Working for the Right Reasons

Reflections on Workplace Perspective…..

The seven dwarfs -- stilling working after all these years.  Although paying the bills is the primary motivator, you must also pay your soul with fulfilling and purposeful work.

The seven dwarfs -- stilling working after all these years. Although paying the bills is the primary motivator, you must also pay your soul with fulfilling and purposeful work.

Why do most of us work? The answer is simple. “I owe, I owe, so off to work I go”. Clearly this reality is not about to change any time soon, in spite of the “leisure society” that sociologists of the 1960’s promised would soon become our way of life.

For most of us going to work is not a choice.  We have chosen to eat and live under a roof; so, in the absence of a wealthy benefactor, we must of all necessity set the alarm clock at 6:00am or earlier every workday morning — rain or shine, hail or sleet, we hop in the car, wait at the terminal so we can work. And as our incomes increase most of us pay tribute to our material culture by “investing” in larger homes, more luxurious cars and toys of all descriptions.  And through this decision we reaffirm our need to spend our weekdays in huge mirrored towers oblivious of the sun.

How important is money as a motivator for going to work?  How did you choose your career?  Did you select your career based upon what you love to do with your time or did you opt for work that pays well?  Do you feel trapped by your lifestyle, such that leaving what you do is too great of a stretch?  Do you look forward to going to work, or do you find the workplace a source of stress and anxiety?

Clearly money is and will always be a significant reason for enduring extensive commutes, bad bosses and monotonous work assignments; however, in the final analysis, it will be just one of many influences.

In this post, I want to encourage you to reflect upon two related “showing up for work” issues:

First, in your life, does money overpower all other rationales for working? Can you feel the stench of that ominous black shadow of debt and the devastating threat of bankruptcy? Are other motivators such as meaning and purpose subjugated by money fears?  You have a choice to take action and restore the balance in your life.

Elizabeth Pineau (Reuters, March 25, 2009) reported that designer Kenzo Takado was downsizing his life, selling off his Paris home and many of his art treasures and antiquities. “Today I want to turn a page and live differently, more free, lighter,” the 70-year-old told reporters. This is not a new story; we frequently hear of people who need to downsize their lives as though they are possessed by their material obsessions. Clearly, the stuff we accumulate will encumber our emotional and spiritual capacity and influence our peacefulness, our joyfulness, our freedom and ultimately the clarity of our decisions.

A young man I know was raised in a good family but with very little in terms of possessions. From childhood, he was determined to show the world that he could succeed in this material world and of course, demonstrate to others his personal worth and self esteem through his accumulation of personal possessions. Through great determination and resourcefulness, he worked two and sometimes three jobs. He immediately spent each pay cheque, first on a house, then on home furnishings, clothing and travel. He was topped up and his lifestyle was defined by work required to maintain his stuff. He was, of course, exhausted and then it happened; he lost the most lucrative of his positions. His immediate response was sadness and anger, as the meaning that surrounded his life was being threatened. Like Mr. Takado, he will also have the choice of chaos or order – bringing balance into his life, positioning important rationales where they should have been.

Second, have you thought about why you are working? Let me rephrase – beyond paying the bills and sustaining your family, what are your underlying motivations for showing up to work everyday?

Looking at the working conditions of those 65 years of age and over could offer some enlightenment on this issue. It is clear that many Canadians in this cohort want to continue working even though they can safely retire. Leigh Felesky and Amil Niazi (Your Top 10:Reasons to Keep Working, Monday, July 21st, 2008, ) raise the court case of one New Brunswick miner whose desire to continue working was thwarted by The Supreme Court of Canada. In their post, Felesky and Niazi cite a range of reasons why people like potash miner, Melrose Scott, want to continue working after the age of 65: job satisfaction and downright enjoyment, learning about new things and keeping the mind sharp and just plain keeping busy.

There is another very important reason and perhaps overriding rationale for going to work – to make a difference, to give to humanity, to make the world a better place. In other words, my work should have purpose and allow me to serve humanity.

Although there is a continuum of importance, most jobs can be defined by their value; that is, a creative manager will find a way to ensure that the work of all his staff ties into a meaningful purpose. If you understand how your work fits into a bigger scheme and that it is important to the achievement of that goal, you will be more committed and extract greater enjoyment from your work.

For those working for non-profit groups whose work directly serves the needs of a defined community, the purpose is immediately clear. Further, the importance of this work may be so important to those in the organization that they will willingly take lower pay to be a part of a hands-on and goal-oriented team. Further, just about everyone on the team will out of necessity wear a variety of hats to accomplish essential tasks.

In conclusion, starting from a concept of service to humanity will change the way you see your work and perhaps alter your career plan. Baha’u’llah stresses the importance of service,

“Man’s merit lieth in service and virtue and not in the pageantry of wealth and riches”.

