Category Archives: Leadership

Talking Too Much and Not Listening

Businessmen discussing in office
Businessmen discussing in office | Credit: Morsa Images

In a previous life and time, I worked as a mental health counselor. I was trained in the art of listening and would periodically have my listening skills evaluated by professors, supervisors, and even peers (on videos and in live sessions). It was stressful and sometimes I felt more like the patient/client than the therapist.

After pivoting from the mental health field to the corporate world, I was naïve enough to think that I would no longer need to tap into my counseling skills.

Today, more than a decade after leaving my counseling life behind and much to my surprise and delight, I continue to find my counseling skills useful when interacting with people. In particular, I’m seeing many areas in the business arena that are in desperate need of the skills of a counselor.

Talk First, Ramble On Second, and (Maybe) Listen Third

It is incredible to me how quick business people are to talk before hearing what the other person has to say. Let me share one example: I had scheduled a meeting about a project and prior to the meeting, had sent out an email outlining the purpose of the meeting as well as the limited parameters within which we had to work. Once the meeting started, a woman began suggesting ideas on how to improve things. They were fantastic ideas. The only problem was that these great ideas were not applicable to the project nor were they aligned with the reason for the meeting.

Had she listened to what I was explaining at the start of the meeting — the presentation is limited to one hour so we are limited by what we can do — then she would not have wasted her time talking and everyone else’s time listening to her go on and on.

The business environment demands that a person speaks up in order to be noticed and, sadly, many are too quick to talk rather than listen to another person talk. It’s as if talking first and fast is somehow a sport and the first one to speak wins.

Given this context, we can see that listening achieves the exact opposite effect (i.e., listening means not talking much and not drawing attention to yourself because you’re not talking).

Lombardo and Eichinger (2009) observe that people who are unskilled in listening tend to cut others off or try to finish other people’s sentences. They’ll interrupt as someone is talking to try to force their point across. Because they’re too busy trying to think about their own responses, it’s easy to see that they’re actually not listening. As a result, others form opinions about the person not listening, such as he’s arrogant, or doesn’t care, or does not value others. Perhaps they might think this person is too busy, has selective hearing, or is just impatient or insensitive.

One of the dangers of talking too much and not listening is that you’ll completely miss the point that the other person is trying to make, and even worse, when you restate or relate the conversation (if you can even call it that), you’ll restate it incorrectly because, not surprisingly, you weren’t listening and got the facts and important points all wrong!

Active Listening

In The First-Time Manager, Belker, McCormick, and Topchik (2012) said the ability to actively listen is one of the best-kept secrets of successful management.

Active listeners “encourage the other person to talk” (Belker, McCormick, & Topchik, 2012, p. 25) and “continue the other person’s line of communication” (p. 26). We know when a person is truly engaged in conversation with us – they’ll look at us when we talk, they will occasionally nod their heads and smile, and they’ll use statements or comments to let us know they’re interested (e.g., that’s interesting; tell me more; why do you think he said that, etc.) and, finally, they’ll restate or rephrase what we just said (e.g., “So let me see if I understand what you just said [then add the rephrase version]. Is that right?” (Belker, McCormick, & Topchik, 2012)

Here’s a great piece of advice:

“[Y]ou don’t want to dominate the conversation . . . Rather, you want to create a dialogue in which you speak only about one-fifth of the time” (Stone, 2007, p. 77).

One important caution about active listening is that if your only goal is to check off the list of active listening how-tos (i.e., maintain eye contact, nod your head, paraphrase) then even active listening can become mechanical. You MUST concentrate on listening, not just demonstrate that you are (Nichols, 2009).

Takeaway (from The First-Time Manager): “Active listening is one of the most valuable traits [you] can demonstrate for two important reasons: First, if you do a great deal of active listening, you will not be thought of as a know-it-all, which is how most people perceive someone who talks too much. Second, by doing a lot of active listening and less talking, you’ll learn what is going on and gain insights and information you would miss if you were doing all the talking” (Belker, McCormick, & Topchik, 2012, p. 24).

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

References

Belker, L. B., McCormick, J., & Topchik, G. S. (2012). The first-time manager (6th ed.). Washington, DC: AMACOM.

Lombardo, M. M., & Eichinger, R. W. (2009). FYI: For your improvement: A development and coaching guide (5th ed.). Minneapolis, MN: Lominger International.

Nichols, M. P. (2009). The lost art of listening: How learning to listen can improve relationships (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Guilford Press.

Stone, F. M. (2007). Coaching, counseling & mentoring: How to choose & use the right technique to boost employee performance (2nd ed.). Washington, DC: AMACOM.

The Pitfalls of Telecommuting

Coworkers discussing project on digital tablet
Coworkers discussing project on digital tablet | Credit: Thomas Barwick

[NOTE: This post was updated January 2017]

I was contacted by a TV Producer at BBC News regarding my thoughts about the pitfalls of working at home. I am reposting my response to her as well as add some additional information which, due to a tight schedule, I was not able to include in my original answers.

Question: People often tout home working as being the future – but it isn’t really happening – at least in the UK. Why Not?

