Category Archives: Executive Coaching

Why Leadership Is Important and Why People Want to Be Followers

lead_follow

Photo Credit: Flickr

I posted this recently in a leadership MOOC course. The question was, “Why do you think leadership is important?”

Here’s my response:

I believe leadership is important because if we examine history, no significant changes or advancement have occurred without some type of leadership. In the U.S., we can see how leaders have mobilized followers to accomplish amazing things.

George Washington → American Revolution
Martin Luther King, Jr. → Civil Rights Movement
Steve Jobs → Apple Computers (iPhone, iPad, iPod)

I like this definition of leadership as I believe it nicely explains WHY leadership is important:

“Leadership is a process whereby an individual influences a group of individuals to achieve a common goal” (Northouse, 2013, p. 5).

To me, there can be no leader if there are no followers, and people will not follow you if you lack the ability to influence them to work toward a goal.

That said, I also like and agree with what Bass (1990) said, that there are almost as many different definitions of leadership as there are individuals who have tried to define this concept.

One person in the MOOC class said that he did not believe people want to be led by others (i.e., they want to be leaders, not followers). I responded with this post:

I respectfully disagree with the notion that people do not want to be followers. I contend three things (Hughes, Ginnett, & Curphy, 2012):

  1. Almost everyone is a follower in some capacity (supervisors report to managers, managers report to VPs, even CEOs have to report to the board of directors),
  2. The role of followers is just as important as leaders (although it is often overlooked), and
  3. Being a follower has benefits (that is, the benefits to being a follower sometimes outweigh the benefits of trying to be the leader).

Social Change: In the U.S., the Civil Rights movement serves as a good example of what can happen when followers take action to change the status quo (Hughes, Ginnett, & Curphy, 2012).

Military: We talk about great military leaders but the real wars and battles are fought by the best soldiers and armies (Hughes, Ginnett, & Curphy, 2012).

Sports: Yes, the Chicago Bulls had a great coach (leader) in Phil Jackson (who led them to 6 titles), but they also had Michael Jordan (who was both follower and leader) and Jordan had great teammates (Scottie Pippen, etc.) who followed and helped him.

Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.

References

Bass, B. M. (1990). Bass & Stogdill’s handbook of leadership: Theory, research & managerial applications (3rd ed.). New York, NY: Free Press.

Hughes, R. L., Ginnett, R. C., & Curphy, G. J. (2012). Leadership: Enhancing the lessons of experience (7th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill/Irwin.

Northouse, P. G. (2013). Leadership: Theory and practice (6th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Workplace Bullying: It’s Not Employee Dissatisfaction and Why It’s Different from Schoolyard Bullying

stop bullying

Photo Credit: Flickr

This post is in response to an article titled “Thou Shalt Not Bully” that was posted on HCOnline, Australia’s online magazine for senior human resource professionals and corporate decision-makers.

In the article, the author said:

“[D]espite the best intentions of the [anti-bullying] legislation [in Australia], employers are faced with the prospect of an avalanche of complaints based on perceptions. Bullying has become the catch-all term for employee dissatisfaction.”

The author then proceeded to offer a case to illustrate why a dissatisfied employee led to the incorrect labeling of a manager as a “bully.”

“When we met with the employee, one of the first things he said when explaining the situation was ‘bullying is a too strong a word.’ He (the employee) went on to recount a conflict scenario that involved differing views about a project recommendation he had made, and described feeling intimidated and threatened. His complaint referred to the situation as bullying. When we met with his manager, she was distressed and felt pressured by the allegation. She was confused as to why she had been accused. She felt she had supported the employee, who she perceived him as being ‘difficult’ and requiring her intervention. The experience demonstrates the dangers of bullying becoming a catchall term for interpersonal issues.”

First, labeling someone in the workplace as a bully can have significant consequences (for both the instigator and the victim) so it is prudent to exercise care and caution before initiating claims of bullying.

Second, it should not matter if an employee uses the word(s) “bully” or “bullying” or not. As the author acknowledged, the employee, when recounting what happened, indicated that he felt “intimidated and threatened.” In others words, he felt that he was not able to defend/protect himself. Put it another way, people in positions of power may not realize or care that their higher/greater power within the company can engender bullying behaviors.

Third, something that was not mentioned in the article but is critically important to point out is that there is an important difference between schoolyard bullying and workplace bullying. While both forms involve victimizing another person and using power to do so, school bullies (sometimes cheered on by other students) do not have the support of teachers and school administrators. In contrast, workplace bullies, who often hold positions of authority, do have the support of peers, HR, and even upper management (Namie & Namie, 2009).

When targets (who participated in the 2003 Workplace Bullying Institute survey) were asked if they reported the bullying behaviors to others at work and what happened after that, here are the results (Namie & Namie, 2009, p. 93):

The results below summarize who knew about the bullying and what they did in terms of helping or hurting.

WBI 2003 survey

“It is clear that workplace “insiders”—co-workers, the bully’s boss, and HR—were destructive, not supportive” (Namie & Namie, 2009, p. 93).

Namie and Namie (2009) said it well: “[T]he child Target must have the help and support of third-party adults to reverse the conflict. Bullied adults have the primary responsibility for righting the wrong themselves, for engineering a solution” (p. 15).

Fourth, I strongly disagree with the author that “The proliferation of anti-bullying awareness campaigns has led to workplace conflicts too readily being labeled as bullying” or that “Bullying has become the catch-all term for employee dissatisfaction.” These statements are a disservice to people who have been or are currently victims of workplace bullying. And, these types of statements continue to perpetuate the myth that victims of bullying are too soft, complain too much, or just don’t have the backbone to stand up. This, in my opinion, minimizes the seriousness of workplace bullying.

I do not agree that “anti-bullying awareness campaigns [have] led to workplace conflicts being labelled as bullying.” In fact, the two constructs (“workplace conflicts” and “workplace bullying”) sometimes get confused (as is the case in the author’s HCOnline article).