Please participate in a dialogue on this issue. Is your reason for working clear? Are you the problem or can your organization help in making reasons for working clearer? Do you have any workplace challenges? Please share them with me.

Principles for Managing Workplace Conflict

Reflections on Workplace Perspective…..

The improper use of numbers is a metaphor for how we express our feelings.  If we are satisfied, we are likely to use numbers with positively and with integrity; if we are not content, we will likely find a way to use numbers to our own advantage.

The use of numerical information is a metaphor for how we express our feelings. If we are satisfied, we are likely to use numbers positively and with integrity; if we are not content, we will find a way to distort these numbers to serve our own advantage.

On this Friday Five (Craig’s Top Five List”), I am addressing the issue of workplace conflict from what you might consider a strange perspective — talking about statistics.  You see, the way we use numbers is a reflection of how we feel about an issue, our bosses, our governments.  So numbers can be revealing indicators about how we as a team or an organization are getting along.

Please note that I am not espousing conflict avoidance, since some healthy conflict is useful; however, proper management of your working relationships will minimize the unhealthy type of conflict and the black hole of wasted time that it attracts.

When there is no hard scientific information available, decision-makers fall back upon their intuition about a particular issue — they speak from what they feel. “I think this is a problem” a client might suggest, or  “this needs to be fixed”.  Without solid information, agreement is difficult to achieve and conflict bubbles just below the surface waiting for its opportunity to explode into existence; participants display anger, frustration, indifference and intolerance, and then sadly trust and cooperation crumble.  The integrity of the relationship has been breached; and once it has reached this stage it will be difficult to restore.

Eons ago, it seems, my organization recognized the dilemma of building client support and opted to take the scientific approach with large data bases, multiple lines of evidence and heavy hitting research methods.  Having this information in hand, developed by a multi-disciplinary advisory team, paid huge dividends since there was less wiggle room for “I think” argumentation.  It was also strangely comforting for all parties, since what they thought was a problem usually wasn’t or was a minor challenge which could be easily addressed with less money.

Of course, the presence of hard data is not always a panacea.  There is still another layer of organization building to be addressed.  Organizations with whom you deal must feel they are part of the team, they must feel consulted, they must be important to your process — specifically, you must build the underpinning of this relationship.  If you have not built goodwill with your client groups, your opponents will find ways to “reinterpret” data to serve their own agenda. My statistics professor back in my graduate studies days tried to familiarize his students with the challenge of numbers by exposing us to a little reference text called How to Lie with Statistics.  This little book uses a tongue in cheek writing style to impress us with how people use numbers to make their points, defend their positions.

Michael Blastland in his article of April 2, 2009, describes how numbers have recently had “the mother of makeovers”. First, he comments on the fact that numbers are everywhere and in every domain to the point that they are numbing and ambiguous.  Second, he notes that numbers are overstated — what was once just a fact has evolved into the “cold fact” and then onto the “killer fact”. Finally, he observes that those who use numbers regularly use them carelessly, either because they do not understand the power of the numbers or their source.  He says that numbers have lost their capacity to be a “counterweight for emotion”.  Hence the premise I am espousing today.

Even with what we know are powerful numbers, our clients and employees are quickly recognizing that numbers have lost their luster and that unfounded rhetoric and the misuse of numbers is just as powerful.

And there are many examples of how challenging it is to address conflict in this world of cleverly choreographed ambiguity. The facts no longer define who wins. In many ways these folks would argue “it is not about what is right; it is simply about winning or, God forbid, losing”.

This new mentality of rational irrationality also occurs in the workplace.  Imagine the new employee who joins an organization full of enthusiasm and excitement — “I can’t wait to get my teeth into this job, I am looking forward to working with a team”, is the refrain as they prepare to be the best and make the greatest contribution to your bottom line. How does this commitment wane and reach the point where they are totally alienated from the organization and can only envision revenge?  This type of isolation is costly for both the organization and the employee; and yes, should be avoided at all costs.

The premise that I am suggesting: to preempt the challenge of numerical quicksand — that is, irrational and destructive workplace conflict — build solid, constructive, team-oriented emotion.

