Category Archives: Executive Coaching

Failure to Recognize and Address Issues Quickly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References

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

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

When Clowns Run The Circus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Take-Away Message

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

References

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

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

Humans, True Grit, and Teaching Resilience

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Take-Away Message

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

References

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

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

Successful Strategic Execution Is Hard

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

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

Reference

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

Creating an Ethical Organizational Culture

[NOTE: This post was updated October 2016]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References

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

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

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

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

What Happens When Leaders Set High Expectations?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reference

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are the numbers:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References

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

PBS. Independent Lens. POWER TRIP.

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

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

4 Steps to Resolving Conflicts on Your Team

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

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

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

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

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

Reference

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

Less Talk, More Action-The PAR Technique

In “Good Boss, Bad Boss” Robert Sutton talks about a problem many of us see in our workplaces — too much talking and not enough doing. Sutton says too often people (this includes bosses and their subordinates) know what needs to be done but rather than doing it, they talk (hold endless meetings), write about it, and study it to death. Professor Sutton shares about a restaurant chain that hired a consulting firm to create a detailed plan to improve their operations. During the presentation, a long-time executive shared that a decade earlier, the company had received the same report. The executive then proceeded to read from the old report which had almost the same advice as the new one. The lesson: Management had known for quite some time what needed to be done, but they just didn’t do it.

For today’s post, I will use the PAR technique (Problem, Action, Results) also called STAR (Situation or Task, Action, Result) to share about my experiences living and working on an island in the North Pacific Ocean – an island called Saipan. This PAR method (I hope) will help you see how simple it is to not just talk about a problem, but to act to resolve it.

BACKGROUND

Yearning for adventure, excitement, and something different, I left Texas in January 2004 to live and work on an island in the North Pacific Ocean as a Behavior Specialist. My job covered 20 schools on the islands of Saipan (15 schools), Rota (3 schools), and Tinian (2 schools) totaling over 12,000 students. It included assessing at-risk and conduct/behavioral problem students, observing and conducting functional behavior assessments, designing appropriate behavior intervention plans, and assisting teachers and school staff in the proper implementation of the prescribed behavior program. On a daily basis, I provided consultations to school staff to train and assist in behavior and classroom management, positive behavior support, school crisis management, and traumatic stress & crisis intervention response.

(P)ROBLEM

Saipan, Rota, and Tinian (collectively called CNMI or Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands) posed a particular challenge due to their geographical locations (eight hours west of Hawaii), their relatively young educational system (public education did not start until the mid 1940’s when the first public school, WSR Elementary, was established in 1946, with others soon following in the 1950’s, 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s) and cultural values and norms.

There are more than 20 ethnicities and nationalities from East, West, as well as Pacific communities, including Chamorro, Carolinian, Filipino, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Indian, Bangladesh, Russian, Thai, Vietnamese, Micronesian (Yapese, Chuukese, Pohnepeian), Palauan, Hawaiian, Marshall Islands, American, Australian, and various European communities. Although the island (population 82,000) is considered Chamorro and Carolinian, more than half of the population is comprised of foreign “guest workers” employed in the garment and tourist industries. In fact, there are roughly 17,500 garment workers and laborers in the CNMI, most of whom are non-English speaking Chinese.

With the stigmas and misinformation surrounding mental health and mental illness, coupled with an educational system still in its infancy and an economy dependent on U.S. federal support, counseling services and school crisis management were at the bottom of the priority scale in the eyes of the cash-strapped government and local school system.

(A)CTION

Being one to never back down from a challenge and understanding that (as my friend and coworker described) the CNMI was “fertile soil” to work in, I was able to set and attain two goals: (1) Being part of a six-member Counseling Steering Committee Team that successfully implemented a Monthly Level-Sharing program (CMLS) to train school counselors; and (2) Conducting 25 workshops and training over 700 teachers and school staff on Nonviolent Crisis Intervention® Training and Behavior & Classroom Management.

(1) I partnered with a team of counselors in the local school system and the local mental health agency to educate and train other counselors and to equip them with basic counseling and trauma response skills to address the psychological and emotional needs of students at school and other children and adolescents in the community.

(2) Together with a colleague, I wrote two grants, secured funding, and became a Nonviolent Crisis Intervention® Certified Instructor to educate and train teachers, administrators, and school staff on how to best manage anxious, hostile, and/or violent crisis situations in their classrooms and on their campuses.