Conflicts – perceived differences between one person and another about interests, beliefs or values that matter to them (De Dreu, Van Dierendonck, & De Best-Waldhober, 2003).

Bullying – “situations where a worker or supervisor is systematically mistreated and victimized by fellow workers or supervisors through repeated negative acts like insulting remarks and ridicule, verbal abuse, offensive teasing, isolation, and social exclusion, or the constant degrading of one’s work and efforts” (Einarsen, Raknes, & Matthiesen, 1994, p. 381).

Results from the 2007 U.S. Workplace Bullying Survey indicated that,

“37 percent of American workers have been bullied at work—13 percent said it was either happening now or had happened within a year of the polling, and 24 percent said they were not now being bullied but had been bullied in the past. Adding the 12 percent who witnessed bullying but never experienced it directly, nearly half (49 percent) of adult Americans are affected by it” (Namie & Namie, 2009, p. 4).

A follow-up 2010 U.S. Workplace Bullying Survey revealed,

“35% of the U.S. workforce (an est. 53.5 million Americans) report being bullied at work; an additional 15% witness it. Half of all Americans have directly experienced it.”

Thus, when we step back and examine these statistics on workplace bullying and the difference between the concept of conflict and bullying, as defined above, we can see that bullying is not just “employee dissatisfaction” as the author suggested.

Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.

References

De Dreu, C. K. W., Van Dierendonck, D., & De Best-Waldhober, M. (2003). Conflict at work and individual well-being. In M. J. Schabracq, J. A. M. Winnubst, & C. L. Cooper (Eds.), The handbook of work and health psychology (2nd ed.) (pp. 495-515). West Sussex, England: John Wiley & Sons.

Einarsen, S., Raknes, B. I., & Matthiesen, S. B. (1994). Bullying and harassment at work and their relationships to work environment quality: An exploratory study. European Work and Organizational Psychologist, 4(4), 381-401.

Namie, G., & Namie, R. (2009). The bully at work: what you can do to stop the hurt and reclaim your dignity on the job. Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks, Inc.

Leadership and Management: Are They Different?

Businesswoman in conference room

Photo Credit: Flickr

Northouse (2013) wrote that leadership and management are similar in many ways. Both involve influencing, achieving goals, and working with people. However, while they may share some similarities, there are distinct and important differences. Northouse said the study of leadership goes as far back as the times of Aristotle, while the concept of management came about “around the turn of the 20th century with the advent of our industrialized society” (2013, p. 12).

In this article, I will first include quotes in support of the notion that leadership and management are similar. I will then follow with quotes and passages in support of the notion that leadership and management are different.

Manager And Leader – One And The Same

Mintzberg (1990) defined a manager and a leader as one and the same. Mintzberg considered a manager “the person in charge of the organization or one of its subunits” (1990, p. 164). In his HBR article (which originally appeared in Harvard Business Review in 1975), he referred to CEOs as managers. Managers include “foremen, factory supervisors, staff managers, field sales managers, hospital administrators, presidents of companies and nations…” (p. 164). Mintzberg maintained that managers are vested with authority over an organizational unit and from this authority comes status, which then leads to interpersonal relations and access to information. And, it is information that allows a manager to make decisions and develop strategies.

Manager And Leader – Not Synonymous

“Leaders manage and managers lead, but the two activities are not synonymous . . . [M]anagement functions can potentially provide leadership; [L]eadership activities can contribute to managing. Nevertheless, some managers do not lead, and some leaders do not manage” (Bass, 1990, p. 383).

“Leadership is path-finding; management is path-following. Leaders do the right things; managers do things right. Leaders develop; managers maintain. Leaders ask what and why; managers ask how and when. Leaders originate; managers imitate. Leaders challenge the status quo; managers accept it . . . Leadership is concerned with constructive or adaptive change, establishing and changing direction, aligning people, and inspiring and motivating people . . . They set the direction for organizations. They articulate a collective vision . . . They sacrifice and take risks to further the vision” (Bass, 2008, p. 654).

“Managers plan, organize, and arrange systems of administration and control. They hold positions of formal authority. Their position provides them with reward, disciplinary, or coercive power to influence and obtain compliance from subordinates. The subordinates follow directions from the manager and accept the manager’s authority as long as the manager has the legitimate power to maintain compliance—or the subordinates follow out of habit or deference to other powers of the leader. Management is concerned with consistency and order, details, timetables, and the marshaling of resources to achieve results. It plans, budgets, and allocates staff to fulfill plans” (Bass, 2008, p. 654).

Good Leader ≠ Good Manager, Good Manager ≠ Good Leader

Here’s an example that illustrates the difference:

A good leader (e.g., CEO of a software company) may not be someone technically proficient in guiding a software developer through a complex job. That job belongs to a competent manager. And, a good manager may be good at managing the day-to-day duties in the factory or office, but lacks the vision required of a great leader to strategically guide an organization.

Different Concepts That Overlap

Northouse (2013) said:

“Although there are clear differences between management and leadership, the two constructs overlap. When managers are involved in influencing a group to meet its goals, they are involved in leadership. When leaders are involved in planning, organizing, staffing, and controlling, they are involved in management. Both processes involve influencing a group of individuals toward goal attainment.” (p. 14)

References

Bass, B. M. (1990). Bass & Stogdill’s handbook of leadership: Theory, research, and managerial applications (3rd ed.). New York: The Free Press.

Bass, B. M. (2008). The Bass handbook of leadership: Theory, research, and managerial applications (4th ed.). New York: Free Press.

Mintzberg, H. (1990). The manager’s job: Folklore and fact. Harvard Business Review, 68(2), 163-176.

