Category Archives: Executive Coaching

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.

A Positive Mindset and Happy Attitude Help You Succeed at Work

happiness is” by Melissa Deakin

In his book, “The Happiness Advantage” (2010) Shawn Achor asserts that happy employees can actually help improve an organization’s bottom line. Achor says we often think that if we work hard and become successful, then we’ll be happy. But, he argues (convincingly I might add) that the formula is backward. Instead of success first and happiness second, it should be happiness first, and then success.

In a related Harvard Business Review article, Achor (2012) cites a meta-analysis of 225 research studies that found happy employees have about 31% higher productivity, 37% higher sales, and three times higher creativity! As he says in his book, “happiness leads to success in nearly every domain, including work, health, friendship, sociability, creativity, and energy” (Achor, 2010, p. 21).

The best part is that we can all adopt a more positive way of thinking and a happier attitude. The human brain is amazing because it possesses something scientists call neuroplasticity, a big word meaning that our brains are malleable—capable of changing and adapting throughout our lifetime.

One great tip Achor offers in his book is a technique called “The Tetris Effect,” a way to train the mind to concentrate on the positives instead of the negatives in our daily life. He recommends this:

Write down THREE good things in your job and life that happened today (do this each day). This forces your mind to look back on your day for positives, potentials, and possibilities. These three things can be simple, small things—things that made you smile or laugh, things that brought a sense of accomplishment or hope, etc. It doesn’t have to be anything deep or profound, only specific.

While this exercise might seem silly, Achor (2010) cited a research study that found people who “wrote down three good things each day for a week were happier and less depressed at the one-month, three-month, and six-month follow-ups” (p. 101). That’s incredible!

The lesson is this: The better we become at scanning our world for good things to jot down, the more good things we’ll see, by habit. To help you stick to this exercise, pick the same time each day to do this.

References

Achor, S. (2012). Positive intelligence: Three ways individuals can cultivate their own sense of well-being and set themselves up to succeed. Harvard Business Review, 90(1/2), 100-102.

Achor, S. (2010). The happiness advantage: The seven principles of positive psychology that fuel success and performance at work. New York: Crown Publishing Group.

The 5 Whys (and Some Limitations)

Why” by Willbryantplz

I came across this video on the Harvard Business Review website called “The 5 Whys.” Sometimes, a video helps explains an idea better/clearer than just written words alone. However, in oversimplifying a concept, we may sometimes leave out a critical analysis of its weaknesses as well as devising strategies to address them.

The 5 Whys or asking why a problem exists five times is borrowed from the Toyota production system (mentioned in the book “The Toyota Way”). The idea is to get to the root cause, by going deeper with each “Why?”, of what caused something to fail (whether it’s a server crash or product that doesn’t work) and then fix that root cause.

“Behind every seemingly technical problem is actually a human problem waiting to be found.” -Eric Ries, entrepreneur-in-residence at Harvard Business School

Had the video used a more interactive graphics that simulates/moves as the speaker is talking, I think that would be even better. That said, here’s the link to that video (sorry, there was no link on HBR to the flash video for WordPress).

5 Whys: Ask 5 Times (here’s an example from Eric’s April 2010 post):

  1. A new release broke a key feature for customers. Why? Because a particular server failed.
  2. Why did the server fail? Because an obscure subsystem was used in the wrong way.
  3. Why was it used in the wrong way? The engineer who used it didn’t know how to use it properly.
  4. Why didn’t he know? Because he was never trained.
  5. Why wasn’t he trained? Because his manager doesn’t believe in training new engineers, because they are “too busy.”

Nothing is a perfect system and the 5 Whys is no exception. In fact, the more I think about asking “why” the more I think back to my time in undergrad studying philosophy. If we’re not careful, we can easily fall into the trap of asking an endless series of hypothetical/conceptual whys with no pragmatic solutions (this was the reason why I switched from philosophy to psychology).

Anderson (2009) had this to say:

“Under a 5 Whys approach, it is possible to get to root causes in a relatively short period of time. However. . .ease of use and speed also need to be balanced with the risk of failure from recurrence of the problem should the 5 Whys fail to find the true root cause.”

Here is Anderson’s critique of the 5 Whys (in his own words):

  • Using 5 Whys doesn’t always lead to root cause identification when the cause is unknown.
  • An assumption underlying 5 Whys is that each presenting symptom has only one sufficient cause. This is not always the case and a 5 Whys analysis may not reveal jointly sufficient causes that explain a symptom.
  • The success of 5 Whys is to some degree contingent upon the skill with which the method is applied; if even one Why has a bad or meaningless answer, the whole procedure can be thrown off.
  • The (5 Whys) method isn’t necessarily repeatable; three different people applying 5 Whys to the same problem may come up with three totally different answers.