I wrote about telecommuting (working from home or remotely for an employer) back in 2011 on my Workplace Psychology blog. The idea of a flexible work schedule, one that allows us the ability to work from our homes or another remote location is very attractive. We have these grand illusions about working in our pajamas and wearing house slippers while we work.

The reality, however, is that it requires a great deal of structure, time management and commitment, as well as an understanding of telecommuting’s disadvantages on the part of the person telecommuting so that s/he can get work done. Those who telecommute, especially the ones who have done so for an extended period of time will tell you that it actually requires you to work more, not less.

Perhaps it’s not such a huge surprise then that, in the United States, “the proportion of workers who telecommute has been essentially flat over the mid-1990s to mid-2000s and is no larger among younger cohorts of workers than older cohorts” (Noonan & Glass, 2012, p. 44).

Researchers have discovered that telecommuting “relocates” long hours at the office to remote work, but it does not eliminate or reduce these hours (Noonan & Glass, 2012). Another perspective related to this is that by working remotely, employees are expected (by their employers) to do more work and be available nights and weekends compared to what would be expected of an employee working in the office.

“Rather than enhancing true flexibility in when and where employees work, the capacity to work from home mostly extends the workday and encroaches into what was formerly home and family time” (Glass & Noonan, 2016, p. 217).

“It doesn’t seem like telecommuting is used by people to replace work hours,” Noonan says. “When people telecommute, they use it mostly to do more work.”

Question: Is it because working at home isn’t actually much fun? People miss the social aspect and the moral support of the office?

There’s a nice article back in 2008 about the disadvantages of telecommuting. The author listed 17 disadvantages. She grouped the 17 disadvantages into tow groups: minor problems or trivial annoyances and serious issues or major problems.

To answer your questions, I would say that telecommuting is not as fun as the idea of it, and people do miss the social aspect and moral (and also technical/IT troubleshooting) support. Indeed, one disadvantage of telecommuting is that you have no “tech support,” at least not in the sense of physically running down the hall to the IT department and asking the IT folks for help or calling them on the phone and have them come to your cubicle 30 minutes later to correct a problem with your laptop.

Another disadvantage is creating or having a working structure or routine so you can get going in the morning. When you go to the office, the ritual in the morning is to greet your boss and colleagues and ask them how they’re doing. Some of us grab a cup of coffee and we engage in small talks about the family and kids and then we get started (e.g., check email, make a phone call to a client, attend a meeting, etc.). But when you work from home (unless you purposely create/establish one), you will not engage in this type of daily morning ritual.

You mentioned the social part of physically being in the office. Working remotely is, as the terms describe, a very lonesome activity. Perhaps this is why we’re seeing and hearing more about coworking space and how those who cowork seem to to be thriving, in part because it gives remote employees a feeling that they’re a part of a community.

Forbes.com lists the pitfalls of working remotely in 11 Tips For Being Part Of The Office Team As A Telecommuter. Among these are (1) feeling isolated, (2) being distracted by family members of doing household chores, (3) missing out on office camaraderie.

Finally, remote workers may get lower performance evaluations, smaller raises and fewer promotions (even if they work just as long and hard) due to what is called, “passive face time” or the notion of just being “seen” in the workplace even if we don’t interact with anyone in the office (Elsbach & Cable, 2012).

“To be credited with passive face time you need only be observed at work; no information is required about what you are doing or how well you are doing it” (Elsbach & Cable, 2012).

“Even when in-office and remote employees are equally productive, our research suggests their supervisors might evaluate them differently because of differences in their passive face time” (Elsbach & Cable, 2012).

As they also wrote in their journal article (Elsbach, Cable, & Sherman, 2010), “anecdotal and case study evidence suggests that the display of passive face time by professional workers (e.g. salaried workers in corporate business environments) is interpreted positively by co-workers, supervisors, and subordinates who may observe it” (p. 738). “In fact, it appears that managers in corporate settings use passive face time to judge employees’ work contributions, creating a disadvantage for employees who are seen less often or are not seen as putting in adequate overtime” (p. 738).

Out of sight, out of mind is a real danger for remote workers,” writes J. Maureen Henderson (2015).

Question: It seems to me often to be the companies who push the home working for cost reasons rather than employees – is that your experience?

In the research article by Noonan and Glass (2012), they did bring up that by allowing employees to work remotely, employers increase their expectations of these remote workers by demanding that they (the remote workers) be available more (e.g., nights and weekends). In essence, when telecommuting parameters are unclear and telecommuting policies not firmly established, employees are expected to work more and be more readily available (via phone, email, text, chat, and so on).

This also brings up this view of an always-connected employee. Today’s employees, even ones who do not participate in remote work, actually may do so without even realizing it. Take our smart phones, for example. If you have access to your work email on your own mobile device, then it’s very easy to check it but it can also be stressful at the same time, especially if you check and/or respond to emails after work hours.

Companies are starting to see the connection between an always-connect worker and employee stress and burnout. In 2011, Volkswagen agreed to stop sending emails to its workers when they were off the clock.

Question: How have offices changed over the past 20 years and how will they change in the future?