So here is are five suggestions on how a manager can nurture team oriented emotion:

  1. Be humble: This theme keep coming up in my posts. If an employee can see only a wall of arrogance and presumed perfection coming from the manager’s office, this will do little to build trust and openness.  On the other hand, the employee who knows that their manager admits areas of weakness and finds strength in others will be willing to participate in efforts to strengthen team capacity.
  2. Use team strengths in a complementary manner: Use team skills in the most efficient manner.  This may also mean that an employee takes on a role previously assumed to be a managerial role.  For example, planning has traditionally been the bastion of the manager.  But, you may have a challenge planning, executing and recording activities.  So, find an employee with this strength and allow them to assume this role; under your supervision, of course, since it is still critical that the manager have full knowledge of activities in his area of responsibility.
  3. Position yourself to know how your staff are feeling: When things are going poorly, you can be sure your staff are talking about it.  You can also be quite certain that the manager will be the last to know. “I had no idea my staff were so miserable” he lamented, “and that it would take so little action to repair”.  It is important to have a strategy to unearth the decaying working relationship.  It helps if one of your employees, in the interests of both manager and employees,  will approach the manager about this simmering powder keg.  It is also useful for the manager to promote communication and a relaxed working environment by holding regular “how is it going meetings” over a pot of hot coffee and a few donuts.
  4. Genuinely show your staff that you have a heart: When I first started work, managers isolated and insulated themselves from their employees.  The theory was that managers should have a mystique of power about them.  They were better than their employees and nothing should allow this veneer to be penetrated.  I would argue that genuine behaviour builds membership.  Be willing to speak with your staff about issues they are facing and to share your challenges as well.  You will undoubtedly find some common thread.
  5. Show that you are objective and impartial: Organizations regularly conduct audits of delivery systems and accounting practices.  Organizations rarely conduct audits of management practices.  There are anonymous methods that allow employees to comment without fear of reprisal.  They permit and encourage employees to share thoughts on what is going well in the workplace and what needs improvement.  This is a handy tool — if repeated every two years, managers can preempt many workplace problems by making adjustments in concert with the team of employees.

That’s it for this Friday.  I would love to get your thoughts.  This list is not exhaustive so feel free to provide additional ideas.

On Being an Authentic Manager

In the absence of trust, it is difficult to find our authentic selves.  The new born child has absolute trust in the world; hoever, over time our innocence is protected by an increasingly thick veneer that also erodes our true sense of self.

In the absence of trust, it is difficult to find our authentic selves. The new born child has absolute trust in the world; however, over time our innocence is clouded by an increasingly thick veneer that simply causes us to behave differently.

What does being authentic mean? You are the real thing, you are integral, you are true to yourself, you are on contract with yourself, you are what you appear to be.

Although I am focusing upon the manager in this article, this article is relevant for both managers and line workers. Why?  Because being true to yourself is absolutely essential.  Think of yourself as the manager of the work you are currently doing, and with the right career planning and attitude to your work, you will one day aspire to a management position.

A side comment:  I find it absolutely fascinating how the rate of change in the world is so dramatic that we cannot envision the new paradigm required to address a change before we embark upon the journey intended to implement it.  Hmmm!

When I first started working, I was just happy to have a job. Imagine they chose me! And I will do all that I can to reinforce their belief in me. To my managers, what I can do is important. Who I am and how this can strengthen performance over time is not even on the screen in most organizations.  This post addresses this issue — how “who I am” can profoundly influence “what I and others can do”.

I came across a TED presentation that helped me to put into words how the business environment is evolving. This talk by Joseph Pine, entitled “What Consumers Really Want” (February, 2004) helped me to put into words the evolving relationship between managers and employees .

In the early years of my career, management was an extremely unsophisticated concept.   There was little consideration about manager capacity or how to develop managers.  They seemed to be the best, usually based upon their ability to deliver product and so they were accorded the right to oversee a group of employees.  They knew little about people so they focussed upon supplying product and controlling costs. If they were found to be wanting they were fired or returned to their previous duties.  If they seemed to be good deliverers of product, quite independent of what happened to their employees, they were anointed and rewarded.

In the 1980’s,  when efficiency became essential for business survival, the new business approach targetted the quality of services and products.

In the technology age, generations X and F are quick to tell us that the failure of organizations to adapt to the burgeoning social networking frontier will quickly make dinosaurs of their businesses.

Everything in an organization will be strengthened if managers invest in the experience of reinventing product delivery. Edward de Bono in his book entitled  Sur/petition also speaks about the evolution of the marketplace; he mentions three stages: product or service, competition and integrated values.  Just as product or service was supplanted by competition in the 80’s, competition was later trampled by the capacity of “outlier” organizations who found a formula for distancing themelves from their previous competition.  To paraphrase de Bono, would you rather run with the pack or lead the pack?  Coming from the world’s foremost creativity guru, it is truly about your organization’s capacity to out think and then use this new knowledge to breakaway from the competition.

This is where our authentic capacities kick in.  I believe that our authentic capacities would allow us to see, understand, accept and act with authority to create authentic organizations.  The problem, of course is that many managers resist or deny the need to be authentic.  They have allowed their allegiances, their training, their backgrounds and their fears to influence their thinking and as a result the success of their organizations.