(R)ESULTS

The responses and feedback were phenomenal.

(1) Through our CNMI Counselors Monthly-Level Sharing Meetings/Trainings, we tackled difficult topics including child sexual abuse, suicide, and self-injurious behaviors. School counselors reported an increase in feelings of confidence and competence in addressing some of these issues in their schools.

(2) As a result of the Nonviolent Crisis Intervention® Workshops as well as trainings and presentations on classroom management and anti-bullying, over 700 educators, counselors, and administrators were trained on best-practices models in managing crisis and potentially volatile situations.

Here is an example of data from the Nonviolent Crisis Intervention® training conducted at an elementary school (on Feb. 6-7, 2006), a high school (Apr. 1-2, 2006) and during two PSS Statewide Professional Developments (Feb. 8-10 & Aug. 17-18, 2006). Of those who attended the Statewide Professional Development workshop (on Aug. 17-18, 2006) and who responded to the workshop questionnaire on a scale of 1-5 (5 being very useful), 14 out of 14 (100%) said they “strongly agreed” that they had met the program objective to use nonverbal techniques to prevent acting-out behavior; 14 out of 14 (100%) said they “agreed” or “strongly agreed” they had met the program objective to use CPI’s Principles of Personal Safety to avoid injury to all involved in a crisis situation; 14 out of 14 (100%) said they “agreed” or “strongly agreed” they had met the program objective to use safe physical intervention procedures as a last resort when a person is a danger to self or others; All participants or 100% gave the overall Nonviolent Crisis Intervention Training program the highest approval rating of “5” (strongly agree). These figures reflect the overwhelmingly positive response to the Nonviolent Crisis Intervention® Training program.

WHAT I LEARNED – The Key Lessons

As with many important things which transcend the lessons and printed materials drawn from textbooks, what my job and interactions in the CNMI have taught me are the following:

(1) A collaborative spirit and attitude work best.
(2) Keep things simple, practical, and relevant in order to link talking to action.
(3) Everyone, from children to adults, from the under- to the over-educated has a story to share. Make time to listen to their stories.
(4) Don’t ever assume you know them, their problems, or traumas – you don’t.
(5) Above all else, treat everyone with kindness and respect because no one likes being talked down to.

Side note to #2: The older I get and the more “education” I receive, the more I realize that simple is often best and that the smartest, wisest people are those who ask questions rather than speak. There are also people who are impressed with what Robert Sutton calls “jargon monoxide” or gobbledygook, nonsense. They tend to talk more and do less, rather than the opposite – talk less and do more. In my own experience, I have discovered that people who have a tendency to spew out “jargon monoxide” are those trying to hide their own incompetence or those trying to impress others. It’s even funnier when these same people use big words to which they don’t know the meanings to. Sometimes, real life is much more entertaining than television.

Reference

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

*This entry (in its entirety) is also cited as:

Nguyen, S. (2011). Less talk, more action—The PAR technique. Journal of Safe Management of Disruptive and Assaultive Behavior, 19(1), 14-16.

When Participative Leadership Results in Indecisive Leadership

Participative leadership is where a leader consults with and encourages subordinates’ participation in the decision-making process. Participative leaders have a tendency to seek feedback from those who report to them and taking their suggestions into account before making decisions (Schermerhorn, Hunt, & Osborn, 2008). While it is not necessary to always consult with others, there are advantages in soliciting subordinates’ advice, namely better decisions and greater acceptance of decisions (Yukl, 2010).

However, participative leadership is ineffective if any of the following occurs (Yukl, 2010):

  1. the subordinates don’t all share the leader’s objectives,
  2. the subordinates don’t want to take responsibility for helping to make decisions,
  3. the subordinates distrust the leader, or
  4. if there’s a time crunch (difficult to track everyone down) making it impractical to consult with individuals or hold group meetings.

When a leader constantly asks for subordinates’ input, it communicates to employees, and even those observing from outside the company, that the leader’s style is counterproductive to getting things accomplished, and achieving stated goals and objectives in a timely manner.