When we think about how our electronic/mobile devices work and how they help us stay connected or keep us constantly connected (always “on”) to our companies/organizations, we can see that our “workplace” is now mobile. For those who use some type of collaborative tool or cloud storage, they can interact with colleagues and clients across the globe and retrieve information and materials in an instant regardless of where they are in the world, so long as they have access to the Internet and their mobile devices.

Our work is becoming much more dynamic and fluid, thanks to instant or near instant access to information, and in real time. There is a whole new level of collaboration with one another and access to information that 30 years ago would be unheard of. For instance, scientists and researchers today can collaborate on projects and research articles even though they are located physically very far from each other.

That said, I do not see the physical workplace going away any time soon despite the advances in technology. And, I also see and believe in the great value of the face-to-face interaction and collaboration. While I’ve been able to be very productive when working remotely, when I’ve done so for an extended amount of time, I really miss the human connection and my mind and my whole being craves the interaction with (or at least be in or around) a physical community. Even if I don’t interact with anyone, just being in a coffee shop or a coworking space helps inspire me to do great work and for me to see my work as meaningful and also that I have more control over my job.

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

References

BBC. (2012, March). Volkswagen turns off Blackberry email after work hours. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-16314901

Dishman, L. (2013, January). The Future Of Coworking And Why It Will Give Your Business A Huge Edge. Fast Company. Retrieved from http://www.fastcompany.com/3004788/future-coworking-and-why-it-will-give-your-business-huge-edge

Elsbach, K., & Cable, D. M., & Sherman, J. W. (2010). How passive ‘face time’ affects perceptions of employees: Evidence of spontaneous trait inference. Human Relations, 63(6), 735-760.

Elsbach, K. D., & Cable, D. (2012, June). Why Showing Your Face at Work Matters. MIT Sloan Management Review. Retrieved from http://sloanreview.mit.edu/article/why-showing-your-face-at-work-matters

Forbes. 11 Tips For Being Part Of The Office Team As A Telecommuter. http://www.forbes.com/pictures/ehjf45edikj/11-tips-for-being-part-o/

Glass, J. L., & Noonan, M. C. (2016). Telecommuting and Earnings Trajectories Among American Women and Men 1989–2008 [Abstract]. Social Forces, 95(1), 217–250. https://doi.org/10.1093/sf/sow034

GlobalWorkplaceAnalytics.com. Latest Telecommuting Statistics. http://globalworkplaceanalytics.com/telecommuting-statistics

GlobalWorkplaceAnalytics.com. The Shifting Nature of Work In The UK (May 2011). http://globalworkplaceanalytics.com/wp-content/uploads/downloads/2012/03/Telework-in-the-UK_4-3-11.1-Final-Rev.pdf

Henderson, J. M. (2015, August). Three Pitfalls Of Remote Work That You Probably Aren’t Thinking About. Forbes. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/jmaureenhenderson/2015/08/17/three-pitfalls-of-remote-work-that-you-probably-arent-thinking-about/

Lewis, R. C. (2017, January 18). Telecommuting extends the work week, at little extra pay. Iowa Now. Retrieved from https://now.uiowa.edu/2017/01/telecommuting-extends-work-week-little-extra-pay

London Business School. (2012, August). Want to get promoted stay at your desk. Retrieved from http://www.london.edu/news-and-events/news/want-to-get-promoted-stay-at-your-desk#.Vdk9PNNVikp

Nguyen, S. (2011). Virtual workplaces and telework. WorkplacePsychology.Net. Retrieved from https://workplacepsychology.net/2011/12/21/virtual-workplaces-and-telework/

Noonan, M. C., & Glass, J. L. (2012). The hard truth about telecommuting. Monthly Labor Review, 135(6), 38-45. Retrieved from http://www.bls.gov/opub/mlr/2012/06/art3full.pdf

Schindler, E. (2008, December). 17 Telecommuting Pet Peeves. CIO.com. Retrieved from http://www.cio.com/article/2431521/collaboration/17-telecommuting-pet-peeves.html

Spreitzer, G., Bacevice, P., & Garrett, L. (2015, May). Why People Thrive in Coworking Spaces. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2015/05/why-people-thrive-in-coworking-spaces

Tsukayama, H. (2011, December). Volkswagen silences work e-mail after hours. Washington Post. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/technology/volkswagen-silences-work-e-mail-after-hours/2011/12/23/gIQAz4HRDP_story.html

Stop Telling People You’re a “Thought Leader” Because You’re Not

Embed from Getty Images
Is Thought Leadership Old Wine In New Bottles?

There are certain words/phrases that irk me to no end — thought leader or thought leadership is one of them. I cringe every time I see the words “thought leader” or “thought leadership” on a website or by a person’s name.

David Brooks wrote a satirical, op-ed piece in the New York Times in December 2013 titled, “The Thought Leader.” Describing the life of a “thought leader,” Brooks wrote:

“[The thought leader] doesn’t have students, but he does have clients. . . .Not armed with fascinating ideas but with the desire to have some, he launches off into the great struggle for attention.”

