Category Archives: Coaching Psychology

Steve Jobs Resigns – The Failure to Disengage and Price of Workaholism


Illustration: Tsevis Visual Design and Deanna Lowe at Fortune magazine. From http://www.flickr.com/photos/tsevis/2313082920/in/set-72157594536252686

Steve Jobs, the charismatic and visionary founder of Apple Computers has resigned (August 24, 2011). Not to worry, he’s now assumed the Chairman of the Board role at Apple.

Last year, I wrote a post titled “The Dangers of Charismatic Leaders” in which I talked about Steve Jobs and the virtues and vices that characterize a charismatic leader. Well, the day has come when he’s handing over his CEO duties. As Jobs wrote in a letter to the Apple board of directors and Apple community, “I have always said if there ever came a day when I could no longer meet my duties and expectations as Apple’s CEO, I would be the first to let you know. Unfortunately, that day has come. I hereby resign as CEO of Apple.”

Many have written and, no doubt, will write about Apple, what will come of Apple and Mac products, and the financial implications of Steve Jobs — a charismatic and visionary leader — leaving as CEO. The Harvard Business Review even posted “Why Apple Doesn’t Need Steve Jobs.” Just so you know, I disagree with the article (as outlined in “The Dangers of Charismatic Leaders“). These quotes below from that post sum up what, I believe, we can expect to see in a post-Jobs-as-CEO Apple:

No American CEO is more intimately identified with his company’s success. Jobs is deeply involved in every facet of Apple development and design, and he’s justly admired for his instinct for the human-factor engineering of Apple products. (Hiltzik, Jan 2009)

What remains to be seen is whether a post-Jobs Apple will retain the corporate traits that made the company successful with its iconic leader at the helm. (Knowledge@Wharton)

Ultimately, some leaders are so irreplaceable that no amount of succession planning will ensure a seamless power transition. ‘In some sense, with the charismatic person, it’s difficult to prepare a successor, because they are bigger than life,’ says John Larrere, general manager at the management consultant Hay Group. (Ante & McGregor, 2009)

Ok, now let’s shift gear a bit because in this post, I want talk about the health, well-being, and the price we pay for not heeding the warning signs of being a workaholic.

Some pundits were surprised that Steve Jobs resigned, but others weren’t. I wasn’t. After a successful surgery to remove a tumor in his pancreas in 2004, he went back to work within a few months. But Jobs’ health has been declining and he looks gaunt. If we analyze this whole scenario from a workplace psychology and occupational health psychology perspective, it’s not difficult to see that Jobs’ relentless drive (whether at work or when he’s at home) and his self-sacrifices (mentioned as a virtue in my “The Dangers of Charismatic Leaders” post) have taken an exacting toll on his health and well-being.

In 2009, Jobs took another six-month medical leave and it was later revealed that he had received a liver transplant. Things “appeared” normal as he once again returned to work. But, in January 2011, Steve Jobs announced, yet again, that he was taking a medical leave. Fast forward to August 24, 2011 and the world found out, he was not coming back in his role as CEO.

In his email to Apple employees back in January 2011, Jobs wrote, “At my request, the board of directors has granted me a medical leave of absence so I can focus on my health. I will continue as CEO and be involved in major strategic decisions for the company…I love Apple so much and hope to be back as soon as I can.”

Notice the conflicting priorities – “focus on my health” and yet “I will continue as CEO and be involved…and hope to be back as soon as I can.”

There’s an interesting story on the NPR blog called “A Story About Steve Jobs And Attention To Detail” by Eyder Peralta about Steve Jobs’ attention to (I would say obsession with) detail. It’s a story that Vic Gundotra, the guy behind Google+, posted about Steve Jobs calling him in January 2008 on a Sunday. While Vic’s memory of Jobs calling him on a Sunday unhappy that the second “O” in the Google icon on the iPhone didn’t “have the right yellow gradient” was one of admiration, my interpretation is one of concern. Remember that this is only four years after his pancreatic cancer scare.

There are 3 common characteristics of workaholics (Schaufeli, Taris, & Rhenen, 2008):

  1. Workaholics spend a lot of time on work activities. They are excessively hard workers.
  2. Workaholics have a hard time disengaging from work and when they do, they continue and often think about work even when they are not working. This suggests a preoccupation and obsession with their work.
  3. Workaholics work beyond what’s reasonably expected from them to meet either the organizational or economic requirements. That is, workaholics often work excessively even if they don’t need the money.

Schaufeli, Taris, and Rhenen (2008) explained that workaholics work and push themselves extremely hard, not because of financial rewards, career drives, or even organizational culture. Instead, workaholics work hard because of an inner compulsion, need, or drive.

Shimazu, Schaufeli, and Taris (2010) discovered that workaholism is both directly and indirectly associated with poor health. The researchers found that while workaholics might contribute more to organizational performance than others, “the costs for the workaholic people themselves (in terms of ill-health) are high” (p. 158).

When a workaholic, like a Steve Jobs, is constantly obsessing about work and doesn’t know how or even want to disengage (see my post about failure to disengage) while he’s away from work (e.g., Jobs should have been resting on that Sunday as I am sure his doctors would have told him to do), the end result is that something has to give. In this case, it was his health.

I am a Mac user. I’ve been one for 9 years. I love my Mac and Apple products. I wish Steve Jobs all the best, particularly good health. But if I were him, I would not only resign as CEO, I would also not take on another role, even as a Board member. The health warning signs his body has been trying to tell him should be taken very seriously.

As I wrote back in 2009, approaching work with a 24/7 mindset “is a double-edged sword that in the end [can and does] threaten employee health and well-being” (Sonnentag et al., 2008, p. 273.)

It doesn’t take a doctor to see that Steve Jobs’ workaholic mentality is costing him his health. What a truly sad price to pay when we can’t or won’t disengage from our work.