It is worth noting that de Bono, in “Sur/petition” has focussed on the business environment, although the need for his “integrated values” methodology is just as vital in other sectors.  In business, if you fail to keep up, you disappear; in the public sector, as an example, failure is easier to disguise.

Here are three suggestions for the evolving authentic manager:

  • Take some time to think about what your organization is doing. Ask yourself if you are competing or if you are an outlier?  If you decide that you are merely competing, then there is room for innovative thinking.  Typically, organization’s reflect on their corporate documents once per year.  Make review an open file.  Remain committed to the delivery of product because you are a team player; however, keep sending those ideas to the top.  I can assure you that the authentic CEO will notice and appreciate your commitment.
  • Shed your protective veneer. So you can’t open up yet?  Join the club; let’s face it — we are all products of our lifelong experiences.   You have probably been scarred by deception, persecution and disappointment; you have learned, particularly on the job, that survival is job one and trust is a commodity in short supply.  I hear your pain and your anger; however, this is no way to manage your life or your career.  The usual response to these painful emotions is to surround yourself with a veneer, a bubble of protection, a safety zone. “As long as I do my job and I don’t upset anyone the world will evolve as it should”. Not.  The world will evolve correctly if you are true to yourself and others.  Shed your veneer.
  • Monitor your authentic behaviour. The nice part of being an authentic manager is that you know in your heart that you are making integral decisions.  Quite simply you are doing the right thing.  The best part of this equation is that it feels good and you are having fun.  Take the time to observe how your behaviour is affecting others.  In most cases, you will find that this form of leadership will become infectious.  As the word spreads, employees in other parts of the organization will look for openings in your area.  Other managers will solicit your views on their management challenges and you will become mentor and coach.  It may also be wise to monitor those in your organization who perceive you as a threat.  Still you decision to be authentic has been affirmed by other employees and managers.

The authentic manager is a vital resource for organizational “thrival” — the one who searches for truth and behaves will absolute integrity. Novel concept.  Please let me know what you think.

Effective Employee Empowerment: 5 Strategies

The hot air balloon is a strong metaphor for emrol; but you have sufficient lattitude to ensure a great ride. powerment.  You don't have aabsolute contThink of what you are missing is you just don't let go.

The hot air balloon is a strong metaphor for empowerment; you don't have absolute control, but you can guide, oversee, adjust as needed to ensure a great ride. However, if fear dominates your thoughts, you will simply miss a great ride.

Here we go with the Friday Five — “Craig’s Top Five List”.

Empowering employees is supposed to be a valuable strategy: after all, if you didn’t need your fine complement of employees to work to their full capacities, why would you hire them in the first place.  Certainly not so they can watch you work.  On this premise alone, we can agree that empowerment in “a good thing”.  Quite simply, empowerment’s lustre is bloodied because of the casual, random manner in which managers introduce this “most excellent” opportunity.  So on this fine Friday, I am offering five practical strategies that can be applied to ensure that empowerment works effectively in your workplace:

  1. Buy-in: By involving your employees in the design of your empowerment initiative, it becomes theirs.  The team will always outperform the individual and you will develop a powerful empowerment model.  Or you could waste a lot of time and develop your model in secret;  your employees will feel that the program is moderated and controlled right from the beginning — not a good start.
  2. Boundaries: Raise your concerns and fears with your employees as you are developing the model; of course, this presumes that they have not demonstrated their competence by already highlighting any red flags that would need a boundary.  To assist the high school principal — we met on Monday — overwhelmed by urgent e-mails, what strategy would address his concern?  I would suggest three guidelines: (1) empower department heads to deal with staffing issues in their areas; (2) when a need for an absence arises, require all teachers to directly contact their department head by phone (or now text), using the impersonal e-mail only where there is no other option; and (3) have department heads report weekly or even monthly on staffing shortages or the effectiveness/ abuse of the system.
  3. Communication: Communication is your security blanket — it allows you to build confidence in the system.  To illustrate this point, I refer to a time years ago when my teenage daughter pressured me relentlessly for a later and later curfew.  Loving her as I did and knowing from personal experience that the later a child stayed out the greater chance of some form of crisis, I resisted her approaches.  However, through consultation we eventually came up with a compromise that we both found satisfying.  Her part of the bargain was a series of boundaries that she would learn and teach to her peers.  Her requirement was to communicate these to me and demonstrate that her friends also knew them.  Further, it was communication that convinced me that the system was working.  In your workplace, you will require feedback in terms of how the system is working and what tangible results are being produced.  With this information, you will know what is working and what needs to be fixed.  Although your employees may resist, I prefer too much information rather than too little.  The success of the model depends on your level of confidence.
  4. Correction: One of the boundaries that I would suggest is quite simply that nothing is cast in stone.  Right from the beginning, your staff should understand that the nature and degree of empowerment either to the team or to individuals is subject to change.   There are times when changes will be dictated merely by a clumsy model; at other times, changes will be necessitated by poor performance.
  5. Ownership: Empowerment is not a right; it is a privilege.  It is earned through performance and accountability to the system and the supervisor.  Within this framework, I found that ownership is strengthened when each employee has a piece of the pie.  The piece of the pie is determined through individual capacity and performance.   In addition to that component of the work that the manager believes the individual can handle, I like to build in just a little stretch — a challenge to grow to the next level.  When work is successfully completed, the employee deserves recognition — from you, from peers, from other organizations and from senior management.  This sends the message to employees that they are values, not just by you by by the organization.  Employees who are recognized will commit more strongly to the empowerment model they have developed with you.