Origin of Thought Leadership

Alexander and Badings (2012) explained in their book “#Thought Leadership Tweet” that the term “thought leaders” originated from Joel Kurtzman while he was editor for Booz & Company’s strategy+business magazine. In “Thought Leaders,” Kurtzman traveled the world for two years, interviewing 10 (2 were interviewed by Glenn Rifkin, the book featured 12) leaders (e.g., executives, authors, professors) from across the globe on issues related to business strategy, growth, and HR.

Old Wine In New Bottles

Merely wrapping, repackaging, or pouring old wine into a new bottle does not make it “new wine.” It only means you’re reusing or repackaging an old or existing idea and calling it new.

If you read a thought leader’s writings today, you will rarely find references or citations to ideas he or she borrowed from. These thought leaders tend to take credit for ideas that are, in fact, not new but rather have been around for decades.

For these individuals, their notion of thought leadership is pouring old wine into a new bottle and calling it new wine. Giving themselves the label of being a thought leader and selling this idea to others adds to their pseudo credibility.

I mean, really, who wouldn’t want to be regarded as a thought leader?

What (and Who) Is a Thought Leader?

“Thought leaders advance the marketplace of ideas by positing actionable, commercially relevant, research-backed, new points of view.” -Liz Alexander and Craig Badings

Many consultants are calling themselves thought leaders in the hopes that others might view them as trusted advisors, experts, or even futurists. However, “‘thought leader’ is not a position you choose to adopt, it is bestowed on you by others” (Alexander and Badings, 2012, p. 14).*

*And yet, ironically, after writing that the title “thought leader” is bestowed upon us by others, Alexander and Badings then said, “individual thought leaders are in plentiful supply” but because companies struggle to establish their thought leadership, that was the reason for them [Alexander and Badings] to write a book to help organizations design and implement a thought leadership campaign (their “proven, five-stage ‘Thought Leadership BluePrint.’”).

Not Thought Leaders, Thought Regurgitators

No matter how hard people convince themselves they’re a thought leader, in all likelihood, they’re not. Most people are not thought leaders. Regurgitating old ideas and gift-wrapping them using fancy, new decorative paper (no matter how nice) does not change the fact that you have not come up with a unique and innovative idea.

I love this quote from an article by Cheryl Kim in the Financial Post.

[M]ost people talking about thought leadership have no clue what it means. And most content labeled as ‘thought leadership’ is actually missing the elements of both ‘thought’ and ‘leadership’. -Cheryl Kim

She goes on to say:

“Thought leaders are defined as such because they articulate a problem about which others haven’t spoken, or because they present a novel approach to solving it. Thought leaders change the way people think and what they do. The best thought leaders are actually trying to address a problem or issue at hand — not just talk about it.” -Cheryl Kim

In their coverage of organization development and summarizing the thinking of some OD leaders, William Rothwell and Roland Sullivan (2005) said this:

“[M]uch of contemporary thinking is not truly new and is a trendy version of previous ideas and practices rather than breakthrough in nature” (p. 178).

In his book, Psychology in Organizations: The Social Identity Approach, Haslam (2004) quoted McGregor as saying:

“What sometimes appear to be new strategies – decentralization, management by objective, consultative supervision, ‘democratic’ leadership – are usually but old wine in new bottles” (p. 231, citing Pinder, 1984, p. 42).

Are Curators of Ideas & Synthesizers of Information Thought Leaders?

Dorie Clark, in an HBR article, cites Des Dearlove (co-founder of Thinkers50, a global ranking of management thinkers) in explaining that some thought leaders are actually curators of ideas and synthesizers of information:

Malcolm Gladwell and Daniel Goleman [are] examples of thought leaders who are actually “synthesizers” of information. Says Dearlove, “These guys bring communication skills and an ability to bring complex ideas and make something out of them, but it’s not their [original] research.”

Some Criteria for “Thought Leadership”

Daniel Rasmus wrote a nice article in Fast Company titled, “The Golden Rules For Creating Thoughtful Thought Leadership.” In it, he outlined 11 rules to create and elevate thought leadership:

  1. Don’t sell anything except ideas.
  2. Always give it away.
  3. Have a unique perspective.
  4. Focus on one thing at a time.
  5. Address a specific audience.
  6. Get involved.
  7. Admit what you don’t know.
  8. Make your audience feel smarter.
  9. Market thought leadership like a product.
  10. Hire thought leaders.
  11. Thought leaders should be thoughtful leaders.

Takeaway: Calling yourself a thought leader doesn’t make you one, neither does having a fancy degree, certification, or job title.

“Just because you have a degree from a top university, you’re CEO of a company or you are certified to teach a certain topic doesn’t make you a thought leader.” -Denise Brosseau

“Thought Leaders move and inspire others with innovative ideas, turn those ideas into reality, then create a dedicated group of friends, fans and followers to help them replicate and scale those ideas into sustainable change.”Denise Brosseau

I love what Denise said about a thought leader needing to be patient while possessing the knowledge, expertise, and commitment to put themselves and their reputation on the line:

“[N]ot just anyone can be a thought leader. Thought leadership takes time (sometimes years); knowledge and expertise in a particular niche; a certain level of commitment and a willingness to buck the status quo or the way things have always been done.”Denise Brosseau

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

References

Alexander, L., & Badings, C. (2012). #Thought Leadership Tweet. Cupertino, CA: THINKaha.