References

Ante, S.E., & McGregor, J. (January 2009). Apple Succession Plan: Nobody’s Business? BusinessWeek. Retrieved from http://www.businessweek.com/technology/content/jan2009/tc20090115_863327.htm

Apple. (August 2011). Letter from Steve Jobs. Retrieved from http://www.apple.com/pr/library/2011/08/24Letter-from-Steve-Jobs.html

Apple. (August 2011). Steve Jobs Resigns as CEO of Apple. Retrieved from http://www.apple.com/pr/library/2011/08/24Steve-Jobs-Resigns-as-CEO-of-Apple.html

Cheng, J. (August 2011). Steve Jobs has resigned as Apple CEO “effective immediately.” Retrieved from http://arstechnica.com/apple/news/2011/08/steve-jobs-has-resigned-as-apple-ceo-effective-immediately.ars

Gundotra, V. (April 2011). Icon Ambulance. Retrieved from https://plus.google.com/107117483540235115863/posts/gcSStkKxXTw

Hiltzik, M. (Jan 2009). Apple’s condition linked to Steve Jobs’ health. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved from http://articles.latimes.com/2009/jan/05/business/fi-hiltzik5

Knowledge@Wharton. Job-less: Steve Jobs’s Succession Plan Should Be a Top Priority for Apple. Retrieved from http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article.cfm?articleid=2134

Peralta, E. (August 2011). A Story About Steve Jobs And Attention To Detail. Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2011/08/25/139947282/a-shade-of-yellow-steve-jobs-and-attention-to-detail

Schaufeli, W. B., Taris, T. W., & Van Rhenen, W. (2008). Workaholism, burnout, and work engagement: three of a kind or three different kinds of employee well-being. Applied Psychology: An International Review, 57(2), 173-203. doi:10.1111/j.1464-0597.2007.00285.x

Shimazu, A., Schaufeli, W. B., & Taris, T. W. (2010). How does workaholism affect worker health and performance? The mediating role of coping. International Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 17(2), 154-160, doi:10.1007/s12529-010-9077-x

Sonnentag S., Mojza, E.J., Binnewies, C., & Scholl, A. (2008). Being engaged at work and detached at home: A week-level study on work engagement, psychological detachment, and affect. Work & Stress, 22(3), 257-276.

The Three Burnout Subtypes

[NOTE: This post was updated November 2016]

Burnout is a prolonged response to chronic emotional and interpersonal stressors on the job, and is defined by the three dimensions of exhaustion (overwhelming exhaustion), cynicism (cynicism and detachment), and inefficacy (a sense of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment) (Maslach, Schaufeli, & Leiter, 2001; Maslach, Leiter, & Schaufeli, 2009).

More broadly, Maslach and Leiter (2005) said burnout includes losing three things:

  1. Burnout is lost energy.
  2. Burnout is lost enthusiasm.
  3. Burnout is lost confidence.

We typically think of a “burnt-out” employee as someone who has been on the job for a long period of time. A worker who experiences burnout is someone who is exhausted emotionally. This individual exhibits low motivation and lack of energy for the job (Spector, 2008). However, there are, in fact, more than one type of burnout.

The Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI), a scale measuring burnout, divides it into three components:

  • Emotional exhaustion is feeling tired and fatigued at work (it can result in absence from work).
  • Depersonalization is developing a callous/uncaring feeling, even hostility, toward others (either clients or colleagues).
  • Reduced personal accomplishment is feeling you (the employee) are not accomplishing anything worthwhile at work. This can lead to a lack of motivation and poor performance.

The Burnout Clinical Subtype Questionnaire (BCSQ-36), another scale, also divides burnout into three subtypes:

  • The “frenetic” type describes involved and ambitious subjects who sacrifice their health and personal lives for their jobs.
  • The “underchallenged” type describes indifferent and bored workers who fail to find personal development in their jobs.
  • The “worn-out” type describes neglectful subjects who feel they have little control over results and whose efforts go unacknowledged.

In a study of 409 employees at a university in Spain, Montero-Marín and colleagues (2011) discovered that those who work more than 40 hours a week faced the greatest risk for “frenetic” burnout. They found that administration and service personnel encountered the greatest risk of “underchallenged” burnout compared to teaching and research staff. Finally, the researchers found that employees with more than sixteen years of service in the organization faced the greatest risk of “worn-out” burnout versus those with less than four years of service.

Take-Away: The “frenetic” profile is associated with the number of hours per week dedicated to work. The “underchallenged” profile is related with the type of occupation and the “worn-out” profile is associated with the cumulative effect over time of the characteristics of an organization.

Suggestions: There are two, rather obvious, ways to reduce burnout. One is to take a vacation (Fritz & Sonnentag, 2006), even though a few weeks after returning to work, feelings of burnout often return. The second way to reduce burnout is to have supervisors offer emotional support to workers through positive feedback and discussions about the positive aspects of the job (Kahn, Schneider, Jenkins-Henkelman, & Moyle, 2006).

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership, Training, and Talent Consultant

References

Fritz, C., & Sonnentag, S. (2006). Recovery, well-being, and performance-related outcomes: The role of workload and vacation experiences. Journal of Applied Psychology, 91(4), 936–945. doi:10.1037/0021-9010.91.4.936

Kahn, J. H., Schneider, K. T., Jenkins-Henkelman, T. M., & Moyle, L. L. (2006). Emotional social support and job burnout among high-school teachers: Is it all due to dispositional affectivity? Journal of Organizational Behavior, 27, 793–807. doi:10.1002/job.397

Maslach, C., & Leiter, M. P. (2005). Banishing burnout: Six strategies for improving your relationship with work. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Maslach, C., Leiter, M. P., & Schaufeli, W. (2009). Measuring burnout. In S. Cartwright & C. L. Cooper (Eds.). The Oxford handbook of organizational well-being (pp. 86-108). Oxford: Oxford Univerrsity Press.

Maslach, C., Schaufeli, W. B., & Leiter, M. P. (2001). Job burnout. Annual Review of Psychology, 52, 397-422.