Please let me know what your thoughts are and what experience has been with empowerment.

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.

Anger as a Tool for Career Advancement

It is normal for people to feel anger, however anger should always be expressed in a respectful manner.  Further, anger is not a source of career success; it is merely a character trait of the assertive and determined personality.  in

It is normal for people to feel anger, however anger should always be expressed in a respectful manner. Further, anger is not a source of career success; it is merely a character trait of the assertive and determined personality.

Reflections on Workplace perspective…..

Harvard has recently released the findings of a study linking anger to career advancement.  This study may cause employees and managers to reconsider how anger is addressed in the workplace; after all, it seems that anger in the workplace may not be such a bad thing.  Kira Vermond, reporting for Money Talks, writes enthusiastically about this new study.  Based upon the findings of this study, Ms. Vermond suggests that “a little anger is not always a bad thing”.  It seems that those who repress their anger tend to report less fulfilling careers and lives, while those who periodically express their anger in the workplace, are more likely to report successful careers.  The study, however,  suggests that anger must be expressed appropriately, particularly by women.

This is clearly an interesting finding, but raises so many red flags for me.  I can see someone reading this encouraging result and strutting into work on Monday morning with a new attitude, convinced that a display of “controlled anger” will inevitably promote his upward mobility and the most satisfying and harmonious relationships.  And that is even before we address what “controlled anger” means.

Although I do not have the full study before me — and some of my concerns may be thoughtfully addressed in the complete report — I encourage readers to slow down and carefully assess the preliminary findings of this work.  So, on this joyful and exuberantly peaceful Friday, I will be suggesting five reasons why you should entertain these findings with a grain of salt:

1. The Assertive Personality: Assertive and confident people tend to have a greater facility expressing their anger.  Because they often let it all hang out they are more likely to express themselves overtly and anger is one of their emotional outlets.  They also learn techniques for expressing their anger systematically.  That is, anger becomes a management tool.  While many assertive managers must often learn how to tone down their behaviours, the submissive styles  need to strengthen their self-esteem, their positive attitude, their strength of character and constructive ways of expressing concerns.
2. The Career Orientation: People who express their assertiveness and determination tend to have a stronger career focus. Because they are confident and priority driven, they are more likely to succeed and seek out promotion opportunities. Managers can sense their belief and will often groom them to take on greater responsibility.  Submissive personalities tend to be hard working and focussed on the corporate goal; they tend to overlook themselves because they have little belief in their own capacities.  Of course, managers do not see them because they blend in nicely with the wallpaper.
3. The Power Relationship: People who express their anger typically do it where they know they are safe from repercussions.  They will bully employees who have no authority over them or they will act out when colleagues and even peers in other areas of the organization cannot influence their careers.  In this domain, there is little difference between anger and strong directional language — both are meant to intimidate and control.  The submissive style will simply avoid conflict because they abhor it;  they would prefer to be anonymously working.
4. The Buddy Relationship: Those who use anger would define the CEO and other senior managers as  friends and allies.  They would typically use behaviour that would strengthen this relationship and nurture an “us versus you” mentality.  The submissive personality avoids authority and in fact has little respect for those who exert control over others.  They tend to commiserate with their peers complaining about those who exert control over them.
5. Consequences: If you want to share something with a peer or a manager, carefully weigh the implications of your behaviour.  If you understand that the negative outcomes of your outburst, like being marginalized or fired, and can live with these results, then by all means, “fill your boots”!

I would love to get your feedback on this persepctive on anger. Clearly anger has a very complex dynamic.  Have you had experience with expressing your anger in the workplace? What happened?

The Perfect Manager is No Accident

Reflections of Workplace Perspective…..