Brooks, D. (2013, December). The thought leader. New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/17/opinion/brooks-the-thought-leader.html

Brosseau, D. (2015). Thought Leadership Lab. What is a Thought Leader? FAQ. Retrieved from http://www.thoughtleadershiplab.com/Resources/WhatIsaThoughtLeader

Brosseau, D. (2015). Thought Leadership Lab. What is Thought Leadership? Retrieved from
http://blog.thoughtleadershiplab.com/what-is-thought-leadership

Haslam, S. A. (2004). Psychology in organizations: The social identity approach (2nd ed.). London, England: Sage.

Kim, C. (2014, March). Think you’re a thought leader? You’re probably wrong… but here are 3 ways to become one. Financial Post. Retrieved from http://business.financialpost.com/executive/leadership/think-youre-a-thought-leader-youre-probably-wrong-but-here-are-3-ways-to-become-one

Kurtzman, J. (1998). Thought leaders: Insights on the future of business. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Pinder, C.C. (1984). Work motivation: Theory, issues and applications. Glenview, IL: Scott, Foresman.

Rasmus, D. W. (2012, December). The golden rules for creating thoughtful thought leadership. Fast Company. Retrieved from http://www.fastcompany.com/3003897/golden-rules-creating-thoughtful-thought-leadership

Rothwell, W. J., Sullivan, R. L. (Eds.) (2005). Practicing organization development: A guide for consultants (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Pfeiffer.

Cajoling and Betraying Trust

The Oxford American Dictionary defines cajoling as “persuad[ing] someone to do something by sustained coaxing or flattery.” It’s another way of describing how we sweet-talk others into doing our bidding.

A damaging consequence of a leader cajoling employees is losing the employees’ trust or confidence in that leader, and in his words and actions. Although they may, initially, trust the leader it often does not take long for employees to recognize that it’s simply deception designed to get them to do what that leader wanted them to do.

“Cajoling employees (i.e., using persuasive tactics) is a poor leadership approach because it’s more about getting what you want and tricking people into listening to you. It’s sleight of hand. Employees might be deceived for a while into thinking they are following you, but they’ll eventually figure it out.” -John Brandon

FYI: For Your Improvement (2nd ed.) tells us betrayal of trust is problematic when we (a) say one thing but mean or do something else, (b) are inconsistent with our words or acts, and/or (c) fail to deliver on our promises or follow through on our commitments (Lombardo & Eichinger, 1998).

Some reasons why a business professional betrays trust include (Lombardo & Eichinger, 1998):

  • Wants to avoid conflict
  • Is dishonest, underhanded, devious
  • Has trouble saying no
  • Is disorganized, has poor time management, or is forgetful

Here are two remedies to help you to not lose people’s trust:

(1) Are you conflict-averse? I knew a guy who would (and could) never say no. He was notorious for always saying yes but everyone knew that he actually meant no. Friends would invite him to come hang out with them and he would always say he’ll meet them there, but, without fail, he would never show up. After a while, his friends stopped asking because they knew his hollow promises (to meet them) were never supported by his actions (of showing up). Some people are so worried about offending others that they’ll say yes or commit to something when they actually have no intention of following through.

Here’s something those who are afraid of saying no don’t realize: People will respect you MORE if you say “NO” instead of saying yes and not mean it.

(2) Intentionally saying things to gain an advantage? Another type of betrayers of trust are folks who “know ahead of time that what [they] are saying is not really true or that [they] really don’t think that [way]” (Lombardo & Eichinger, 1998, p. 455). These people “say things [they] don’t mean to gain an advantage or forward a relationship or get some resources” (p. 455).

When we talk about people who say things they don’t mean just to make a sale or to gain some type of advantage, snake oil salesmen or car salesmen quickly come to mind. But, I bet we all know or work with, or for, someone who does this (i.e., say things they don’t mean or make empty promises, etc.). As the FYI book explains, individuals who habitually overpromise (to impress others) and underdeliver on those promises will “lose in the long term because others will learn to discount promises and only measure results” (Lombardo & Eichinger, 1998, pp. 454-455).

Takeaway: In daily life and in the workplace, people trust us to do what we say we’ll do. Human beings expect and demand a certain level of trust in their interactions with one another. When that trust is severed because a person uses sleight of hand to dupe others into carrying out his/her agenda, relationships are damaged, business projects derail, and drama ensues.

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

References

Brandon, J. (2014, November 19). How to Stop Making the Most Common Leadership Mistakes | Inc.com.
http://www.inc.com/john-brandon/10-common-leadership-mistakes-and-how-to-stop-making-them.html

Lombardo, M. M., & Eichinger, R. W. (1998). FYI: For Your Improvement: A Development and Coaching Guide (2nd ed.). Minneapolis, MN: Lominger Limited, Inc.

