important to set the record straight.  Certain things are acceptable in the workplace and others are not.

  1. What is the world coming to?: Surely there is a standard of behaviour that we need to model for other co-workers and for our children.  Rather than lowering ourselves to our animal instincts, perhaps we should be aspiring to a higher level of morality.  Morality is a spiritual and emotional experience:  There are many tools and experiences that support our commitment to one another.  For example, there are many trust exercises that allow us to focus on the emotional experience.
  2. Will this truly produce the desired result?: For some employees, this technique will probably lower inhibitions and they will function better in the workplace.   And I applaud all participants  for their courage; this experience was a huge stretch for all.  Although participants acknowledge short term benefit, they are still clearly in the honeymoon phase of this experiment.  A second set employees will he exercise.  They may feel isolated in the workplace; they may feel embarrassed; they may react with conflict masking the cause as something else.
  3. Let’s not pretend that this is not a sexual experience: This experiment may in the final analysis destroy the business in question.  Sexuality has nothing to do with morale; however, in this case, it may raise many issues for employees.  It could lead to certain employees no longer feeling comfortable around certain other employees.  It may lead to attraction to another employee. Or to sexual relations between employees and broken marriages.  This exercise is a huge risk and the cost benefit will only be measured in the long term.

Let me know what you think.  Would you participate in a team building exercise of this nature?  What exercises have you enjoyed that have produced lasting results?

Dealing with Workplace Tests Effectively

A person who chooses not to address tests constructively can become isolated from relationships and organizations.

A person who chooses not to address tests constructively can become isolated from relationships and organizations.

Last night my wife and I watched “Anger Management” for about the fifth time; it is one of those staples in our movie collection that never seems to tire.  The script, the direction and the impeccable performances of Sandler and the “Godfather” of Hollywood (Nicholson) achieved perfect alignment conspiring to produce a movie of destiny — one that will endure.  At different points during the viewing, each of us either giggled quietly or erupted into hysterical laughter.

Last night we were in the mood for something light, something funny, something fun.  On the surface this production delivers on this checklist and more.  You see what was marketed as humour,  actually is a powerful teaching tool on many fronts.  The director and writers have left us with a great deal of thought provoking content.

Most importantly, how are we doing with the management of our lives; and are we even aware of how our learned and acquired behaviour influences our decisions and the quality of our lives.

In life, there are those who make things happen, those who watch things happen and those who say “what happened”?

Being oblivious to the life we are living and the tests that we are facing is the greatest of sins; that is allowing the tail to wag the dog, allowing others to make the major and minor decisions in our lives without emotion or consequence or a sense of responsibility is simply a waste of a life.  Why do I speak of this with such disdain?  Well, I’ve been there; in retrospect, I have extravagantly wasted opportunity and I mean huge opportunity.

The next greatest sin is to be aware but to lack the permission, the empowerment to take control of one’s life.  In this scenario, we tend to defer to the apparently superior decision-making capacity of the “players” in our lives; these could be decisions about the workplace (policy, products or even personal careers).  Or they could influence our personal lives (decisions about who to marry, whether to have children, how to relate to relatives, who to befriend).

And yes, I know what this feels like as well.

I could go into a lot of depth about why this occurs and who is responsible; however, I prefer to focus on how to move forward, in spite of the baggage and influences that have cluttered our thinking.

Obviously, the first step is awareness.  If we lack awareness, change is less than impossible; without awareness, we don’t know what we don’t know and so change cannot happen.

For these people, a severe test often can kick start the process of enlightenment.  If you feel that you would like to be proactive and launch into a process of awareness on your own terms, you can work with a life coach to begin a structured awareness diagnostic that connects you to your strengths, challenges, passions and links into the physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual parts of your life.

With regard to the latter sin, the answer is to systematically take charge of your life.  By systematic, I mean act consciously to constructively address all test that you face.  By consciously I mean becoming aware of when you are being tested; your body will always be the first to know.  The most common signal can be felt in your chest — your body telling you that something is not right.   Use this prompt as a call to action.   An immediate and reactive stance will not usually produce positive results.  A systematic and constructive strategy usually will.