Northouse, P. G. (2013). Leadership: Theory and practice (6th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Locus of Control: Stop Making Excuses and Start Taking Responsibility

Blame by Nelson Vargas

Photo Credit: Flickr

[NOTE: This post was updated August 2016]

In my former career as a mental health counselor, I encountered many clients who struggled with taking charge of their own lives. While their struggles might have differed, the idea behind helping them was almost always the same, and quite basic. We’re taught to guide clients from seeing themselves as being victims of life’s circumstances to being movers of those life events. In other words, help clients reach deep within to draw on their own inner strength and capacity to take charge.

There are two types of locus of control: internal (inside) and external (outside). Internal locus of control is the belief that you are “in charge of the events that occur in [your] life” (Northouse, 2013, p. 141), while external locus of control is the belief that “chance, fate, or outside forces determine life events” (p. 141).

Individuals with an internal locus of control believe their behaviors are guided by their personal decisions and efforts and they have control over those things they can change. Having an internal locus of control is linked to self-efficacy, the belief you have about being able to do something successfully (Donatelle, 2011). People with an external locus of control see their behaviors and lives as being controlled by luck or fate. These individuals view themselves (i.e., their lives and circumstances) as victims of life and bad luck.

“People differ in whether they feel they control the consequences of their actions or are controlled by external factors. External control personality types believe that luck, fate, or powerful external forces control their destiny. Internal control personality types believe they control what happens to them” (Champoux, 2011, p. 113).

In leadership and management, this concept of locus of control is the same. Whether it’s coaching top executives, middle management, or rank and file employees, the idea is to get them to stop making excuses and/or blame other people, events, or things (i.e. external locus of control), and instead start taking responsibilities (i.e., internal locus of control) for them.

If you really listen, you’ll often hear people describe their lives or work as spinning out of control or they felt they had very little control over or were not in control of their lives. However, when things improve, you’ll hear them say that they’ve started feeling more in control or regaining control over their lives again. “When the locus of control shifts from the external to the internal frame, clients find more energy, motivation, and greater confidence to change” (Moore & Tschannen-Moran, 2010, p. 75).

In business and leadership, the benefit of having an internal locus of control is applicable to all individuals at all levels within an organization:

1. An internal locus of control is one of the key traits of an effective leader (Yukl, 2006).

“A leader with an internal locus of control is likely to be favored by group members. One reason is that an ‘internal’ person is perceived as more powerful than an ‘external’ person because he or she takes responsibility for events. The leader with an internal locus of control would emphasize that he or she can change unfavorable conditions” (Dubrin, 2010, p. 47).

2. An internal locus of control separates good from bad managers (Yukl, 2006).

“Effective managers . . . demonstrated a strong belief in self-efficacy and internal locus of control, as evidenced by behavior such as initiating action (rather than waiting for things to happen), taking steps to circumvent obstacles, seeking information from a variety of sources, and accepting responsibility for success or failure” (Yukl, 2006, pp. 185-186).

3. Employees’ locus of control affect leadership behavior in decision-making (Hughes, Ginnett, & Curphy, 2012).

“Internal-locus-of-control followers, who believed outcomes were a result of their own decisions, were much more satisfied with leaders who exhibited participative behaviors than they were with leaders who were directive. Conversely, external-locus-of-control followers were more satisfied with directive leader behaviors than they were with participative leader behaviors. Followers’ perceptions of their own skills and abilities to perform particular tasks can also affect the impact of certain leader behaviors. Followers who believe they are perfectly capable of performing a task are not as apt to be motivated by, or as willing to accept, a directive leader as they would a leader who exhibits participative behaviors” (Hughes, Ginnett, & Curphy, 2012, pp. 544-545).

“There is also evidence that internals are better able to handle complex information and problem solving, and that they are more achievement-oriented than externals (locus of control). In addition, people with a high internal locus of control are more likely than externals to try to influence others, and thus more likely to assume or seek leadership opportunities. People with a high external locus of control typically prefer to have structured, directed work situations. They are better able than internals to handle work that requires compliance and conformity, but they are generally not as effective in situations that require initiative, creativity, and independent action” (Daft, 2008, p. 103).

“Path–goal theory suggests that for subordinates with an internal locus of control participative leadership is most satisfying because it allows them to feel in charge of their work and to be an integral part of decision making. For subordinates with an external locus of control, path–goal theory suggests that directive leadership is best because it parallels subordinates’ feelings that outside forces control their circumstances” (Northouse, 2013, p. 141).

The Importance Of Locus Of Control

Meta-analyses (the synthesis of multiple studies into a single study by summarizing the practical significance of each research finding into one combined effect) of 357 research studies “showed that an internal locus of control was associated with higher levels of job satisfaction and job performance” (Colquitt, LePine, & Wesson, 2015, p. 287) and “that people with an internal locus of control enjoyed better health, including higher self-reported mental well-being, fewer self-reported physical symptoms” (Colquitt et al., 2015, p. 287).

Takeaway Message: Having an internal locus of control can go a very long way in differentiating between effective and ineffective leaders, managers, and employees.

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

References

Champoux, J. E. (2011). Organizational behavior: Integrating individuals, groups, and organizations (4th ed). New York: Routledge.

Colquitt, J. A., LePine, J. A., & Wesson, M. J. (2015). Organizational behavior: Improving performance and commitment in the workplace (4th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill Education.

Daft, R. L. (2008). The leadership experience (4th ed.). Mason: OH: Thomson/South-Western.

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

Dubrin, A. J. (2010). Leadership: Research findings, practice and skills (6th ed.). Mason, OH: South-Western/Cengage Learning.

Hughes, R. L., Ginnett, R. C., & Curphy, G. J. (2012). Leadership: Enhancing the lessons of experience (7th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill/Irwin.

Moore, M. & Tschannen-Moran, B. (2010). Coaching psychology manual. Baltimore, MD: Wolters Kluwer/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.

Northouse, P. G. (2013). Leadership: Theory and practice (6th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Yukl, G. (2006). Leadership in organizations (6th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/Prentice Hall.