References

Schermerhorn, J.R., Hunt, J.G., & Osborn, R.N. (2008). Organizational behavior (10th ed.). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

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

The Dangers of Charismatic Leaders

[NOTE: This post was updated September 2017]

In a post called, “Lend Me Your Wallets:” Research on the Link Between Charismatic CEOs and Stock Price, Featuring Steve Jobs, Professor Robert Sutton asked his readers about the virtues and dangers of charismatic leaders.

According to Professor Gary Yukl (2010), charismatic leaders are self-confident and possess a strong conviction in his/her own beliefs and ideals. Charismatic leaders are able to influence their followers by (i.e., their virtues):

  1. Articulating a vision, one that’s appealing and optimistic,
  2. Using strong, expressive forms of communication when talking about the vision,
  3. Taking personal risks and making self-sacrifices to attain the vision,
  4. Communicating high expectations,
  5. Expressing optimism and confidence in followers,
  6. Modeling behaviors consistent with the vision,
  7. Managing follower impressions of the leader,
  8. Building identification with the group or organization, and
  9. Empowering followers.

On the flip side, Dr. Yukl (2010) also listed some negative consequences of charismatic leaders (i.e., the dangers/downsides):

(1) Excessive confidence and optimism blind the leader to real dangers.

For instance, as a charismatic leader, I don’t think Steve Jobs (Apple’s founder and current CEO, but was one time fired from Apple) ever saw himself being forced out of the company he founded. But that’s exactly what happened on September 16, 1985 when he left Apple. His feud with John Sculley, the co-CEO who Jobs himself had lured away from Pepsi (with the now famous line, “Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water or do you want a chance to change the world?”) resulted in the Apple board’s decision that he was just too volatile to lead as CEO and so Jobs quit.

(2) Dependence on the leader inhibits development of competent successors.

According to a story in the Los Angeles Times, during the period surrounding Steve Jobs’ health scare (which started in mid-2004 and lasted until his successful liver transplant in 2009), Apple stocks dropped. “One reason for the market’s anxiety — Apple shares shed more than 56% in 2008 — is that the company has been silent about its succession plan” (Hiltzik, 2009).

“Selecting Jobs’s successor will be challenging, given the degree to which he is tied to Apple’s identity.” (Knowledge@Wharton)

(3) Failure to develop successor creates an eventual leadership crisis.

“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, 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, 2009)

“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)

(4) Denial of problems and failures reduces organizational learning.

One of the biggest drawbacks for charismatic leaders is their failure to sometimes learn. Perhaps, they too fall prey to their own charms and charisma.

This lesson can be illustrated with Apple’s handling of the iPhone 4’s infamous antenna issue (which, when gripped a certain way near the antenna, would often drop calls). Apple never admitted any mistakes on its part and instead said that other phones (by competing carriers) also dropped calls when gripped a certain way near the antenna. Rather than redesigning or offering a permanent solution, Apple decided to offer free cases which would cover the sensitive area to lessen the dropped calls. Consumer Reports, an independent, non-profit organization that test products, refused to recommend the iPhone 4 contending that “putting the onus on any owners of a product to obtain a remedy to a design flaw is not acceptable to us. We therefore continue not to recommend the iPhone 4, and to call on Apple to provide a permanent fix for the phone’s reception issues.”

Interestingly, in 2009 an Apple senior antenna engineer told Steve Jobs the iPhone 4’s external antenna could cause reception problems. Even though Apple engineers knew there could be problems with the iPhone 4’s antenna design, their concerns were dismissed because Jobs liked the design. In addition, a Wall Street Journal article stated, “For at least two years, multiple iPhone carriers lodged complaints with the company that its phone doesn’t work well in making calls and doesn’t hold a wireless signal for a voice call as well as other devices.”

Despite all these warnings, Apple (under Steve Jobs’ charismatic leadership) launched the iPhone 4, flaws included.