A strategy that produces growth must analyse the events that led to the angst in the pit of your belly.  It must establish whether there are related events that preceded it, say over the previous year.  This assessment must be integral in that you must honestly ask yourself whether you should shoulder all or part of the responsibility for this impasse.  And finally,you need to devise a solution to the problem that will build bridges, strengthen relationships and overcome obstacles.

This approach may sound overwhelming and idealistic; however, the reverse is true — it is the straightest line to restoring equilibrium and is quite realistic.  Working with a life/executive coach will provide a clearer demonstration of how these tools can be used effectively.

Please let me know what you think.  A dialogue on these issues can produce awareness and enlightenment.  Have a great week.

The Overwork Phenomenon

Reflections on Workplace Perspectives

Corporations who exploit their employees by manipulating an "overwork culture" are killing employee motivation, commitment and ultimately, production.

Corporations who exploit their employees by manipulating an "overwork culture" are killing employee motivation, commitment and ultimately, production.

The Business Pundit, in his April 6, 2009 post,  shares five ways that organizations sabotage their own success by breeding incompetence:  using numbers as the only device to measure performance, spreading workers too thin, expecting too much too soon, putting a bigger premium on politics than performance, rewarding mediocrity.

    Each of these contribute to poor employee morale; and, I have watched organizations self destruct, oblivious to how manager competence distanced the employee from organizational goals.  I have also consulted with owners and managers feeling the pain of their own poor decision-making.

    I would like to focus on one of these — overworking employees.  I am sure you have heard of survivor syndrome.  During downsizing,  employees dismissed or laid off tend to attract our sympathy — loss of income, threat to home and family, challenges of being rehired in a difficult economic climate.  Those who keep their jobs are referred to as survivors.  They keep their positions and maintain their income.  However, in a poorly managed environment, remaining workers can be asked to work harder and longer hours.  The risk, of course, is fatigue and eventual burnout.  This employee may end up on sick leave or may willingly choose to leave.  Indeed, the survivor will only survive in a competently managed work environment.

    This kind of burnout may also occur in growing companies.  As  companies expand, there is a point where revenues are not sufficient to fund needed growth in staff.  In this situation, managers will lean on the goodwill they have built with their best employees.   They will pressure trusted and devoted staff to work harder and longer hours.   Initially, the request will be for a short period; however, tettering on the edge between ordinary and superior, the manager will demand more help.   As one distraught manager shared with me, “I pushed them too hard for too long.  I lost the employees that I knew would be key players in my expanded company.  They no longer trusted me to treat them fairly”.

    No employee should be expected to overwork for an extended period of time.  This level of dedication could be achieved for a short period with the promise of benefits like promotions and stock options;  however, eventually something will give — employee health, employee morale, employee performance, employee trust.

    We should not overlook that managers are also under a great deal of stress, either from their managers expectations, overpromising to their managers out of fear or from the bleak reality that their businesses are under threat of extinction.  Still, overworking employees can be blindly perceived as an optimal short term strategy.  Managers must develop, perhaps in consultation with their reliable and trusted staff, more sustainable work strategies.

    Corporations can also contribute to the problem by creating fear of job loss.  In a highly competitive work environment and job market, corporations need their employees to overwork so they can compete, let alone survive.  In Reflections of a World Citizen, the blogger cites ” Willing Slaves: How the Overwork Culture is Ruling Our Lives” (Bunting , 2004).  Bunting’s shocking finding is that corporations are in fact engineering the overwork mindset causing job intensification, in effect burning out their workforce.  She refers to this action as “the most exploitive and manipulative work cultures developed since the Industrial Revolution”.

    The problem isn’t whether employees can find work says Anonymous Employee-Helping You Solve Your Problems at Work .  The problem often is that employees end up with too much work affecting their lifestyle, their health and production.  In effect, the culture that our material society has created in not healthy or happy for the employee.

    I have focussed on overwork to make a point.  The essence of this issue is the role that managers can play to ensure that employees are healthy and productive.

    Have you found yourself caught in one of these work environments?  How did you cope?  What do you see as viable solutions where workers are under constant stress to work long hours?

    Finding Happiness During A Recession

    The best way to be happy during a recession is to insulate yourself from its effects through preparation; however, when this is not possible, there are still many strategies that we can employ to ovecome debilitataing effects.

    The best way to be happy during a recession is to insulate yourself from its effects through preparation; however, when this is not possible, there are still many strategies that we can employ to moderate a recession's debilitataing effects.