Those who follow my writing know that I am in search of the key, the portal, the yellow brick road of managing people. There has been a great deal written about optimal management practices; and in spite of this affluence of solid reference material, there continue to be blatant and very public examples of managers who chose to rebuff accepted best practices, either out of ignorance or mulish indifference.  Who are the victims of this folly?  In every case, it is the employees; however during this global recession we are experiencing in our living rooms examples of large corporations embarrassed into humble submission; their senior managers, exposed at long last like the “Emperor’s Clothes” also being forced to relinquish their power, their status and their elite positions in a society that values wealth and power above all else.

The perfect child is an untouched canvas reaching out for colour, texture and composition.  As parents, it is our intention to manage this process with love and absolute dedication.  After all it is our nurture the perfect child.
The perfect child is an untouched canvas reaching out for colour, texture and composition. As parents, it is our intention to manage this process with love and absolute dedication. After all, we would love to  nurture the perfect child.

Still, I am in search of the “perfect manager” or, if you wish, the baking powder of management.  On this fine day, I intend to try a little “Milton Erickson” on you.  Instead of the literal, the blatant, the direct and the conscious, I am going to try the not so obvious, starting with an article that seemingly has little to do with management.

If one is interested in the perfect manager, where would one go?  Some might consider management gurus or management books.  Others would consult with mentors in their organization.  These sources have worked for many, but not for all.  So where could we go?  May I suggest that we consider the case of the perfect child? Charles Lewis, in his newspaper article entitled “The Perfect Child” (The National Post, Saturday, March 21, 2009), raises a couple of points that may be helpful in this regard.

First, he cites Michele Borba (How to Raise a Moral Child) who says, “A person who raises a moral kid does not do so by accident”. We know from the research that children are hard-wired for morality; however, we also know that effort is required, in particular from parents to ensure that a positive charge is connected to this wiring system. A failure from parents to repetitively teach and reinforce these values will produce children and ultimately adults who are morally bankrupt.

Similarly, an organization that develops an ethical manager does not do so by accident. It takes a conscious effort to identify the kinds of attributes you require in your managers and then use various mechanisms to teach and reinforce these characteristics.

A second interesting point relates to the work of Alan Jacobs (Original Sin: A Social History). He says, “Modelling your beliefs for your children is a huge piece of the puzzle”.  In essence it is not enough to talk the talk, but you must also walk the walk; unless you invest in your own moral development and model this behaviour for your children, you teaching efforts are wasted.  Your children will simply behave the way you are behaving.

What is it about the perfect child that has relevance for the creation of the perfect manager?

  • First, this process is no accident.  The effort to create the perfect child is derived from the parents innate need to nurture;  the parent has a passion for their own child and as a result is committed to this as a process of life.  Similarly,as a senior manager that craves a powerful management environment, I have a passion for nurturing the best managers possible.
  • Second, there must be a plan.  In terms of moral development, the parent must be clear on what morals should be taught and how they should be manifested.  Organizations must establish what is critical for the development of strong managers and articulate this in a plan.
  • Third, the child will learn more from what they see as opposed to what they are taught.  The parent must be a model of moral behaviour and understand why these behaviours are important.  I must also invest in my own development as a manager so I naturally behave in a manner consistent with the behaviour I am nurturing in my managers.

The perfect child helps us to understand the motivation, the perspective and the standard that would lead to the development of “perfect managers”.  Is your organization committeed to the development of incredible managers?

Management Principles and Team Sports

Reflections on Workplace Perspective…..

Welcome to the Friday Five — “Craig’s Top Five List.

If I had my way, coaching a team sport would be a prerequisite for any management position.   That’s how strongly I feel about it; coaching a team sport will teach you so much about managing people in such a short time, it should be mandatory for any job involving leadership.  “There is no mention in your CV about coaching a team sport?” I would lament, “That’s unfortunate”.

Coaching team sports is the perfect training ground for the aspiring manager.  The best coaches prepare before games, are complete concentration during games and review extensively after competition.

Coaching team sports is the perfect training ground for the aspiring manager. The best coaches prepare before games, are complete concentration during contests and review extensively after competition.

Already spent thousands of dollars on management seminars?  Refuse to relinquish your management books?  No problem; still for  just a little sweat equity, I can quickly and efficiently immerse you into the best management and leadership laboratory.  By being the person behind the bench or standing at the sideline, you will experience and be forced to apply many of the advanced concepts of leadership.  You will simply accelerate your understanding and use of leadership principles.

I hesitate to share with you that coaching a team sport was where I had my greatest management breakthroughs and how I refined my management style and tested several principles.  I hesitate because I have already experienced the stigma of being a person who appreciates sport, and rejection from many who consider sports the domain of the neanderthal.  I have many times heard the intolerant refrain “Here we go again; not another sports story”.  I have been incessantly reminded that the workplace is for work and sports are for weekends, big screen TVs and La-Z-Boy armchairs.