Critically Examine Information to Avoid Garbage In, Gospel Out

One of the aims of my WorkplacePsychology.Net blog is to encourage and insist on evidence-based practices. A huge pet peeve of mine is the stating of opinions or thoughts as facts or providing incorrect or false information, such as when someone will matter-of-factly state something as fact when it’s actually just their opinion or sharing something they heard or read or concluded incorrectly. What’s troubling is that this occurs so often today despite the wide availability and ease of access to the Internet to help confirm or challenge these mistakes.

I’ve seen this happen in conversations as well as writings — in social gatherings, the workplace, and even in business magazines and books. To me, the fault lies not only in the individual(s) passing along the mistake but also in the receiver(s) who careless accept it as facts. If information (news, stories, statements, claims, and so on) is not properly vetted (i.e., carefully examined), by both sharers and receivers of that information, it can quickly snowball into useless noise or, worse, damaging rumors or unintentional (or even intentional) misinformation.

For instance, I heard two people talking about a news story (of which I had read about). Person X made an emphatic statement about the type of weapon used to commit a crime and Person Y simply accepted it as truth, without ever verifying that this was actually true or not.

In another case, I was very curious as to how writers and authors arrived at the $300 billion cost for the toll of stress on the U.S. economy. This price tag is often cited in newspapers, blogs, magazine articles, and even textbooks. After some research, I discovered that the $300 billion cost of stress on the U.S. economy is actually based on speculation made in a 1979 book that were then later adjusted to account for inflation.

According to IBM, “Every day, we create 2.5 quintillion bytes of data — so much that 90% of the data in the world today has been created in the last two years alone. This data comes from everywhere: sensors used to gather climate information, posts to social media sites, digital pictures and videos, purchase transaction records, and cell phone GPS signals to name a few.”

Indeed, as our demand for and use of mobile devices grows so too will the unbridled growth of what’s called unstructured data which are “generated by all our digital interactions, from email to online shopping, text messages to tweets, Facebook updates to YouTube videos” (Wall, 2014).

While it would be impossible to critically examine every piece of information, it is wise to use an evidence-based approach in the planning and execution of key business initiatives (e.g., employee selection, training & development, assessments, leadership development, etc.).

Here’s one example for employee selection:

Despite their popularity and frequency of use, free-flowing, unstructured job interviews are the least effective tool when hiring. Situational interviews, patterned behavioral interview, job simulations, and a realistic job preview are four effective, research-supported tools for hiring (Latham, 2009).

There are a lot of noisy distractions (e.g., unsubstantiated claims, statements, posts, tweets, emails, texts, comments, etc.) and it’s up to each one of us to sift through mountains of data (of all types), curating the best/most useful, and ignoring the rest.

In 2015, let us all become better, more proficient, curators of information or, better stated, evidence-based professionals. If you hear or read something, look it up (using reputable online or offline resources, and no Wikipedia is not one of them) and confirm that the information stated has merit. It does not matter if the information came from someone’s mouth, a popular blog, a business website, or a book — you should practice your due diligence and vet that information before absorbing it into your own mind. Carelessly accepting everything you read and/or hear as fact will result in a “Garbage In, Gospel Out” (an updated term to Garbage In, Garbage Out) mindset and way of life.

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

References

Ault, M. R. (2003). Combating the Garbage-In, Gospel-Out Syndrome. Radiation Protection Management: The Journal of Applied Health Physics, 20(6), 26-30. http://www.radpro.com/RPM-206full.pdf

Goldin, R. (2004). Counting the costs of stress. http://stats.org/stories/2004/counting_costs_stress_sep23_04.htm

IBM Study: Digital era transforming CMO’S agenda, revealing gap in readiness. http://www.ibm.com/news/ca/en/2011/10/11/s358732u66669q21.html

IBM. What is big data? http://www-01.ibm.com/software/data/bigdata/what-is-big-data.html

Latham, G. P. (2009). Becoming the Evidence-Based Manager: Making the Science of Management Work for You. Boston, MA: Davies-Black.

Wall, M. (2014, Mar. 3). Big Data: Are you ready for blast-off? http://www.bbc.com/news/business-26383058

Being an Arrogant Know-It-All: A Surefire Way to Derail Your Career

Embed from Getty Images

If you listen to people talk, sometimes overtly and other times more subtly, you’ll catch them talking about themselves, bragging about their own skills/abilities, and/or taking credit for things. It’s funny how people will fall in love with their own ideas, methods, and processes. And when they talk about their ideas, which seems to somehow always originate from their own insights (never anyone else’s), it’s as if it’s something miraculous. I am reminded of those TV infomercials which always claim that before this idea or product came along, things were slow, inefficient, miserable, etc. and that because of this “new” idea/discovery things will now be faster, more efficient, wonderful, etc.

In a previous post, I shared about a book called, FYI-For Your Improvement. In it, under the “career stallers and stoppers” section, there’s an entry for arrogance.

Being arrogant is a problem because a person “always thinks he/she has the right and only answer [and] discounts or dismisses the input of others” (Lombardo & Eichinger, 1998, p. 447). Some causes of arrogance include: lack of feedback, like own ideas too much, very smart and successful, and/or poor reader of others (Lombardo & Eichinger, 1998).