Strategic Leaders-Challenges, Organizational Abilities & Individual Characteristics

compass

Photo Credit: Flickr

I’ve written before about the challenges of successfully executing strategy. In this post, I’ll clarify the difference between leadership and strategic leadership. I’ll also discuss what constitutes strategic leadership, a major controversy surrounding strategic leadership, five challenges of strategy execution, and nine factors of strategic leadership.

Strategic leadership is different from leadership. Whereas leadership refers to leaders at any level within an organization, strategic leadership talks about leaders at the top of the organization (Vera & Crossan, 2004). Another important distinction is that leadership studies focus on the micro levels (relationship between leaders and followers, trait and style of leaders, individualized leadership models, etc.), while strategic leadership focuses on the macro level of executive work (e.g., instead of looking at leader-follower relationship, the macro view looks at how the dominant coalition of the company influences the strategic process of the organization)(Vera & Crossan, 2004).

According to Yukl (2010), a major controversy surrounding strategic leadership research is the level of impact CEOs have on the effectiveness of their companies. Critics maintain that CEOs exert little influence due to limitations imposed on them by stakeholders, corporate culture, lack of resources, strong competitors, and unsympathetic economic conditions. These opponents assert that industry performance and economic conditions play an even greater role on a company’s effectiveness and success than CEOs.

There are FIVE challenges of strategy execution (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.

Yukl (2010), however, insists that the research shows, despite these constraints, CEOs and top executives can still have “a moderately strong influence on the effectiveness of an organization” (p. 401).

Davies & Davies (2004) proposed 9 FACTORS of STRATEGIC LEADERSHIP. They include organizational and individual abilities.

Strategic leaders need to have FIVE organizational abilities:

  1. Be strategically orientated – link long-range visions and concepts to daily work.
  2. Translate strategy into action – identify projects that need to be undertaken to move the company from where it’s at to where it wants to go.
  3. Align people and organizations – aligning individuals to a future company state or position.
  4. Determine effective intervention points – knowing both what to do strategically and exactly when to intervene and change direction.
  5. Develop strategic competencies – in the example of a school, rather than delivering curriculum innovation, it is the fundamental understanding of teaching and learning.

Strategic leaders need to have FOUR individual abilities:

  1. Dissatisfaction or restlessness with the present – seeing where you want to be (vision), while dealing with your current reality; being able to envision the strategic leap that the organization wants to make.
  2. Absorptive capacity – recognizing new information, analyze it, and applying it to new outcomes.
  3. Adaptive capacity – ability to change and learn, having the cognitive flexibility linked to a mindset that welcomes and embraces change.
  4. Leadership wisdom – taking the right action at the right time; coming up with ideas, deciding whether ideas are good or not, making ideas functional and convincing others of its value, balancing effects of ideas on yourself, others and institutions.

Steve Nguyen

References

Davies, B. J. & Davies, B. (2004). Strategic leadership. School Leadership & Management, 24(1), 29-38.

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.

Vera, D. & Crossan, M. (2004). Strategic leadership and organizational learning. Academy of Management, 29(2), 222-240.

Yukl, G. (2010). Leadership in organizations (7th Ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Snakes in Suits? Maybe Not — Psychopathy According to DSM-IV TR

snake

Photo Credit: Flickr

I thought I would repost my comments to a discussion question in the SIOP (Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology) group on LinkedIn about the notion of “corporate psychopaths” (made famous by the book Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go To Work [Babiak & Hare, 2006]).

From Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go To Work (p. xiv):

“The premise of this book is that psychopaths do work in modern organizations; they often are successful by most standard measures of career success; and their destructive personality characteristics are invisible to most of the people with whom they interact. They are able to circumvent and sometimes hijack succession planning and performance management systems in order to give legitimacy to their behaviors. They take advantage of communication weaknesses, organizational systems and processes, interpersonal conflicts, and general stressors that plague all companies. They abuse coworkers and, by lowering morale and stirring up conflict, the company itself. Some may even steal and defraud.”

As a former mental health counselor, I am very cautious about buying into this notion of “corporate psychopaths.” Technically, psychopathy is not mentioned in the DSM-IV-TR as a diagnosis. It actually falls under “Antisocial Personality Disorder” (301.7).

For information sake (not trying to diagnose), the criteria for Antisocial Personality Disorder requires that a person must have (1) a history of conduct disorder symptoms as a juvenile, AND (2) antisocial symptoms as an adult. It’s important to note that the DSM-IV explains the pattern of those who engage in antisocial behavior “continues into adulthood” (DSM-IV TR, p. 702). In other words, their problematic behavior started before they were 18 and continued into adulthood.

The DSM-IV said the prevalence of psychopathy in the general population is about 3% in males and 1% in females (DSM-IV TR, p. 704).

Another important note is that generally a diagnosis of Antisocial Personality Disorder is not warranted if the person also has a substance abuse problem.

Based on the criteria listed above, many of those who would be described or classified as “corporate psychopaths” in the book “Snakes in Suits” might actually not be psychopaths.

This is why I am very skeptical about this idea of “corporate psychopaths.”

Indeed, the authors of Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go To Work (pp. xiv-xv) warned:

We consider it important to caution the reader that, although the topic of this book is psychopathy in the workplace, not everyone described herein is a psychopath [and that] reader[s] should not assume that an individual is a psychopath simply because of the context in which he or she is portrayed in this book.

References

American Psychiatric Association. (2000). Diagnostic and statistical
manual of mental disorders (4th ed., text rev.). Washington, DC: Author.

Babiak, P., & Hare, R. D. (2006). Snakes in suits: When psychopaths go to work. New York: HarperCollins Publishers.

Indecision and Fear of Failure-The Inefficiencies in a Bureaucracy

indecision

Photo Credit: Flickr

Those who work for a government agency, a school system, a city government office, a nonprofit association, or even a church can understand this title and the point of this post. I previously wrote about people creating bottlenecks in their own companies or place of employment.