Still I persist on this rainy Friday — I emphatically assert that team sports are the best teachers of aspiring managers.  And, the good news?  This will be the most affordable hands-on management course you will ever take.

To begin, I am asking you to change your focus from the athlete to the person more or less behind the success of these athletes — the coach.  The athlete, in the spotlight, produces that awesome catch, that scintillating save or that incredible slam dunk.  The coach, the puppet master of sorts and in most cases humbly working behind the curtain, generates the context that permits and inspires excellence.

An insider view of the coaching environment allows you to appreciate that talent or individual capacity is just one determinant of success both in sports and in life generally.  This hands-on opportunity will convince you  that the motivated and creative coach can significantly improve the performance of the team, whether that be in sports or in the workplace.

Without further ado, today’s “Craig’s Top Five List” identifies five ways that coaching a team sport can influence and strengthen your management style:

  1. Delegation: Since the coach is not permitted on the playing surface, the coach must relinquish responsibility for completing the assignment to the players — it is immediate and unequivocal delegation to the players.   The coach oversees the work and is responsible for the overall approach; the players are assigned specific duties within the overall system.  Starting with a principle of delegation is important in the workplace, because it is instinctual for managers to feel a need to maintain control and believe that they are the ultimate experts in their area of work (which may in fact be true).  By finding a logical place for work assignments in your area, you are then challenged to find a more fluid way of ensuring that work is performed.
  2. Time Constraints & Intensity: Nothing says focus like a deadline.   Coaching a team sport teaches the coach to be absolutely present during competition  — the epitome of concentration.  Because most sport is played at a high level of intensity, the coach is often offered just one opportunity to make the right decision.  This means that time, before and after competition, is critical for preparation.  Every reasonable outcome must be anticipated and a response to these eventualities must be developed.  The principles of concentration, anticipation and preparation are just as relevant in the workplace; however, workplace managers have the luxury of making plans and decisions in what comparatively seems like slow motion.  If you can perform effectively in a game environment, effectiveness in the workplace is a given.
  3. Communication: If the coach cannot do, he must invest in his capacity to say.  Communication is the most powerful tool in his toolbox.  He must be able to teach complex concepts with absolute clarity.  He must be able to inspire and motivate so he can lever top performances from players with different abilities, strengths and learning styles.  In the heat of battle, he must express his ideas with the right energy so he can infuse calm and patience where there is time, and urgency where the clock is an impediment.  He must apply the correct tone and strength to correct and where necessary discipline, so that the player understands and accepts the message.   Is communication an important skill in the workplace as well?  Absolutely.  As a former coach, I can see how lessons I learned coaching have allowed me to recognize opportunities where communication can support the effective management of the team.  In this regard, I coined a term called “management by opportunity”.  Although preparation and planning were still essential, as a manager I was constantly on the lookout for opportunities that would strengthen the working environment; and, of course, communication was the principal tool for this reinforcement.
  4. What a Team!: Have you heard the expression “You cannot make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear”?  If you read the coaches handbook (sic), you will find this quote framed and highlighted in large bold print.   An aspiring coach prays everyday for an abundance of talent.  In fact, he would love a mix of talented athletes who play every game at a high level of intensity and who get along with their teammates and who listen and have a deep passion for learning.  Yes, all that would be good.  Mix all these ingredients will a little luck and everything should, might work out fine.   Coaches understand the importance of maximizing their talent in every way.  First they must find the best players available.  Second they must invest in developing the full capacity of these athletes.  And of course, they must mold this mix of capacity and personality into a well oiled machine.  Coaches are also great teachers.  They know that practicing the way you will eventually play a game is the best way to improve performance and that repetition of necessary skills over a period of at least six weeks changes destructive behaviour into supportive behaviour.  To often in the workplace, we manage the work and the employees are a consequence of this need.  That is, employees are merely there to do the work.  The coaching approach would say manage the employees to complete the work.  From this perspective, employees are a resource to be developed.  The more we invest in the people, the greater the completion of the work and the higher the quality of this achievement.
  5. Performance Review: Coaches are quite simply “students of the game”.   They consume vast amounts of bad coffee trying to remedy the smallest problem.  The saddest tale is of the lonely coach who has no co-coach with whom to commiserate.  Coaches crave an advantage and can regularly be seen trying to squeeze the last drop of hope from a seemingly dessicated thought.  The irony is that those who invest in the journey of search will invariably discover platinum — the means of motivating a demoralized player, the tactic that will paralyze a seemingly invincible attack.  The manager in this new model becomes the facilitator — the person that removes obstacles to performance.  The person who understands through study the best way to maximize performance and output.

Why coach a team before you take on a position of leadership?  Quite simply it makes sense to explicitly understand what it means to manage before you lead.  Further, you will experience fewer setbacks and have less to correct if your employees are not your guinea pigs.  Remember, only doctors and lawyers have the privilege of “practicing” for a lifetime.