“Arrogance is hard to fix for two reasons: It’s hard to get feedback on what the problem specifically is since people hesitate giving arrogant people any feedback, and it’s hard to change since you don’t listen or read the reactions of others well” (Lombardo & Eichinger, 1998, p. 448).

So what are two remedies for arrogance according to FYI (Lombardo & Eichinger, 1998, p. 449)?

(1) Answers. Solutions. Conclusions. Statements. Dictates. That’s the staple of arrogant people. Instant output. Sharp reactions. This may be getting you in trouble. You jump to conclusions, categorically dismiss what others say, use challenging words in an absolute tone . . . Give people a chance to talk without interruption. If you’re seen as intolerant or closed, people will often stumble over words in their haste to talk with you or shortcut their argument since they assume you’re not listening anyway. Ask a question, invite them to disagree with you, present their argument back to them softly, let them save face no matter what. Add a 15-second pause into your transactions before you say anything and add two clarifying questions per transaction to signal you’re listening and want to understand.

(2) Watch your non-verbals. Arrogant people look, talk and act arrogantly. As you try to become less arrogant, you need to find out what your non-verbals are. All arrogant people do a series of things that can be viewed by a neutral party and judged to give off the signals of arrogance. Washboard brow. Facial expressions. Body shifting, especially turning away. Impatient finger or pencil tapping. False smile. Tight lips. Looking away. Find out from a trusted friend what you do and try to eliminate those behaviors.

In my 20s, I lived and breathed volleyball and, naturally, found myself coaching others. Many sports coaches will tell you that the hardest players to coach are the ones who do not listen to feedback. They might be talented but uncoachable because they think they’re more talented than they actually are or they don’t think the coach can help them improve.

I remember coaching a girl’s volleyball team and almost all the girls on the team were eager or at least quietly listening. As I was talking and sharing tips about volleyball and how to work as a team, I noticed one girl rolling her eyes, a sign of her displeasure of being coached. I tried several times to engage her because I could see that she was skilled in one or two areas but lacking in others. Unfortunately, due to her arrogance she could not accept the fact that she was not as good as she thought she was or that I, the coach, had the coaching talent to help her. She would blow off practicing with the team and when game day rolled around, she struggled. She started making mistakes but would make it seem as if one of the other teammates had messed up. It created a toxic environment and it was just not fun.

Thinking that you know it all is perhaps one of the worst habits for an athlete but I contend it’s an equally harmful habit to have for a coach, employee, or a boss. When I coach, whether it’s coaching a player on the volleyball court or a director (on presentation skills) in the business office, I never say or act like I know it all. No one can possibly know everything, and the more experience and education I acquire the more I realize just how much I truly do not know.

When I see or hear people taking credit for ideas or patting themselves on the back (after blurting out quick solutions, drawing nifty diagrams on flip charts, or regurgitating what they’ve heard from others or read in a book) alarm bells immediately go off in my head. Don’t delude yourself into believing that your own ideas are best or original. Chances are, they’re not. Take time to listen to other people’s ideas and feedback, and you might discover that they, too, have just as many (sometimes the same or even more) bright ideas and magical solutions as you do.

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

Reference

Lombardo, M. M., & Eichinger, R. W. (1998). FYI: For Your Improvement: A Development and Coaching Guide (2nd ed.). Minneapolis, MN: Lominger Limited, Inc.

Self-Development – Suggestions for How To Continually Grow and Change

FYI 2nd ed

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, “I love Half Price Books!” This past weekend, I bought a $65.00 book for $1.00 (actually, with my educator’s discount, it was 90 cents)! In this case, it’s a book I’ve been waiting for a while to get my hands on – FYI: For Your Improvement. It’s an older edition (the 2nd edition), but what a bargain. Incredibly, when I compare the wording and text layout of the 2nd edition to the 5th edition (the most recent version which is $95), I actually prefer the 2nd edition. The content (at least for the competency I looked up) is identical, except for a few extra sections here and there. Other than that, I am surprised how similar the 1998 version (2nd edition) is to the 2009 version (5th edition).

For those not familiar with FYI, it is a guide for coaching and development. It’s a reference guide and library. In the 2nd edition, one section lists the 67 competencies alphabetically by chapter. Each chapter contains descriptions, possible causes, and suggested remedies. Another section I like is called “Career Stallers and Stoppers.” There are 19 chapters devoted to this section.

There are many great entries among the 67 competencies in FYI: For Your Improvement, but the one I found interesting and want to share is self-development (competency #54).

According to Lominger International (now a Korn/Ferry Company), a competency is “a measurable characteristic of a person that is related to success at work. It may be a behavioral skill, a technical skill, an attribute (such as intelligence), or an attitude (such as optimism)” (Lombardo & Eichinger, 2011, p. 5).

The “remedies” to these 67 competencies “were developed from research on competencies—what experiences teach them, what they look like, what their elements are. They are also tested ideas from working with executives on what’s getting in their way and how to fix it” (Lombardo & Eichinger, 2009, p. 14).