Too often, I have seen a hesitancy to act because of a fear of making the wrong decision. One way this fear manifests itself is through a reliance or dependence on endless surveys to support their decisions. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with surveys per se. Using surveys as an excuse to not act because of a fear of messing up is wrong.

While, on the surface, it might seem like these individuals (the ones who support doing additional and unnecessary surveys) are doing the right thing. They are, in fact, crippling themselves and failing their organizations by wasting time.

A VP in one organization was so indecisive and so terrified she would make a mistake that she solicited feedback from everyone in the office about the smallest decisions. In one instance, she could not decide on a simple logo to use for her office so she asked the staff for their input about a logo design. Weeks went by and even after getting feedback from the staff, no decisions were made. It was decided to contract out the work and have a professional design the logo. However, even after several logos were designed, no decisions were made because of the indecisive VP.

“Indecision and delays are the parents of failure.” George Canning

Sadly, after the time and energy the staff invested working on the logo design project, because of the executive’s indecision, a logo was never selected and the money spent hiring the logo designer was wasted.

Fear of failure is a dangerous addiction. It creates a vicious circle which goes like this: I’m afraid of making a mistake so I won’t act. I won’t act because I’m afraid of making a mistake.

Takeaway: Fear of failure cripples people from acting and causes them to rationalize their indecisions. Their rationalizations can become so habitual and strong that it blinds them from sound advice and feedback.

“This Is My First Time, I’ll Lead!”

Confident businesspeople

Photo Credit: Flickr

In the not-very-good 2010 movie “Robin Hood” starring Russell Crowe, a young, naïve King John (played by Oscar Isaac) had one of the funniest lines pertaining to leadership I’ve ever heard in a movie. With absolutely no leadership or battle experience, and only after the troops had already been rallied to go to war by someone else (the real leader), the young king foolhardily proclaimed, “This is my first time, I’ll lead!” and takes off on his own.

In a previous post, I talked about the importance of a leader to build credibility. According to Hughes, Ginnett, and Curphy (2012), there are two components of credibility: (a) Building expertise, and (b) Building trust. Kouzes and Posner (2007) said, “Above all else, we as constituents must be able to believe in our leaders. We must believe that their word can be trusted, that they’re personally passionate and enthusiastic about the work that they’re doing, and that they have the knowledge and skill to lead” (p. 37).

Trust can be viewed as being made up of two things: the ability to clarify and communicate values to others, and the ability to establish, maintain, and strengthen relationships with others (Hughes, Ginnett, & Curphy, 2012). The young, inexperienced king in that movie had not forged strong relationships with his men. He did not know them, and they certainly didn’t know anything about him, other than his birthright as king. Kouzes and Posner said in order to rally others, the leader must enable others to act by building solid trust and strong relationships.

Kouzes and Posner looked through thousands of the best cases of leadership and found that one of the best ways to tell if someone is on his/her way to becoming an effective leader is how often this person uses the word “we” instead of “I.”

But what I really love is an even greater lesson about leadership. It’s the idea that leadership is not a birthright, and that it isn’t inherited or reserved only for a few chosen people. Robin Hood was not born of noble blood and while he was portrayed as a leader, if we were to take a closer look at the army of men he led, we would have probably learned that there were great leaders among them.

“Leadership is not a gene and it’s not an inheritance. Leadership is an identifiable set of skills and abilities that are available to all of us. . . . [T]he theory that there are only a few great men and women who can lead others to greatness is just plain wrong. . . . [Great leaders] are the everyday heroes of our world. It’s because there are so many—not so few—leaders that extraordinary things get done on a regular basis, especially in extraordinary times” (Kouzes & Posner, 2007, p. 23).

References

Hughes, R. L., Ginnett, R. C., & Curphy, G. J. (2012). Leadership: Enhancing the lessons of experience (7th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill/Irwin.

Kouzes, J. M., & Posner, B. Z. (2007). The leadership challenge (4th ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Robin Hood (2010). http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0955308/

Your Negative (But Honest) Feedback Might Just Set a Narcissist Off

narcissistic

Stock photo: Narcissism

How many times have you heard a supervisor or coworker say: “I welcome any feedback.” On the surface the statement “I welcome any (or your) feedback” suggests someone who is receptive to getting feedback. It might also imply that people are welcomed and invited to come share about problems, issues, and/or concerns.

Myers (2010) said feedback works best when it is presented in an honest and specific manner. However, there’s a caveat: Even when the feedback is delivered honestly and specifically, the reaction of the receiver to that feedback might not always be what you would expect.

There is research (Bushman, Baumeister, Thomaes, Ryu, Begeer, & West, 2009) suggesting that individuals high in narcissism and self-esteem are more likely to either retaliate or be aggressive toward those who give feedback that the person with high narcissism and self-esteem perceived to be critical or insulting.

Simply stated, if you have a narcissistic boss or colleague with very high self-esteem (yes high, not low; there are narcissists with low self-esteem¹), be careful the type of feedback (especially if it’s critical or negative) you share with them. If they perceive your comments/statements as threats to their inflated egos (researchers call it the threatened egotism hypothesis), then there’s a good chance their reactions (words and/or behaviors) will be aggressive².

“[N]arcissists with high self-esteem are eager to dominate their social environment and claim the admiration to which they apparently feel entitled, and when their interaction partners fail to cooperate, they may turn aggressive” (Bushman et al., 2009, p. 441).

Interestingly, the researchers “found no support for the view that low self-esteem causes aggression. . . . On the contrary, low self-esteem reduced or eliminated the independent effect of narcissism on aggression” (Bushman et al., 2009, p. 441).

¹Bushman and colleagues explained that, “Narcissists with low self-esteem may be shy, socially anxious and unconfident, and preoccupied with their own possible inadequacy, but they are still highly self-absorbed” (p. 441).

²Aggression is defined as, “Behavior directed toward the goal of harming another living being who is motivated to avoid such treatment” (Baron & Branscombe, 2012, p. 322).