Montero-Marín, J., García-Campayo, J., Fajó-Pascual, M., Carrasco, J. M., Gascón, S., Gili, M., & Mayoral-Cleries, F. (2011). Sociodemographic and occupational risk factors associated with the development of different burnout types: The cross-sectional University of Zaragoza study. BMC Psychiatry, 11:49. doi:10.1186/1471-244X-11-49

Spector, P. E. (2008). Industrial and organizational psychology: Research and practice (5th ed.). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

Failure is a Better Teacher than Success

“Failure is not fatal. Failure should be our teacher, not our undertaker. It should challenge us to new heights of accomplishments, not pull us to new depths of despair. From honest failure can come valuable experience.” -William Arthur Ward, American author and teacher

We prize success over failure. You see articles and book titles with the words “success” or “succeed” splattered on bookstore shelves. However, research shows that when it comes to learning, failure may just be good for us after all. In fact, failure is a better teacher than success. Madsen and Desai (2010) discovered that the knowledge gained from our failures lasts longer than those from our successes. They advise organizations, to neither ignore nor dismiss failure but to, treat failure as a learning opportunity.

To illustrate the point, they used the flights of the 2002 space shuttle Atlantis and 2003 space shuttle Columbia. During the 2002 Atlantis flight, a piece of insulation broke off and damaged the left solid rocket booster but did not impede the mission or the program. However, there was little follow-up or investigation.

During the launching of the space shuttle Columbia in 2003, another piece of insulation broke off and struck the leading edge of Columbia’s left wing. When Columbia reentered the earth’s atmosphere after a 16-day mission, “damage sustained from the foam’s impact compromised the orbiter’s thermal protection system, leading to the failure of the left wing and to the eventual disintegration of the orbiter” (Madsen & Desai, 2010, p. 451).

Tragically, all seven astronauts on board were killed. The Columbia disaster resulted in the suspension of shuttle flights and led to a major investigation resulting in 29 recommended changes to prevent future disasters.

Obviously, the point is that, while we should not fail on purpose, failure (while sometimes tragic) is an important teacher. For organizations, the advice is this: study your small failures and close calls to extract useful information instead of waiting for a major catastrophe.

“Organizational leaders should neither ignore failures nor stigmatize those involved with them; rather, leaders should treat failures as invaluable learning opportunities, encouraging the open sharing of information about them” (Madsen & Desai, 2010, p. 471).

Reference

Madsen, P. M., & Desai, V. M. (2010). Failing to learn? The effects of failure and success on organizational learning in the global orbital launch vehicle industry. Academy of Management Journal, 53(3), 451-476.

Whining Is Caused by Thinking Errors

The New Oxford American Dictionary (2005) defines whine as a verb that means: complain in a feeble or petulant way.

Whining is a powerless way to complain about something to which we do not believe we have the power to change.

In the world of counseling, therapists/counselors/psychologists often bring up an idea called locus of control. Locus of control is the belief we have about the location (source) of the causes of events in our lives. There are two types of locus of control – internal (within you) and external (outside of you) (Donatelle, 2011).

People with an internal locus of control are those who believe that their behaviors are guided by their personal decisions and efforts and that they have control over those things they can change. Because individuals with an internal locus of control believe that they are in control over their circumstances, they tend to manage stress better. On the other hand, people with an external locus of control see their behaviors and their lives as being controlled by luck or fate. These individuals often view their lives and circumstances as victims of life and bad luck.

Having an internal locus of control (believing you have power over your own actions) is tied to self-efficacy, which is the belief you have about being able to do something successfully (Donatelle, 2011).

Generally, people who whine are those who tend to be preoccupied with cognitive distortions or thinking errors. Thinking errors are our tendencies to focus on insufficient or inappropriate information and then jump to conclusions or make predictions (Palmer & Szymanska, 2007). These patterns of thinking often are the causes of negative thinking and lead to the nasty habit known as whining.

Some common thinking errors include:

  • Mind-reading/Jumping to conclusions – jumping to a conclusion without the relevant information.
  • All-or-nothing thinking – evaluating experiences on the basis of extremes. For example, “I always lose.”
  • Blame – not taking responsibility and blaming someone else or something else for the problem.
  • Magnification – blowing things out of proportion.
  • Personalization – taking things personally.
  • Fortune-telling – thinking you know what the future holds.
  • Labeling – labeling or rating yourself. For example, “I’m a loser” or “I’m an idiot.”
  • Minimization – minimizing the part one plays in a situation. For example, “It must have been an easy test because I got a good grade.”
  • Low frustration tolerance or ‘I-can-stand-it-itis’ – lowering our ability to endure frustrating or stressful situations by telling ourselves, “I can’t stand it.”

“Don’t find fault, find a remedy; anybody can complain.”
–Henry Ford, founder of the Ford Motor Company

References

Donatelle, R. (2011). Health: The basics (Green ed.). San Francisco: Pearson Benjamin Cummings.

McKean, E. (Ed.). (2005). The New Oxford American Dictionary (2nd ed.). New York: Oxford University Press, Inc.

Palmer, S, & Szymanska, K. (2007). Cognitive behavioural coaching: An integrative approach. In S. Palmer and A. Whybrow (Eds.), Handbook of coaching psychology: A guide for practitioners (pp. 86-117). London: Sage.

Information Overload-When Information Becomes Noise

In “Information Overload: Causes, Symptoms and Solutions,” an article for the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Learning Innovations Laboratory (LILA), Joseph Ruff says that we are bombarded with so much data that we’re on information overload. Simply put, information overload is when our ability to process information has passed its limit, and further attempts to process information or make accurate decisions from the surplus of information leads to information overload.

Ruff argues that information overload interferes with our ability to learn and engage in creative problem-solving. For instance, venture capitalists with too much information cannot make accurate adjustments to their evaluation process, and because of this their learning is impeded.

“Once capacity is surpassed, additional information becomes noise and results in a decrease in information processing and decision quality…[H]aving too much information is the same as not having enough” (Ruff, 2002, p. 4).