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership + Talent Development Advisor

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

Burrows, P., & Guglielmo, C. (July 2010). Apple Engineer Told Jobs IPhone Antenna Might Cut Calls. Bloomberg. Retrieved from http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2010-07-15/apple-engineer-said-to-have-told-jobs-last-year-about-iphone-antenna-flaw.html

Consumer Reports — Lab tests: Why Consumer Reports can’t recommend the iPhone 4
Retrieved from http://blogs.consumerreports.org/electronics/2010/07/apple-iphone-4-antenna-issue-iphone4-problems-dropped-calls-lab-test-confirmed-problem-issues-signal-strength-att-network-gsm.html

Consumer Reports — Apple curtails its free case program for the iPhone 4
Retrieved from http://blogs.consumerreports.org/electronics/2010/09/apple-iphone4-free-bumper-cases-program-ending-finishing-dropped-calls-antenna-design-issue-problem-iphone-4-cases-giveaway.html

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

Kahney, L. (October 2010). John Sculley: The Secrets of Steve Jobs’ Success. Cult of Mac. Retrieved from http://www.cultofmac.com/john-sculley-the-secrets-of-steve-jobs-success-exclusive-interview/21572

Kane, Y.I., & Sheth, N. (July 2010). Apple Knew of iPhone Issue. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704682604575369311876558240.html

Knowledge@Wharton (Jan 2009). 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

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

Workplace Incivility Causes Mistakes and Even Kills

Research on workplace incivility (for example, emotional abuse or rudeness in the workplace) revealed that if someone is rude to you at work or if you witness rudeness you are more likely to make mistakes.

In The No Asshole Rule, Bob Sutton shared that nurses reported being demeaned at an alarmingly high rate. “A 1997 study of 130 U.S. nurses…found that 90% reported being victims of verbal abuse by physicians during the past year” (p. 21). A 2003 study of 461 nurses revealed that in the past month 91% had experienced verbal abuse, often from physicians (Sutton, 2007).

In a previous post entitled Workplace Incivility Hurts Employees & Businesses, I shared Pearson and Porath (2009) findings that 1 in 5 people in their study claimed to be targets of incivility from a coworker at least once a week. About 2/3 said they witnessed incivility happening among other employees at least once a month. 10% said they saw incivility among their coworkers every day. Workplace incivility (e.g., rudeness) can have a negative effect on the efficiency and productivity of the organization (Pearson, Andersson, & Wegner, 2001).

“[W]hen people feel mistreated and dissatisfied with their jobs, they are unwilling to do extra work to help their organizations, to expend ‘discretionary effort.’” (Sutton, 2007, pp. 40-41).

“A hostile environment erodes cooperation and a sense of commitment to high-quality care…and that increases the risk of medical errors.” -Dr. Peter B. Angood, chief patient safety officer at the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO).

So what?

Porath and Erez (2007) discovered that being the victim of rudeness can impair your cognitive skills. Tarkan (2008), writing in The New York Times, said that rude, bad behaviors on the part of physicians lead to “medical mistakes, preventable complications and even death.” Tarkan added that a “survey by the Institute for Safe Medication Practices, a nonprofit organization, found that 40 percent of hospital staff members reported having been so intimidated by a doctor that they did not share their concerns about orders for medication that appeared to be incorrect. As a result, 7 percent said they contributed to a medication error.”

Pearson and Porath (2009) say that a negative by-product of a toxic, uncivil work environment is that employees no longer feel psychologically safe, and as a result are less likely to seek or accept feedback. “They will quit asking for help, talking about errors, and informing one another about potential or actual problems” (pp. 81-82).

In the tragic case of Air Florida Flight 90, analysis of the black-box recordings revealed that the copilot tried several times to warn the captain of possible dangers. Unfortunately, the warnings of the copilot were dismissed as unimportant by the captain. Seventy-two out of seventy-seven people onboard, along with the copilot and pilot, died (Pearson & Porath, 2009).

Sound Bite: “Incivility doesn’t shock people into better focus. It robs concentration, hijacks task orientation, and impedes performance” (Pearson & Porath, 2009, p. 155). What’s really alarming is that incivility can actually put lives at risk or even cause deaths.

References

Pearson, C., Andersson, L., & Wegner, J. (2001). When workers flout convention: A study of workplace incivility. Human Relations, 54(11), 1387-1419.

Pearson, C. & Porath, C. (2009). The cost of bad behavior: How incivility is damaging your business and what to do about it. New York, NY: Portfolio.

Porath, C., & Erez, A. (2007). Does rudeness really matter? The effects of rudeness on task performance and helpfulness. Academy of Management Journal, 50(5), 1181-1197.

Sutton, R.I. (2007). The no asshole rule: Building a civilized workplace and surviving one that isn’t. New York: Business Plus.