References

Baron, R. A., & Branscombe, N. R. (2012). Social psychology (13th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

Bushman, B. J., Baumeister, R. F., Thomaes, S., Ryu, E., Begeer, S., & West, S. G. (2009). Looking again, and harder, for a link between low self-esteem and aggression. Journal of Personality, 77(2), 427-446. doi:10.1111/j.1467-6494.2008.00553.x

Myers, D. G. (2010). Social psychology (10th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

How Expertise can Strengthen or Dilute your Credibility

trust

Photo Credit: Flickr

Japanese television offers a wide selection of variety shows. Unlike those in the U.S., Japanese variety shows will invite a group of “talents” (although I’m still not sure what many of their talents are, other than smiling and tasting different foods). The thing that immediately got my attention about all of these variety shows was the repeated use of talents (actors or comedians) to comment on any issues, whether the person was qualified to do so or not.

It is simply baffling to me how a group of people, with no discernible expertise on a subject matter will comment on just about anything. The subjects can vary from management to mental health to melting snow, and believe it or not, a group of people will comment on it. Last week, I saw five people on one variety show standing around commenting on different shapes of snow.

In another week, a young man (one of the “talents”) was on a talk show embedded inside a joint infomercial and a soap opera (I’m not joking). The young man shared that he was concerned about his melancholy outlook on life and his tendency to be negative. Another “talent” (I think he’s a former teacher) proceeded to play armchair therapist by asking the guy to read aloud from Romeo and Juliet.

Ok, so what does all of this nonsense have to do with psychology and workplace behaviors? Two things: expertise and credibility.

I realize I’m making a huge leap from talking about Japanese variety shows to the business environment, so please bear with me. But, the more I watched these “talents” the more I kept thinking about expertise and credibility. Because these “talents” do not have the expertise to offer anything of substantive value (that I could not otherwise get by simply asking my next door neighbors for their opinions), they (at least in my eyes) end up diminishing their own brand and/or jeopardizing their own credibility.

In Business Leadership (2003), Kouzes and Posner said credibility is one admired characteristics of a leader:

“Credibility is the foundation of leadership” (Kouzes & Posner, 2003, p. 262).

“The qualities of being honest, inspiring, and competent compose what communications researchers refer to as source credibility. In assessing the believability of a source of information—whether it is the president of the company, the president of the country, a sales person, or a TV newscaster— researchers typically use the three criteria of trustworthiness, expertise, and dynamism. Those who rate highly in these areas are considered to be credible sources of information” (Kouzes & Posner, 2003, p. 261).

Kouzes and Posner (2003) said your credibility must be earned over time. It’s not something that’s bestowed upon you when you get a new title or job. What’s more, credibility can affect the workplace.

“Credibility has a significantly positive outcome on individual and organizational performance” (Kouzes & Posner, 2003, p. 266).

In The Leadership Challenge (2007), Kouzes and Posner explained in greater details about why credibility matters. They wrote (pp. 38-39):

“Using a behavioral measure of credibility, we asked organization members to think about the extent to which their immediate manager exhibited credibility-enhancing behaviors. In our studies we found that when people perceive their immediate manager to have high credibility, they’re significantly more likely to

  • Be proud to tell others they’re part of the organization
  • Feel a strong sense of team spirit
  • See their own personal values as consistent with those of the organization
  • Feel attached and committed to the organization
  • Have a sense of ownership of the organization

When people perceive their manager to have low credibility, however, they’re significantly more likely to

  • Produce only if they’re watched carefully
  • Be motivated primarily by money
  • Say good things about the organization publicly but criticize it privately
  • Consider looking for another job if the organization experiences problems
  • Feel unsupported and unappreciated

“Credibility makes a difference” (Kouzes & Posner, 2007, p. 39).

References

Kouzes, J. M., & Posner, B. Z. (2003). Leadership is a relationship. In J. M. Kouzes (Ed.), Business leadership (pp. 251-267). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Kouzes, J. M., & Posner, B. Z. (2007). The leadership challenge (4th ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Analysis Paralysis-A Self-Imposed Bottleneck

In a conversation about how, in one organization, management had known for quite some time what needed to be done, but they just didn’t do it, a professor inquired: “What purpose might it serve for an organization to be in possession of possible solutions yet choose not to implement them?”

What a great question.

Robert Sutton (2010) contended that what separates good bosses from bad ones is that good bosses find ways to link talking to doing, and that bad bosses are oblivious and often don’t even realize that they “routinely stifle and misdirect action” (p. 130).

Perhaps this is overly simplistic, but with regard to why organizations that are in possession of possible solutions but choose not to implement them, I think sometimes managers and/or organizations fall prey to “analysis paralysis” where there’s a tendency to over analyze everything and which can result in the crippling or stifling of timely actions.

The Ultimate Business Dictionary (2003) defines analysis paralysis (or paralysis by analysis) in this manner :

Paralysis by analysis is “the inability of managers to make decisions as a result of a preoccupation with attending meetings, writing reports, and collecting statistics and analyses” (p. 235).

The obsession with studying a problem and analyzing an issue to death is akin to creating a self-imposed bottleneck. The obstruction/congestion is your own doing.

References

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

(2003). The Ultimate Business Dictionary: Defining the World of Work. Cambridge, MA: Perseus Publishing.

Book Review-The Orange Revolution

I’m a very picky book reader. Prior to reading “The Orange Revolution: How One Great Team Can Transform an Entire Organization,” I had actually started and given up reading several other business books. But “The Orange Revolution” restored my belief that business books can be entertaining, researched-based, and instructive.

Culling research from a 350,000-person database (employees from 28 industries) by the Best Companies Group, as well as from their own interviews with exceptional teams at leading companies, the authors found that breakthrough teams had not only remarkable leaders, but also team members, all of whom share similar characteristics!