There’s even a new name for it, Information Fatigue Syndrome (IFS). Its symptoms include:

  • Poor concentration due to the overloading of short-term memory
  • Polyphasic behavior or multi-tasking often resulting in diminished rather than increased productivity
  • Hurry sickness, which is the belief that one must constantly rush to keep pace with time
  • Pervasive hostility resulting in a chronic state of irritability near anger or even rage
  • Habituation or over stimulation which causes the brain to shut down and enter a trance-like state
  • “Plugged in” compulsion is the strong need to check email, voice mail and the Internet in order to stay “in touch”
  • Traditional stress including lowered immune response, endocrine imbalance, depression and the experience of “burn out”

Ruff offers a list of strategies to manage information overload. He divides the solutions into proactive and reactive strategies. Proactive strategies are attempts at preventing information overload. Reactive strategies, on the other hand, are implemented after information overload has occurred. Below is Ruff’s list (verbatim) [to see a more detailed list click on the link to his PDF* in the reference section or click HERE]:

Proactive

  • Devise a pulse-taking system to form a constantly changing up-to-date mental model of the organization and key stakeholders
  • Create a personal system for storing and retrieving information (i.e. notebook, planner, system for filing and organizing email)
  • Do not overwhelm yourself with a waste-not want-not mentality; throw it away or delete it
  • Time management training
  • Business writing training
  • Software and technology training
  • Information literacy training
    • Traditional and digital communication skills
    • Thinking and decision making skills
    • Creativity, innovation and risk taking
    • Computer literacy
    • Subject matter literacy
    • Learning how to learn
    • Electronic resources
  • Chunking and mnemonics training
  • Perception’s role in information overload training

Reactive

  • Filtering – focusing attention only on the most useful and essential information while purposefully ignoring other sources
  • Multitasking – performing two or more job functions at the same time [See my post Multitasking Doesn’t Work]
  • Queuing – performing initial steps to tasks that will be completed at a latter time
  • Escaping – eliminating disturbances by psychologically or physically limiting disruptions from outside world (i.e. not answering phone, closing door)
  • Prioritizing – determining and approaching most important tasks first
  • Delegating – determining which tasks can be given to other workers
  • Refusing – determining which tasks can be left undone
  • Limiting – not being seduced by thinking that more information is better
  • Satisficing – seeking “good enough” solutions; not perfection
  • Altering – changing perception of a task by performing it in a different way or place (i.e. view documents on paper instead of a computer screen; move to a lounge or coffee shop)
  • Shifting – changing perception of situation by accepting it as just part of the job

Reference

Ruff, J. (2002). Information Overload: Causes, Symptoms and Solutions. Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Learning Innovations Laboratory (LILA). Information Overload: Causes, Symptoms and Solutions.pdf [*PDF now hosted on WorkplacePsychology.Net for convenience.]

Failure to Recognize and Address Issues Quickly

The ability to manage conflicts is one of a leader’s greatest challenges. Many teams and entire organizations struggle with the different/conflicting views about how things should run and how change should be implemented. It is crucial for a leader to possess the ability to manage people’s differences in a way that reduces their destructive energy while channeling their constructive energy.

There are two things that a leader can do to ensure this happens (Heifetz & Linsky, 2002):

  1. Create a safe place to allow for the conflicts to come up.
  2. As the conflict is boiling, make certain that you, the leader, control that it doesn’t boil over.

In one company, middle managers were unhappy with their leader because they felt restricted about not being able to run their departments in a manner that they believe is best. When the managers raised their concerns, the leader would often respond with minimizing statements or just outright dismiss the concerns as insignificant.

It’s easy to see that the leader’s tendency to minimize and discount concerns created a growing level discontentment that eventually led to the exit of one of the managers.

In “The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave (2005),” Leigh Branham outlined the reasons why employees often head for the exit door:

  • Reason #1: The Job or Workplace Was Not as Expected
  • Reason #2: The Mismatch Between Job and Person
  • Reason #3: Too Little Coaching and Feedback
  • Reason #4: Too Few Growth and Advancement Opportunities
  • Reason #5: Feeling Devalued And Unrecognized
  • Reason #6: Stress From Overwork and Work-Life Imbalance
  • Reason #7: Loss of Trust and Confidence in Senior Leaders

There are two distinct periods when someone considers quitting. The first period is the time between the first thoughts of leaving and the later decision to leave. The second period in which the employee considers leaving is the time between the decision to leave and actually leaving.

For this middle manager, the two biggest reasons were: (1) too few growth and advancement opportunities (reason #4), and (2) feeling devalued and unrecognized (reason #5). The manager had devoted a considerable amount of time and energy into developing his expertise and competence, only to discover that there was not an opportunity for him to advance. Furthermore, when the manager brought up his concerns or offered suggestions or ideas for improvements, he never felt “heard.”

Unfortunately for the company, when an opportunity came, the manager happily jumped ship and accepted a position where his skills and work ethics were appreciated.

There are three tips that the leader could have followed to avoid losing this valuable manager:

  1. Inspire confidence in a clear vision, a workable plan and the competence to achieve it.
  2. Back up words with actions.
  3. Have trust and confidence in your workforce.

References

Branham, L. (2005). The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave. Broadway, NY: AMACOM.

Heifetz, R., & Linsky, M. (2002). A survival guide for leaders. Harvard Business Review, 80(6), 65-72.

Meeting and More Meetings


I have always been fascinated by why organizations and supervisors insist on continuing the maddening idea of having so many meetings. I have seen places where they seem to have a meeting just to talk about planning for the next meeting. I call it a “meeting about another meeting.” I have seen this “meeting-about-another-meeting” phenomenon in schools, churches, and private and non-profit businesses.

I came across a study by Luong and Rogelberg (2005) that supported what, I believe, many of us already know about too many meetings. The authors said work meetings are similar to interruptions and daily hassles. For one week, participants were to keep a daily diary account of their daily meetings and self-reports about the employee’s well-being. Not surprisingly, the authors found that more meetings were associated with increased feelings of fatigue and workload, confirming their initial hypothesis that meeting load has a negative effect on well-being, similar to the effects of interruptions and daily hassles.

To counteract the countless, and dare I say useless, meetings, I want to share what Charan (2006) suggests about holding effective meetings.

He says decisive meetings have four characteristics:

  1. Open—their outcomes are not predetermined. Questions such as “What are we missing?” communicate an honest search for and a willingness to hear alternative perspectives.
  2. Candid—encourage people to air the conflicts that undermine apparent consensus, a willingness to speak the unspeakable. Candor “prevents the kind of unnecessary rework and revisiting of decisions that saps productivity.”
  3. Informal—informal meetings encourage people to be honest, open, and less defensive. Meetings should not feel like they were scripted. When people are comfortable and able to react in an honest way, “spontaneity is energizing.”
  4. Marked by Closure—while informality helps loosen up the meeting, closure establishes discipline. “Closure means that at the end of the meeting, people know exactly what they are expected to do.” In my opinion, this is key because, as Charan explains, it assigns accountability and deadlines to people.