Tarkan, L. (2008). Arrogant, Abusive and Disruptive — and a Doctor. New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/02/health/02rage.html

Seven Ways to Avoid Becoming the Boss from Hell

The American Management Association posts articles, white papers, and various other training materials for business professionals on its website. I came across this piece about a year ago (although it was originally posted in April 2007), that ties in quite nicely with Dr. Robert Sutton’s newly released book, “Good Boss, Bad Boss.” You can read my review of “Good Boss, Bad Boss” in my August 2010 post.

Below (in its entirety) are Seven Ways to Avoid Becoming the Boss from Hell:

  1. Treat employees with respect and dignity
    • Discuss personal and sensitive issues in private rather than publicly.
    • Get to know your employees as people rather than mere workers.
  2. Involve employees in decisions
    • Let employees know that their ideas are welcome.
    • Thank employees for their suggestions and use them.
  3. Empower employees
    • Delegate whenever possible.
    • Allow employees to have more of a say in how they do their work.
  4. Clearly communicate assignments
    • Communicate goals and expectations both individually and in writing.
    • Ask employees to restate the goals and assignments in their own words.
  5. Listen, listen, listen
    • Practice active listening techniques such as asking open-ended questions.
    • Learn how to probe for information, ideas, and feelings when speaking with employees.
  6. Recognize that your job includes solving “people problems”
    • Be prepared to address employee issues such as ineffective performance, health problems, family crises, substance abuse, and harassment from coworkers.
    • When necessary, seek counsel and involvement from professionals in the human resource department.
  7. Provide personal recognition
    • Catch employees in the act of performing well and provide them with recognition immediately, rather than waiting for the next performance review discussion.
    • Just like the best gifts to receive are those when there is no occasion, periodically thank employees individually for their hard work.

Reference

American Management Association. (2007). Are you the “Boss from Hell?” Retrieved from http://www.amanet.org/training/articles/Are-You-the-Boss-from-Hell.aspx

Book Review-Handbook of Coaching Psychology

For the past several months, I have been using Palmer and Whybrow’s “Handbook of Coaching Psychology.” It has becoming one of my “must-have, go-to books” when researching or referencing coaching or coaching psychology topics.

Coaching draws so much from psychology, and in fact, psychology serves as the foundation to many coaching practices (Fillery-Travis & Lane, 2007). However, there are coaches who practice without being informed by psychological research, and they end up using “frameworks of dubious validity” and are often engaged “on a psychological enterprise without a background understanding of the psychology used” (p. 59).

Palmer & Whybrow (2007) explained that, “[t]he key difference between definitions of coaching and coaching psychology is that the latter include application of psychological theory” (p. 3). A coaching approach rooted in psychology can provide a unified voice for a coaching based on and informed by psychology (Palmer & Whybrow, 2005).

It is for these reasons that the “Handbook of Coaching Psychology” carries such great importance. This book is the first of its kind, in both its depth and breath, in the field of coaching psychology. Offering insights on coaching psychology practices, the “Handbook of Coaching Psychology” covers topics including the evolution of professional coaching & coaching psychology, cognitive-behavioral coaching, solution-focused coaching, psychodynamic coaching, positive psychology & coaching psychology, person-centered coaching, the role of coaching psychology (between counseling & coaching), coaching psychology supervision, psychometrics in coaching, and much more. There are even sections in the back of the book on coaching and coaching psychology-related professional associations and journals.

One chapter I really enjoyed is Bachkirova’s (2007) “Role of Coaching Psychology in Defining Boundaries between Counselling and Coaching.” In it, she explained how coaching suffers from a definitional consensus while trying to reconcile the tenuous position it’s currently in – between coaching and counseling. Bachkirova (2007) said that “coaching psychology” serves a dual role. First, it is an attempt to clarify the role and boundaries of psychology in coaching. Secondly, it also serves as a bridge connecting coaching and counseling/psychology.

Summary: The “Handbook of Coaching Psychology” belongs on every coach or coach-in-training’s library. It is the quintessential coaching psychology bible. If you are a coach or want to become one, you owe it to yourself to utilize sound psychological theories to inform and guide your coaching practice. The “Handbook of Coaching Psychology” will help provide the strong psychological foundation you need to be an effective coach and ensure that your coaching skills are evidence-based and grounded in science.