Anderson points out that it’s extremely important to understand the difference between root causes and causal factors. “Causal factors are those factors that contribute to the occurrence of a problem, but are not necessarily the initiating cause of a problem—the root cause. Therefore, causal factors and chains need to be analyzed further to determine their root causes.”

“A robust problem-solving method must be adept at not only identifying a problem’s causal factors, but equally adept at uncovering the root causes that underpin the causal factors.” -Stuart Anderson, president of Kaizen Solutions Inc.

References

Anderson, S. (December, 2009). Quality Digest – Root Cause Analysis: Addressing Some Limitations of the 5 Whys. Retrieved from http://www.qualitydigest.com/inside/fda-compliance-news/root-cause-analysis-addressing-some-limitations-5-whys.html

HBR – The 5 Whys
http://blogs.hbr.org/video/2012/02/the-5-whys.html

HBR – The Five Whys for Start-Ups
http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2010/04/the_five_whys_for_startups.html

Using Reappraisal to Handle an Angry Face


Thinking” by Hans Kristian Aas

An interesting study by a team of researchers (Jens Blechert, Gal Sheppes, Carolina Di Tella, Hants Williams, and James J. Gross at Stanford University) has found that when you tell yourself (i.e. reappraise) that someone is mean to you is simply having a bad day, you may be able to fend off bad feelings.

Reappraisal isn’t anything new. It goes by the name of reframing and is used by cognitive-behavioral psychologists to help clients reframe a distressing problem using a more positive perspective, making it a more a manageable one.

Professor Gross discussed this idea of reappraisal in the book “Developing Your Conflict Competence” by Craig Runde and Tim Flanagan. In it, he talked to one of the authors about using cognitive reappraisal by challenging the way you initially interpret things you see. “Cognitive reappraisal involves using alternative interpretations of the meanings about situations” (Runde & Flanagan, 2010, p. 50).

Runde and Flanagan (2010) said: “Reappraisal (also known as reframing) involves a cognitive process through which the facts underlying a conflict are reexamined for nonthreatening, alternative explanations” (p. 49). Incredibly, brain imaging seems to support this and indicate that, with practice in reappraising/reframing your thinking, your negative feelings will be reduced while more positive feelings will surface (Ochsner, Bunge, Gross, & Gabrieli, 2002).

Ask yourself the following:

  • “Is it the only way of seeing the situation?”
  • “Are there rational, nonthreatening ways of understanding the matter?”

In the study by Blechert and colleagues, participants were shown a series of angry faces and the reactions of the participants were assessed. When participants were told that the angry faces had a bad day, but that it had nothing to do with the participants personally, the participants were able to fend off bad feelings the next time they saw that same angry face. However, when the participants were told to only feel the emotions brought on by seeing an angry face, they remained upset by that face when it was shown to them again.

Bottom line: Blechert says, “If you’re trained with reappraisal, and you know your boss is frequently in a bad mood, you can prepare yourself to go into a meeting” and not be negatively affected by your boss’ bad mood.

References

Association for Psychological Science. (November, 2011). Press Release. The Brain Acts Fast To Reappraise Angry Faces. http://www.psychologicalscience.org/index.php/news/releases/the-brain-acts-fast-to-reappraise-angry-faces.html

Ochsner, K. N., Bunge, S. A., Gross, J. J., & Gabrieli, J. D. E. (2002). Rethinking feelings: An fMRI study of the cognitive regulation of emotion. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 14(8), 1215-1229. doi:10.1162/089892902760807212

Runde & Flanagan, (2010). Developing your conflict competence: A hands-on guide for leaders, managers, facilitators, and teams. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Weisul, K. (November 2011). How to handle an angry boss. Retrieved from http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-505125_162-57329138/how-to-handle-an-angry-boss/

Employees Misbehave When They Are Bored

Bruursemaa, Kesslerb, and Spector (2011) conducted a study in which they found that employees who were bored are more likely to also misbehave. Previously, counterproductive work behavior (CWB) were viewed as made up of five types: abuse against others, production deviance, sabotage, withdrawal, and theft.

In this study, the researchers added a sixth type, horseplay. Bruursemaa, Kesslerb, and Spector (2011) studied responses from 211 participants recruited via email in North America. They discovered that being prone to boredom (boredom proneness) and job boredom was strongly associated with certain types of counterproductive work behavior (CWB).