Take-Away Message

  • Holding too many meetings can lead to increased feelings of fatigue and workload.
  • Effective meetings have four characteristics: open, candid, informal, and marked by closure.
  • At the end of the meeting, people should know exactly what they are expected to do.

References

Charan, R. (2006). Conquering a Culture of Indecision. Harvard Business Review, 84(1), 108-117.

Luong, A., & Rogelberg, S. G. (2005). Meetings and more meetings: The relationship between meeting load and the daily well-being of employees. Group Dynamics: Theory, Research, and Practice, 9(1), 58-67. doi:10.1037/1089-2699.9.1.58

When Clowns Run The Circus

We all know the “bossholes,” Robert Sutton’s description of a boss who’s domineering or overbearing, an a$$hole. But it takes more than simply avoiding the land mines of the world of “bossholes” to qualify one to be a good boss. Effective bosses understand that having authority means being able to use power appropriately and timely. In “Good Boss, Bad Boss,” Sutton says one mindset that is characteristic of a good boss is the ability to find a balance between over-managing (or micromanaging) and under-managing. He says good bosses know when to exert more control and when to back off. They know when to coach and when to discipline.

If you ever watch the circus, you have probably seen clowns running around. They’re really entertaining and often add to the overall experience of going to the circus. However, you might also notice that clowns never take charge. They don’t take charge over the circus because that’s not their role. Instead, clowns always take their cues from the ringmaster — the boss of the circus.

In a similar fashion, bosses are not that different in their roles at work from circus ringmasters. When the boss is “too nice,” the jerks, bullies, and bigmouths who report to them will actually be the ones running the show. Sadly, these poor bosses are viewed as powerless pushovers, leaders by title but not by respect. In these situations, the clowns in the office are running the circus (aka, the workplace).

In one workplace, a manager often relinquishes authority over to an administrative assistant who has been with the organization for almost two decades. When ask why she does this, the boss explains she doesn’t want to upset the assistant. It is actually fascinating to watch because there exists a very clear power struggle between the manager and secretary. While the manager doesn’t like it, she would always reluctantly, but surely, give in to the demands of the office assistant. Part of her fear of not doing so is the rationalization that this secretary is simply too valuable to let go. Thus, each day brings with it a different drama, depending on the fickle mood swings of this secretary.

In a post that parallels some of what I’ve just shared, Jill Geisler has a nice piece titled, “What Great Bosses Know About the 7 Deadly Sins of the Too-Nice Boss.” In it, she outlines seven things that can go wrong when a boss is too nice.

The Seven Deadly Sins of the Too-Nice Boss (verbatim from her post):

  1. Your ideas get overshadowed by others in the organization who are more assertive about making their cases.
  2. Workplace problems fester as you postpone dealing with them.
  3. Mediocrity flourishes as you hold back from challenging underperformers.
  4. Needed change is delayed as you hesitate to nudge people out of their comfort zones.
  5. You do other peoples’ work when they complain about schedules, shifts or duties.
  6. Bullies and bigmouths win.
  7. You can lose respect — from your bosses, other managers, your staff — or all of them.

Take-Away Message

  • Good bosses know when to exert control and when to back off. They know when to coach and when to discipline.
  • Bosses who are “too nice” or who are viewed as pushovers will be dominated by office clowns (the jerks, bullies, and bigmouths subordinates who report to them).
  • When the office clowns run the show, drama and problems will arise, and the workplace will start to look like a circus.
  • “Too-nice” bosses will not gain the respect of their employees.

References

Geisler, J. (2011). What Great Bosses Know About the 7 Deadly Sins of the Too-Nice Boss. Retrieved from http://www.poynter.org/how-tos/leadership-management/what-great-bosses-know/125251/what-great-bosses-know-about-the-7-deadly-sins-of-the-too-nice-boss/

Sutton, R.I. (2010). Good boss, bad boss: How to be the best…and learn from the worst. New York: Business Plus.

Humans, True Grit, and Teaching Resilience

In an HBR article titled “Building resilience,” Dr. Martin Seligman (2011) talks about building resilience after failing. Failure is a common trauma we all face in life. But each of our responses is different. While some seem to bounce back shortly after, others seem to spiral more and more into depression and despair, paralyzing them to even think about the future.

Seligman contends that resilience can be measured and taught. In fact, the U.S. Army is putting Seligman’s ideas into practice through its Comprehensive Soldier Fitness (CSF) program. In essence, CSF’s goal is to prepare soldiers psychologically for stress and trauma just like boot camp prepares them physically for battle. A key part of CSF is something called “master resilience training” (MRT) where drill sergeants learn to embrace resilience and then pass it on, by building mental toughness, signature strengths, and strong relationships.

Challenging Seligman’s idea, Stix’s article (“The neuroscience of true grit”) in Scientific American (2011) offers what I consider a much more balanced perspective to resilience and the human capacity to recover. Beyond the hype about teaching resilience, the article points out that people do, in fact, recover from disasters and they do so more often than many people realize. While each person’s way towards recovery is different, coping ugly as a researcher in the article says, it serves to help him/her adapt to the crisis.

George A. Bonanno of Teachers College at Columbia University has devoted his career as a psychologist to documenting the varieties of resilient experience, focusing on our reactions to the death of a loved one and to what happens in the face of war, terror and disease. In every instance, he has found, most people adapt surprisingly well to whatever the world presents; life returns to a measure of normalcy in a matter of months.

And it’s Bonanno who raises concern about Seligman and the military’s Comprehensive Soldier Fitness (CSF) program and its lack of evidence for its effectiveness. More importantly than whether it works or not, I agree with Bonanno that there’s a potential for a much greater danger – whether more harm than good might result from interfering with people’s ability to naturally bounce back.

If most people are resilient, as they seem to be in all the studies we’ve done, what happens to those people if you give them stress-inoculation training? -Dr. George A. Bonanno

What’s more, even those in the military aren’t jumping on Seligman’s resilience training. “William P. Nash, a physician formerly charged with overseeing stress-monitoring programs for the U.S. Marines, says there is little evidence for prophylactic resilience training” (Stix, 2011, p. 33).