References

Bachkirova, T. (2007). Role of coaching psychology in defining boundaries between counselling and coaching. In S. Palmer & A. Whybrow (Eds.), Handbook of coaching psychology: A guide for practitioners (pp. 351-366). New York: Routledge.

Fillery-Travis, A., & Lane, D. (2007). Research: Does coaching work? In S. Palmer & A. Whybrow (Eds.), Handbook of coaching psychology: A guide for practitioners (pp. 57-70). New York: Routledge.

Palmer, S., & Whybrow, A. (Eds.). (2007). Handbook of coaching psychology: A guide for practitioners. New York: Routledge.

Palmer, S., & Whybrow, A. (2005). The Proposal to Establish a Special Group in Coaching Psychology. The coaching psychologist, 1, 5-12.

Coaching and Mental Illness

“Coaching is normally seen as an activity to enhance performance and achievement of goals” (Buckley, 2010, p. 394).

When coaches talk about clients in terms of mental health needs, these clients are better served by related fields like counseling or clinical psychology, not coaching or its cousin, coaching psychology.

There are many psychologists and other mental health professionals who have found coaching to be an appealing alternative to therapeutic practice. However, Anthony Grant cautions that these therapists-turned-coaches should not merely “act as a coach.” Instead, they should “develop coaching skills and psychological frameworks that go beyond existing clinical or counselling frameworks and applications” (Grant, 2006, p. 16).

Grant argues that in order for the field and profession of coaching to exist as a viable, independent discipline, it needs to differentiate itself from counseling and the mental illness, psychopathology model.

For coaches not from a mental health background (and even those who are) what follows should be required consideration in working with clients.

Peltier (2010, p. 304) asserts, “[C]oaches are not psychotherapists or doctors…[T]herapy is not their job.” However, coaches must still realize that in coaching sessions, they may be confronted with psychopathology. For this reason, it is important for coaches to be proficient in identifying clients who may need mental health counseling. On a related note, it is equally important for coaches to recognize their own need to be trained to spot mental health issues or signs of potential mental illness.

Peltier (2010) states that three mental disorders are most disabling and thus should quickly be referred to the appropriate mental health professionals. They are:

  1. Schizophrenia
  2. Bipolar disorder
  3. Dementia

* The three listed above (schizophrenia, bipolar, and dementia) usually require the intervention of a psychiatrist and a combination of medication and psychotherapy.
** For more details about these and other mental disorders, please consult the DSM-IV.
*** See Chapter 14 “Psychopathology and Coaching” of Peltier’s book “The Psychology of Executive Coaching” for a more in-depth coverage of this topic.

Peña & Cooper (2010) recommend referring coaching clients when the following mental health issues are present (this is not an exhaustive list, there are many more):

  1. High level of distress
  2. Persistent low mood
  3. Sense of hopelessness

Buckley (2010) states that when coaches are faced with mental health issues they should ask three questions:

  1. Can my coaching help? (Remember the purpose of coaching)
  2. What are my limitations?
  3. Should my coaching continue?

Buckley proposes a four-stage process to help guide a coach in making a decision:

  1. Recognize that some people may have mental health problems that make coaching inappropriate
  2. Understand the signs & symptoms of mental illness and be able to question the client further when necessary
  3. Understand the ethical, legal, and professional standards and practices
  4. Ask “What next?” Continue coaching, stop coaching or refer for medical help?

On the subject of coaching and mental illness, this statement sums it up best:

“Any diagnosis, treatment, ways to help or exploration of underlying issues is the province of mental health specialists and is best avoided” (Buckley, 2010, p. 395).

References

Buckley, A. (2010). Coaching and Mental Health. In E. Cox, T. Bachkirova, & D. Clutterbuck (Eds.), The complete handbook of coaching (pp.394-404). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Grant, A.M. (2006). A personal perspective on professional coaching and the development of coaching psychology. International Coaching Psychology Review, 1(1), 12-22.

Peltier, B. (2010). The psychology of executive coaching: Theory and application (2nd ed.). New York: Routledge.

Peña, M.A., & Cooper, C.L. (2010). Coaching and stress. In J. Passmore (Ed.), Excellence in coaching: The industry guide (2nd ed.) (pp. 189-203). London: Kogan Page.