So are you coaching yet?  For those of you who are coaches, what has been your experience?  Please let me know and I will participate in the dialogue.

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.

Employment Strategies During a Recession: PartII

And now the Friday Five!  In Monday’s post, we took a look at some evidence regarding success in the workplace.  We first looked at what it takes to prepare for work and then we examined how opportunity influences our degree of success.  From this we provided two examples from outside the workplace on how proponents used creative thinking to significantly increase their level of success; by changing their thinking and charting their course with order and discipline, they altered their status from underprivileged to just as privileged, if not more.

Creativity is the tool that allows us to overcome diminished opportunity.  With excellence in its application we can become the leaders, the managers, the experts.

Creativity is the tool that allows us to overcome diminished opportunity. With excellence in its application we can become the leaders, the managers, the experts.

In “Craig Top Five List” for this Friday, I am suggesting five actions that you should take to entrench your career path.

  1. Confirm Your Career Path: You are about to invest a great deal of time developing a career strategy.  Before you commit to an exhausting “find the right job” process, you need to ask yourself a critical question — are you sure that you are on the right path?  Will  this effort yield a position that matches with your passions?  I have conducted hundreds of job diagnostics, mostly for people in their thirties and fourties, who are very unhappy in their first “careers”.  I have seen many people chose careers because they were advised that employment in a particular field was guaranteed; however, when training or working in that field they were miserable — and these were high paying, high status positions.  Most recently, a friend, laid off after 18 years working for one employer, was forced to seek a new position.  “If you are starting over” his wife coached “is there anything you have always wanted to do”?  With excitement and no hesitation, he shared that he always wanted to become an electrician.  He found a position as an apprentice half way across the country and within weeks was back working.
  2. Be Integral About Your Preparation: So you have a piece of paper saying that you graduated from university.  Congratulations, I guess.  First of all, it really isn’t that difficult to graduate from university; there are many strategies that the creative student can use to slide through.  Second, only you know the true value of that degree.  How did you spend your study time — playing bridge, hanging out in the coffee shops and pubs?  The value of your degree is directly proportional to the amount of time you invested in your development.  To truly deserve a smile and a hug for your accomplishment, you are the student who spent time studying, in the library, challenging yourself.  Remember, a good interviewer will quickly determine how solidly you prepared for the work world; and if you are not discovered then, you will certainly be outed during the probationary period.  Remember Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hour rule for developing excellence.
  3. Accelerate Your Preparation: offers a thorough discussion of what currently counts in the workplace.  Clearly experience counts and specialized skills also have value.  However, the undergraduate degree is quickly losing its relevance to employers.   Those with just a BA are exposing themselves to the serendipity of opportunity.  That is, I could pick you, or I could choose some other person with a similar degree whose family I know personally.   Graduate degrees make a big difference as do community college courses that offer concrete skills.  I also found in my working years that employees with graduate degrees offered a higher level of thinking.
  4. Accelerate Your Career Growth: We are quite simply conditioned to think job; which, of course is normal since the reality is that learning institutions were initially set up to serve the needs of the workplace.  However, I am asking you to change your thinking and set your course on this new path.  For example, rather than immerse yourself into a large firm where you can quickly disappear and become subject to stringent rules of progression or a boss who refuses to allow your due recognition,  choose to take on a higher level of responsibility working for a non-profit organization in your field.  You will be paid less, but you will wear many hats and by necessity be a front line worker.  Through this action alone you will accelerate your development.  Or let’s assume that you take the higher paying position in that stuffy corporation.  You will find ways to become known across the organization and most importantly to the CEO.  You will sit on committees, participate in extra curricular activities.  When assignments come up you will be known.    Remember your career path is just that — it is a plan that allows you over a set period of time to take the prescribed steps and gradually progress towards your ideal position.
  5. Ensure that You Have  A Career Attitude: I recently completed a career diagnostic with a young woman who was complaining that she was not being respected by her employer.  It was clear from her diagnostic that she didn’t want a career and that her job was just a way to pay the bills.  It took about a year for her to reflect on this finding and to her credit she has rediscovered her passion and has committed to a career path.  She was just recently hired into a management position.  There is nothing wrong with your priorities being family or an activity outside the workplace; however it is difficult to build a career if you have not turned on your career switch and developed a plan.

What I appreciate about Gladwell’s book is that each of us can now strive to be the expert, the manager, the leader, the writer and so on.  You have not been left behind unless you choose to accept what society has prescribed for me.  The challenge is how will you close the gap; what creative strategy will you employ to outperform the field?  Please send me your ideas on how this can be done in your field or pehaps comment on creative strategies you have used.