Take-Away Message

  • Humans have an amazing capacity to recover and bounce back from disasters and traumas, even without assistance or, in the case of resilience training, interference.
  • It is critical to always consider whether more harm than good might result from interfering (this includes interventions to teach resilience) with people’s natural ability to bounce back from trauma.

References

Seligman, M. (2011, April). Building resilience. Harvard Business Review, April, 100-106. Retrieved from http://hbr.org/2011/04/building-resilience/ar/1

Stix, G. (2011, March). The neuroscience of true grit: When tragedy strikes, most of us ultimately rebound surprisingly well. Where does such resilience come from? Scientific American, 304(3), 29-33.

Why Sleep Is Important-Impact on Health and Safety

Healthy People 2020 is a website established by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It offers a nice outline of why the subject of sleep health is not just a personal health issue, but also a public health and safety concern. According to the site, poor sleep health is quite common with 25 percent of U.S. adults not getting enough sleep for 15 out of 30 days.

Sleep has two main functions. First, sleep conserves our energy so when we wake up we’re ready for the day. Second, sleep restores. While we’re awake, neurotransmitters in the brain are expended and is reduced. Sleep replenishes the supply of neurotransmitters (Donatelle, 2009).

The National Sleep Foundation’s 2008 Sleep in America survey found 65 percent of Americans experienced sleep problems. In that survey,

  • 40% of respondents were impatient with others at work.
  • 27% frequently found it hard to concentrate.
  • 20% had lower productivity than they expected.
  • 29% have fallen asleep or became very sleepy while they were at work because of sleepiness or because they have a sleep problem.
  • 12% were late to work in the past month due to sleepiness or a sleep problem.
  • 4% left work early or 2% did not go to work because they were too sleepy or because of a sleep problem.

There’s a syndrome called sleep inertia which is the cognitive impairment, disorientation, and groggy feeling we experience when we first awake from sleep. Sleep inertia can negatively impact the brain’s ability to think clearly and our ability to function effectively in performing tasks right after we wake up (Donatelle, 2009). Just think about the challenge it takes to brush your teeth when you wake up after only four or five hours of sleep.

The stages of sleep include: wakefulness, drowsiness, light sleep, and deeper sleep. It is in the deeper sleep phase where rapid eye movement (REM) sleep occurs. REM sleep is absolutely essential. In fact, missing REM sleep is responsible for our feeling groggy and sleep deprived (Donatelle, 2009).

Lack of sleep or difficulty in easily falling asleep, frequent arousals during sleep, or early morning awakening (all describing insomnia—a common complaint among 20 to 40 percent of Americans) can also be caused by work stressors.

“Sleeping six to eight hours is considered optimal. Sleeping less than six hours, often driven by pressure to work more, or the inability to accommodate to the odd hours of shift work, has been linked to heart disease, hypertension, diabetes and obesity” (Allen, 2010).

In the video “Why Sleep Matters”, Dr. Charles A. Czeisler (Director of the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School) says doctors in training often work “marathon shifts” of 30 consecutive hours twice a week throughout the three to seven years these doctors are in residency. When Dr. Czeisler and his colleagues surveyed 2,700 medical school interns across the U.S., they found that 1 out of 5 reported making a fatigue-related mistake that injured a patient, and 1 out of 20 interns reported making a fatigue-related mistake that resulted in the death of a patient.

Beyond the dangers inside the hospital, when the interns drive home after working these marathon shifts, their risk of getting into a motor vehicle crash goes up 168 percent! One out of five motor vehicle accidents is related to drivers who are too tired to drive. Sadly, every hour someone is killed in a drowsy, driving-related crash.

Take-Away Message

Sleep and Health

  • Studies have found that insufficient sleep increases a person’s risk of developing serious medical conditions, including obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
  • Lack of adequate sleep over time has been associated with a shortened lifespan.

Sleep and Mood

  • Sleep and mood are closely connected; poor or inadequate sleep can cause irritability and stress, while healthy sleep can enhance well-being.
  • Chronic insomnia may increase the risk of developing a mood disorder, such as anxiety or depression.

Sleep and Memory

  • Only 11 percent of American college students sleep well, and 40 percent of students feel well rested only two days per week.
  • Inadequate sleep appears to affect the brain’s ability to consolidate both factual information and procedural memories about how to do various physical tasks.
  • The most critical period of sleep for memory consolidation is in the hours immediately following a lesson.

Sleep and Judgment and Safety

  • Drowsy driving causes 1 million crashes, 500,000 injuries, and 8,000 deaths each year in the U.S.
  • Just one sleepless night can impair performance as much as a blood-alcohol level of 0.10 percent, beyond the legal limit to drive.
  • Like alcohol, sleep deprivation also affects judgment, making it harder to assess how impaired you are when you’re tired.

Making Changes at Work

  • Insufficient sleep has an impact on every part of our lives, including at work.
  • Many employees report difficulty concentrating at work or feeling that their productivity is not optimal.
  • Individuals can take personal steps and employers can make accommodations to help workers get the sleep they need.

How To Get a Good Night’s Sleep (Donatelle, 2009, Table 2.3, p. 44)

  1. Establish a consistent sleep schedule. Go to bed and get up at about the same time every day.
  2. Evaluate your sleep environment. Is there something keeping you awake? If it’s noise, wear earplugs or use a white-noise item such as running a fan. If it’s light, try room-darkening shades.
  3. Exercise regularly. It’s hard to feel drowsy if you have been sedentary all day. Don’t exercise right before bedtime, because activity speeds up your metabolism and makes it harder to go to sleep.
  4. Limit caffeine and alcohol. Caffeine can linger in your body for up to 12 hours and cause insomnia. Although alcohol may make you drowsy at first, it interferes with the normal sleep–wake cycle.
  5. Avoid eating a heavy meal or drinking large amounts of liquid before bed.
  6. Don’t lie in bed tossing and turning. If you’re unable to get to sleep in 30 minutes, get up and do something else. Read, play solitaire, or try other relaxing activities; return to bed when you feel drowsy.
  7. Nap only in the afternoon. This is when our circadian rhythms tend to make us sleepy. Don’t let naps interfere with your normal sleep schedule.
  8. Establish a relaxing nighttime ritual that puts you in the mood to sleep. Take a warm shower, relax in a comfortable chair, don your favorite robe. Doing this consistently will cue your mind and body that it’s time to wind down.