These characteristics comprised what Gostick and Elton called “The Basic 4 + Recognition” (p. 45):

  • Goal setting (knowing where you are going)
  • Communication (wise use of your voice and ears)
  • Trust (believing in others and being trustworthy)
  • Accountability (doing what you say you will do)

Plus

  • Recognition (appreciating others’ strengths)

From the first few pages, Gostick and Elton’s writing style immediately caught my attention. Their story about Thomas Edison’s success in creating the incandescent lightbulb set a beautiful tone throughout the book. Although Edison is almost universally thought of as the one person who invented the incandescent light bulb, it was his team working together under his supervision that made it a reality! That’s right, Edison envisioned it, but it took a team of remarkable “assistants” who made it happen. In fact, Edison searched for men of integrity, who were hungry for knowledge and who expected excellence. He would then put them into small teams, gave them a goal, and let them independently pursue it. Edison did not do it alone. He had help from a breakthrough team.

“By creating an Orange culture that not only expects but also nurtures competency, and then combining it with a high regard for team members, breakthrough teams generate a self-perpetuating collaborative energy” (Gostick & Elton, 2010, p. 42).

A world-class team is not about who is on the team, but rather what the team can do. Gostick and Elton discovered that six core traits defined breakthrough teams: (1) they dream ambitious goals; (2) they believe in one another and what the team can accomplish together; (3) they take calculated risks but (4) measure their results; (5) they persevere even when conflicts or challenges occur; and (6) they tell stories that illustrate what they’re trying to achieve.

Indeed, it is this last trait that, in my opinion, separates “The Orange Revolution” from the sea of business books out there. Stories are amazingly powerful and Gostick and Elton did a masterful job incorporating incredible stories into their book.

According to the authors, all breakthrough teams follow The Rule of 3 (p. 16):

  • Wow—Breakthrough teams commit to a standard of world-class performance.
  • No Surprises—All team members are accountable for openness and honest debate, and each knows what to expect from the others.
  • Cheer—Team members support, recognize, appreciate, and cheer others and the group on to victory.

But more than any other story, the one about Patrick Poyfair’s Arsenal Strikers (a second girl’s Double A soccer team created for girls who were told they weren’t good enough to be in the first soccer club) really touched me. It’s in the last chapter of the book so I don’t want to give the story away. Since my summary here won’t do the story any justice, I’ll just briefly say this: The power of cheering for one another transcends the workplace and into the home and our lives outside of work. It’s so inspiring to hear about breakthrough teams, but it is even more empowering to know that we can create and be a part of our own breakthrough teams.

Gostick & Elton (2010) showed that “soft” ideas such as recognition, goal setting, trust, etc. can “actually drive competency every bit as much as technical ability” (p. 45).

Summary: One of the best and most practical business books I have ever read. This is a book I would definitely take with me if I were stranded on an island somewhere and could only bring three books. Well written and witty, with amazing and uplifting stories to inspire and warm the heart. Gostick and Elton have done a wonderful job convincing me, “how one great team can transform an entire organization.” My highest recommendation!

References

Carrots.com. The Orange White Paper. http://www.carrots.com/public/files/whitepapers/Orange_White_Paper.pdf

Gostick, A., & Elton, C. (2010). The orange revolution: How one great team can transform an entire organization. New York: Free Press.

Lack of Career Advancement Leads to Turnover Despite Training


Photo: movin’ up

According to the American Society for Training & Development, U.S. organizations spent about $171.5 billion on employee learning and development in 2010. But what good does it do a company if the very workers the organization spent money on to train will quit and take their newly acquired training with them?

I came across an article in the Wall Street Journal titled, “When Training Leads to Turnover” and found it interesting. However, it’s important to note that the title is a bit misleading since training (by itself) does not lead to turnover. Rather, it’s the idea that without an opportunity to advance/move up in a company, employees (even those who have received training) are more likely to leave compared to those who have opportunities to advance in the organization. As Silverman later clarified in the WSJ article, “employee turnover can increase after training if a company fails to also provide career development and opportunities to get ahead.”

Kraimer, Seibert, Wayne, Liden, and Bravo (2011) discovered that employees who’ve been trained by their company will leave if they do not see any chance to advance. On the other hand, workers who see a career opportunity within the organization will stick around. Thus, it would have been more fitting to label the WSJ article “When Lack of Career Advancement Leads to Turnover.” But then that wouldn’t be as eye-catching. In fact, the research study the WSJ cited is titled, “Antecedents and outcomes of organizational support for development: The critical role of career opportunities.” Note the last part of the title, “The critical role of career opportunities.”

Training does not occur in a vacuum and, by itself, is not enough to retain employees, if those employees do not see career opportunities in their future.

Researchers defined two important concepts: (a) organizational support for development (OSD) as “employees’ overall perceptions that the organization provides programs and opportunities that help employees develop their functional skills and managerial capabilities” (Kraimer et al., 2011, p. 486); (b) perceived career opportunity (PCO) as “employees’ belief that jobs or positions that match their career goals and interests exist within the organization” (Kraimer et al., 2011, p. 486).

Most notably, the researchers found that development support was associated with reduced voluntary turnover when perceived career opportunity was high, but it was associated with increased turnover when perceived career opportunity was low. In other words, even when organizations provide programs and opportunities to help employees develop their skills, if employees perceive that career advancement opportunity is low, they are more likely to leave.

Practical Implications: “Organizations should seek to manage employees’ perceptions of career opportunity if they wish to retain career-oriented employees. If organizational career paths do not lead to opportunities that match those desired by employees, they may choose to look for alternative jobs in the hopes that another organization will offer more desirable job paths. Given the high costs associated with staffing and turnover, expenditures for development support may be well justified, but only when employees perceive that there are career opportunities within the organization that match their career goals and interests. When many employees do not perceive desirable career opportunities, our results suggest that development support may simply provide them with the mobility capital to leave…” (Kraimer et al., 2011, p. 496).