This is actually not surprising to me. In my previous job consulting with educators about classroom management, special education issues, and students with behavioral problems, one of the first things I do when I observe students in the classroom is to watch what they do when they are bored. It never fails because once boredom kicks in, whether it’s because the task is too easy, too hard, uninteresting, etc., the student will almost certainly find a way to misbehave.

Reference

Bruursemaa, K., Kesslerb, S. R., & Spector, P. E. (2011). Bored employees misbehaving: The relationship between boredom and counterproductive work behavior. Work & Stress, 25(2), 93-107. doi:10.1080/02678373.2011.596670

Bosses and Powerful People Do Not Listen


Photo Credit: I’m Not Listening by Suwani

A recent study found that the more power people have, the more likely they will discount advice due to an elevated sense of confidence in their own judgment.

Across four studies, researchers found that “the psychological experience of power elevates confidence and exacerbates the already strong tendency for individuals to overweight their own initial judgments and insufficiently incorporate input of others.” Furthermore, the researchers discovered that “power can lead people to be less open to factual advice, even when that advice can help achieve accuracy objectives and improve performance.”

Study 1 (a field survey): people who see themselves in a power position were viewed by their colleagues as overly confident and less likely to accept advice.

Study 2 (an advice-taking task): those with more self-perceived power also had more confidence in their own judgment and were less willing to adjust their answers in the direction of an advisor.

Study 3 (advice taking experiment): priming a high power mentality increased confidence in a person’s initial answers and led to that person being less willing to accept advice.

Study 4 (experiment with analysis of judgmental accuracy): even with higher confidence levels, higher power individuals had significantly less accurate final judgments than lower power participants.

Take-Away: Power increases a person’s tendency to overestimate his/her own initial judgment. What this means is that powerful decision makers can also be the least accurate.

Reference

See, K. E., Morrison, E. W., Rothman, N. B., & Soll, J. B. (2011). The detrimental effects of power on confidence, advice taking, and accuracy. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes. Advance online publication. doi:10.1016/j.obhdp.2011.07.006

Cut the Clutter – Get Rid of the Nonsense

I hate clutter. If I see clutter, my natural instinct is to clean it up, get rid of it, and/or organize it. I hate clutter so much that I have volunteered to help clean apartments and homes of people who were messy. When I begin a new job, one of the first things I do is to cut the clutter of the individual who came before me and then proceed to declutter unnecessary and/or redundant tasks.

Peter Drucker, the father of management, said that the most serious symptom of poor organization occurs when there’s an increase in the number of management levels. Drucker said it’s best to have the fewest possible management levels and build the shortest, viable chain of command. In other words, cut the clutter.

The crazy thing is that poor organization doesn’t just happen in large, multinational corporations. It can also occur in small to medium-size organizations. I have seen this in the private and nonprofit sectors, from organizations with 10,000+ employees to churches with just 100 parishioners.

I once asked employees at a mental health clinic why mail took so long to arrive at their office. Their answer was that all mail was routed through the central office located in another city, which are then sent to their office. Although one would think that sending and receiving mail should be a priority when it comes to the mental health and welfare of patients, this clinic continues to stick to its “pony express” method. Ironically, while everyone hated that mail took so long and they hated that it “needed” to be routed through the central office, no one ever did anything about it. So the senseless, extra step continues and the clutter lives on.

At another organization, a multinational financial services company, mail delivery is a daily challenge. At one large office complex, there are three buildings with a ridiculous numbering system that employees and mail staff alike cannot seem to figure out. The problem: The rooms aren’t number correctly but rather entails a fondness for decimal points, such that a room number looks something like this: 100.578. In addition, there doesn’t seem to be a rational, logical numbering of rooms. What’s more, there are cubicles with no numbers at all. Thus, every time the mail room staff drops off mail, mistakes are made. The craziest part is that the mail room staff are not employees of the company but rather employees hired by a contractor.

I’m sure there must be sane, reasonable explanations (I’m being sarcastic here) to why there is so much clutter in organizations. And for those who work in such environments, it may be status quo. But if you don’t stop and figure out why something that seems unnecessary, redundant, or nonsensical (like the mail being routed through one office before being sent to another office) is done, then you’re not taking the time to help declutter your organization. It’s easy to say, “Hey, it’s not my job.” The problem is that this type of mindset does little to help an employee thrive in the organization.

Again, we can turn to Peter Drucker for insight and wisdom. Drucker said that employees need to succeed and achieve, and can do so by learning to manage themselves. One question that Drucker advised us to ask ourselves is, “What is my contribution?” If we see that our role in an organization, any organization, is to ask and answer this question, then cutting the clutter and getting rid of the nonsense should be everyone’s job.

Reference

Drucker, P. F. (2008). Management (Revised ed.). New York: HarperCollins.

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.