References

Allen, J.E. (2010). 7 Ways to Work Yourself to Death: Research Reveals Several Surprising Ways Your Job Could Shorten Your Life. Retrieved from http://abcnews.go.com/Health/Wellness/working-early-death/story?id=11781365

Donatelle, R. (2009). Health: The basics (8th ed.). San Francisco: Pearson Benjamin Cummings.

Harvard Medical School — Division of Sleep Medicine.

Why Sleep Matters video. Retrieved from http://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/video/sleep07_matters

Sleep and Health. Retrieved from http://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/need-sleep/whats-in-it-for-you/health

Sleep and Judgment and Safety. Retrieved from http://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/need-sleep/whats-in-it-for-you/judgment-safety

Sleep and Memory. Retrieved from http://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/need-sleep/whats-in-it-for-you/memory

Sleep and Mood. Retrieved from http://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/need-sleep/whats-in-it-for-you/mood

Healthy People 2020. Retrieved from http://www.healthypeople.gov/2020/default.aspx

National Sleep Foundation. 2008 Sleep, Performance and the Workplace. Retrieved from http://www.sleepfoundation.org/article/sleep-america-polls/2008-sleep-performance-and-the-workplace

Successful Strategic Execution Is Hard

Successful strategic execution is hard to achieve because of five key reasons (Franken, Edwards, & Lambert, 2009):

  1. Relentless pressure from shareholders for greater profits. This forces top business leaders to redefine their strategy more often.
  2. Increased complexity of organizations. For example, the activities it requires to create products and services span various functional, organization, and even geographical boundaries.
  3. Balancing demands of executing complex change programs with business performance. In particular, in cases where management is tied to rewards based on performance, it can be difficult to get buy-in into creating strategic plans for the future.
  4. Low levels of involvement of managers at the beginning stages of strategic execution.
  5. Difficulty securing the required resources to execute the strategy. As a result of the large number of concurrent change programs, many of the company’s resources will already be allocated and even if they are available, managers will aggressively compete for them.

Reference

Franken, A., Edwards, C., & Lambert, R. (2009). Executing strategic change: Understanding the critical management elements that lead to success. California Management Review, 51(3), 49-72.

Creating an Ethical Organizational Culture

[NOTE: This post was updated October 2016]

“Having an organizational culture that emphasizes ethical behavior can cut down on misbehavior of organizations. Research shows that whether an organization develops a culture that emphasizes doing the right thing even when it is costly comes down to whether leaders, starting with the CEO, consider the ethical consequences of their actions. Leaders with a moral compass set the tone when it comes to ethical dilemmas” (Truxillo, Bauer, & Erdogan, 2016, p. 385).

Robbins and Judge (2009) offer a nice list of what management can do to create a more ethical organizational culture. They suggest a combination of the following practices:

  1. Be a role model and be visible. Your employees look to the behavior of top management as a model of what’s acceptable behavior in the workplace. When senior management is observed (by subordinates) to take the ethical high road, it sends a positive message for all employees.
  2. Communicate ethical expectations. Ethical ambiguities can be reduced by creating and disseminating an organizational code of ethics. It should state the organization’s primary values and the ethical rules that employees are expected to follow. Remember, however, that a code of ethics is worthless if top management fails to model ethical behaviors.
  3. Offer ethics training. Set up seminars, workshops, and similar ethical training programs. Use these training sessions to reinforce the organization’s standards of conduct, to clarify what practices are and are not permissible, and to address possible ethical dilemmas.
  4. Visibly reward ethical acts and punish unethical ones. Performance appraisals of managers should include a point-by-point evaluation of how his or her decisions measure up against the organization’s code of ethics. Appraisals must include the means taken to achieve goals as well as the ends themselves. People who act ethically should be visibly rewarded for their behavior. Just as importantly, unethical acts should be punished.
  5. Provide protective mechanisms. The organization needs to provide formal mechanisms so that employees can discuss ethical dilemmas and report unethical behavior without fear of reprimand. This might include creation of ethical counselors, ombudsmen, or ethical officers.

A good case study of an unethical organizational culture is the now defunct Enron. Sims and Brinkmann (2003) described Enron’s ethics as “the ultimate contradiction between words and deeds, between a deceiving glossy facade and a rotten structure behind” (p. 243). Enron executives created an organizational culture that valued profits (the bottom line) over ethical behavior and doing what’s right.

“A business perceived to lack integrity or to operate in an unethical, immoral, or irresponsible manner soon loses the support of customers, suppliers and the community at large*” (Tozer, 2012, p. 476).

*In addition to losing customers, suppliers and the community, I would also include losing the support of employees and managers.

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership & Talent Consultant

References

Robbins, S.P., & Judge, T.A. (2009). Organizational behavior (13th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.

Sims, R.R., & Brinkmann, J. (2003). Enron ethics (or: Culture matters more than codes). Journal of Business Ethics, 45(3), 243-256.

Tozer, J. (2012). Leading through leaders: Driving strategy, execution and change. London, UK: KoganPage.

Truxillo, D. M., Bauer, T. N., & Erdogan, B. (2016). Psychology and work: Perspectives on industrial and organizational psychology. New York: Routledge.

What Happens When Leaders Set High Expectations?

Some of you may have heard that when leaders set high expectations followers rise to meet them.

Well, there’s actually a concept called the Pygmalion Effect which says that the lower the expectations, the worse people do. In an interesting experiment (Eden & Shani, 1982) in a 15-week combat command course, trainees were matched on aptitude and then randomly put in 1 of 3 groups.

Each group had different expectations, high, average, and no specified expectations. But 4 days before the trainees arrived, the instructors were told that each trainee had a score that was based on their psychological test scores, data from a prior course on leadership, and on ratings by previous commanders. This score (known as command potential or CP) represents the trainee’s potential to command others.

What’s more, the instructors were told that the course grades predict command potential (CP) in 95% of the cases. Afterwards, the instructors were each given a list of the trainees assigned to them. Each list had the trainee’s name and the trainee’s CP score.

