Category Archives: leadership

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 The problem is not that leadership is obsolete; the problem is that the concept is in fact too advanced.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 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?

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?

The Risks Associated with Empowering Employees

If empowerment results in your "boat being beached", then you may want to examine what you need to change.  Effective empowerment is a thing of beauty for managers and most importantly, team members.

If empowerment results in your "boat being beached", then you may want to examine what you need to change. Effective empowerment is a thing of beauty for managers and most importantly, team members.

Empowerment — friend or foe?  In simple terms, it depends on you.  First you must understand what empowerment means and then you must have the willingness to execute effectively.

A school principal had little good to say about technology.  “I thought that e-mail was supposed to make my life easier” he lamented, “I now have to start work an hour earlier so I can check the surprise e-mails before the school day begins.  You know the ones — I can’t show up for work today because of a death in the family or an illness or some other complication”

This is not empowerment; the manager has sold the farm.  This manager has allowed this system improvement to dictate the rules of the game.  By having no boundaries around the implementation of technology in the workplace, he has told his employees, “go ahead and behave as you wish, complicate my day; I empower you to treat me anyway you want”.

I am sure that teachers would love the looseness of this operating principle.  They can share their excuses impersonally while the principal is left scrambling to fill teaching holes.  Technology has changed dramatically since this complaint was lodged — texting and immediate messaging are now common place; however, the lesson continues to be relevant.  Empowerment comes with guidelines that strengthen the team; these operating principles are both ethical and practical.  That is, empowerment only works where there is respect for team members and for the system itself.  Empowerment only works if the loss of control of the work to team members can be offset with effective and regular substantive communication.

I am not trying to discourage you from empowering your employees; there are just too many good reasons for continuing in what many managers would consider a stressful dilemma.

For example, LaTosha Johnson at Brazen Careerist comes at the issue of empowerment from two points of view — the importance of getting employees excited about their work and the importance of fulfilling the prophesy that the people you hire are indeed the “best and brightest”.   Failing to empower is indeed the greater sin when compared to the complications of mismanaging the empowerment process.

In this difficult economy, restaurants are trimming costs, offering discounts and promotions; however, the restaurants with the strongest instincts for survival are implementing employee empowerment as a survival technique says Evan Noetsel in his blog, Chef’s Stirrings from Chef Magazine.  He shares the story of Ian MacGregor, president and owner of  The Lobster Place.  “My general management philosophy when it comes to employees,” he said, “is that nobody ever washed a rental car–meaning, if an employee doesn’t feel like they own something, they’re not going to take care of it. So, we try and empower our employees as much as possible because no matter what level they’re working at, if they feel as though they have ownership over their group of responsibilities, then they’re much more likely to stay with us than turn over, the way [that] is typical in the industry.”  In this case, empowerment means employee retention and avoiding expensive recruitment and training costs.  It also means employees working harder and more efficiently.

As a manager who appreciated the power of the employee, I was quick to empower; however, I was also cautious in how I empowered employees.  So this Friday in “Craig’s Top Five List”  I will offer five strategies that the manager can employ to effectively empower employees.

Measuring Success in the Workplace

Reflections on Workplace Perspective…..

As you know, I am constantly in search of ideas from other domains that might be of relevance for the workplace.  One rich source of leadership can be found in the domain of team sports; and when I recently discovered a TED presentation recorded by John Wooden, a coach I highly respect, I knew he would provide some useful food for thought.

Drawing on a lifetime of experience working with young athletes, coach Wooden offers his personal paradigm for measuring success in his sport.  For those of you who don’t know John Wooden, he is considered by many to be the best college basketball coach of all time; he currently holds the college record for most career wins.

Although the record holder for career wins, retired basketball coach is best known for his leadership skills in developing young athletes and men.

Although the record holder for career wins, retired basketball coach is best known for his leadership skills in developing young athletes and men.

In this TED presentation, Coach Wooden comments on how coaches, players and fans are conditioned to measure success in terms of games won or points scored. In his mind there is a dilemma with this kind of measurement – each of us is blessed with different levels of ability. That is, from year to year, the collective talents of the players he is able to recruit can vary dramatically.  This fact alone means we must find a more balanced and instructive measure of performance that establishes a level playing field; and one that supports motivation and high levels of achievement.

So, coach Wooden offered the following model of performance:

  • Performance is measured in terms of effort. “Always be the best you can be”. If you put in the effort, “the results are about what they should be”.  Further, winning and losing can be poor indicators of effort, since a great effort can result in a loss and poor effort can result in a win. Wooden suggests that we never speak about winning; instead we should focus on the effort or action required to achieve the goal.
  • Coach Wooden also places a great deal of importance on character. “Character is more important than what you are perceived to be” and can be defined in several ways: appearance (be neat and clean, no profanity), attitude (no whining or complaining, no excuses, never be late, be prepared to learn from others), respect for others (never criticize a teammate, never try to be better than someone else).
  • The coach reminds us that our personal peace of mind is important; and measurement of this is in “knowing that you do the best of which you are capable”.
  • Finally, coach Wooden cites a quote from Cervantes: “the journey is better than the inn”. Specifically, do not allow perhaps unrealistic objectives to distract you from enjoying the process of effort.

There is a wisdom in John Wooden’s model that can be applied in the workplace.

  • Clearly, the achievement of goals is important; however, managers and employees, in an effort to impress their supervisors or to overcome low self-esteem, will over promise — the consequence of poor goal setting is pressure, anxiety, stress, anger, resentment and potentially burnout.  Although supervisors always want more, they will respect a manager who promises realistic levels of achievement.  Further, Wooden’s lesson is simply that we should set goals around activities or events over which we exert some control.  Winning and losing and excessive deadlines are beyond our control.
  • The character of the manager and the character of the team are key factors in achieving success.  Although they are not pure measures of success, they are determinants of success;  that is, the knowledge that my team has a positive attitude, a winning attitude and respect each other, will improve my chances of success.
  • Although organizations have performance measurement systems, it is useful for employees to hold themselves to account on a regular basis.  This means a little soul searching that you have indeed done your job to the best of your ability.  In this regard, the employee has the best handle on their own performance and the employee that regularly documents their own performance over the course of the year will usually surprise their manager with how much they have achieved.  But as Wooden points out having this information in hand is very comforting to the employee; that is, “I know I worked hard and produced for my organization”.
  • Finally, for employees to be fully invested in the outcome of their work, they must also enjoy the journey.  They must enjoy coming to work everyday and associating their their colleagues.  They must also enjoy the work.  This is where soul searching is essential.  If you do not enjoy the journey, there is no way you can perform to your potential; if you are putting in time for a pay cheque, it is time to review your career path and move on.

What is your experience? Do you feel this model would work effectively in your workplace? Do you feel the pressure of unrealistic goals? On Friday, I will continue on this theme citing the work on another coach — me.  Friday’s “Craig’s Top Five List” will comment on how my experience coaching team sports was instrumental in defining my approach to management.