References

American Society for Training & Development (ASTD). 2011 State of the Industry Report.

Kraimer, M. L., Seibert, S. E., Wayne, S. J., Liden, R. C., & Bravo, J. (2011). Antecedents and outcomes of organizational support for development: The critical role of career opportunities. Journal of Applied Psychology, 96(3), 485-500. doi:10.1037/a0021452

Silverman, R. E. (2012, June 25). When training leads to turnover. The Wall Street Journal [Online]. Retrieved August 2, 2012, from http://blogs.wsj.com/atwork/2012/06/25/when-training-leads-to-turnover/

Cognitive Dissonance When Firing Family or Friend

Photo: Conflicts

I was contacted by a career advice reporter with FINS.com, the jobs and career website of The Wall Street Journal, for my thoughts for an article about why workers struggle when they have to fire someone with whom they have a close personal relationship. While I’m glad to see my name mentioned, I feel that much of what I shared with her was left out of the article. Two things did manage to make the cut – cognitive dissonance and the mention of the Parker and McKinley (2008) article. However, without offering more details, I’m afraid that readers of that article might miss my message.

Here is what I emailed her:

We spend a great deal of time working alongside others at work. In fact, if you consider that the typical worker spends 8 hours a day at work, it means that many of us spend more face-time with our colleagues than with our own families.

A more specific explanation of why workers struggle when they have to fire someone with whom they have a close personal relationship is something called cognitive dissonance. It’s a state of tension, which we want to avoid, that occurs when we perceive an inconsistency between our beliefs, feelings, and behavior.

So, if we spend a great deal of time with someone and have developed a close relationship with that person, then it is understandable that having to turn around and fire that individual would create conflicts or tensions between what we are required to do (i.e. the act of firing someone) and our feelings (i.e., that person I must fire is a friend or someone I care about).

Parker and McKinley (2008) wrote about how employees who assist in the implementation of layoffs at their organization (i.e., they help the company lay off other employees) experience cognitive dissonance. They maintained that the longer you spend with the employee being terminated, the greater the odds of you experiencing cognitive dissonance when you need to let that employee go.

Parker and McKinley (2008) said in order to help reduce cognitive dissonance, the one terminating (the agent) might subscribe to an ideology of shareholder interest (the belief that shareholder value should be the main criterion for management decision-making). If the layoff agent is a strong believer in this ideology of shareholder interest, he or she would regard the increase of shareholder wealth as the first priority of management and thus back or defend actions that enhance shareholder wealth.

Basically, according to cognitive dissonance theory and the article by Parker and McKinley, the person who must fire a coworker can change the way he or she thinks about firing or letting someone go and rationalize that while the layoff or termination of a coworker might harm that individual employee, it would have positive consequences for the overall organization.

Reference

Parker, T., & McKinley, W. (2008). Layoff agency: A theoretical framework. Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies, 15(1), 46-58. doi:10.1177/1548051808318001

Citation to FINS article:

Eggers, K. (2012, June 29). How to fire your dad. FINS Finance – Career Advice. Retrieved from http://www.fins.com/Finance/Articles/SBB0001424052702303649504577493183038820606/How-to-Fire-Your-Dad

Book Review-The Advantage

I was excited when I received Patrick Lencioni’s “The Advantage” on my doorstep. I eagerly opened the box, removed the book, and began reading. Truth be told, I initially struggled because I am accustomed to theories and research-based books and had to fight off that mentality because Lencioni’s “The Advantage” isn’t based on research, and wasn’t meant to be. As he explains, “Because I’m not a quantitative researcher, the conclusions I draw here are not based on reams of statistics or finely crunched data, but rather on my observations as a consultant over the past twenty years” (Lencioni, 2012, p. xvii). I appreciated his upfront honesty.

Lencioni said that most organizations have plenty of talent, intelligence, and expertise to be successful. What’s more, he contends that almost every organization has access to the best ideas and practices about technology, strategy, and many other topics because information is everywhere and easy to locate. However, what many organizations lack is organizational health.

Organizational health is about integrity—whole, consistent, and complete. An organization is healthy “when its management, operations, strategy, and culture fit together and make sense” (Lencioni, 2012, p. 5).

Healthy organizations have the following qualities:

  • Minimal Politics
  • Minimal Confusion
  • High Morale
  • High Productivity
  • Low Turnover

What “The Advantage” is, is a call to action and a blueprint about how to go from an unhealthy to healthy organization. It’s simple and practical, and it won me over. The real-world examples and true client stories were particularly compelling because they reinforced the concepts and brought them to life.

Lencioni offered his “Organizational Health Model” which consisted of four disciplines: (1) Build a Cohesive Leadership Team; (2) Create Clarity; (3) Over-Communicate Clarity; and (4) Reinforce Clarity.

In addition to the emphasis on creating and maintaining a cohesive team, Lencioni contends that there are six critical questions that a leadership team must rally around and clearly answer. They include:

  • Why do we exist?
  • How do we behave?
  • What do we do?
  • How will we succeed?
  • What is most important, right now?
  • Who must do what?

“Most organizations are unhealthy precisely because they aren’t doing the basic things, which require discipline, persistence, and follow-through more than sophistication or intelligence” (Lencioni, 2012, p. 148).

By eliminating politics and confusion from an organization’s culture and environment, a healthy organization will almost always find a way to thrive and succeed because, without politics and confusion, it will tap into and use every ounce of “knowledge, experience, and intellectual capital that is available to [it]” (Lencioni, 2012, p. 11).

Whether you are the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, the pastor of a medium-size church, or the president of a small volunteer group, Lencioni’s “The Advantage” is your road map to both the ins and outs of what healthy organizations do and the costly mistakes that unhealthy organizations make.

Reference

Lencioni, P. (2012). The advantage: Why organizational health trumps everything else in business. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Disclosure: Although I received Lencioni’s “The Advantage” as a complimentary gift, my review and recommendation were given as if I had purchased it.