Based on the Pygmalion hypothesis, it was confirmed that the instructor’s prior expectation (based on what they thought were a high or low CP score for each trainee) influenced the trainee’s performance (Eden & Shani, 1982). Trainees whose instructors expected high performance scored significantly higher on objective achievement tests, exhibited more positive attitudes, and were seen as better leaders.

So What: Leaders often get the performance they expect from their employees.

Reference

Eden, D., & Shani, A. B. (1982). Pygmalion goes to boot camp: Expectancy, leadership, and trainee performance. Journal of Applied Psychology, 67(2), 194–199.

Power Trip-Do You Have Enough Power to Impact Change?

I recently rediscovered the wonders of television through fantastic programs offered on Public Broadcasting Service (PBS). I especially love Independent Lens, which showcases documentaries and dramas made by independent filmmakers.

The other night I watched “Power Trip” on PBS World. It’s a powerful film about an American energy company and its attempt to operate an electric company in the former Soviet Republic of Georgia. Of course, the title suggests a power struggle for control and this was certainly the case, but there are also other management lessons that can and should be learned.

The film documents the ongoing challenges that AES (the American energy company) face in running AES-Telasi (the electricity distribution company in Georgia’s capital city, Tbilisi). While the film does a nice job of highlighting the problems of corruption, lack of infrastructure, local poverty, etc. one thing that it failed to mentioned was the ingrained culture against which a foreign company faces when it attempts to run a business in another part of the world, and whether it possesses enough power to ensure success.

Throughout “Power Trip” those working for AES talked about the theft of electricity, but considering the state of poverty the Georgian people were in, they were stuck between feeding themselves or stealing electricity. Of course, even when local people did pay it wasn’t a guarantee that they would actually get electricity because Georgia’s corrupt leaders often stole electricity for themselves or their relatives.

Here are the numbers:

  • Average monthly wage in Tbilisi: $15
  • Average monthly bill prior to AES-Telasi: $0
  • Average monthly residential electricity bill from AES-Telasi: $24
  • Time in Georgia: January 1999 to September 2003
  • Amount of money AES-Telasi spent improving power lines and meters in Tbilisi: $90 million
  • Estimated daily loss at AES-Telasi: $120,000
  • Total loss at AES during its time in Georgia: Over $200 million

In the end, the Enron scandal in 2002 caused energy stocks to nosedive. AES took a financial hit, and unable to support its Georgian operation, was forced to sale AES-Telasi in 2003. The lone buyer, a Russian state-owned company, called United Energy Systems (UES). It, too, encountered the same issues that plagued AES – corruption, poor infrastructure, and financial hardships. AES’ CEO, Dennis Bakke, resigned in the summer of 2002.

While Russia, like China, is viewed as a huge opportunity, there’s also caution that “severe political and social problems still persist in Russia and in many of the former states of the Soviet Union (like Georgia)” (Nickels, McHugh, & McHugh, 2005, p. 93).

Perhaps, in hindsight, had AES studied the history and current social, political, and economic climate of Georgia, it might not have been so hasty in wanting to set up shop. After all, how could the locals afford the average electric bill (which totaled about $24 each month) if their salary was $15 US dollars a month (yes, a month)?

Most importantly, I believe Pfeffer and Sutton (2006) offer the best wisdom. Although their suggestion is about implementing internal organizational changes, I think it’s quite applicable to this case. One question they recommend asking is:

“Do you have enough power to make the change happen?”

Have you figured out the power dynamics, the internal and external politics, as well as the overall political landscape?

As the case of Jim Walker, who was brought on to assist Nomura Securities Asian operation in Hong Kong in the late 1990s, illustrate when a leader fails to “appreciate the political nature of the environment” (Pfeffer, 2010, p. 9) in which he works, the consequence is opposition, rivalry, lost of control, and ultimately surrender.

In AES’ case, the CEO failed to appreciate the political nature of the Georgian environment and how it significantly reduced his own and his company’s power to run AES-Telasi and provide electricity to the people in Tbilisi. Had AES considered this question, it would have realized that power was never within its own control but rested, instead, squarely in the Georgian social and economic systems which were controlled by those at the very top of Georgian politics.

References

Nickels, W.G., McHugh, J.M., & McHugh, S.M. (2005). Understanding business (7th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill/Irwin.

PBS. Independent Lens. POWER TRIP.

Pfeffer, J. (2010). Power: Why some people have it-and others don’t. New York: HarperCollins.

Pfeffer, J., & Sutton, R.I. (2006). Hard facts, dangerous half-truths, and total nonsense: profiting from evidence-based management. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.

4 Steps to Resolving Conflicts on Your Team

Harvard Business Review’s Answer Exchange shares some great tips for resolving conflicts on your team:

The First & Most Fundamental Step: Define the root cause of the conflict. You do this by asking the following questions:

  • Why are team members arguing with one another?
  • Is there a deeper personality conflict here?
  • Is one member being stubborn?
  • Does one member always insist on getting his or her way?

The answers to these questions will help you discover whether the root cause is a behavior or a situation. After doing that, proceed to the following THREE steps:

  1. Negotiate a resolution. Look for a solution that works for all members of your team; dictating a resolution to a team conflict can backfire. Point out the importance of agreeing to disagree on certain issues. Encourage members to find common ground and explore new possibilities.
  2. Encourage active listening. Allow the disagreeing parties to voice their feelings, and ask questions about why they feel as they do. Ask people to behave in ways that demonstrate interest in what others are saying. For example, avoid doodling, fidgeting, and interrupting while others are speaking. Model active listening behaviors, such as asking questions that encourage speakers to expand on their points, or referring back to points made earlier and building on those ideas.
  3. Remind team members to forgive. Once your team has resolved a conflict, remind people to forgive one another for any hurt feelings or damaged egos. Encourage forgiveness by practicing forgiveness yourself. Don’t hold a grudge. Don’t harbor ill will after a conflict has been resolved. And remember to apologize when you’ve done something wrong.

Reference

Originally posted on HBR Answer Exchange (now defunct); Adapted from the book Leading Teams: Pocket Mentor Series, Harvard Business Press