    The weather over the past month has been beautiful; but the pressure — juggling three lines of work — has been intensely, well, wonderful.  Otherwise stated, considering the fatigue and angst that accompany this challenge, I am a happy boy.  In fact, I might go as far as saying that I am blissfully content.  Considering the long days and the focus required to progressively pick off the items on my seemingly endless to do list, some might feel I have earned the right to be just a little grumpy and stressed-out, and as my wife would attest, there is a little of that acting out going on.  However, in all honesty, I am in a great place — enjoying the long hours, excited about life’s prospects and finding life to be quite exhilarating.

    Finding happiness in difficult times — like this recession — is challenging.  Whether you are at risk of losing your employment and income or are overworked trying to maintain production with fewer employees, you are likely to feel intense anxiety.

    Karen Mazurkewich (The Financial Post, Saturday, March 14, 2009) talks about the “world’s collective mood”. Citing numbers from Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index in the United States, it appears that in December of 2008, the American mood hit a 26 year low. In less than one month, the percentage of Americans at least somewhat happy dropped from over two thirds to just 35%. It is not a huge stretch to suggest that it was during the pre Christmas period that the harsh reality of the worldwide recession really hit.

    Clearly, people were not reacting to death, divorce or illness, the three principle “downers” in the happiness index; they were, of course terrified that the economic downturn would force their organizations to cut jobs. Although a job loss causes loss of family income and high levels of stress, the key issue is the stigma that comes with the loss of employment identity; and then, once bitten by job loss, the reality of a repeat performance is forever etched in your psyche.

    After a friend experienced job loss for the first time, he was counselled to expect four more layoffs during his career, a prophesy which was ultimately fulfilled.  He told me that after the second time he was “fired”, he began to accept downsizing as a reality of life.

    “Although that first layoff was a shock and it left me feeling very discouraged and depressed, I knew from that point on that another firing was a strong possibility.  So I conditioned myself to prepare for the worst and treat it as part of my normal routine”.

    For my friend, when the next layoff took place, he still continued to “go to work”; however, the new interim work was finding a new position.  He resolved that this process would be handled in as normal a way as possible; and just as important that he would treat himself with kindness — that means feeling dignified, having fun and staying positive.

    Losing your position or being part of the downsized and leaner team under pressure to outperform competitors is stressful; so on this beautiful Friday, here are a few strategies you can employ to “be happy”, or at least strengthen your happiness quotient, when times are tough:

    1. Buffer your life against crisis: Try to live a modest life.  Always under consume your income (if you can).  Save for a rainy day.  Diversify your income streams.  Have a back up strategy.  Trying to keep up with the Jones is a death sentence.  When your spending to achieve lifestyle equals your income, by definition, your always one month removed from bankruptcy.
    2. Choose to be happy: This is easier said than done.  If you are on the verge of bankruptcy, about to lose everything you have accumulated over a lifetime, you are clearly feeling intense angst every second.  So in making this comment, I am not trying to minimize your pain or your challenge.  Still, once you have done all you can do to address the challenge, allow yourself to be positive, see the glass as half full, avoid obsessing about things over which you have little control.  Most material possessions are disposable; while spiritual pursuits are perpetually enriching.
    3. Flip the concept: With every test comes an opportunity.  It could be a new career direction or a chance to pursue a passion you have shelved for a good part of your life.  By looking for the opportunity, you have adopted an attitude of search.  Because you are searching you will find.
    4. Celebrate your accomplishments: Take a look at the parts of your life that are working well: make an exhaustive list of the ways in which you feel blessed. Include all the little things that we typically overlook.  You will be shocked when you discover just how much we have.  Pamper yourself and your family. Get creative about the low cost things you can do to celebrate life with your family. Scour the net and newspapers for ideas, games. Spend quality time with family and friends.
    5. Reach out to others in need: The best way to develop perspective on life is to serve others.  I am not sharing this idea because it allows you to compare your plight to others less fortunate.  I am saying this because serving humanity is good for the soul and helps to position giving in your life.  There are many people in this world who have very little, largely because they have chosen a life of service to others.

    I would love to hear your stories of trying to cope during difficult times.  How did you deal with the challenge and with the emotions?