The content is so well worded—simple, yet powerful and extremely practical—I will quote them verbatim for the self-development competency (from the 2nd edition) so as not to dilute the message.

“The bottom line is, those who learn, grow and change continuously across their careers are the most successful. Whatever skills you have now are unlikely to be enough in the future. Acquiring new skills is the best insurance you can get for an uncertain future. Some of us won’t face our limitations; we make excuses, blame it on the boss or the job or the organization. Others are defensive and fight any corrective feedback. Some are just reluctant to do anything about our problems. Some of us want a quick fix; we don’t have time for development. Some of us simply don’t know what to do” (Lombardo & Eichinger, 1998, p. 302).

For many of us, being unskilled in developing ourselves means a few of the following (many more are listed in the FYI book):

  • Not putting in the effort to grow and change
  • Not doing anything to act on helpful/constructive feedback
  • Knowing what to do, but not acting on it
  • Is arrogant or defensive
  • Refusing to acknowledge shortcomings

Some remedies include (again, these are verbatim from FYI 2nd ed.):

Assessment. First, get a good multi-source assessment, a 360° questionnaire, or poll 10 people who know you well to give you detailed feedback on what you do well and not well, what they’d like to see you keep doing, start doing and stop doing. You don’t want to waste time on developing things that turn out not to be needs.

Next, divide your skills into these categories:

  • Clear strengths – Me at my best.
  • Overdone strengths – I do too much of a good thing – “I’m so confident that I’m seen as arrogant.”
  • Hidden strengths – Others rate me higher than I rate myself.
  • Blind spots – I rate myself higher than others rate me.
  • Weaknesses – I don’t do it well.
  • Untested areas – I’ve never been involved in strategy formulation.
  • Don’t knows – I need more feedback.

Balance your overdone strengths in important areas. If you’re creative, telling yourself to do less of this won’t work – it’s the primary reason for your success to date. The key is to leave it alone and focus on the unintended consequences. (You’re seen as lacking in detail orientation or disorganized.) Get the downside of your strength up to neutral; the goal is not to be good at it, but rather to see that it doesn’t hurt you.

You can also compensate for your weaknesses rather than build the skill. We are all poor at something and beating on it is counterproductive. If you have failed repeatedly at sales, detail work or public speaking, find others who do this well, change jobs, or restructure your current job. Sometimes you can find indirect ways to compensate. Lincoln managed his temper by writing nasty letters, extracting the key points from the letters, tearing the letters up, then dealing with the key points contained in the letter when he regained composure.

Blind spots. Be very careful of blind spots, since you think you’re much better at this than do others. Resist trying challenging tasks involving this skill until you clearly understand your behavior, have a target model of excellent behavior, and a plan so you don’t get yourself into trouble. Collect more data. Ask someone you trust to monitor you and give you feedback each time. Study three people who are good at this and compare what you do with what they do. Don’t rest until you have cleared up the blind spot.

If you can get a hard copy of this incredibly useful guide (FYI: For Your Improvement), I would strongly recommend that you do so. An older edition works just as well as a newer edition. If you are a manager, a mentor, a coach, or you’re just interested in improving yourself, you owe it to yourself to pick up a copy. I would not pay full price for it though because you can easily find used copies for a fraction of the list price or, if you’re really lucky, you can find a used copy at your local Half Price Books for a $1.00.

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

References

Lombardo, M. M., & Eichinger, R. W. (1998). FYI: For Your Improvement: A Development and Coaching Guide (2nd ed.). Minneapolis, MN: Lominger Limited, Inc.

Lombardo, M. M., & Eichinger, R. W. (2009). FYI: For Your Improvement: A Guide for Development and Coaching (5th ed.). Minneapolis, MN: Lominger International.

Lombardo, M. M., & Eichinger, R. W. (2011). The Leadership Machine: Architecture to Develop Leaders for Any Future (10th anniversary edition). Minneapolis, MN: Lominger International.

In Chinese: Crisis Does NOT Mean Danger and Opportunity

JFK-crisis-danger-and-opportunity

[NOTE: This post was updated January 2017]

JFK was wrong. On pinyin.info, a website about the Chinese language, Victor H. Mair, a professor of Chinese Language and Literature at the University of Pennsylvania, firmly corrects an American linguistic blunder that interprets the word “crisis” in Chinese as meaning both “danger” and “opportunity.”

“The explication of the Chinese word for crisis as made up of two components signifying danger and opportunity is due partly to wishful thinking, but mainly to a fundamental misunderstanding about how terms are formed in Mandarin and other Sinitic languages.” -Victor H. Mair

While this linguistic faux pas, no doubt, dates much further back, it was perhaps a speech delivered by President John F. Kennedy, in Indianapolis on April 12, 1959 that is most memorable. In his speech, Kennedy incorrectly said, “The Chinese use two brush strokes to write the word ‘crisis.’ One brush stroke stands for danger; the other for opportunity.”

As Professor Mair explains (the three paragraphs below are taken directly from Dr. Mair’s article):

[The word] “crisis” (wēijī) consists of two syllables that are written with two separate characters, wēi and jī. . . . While it is true that wēijī does indeed mean “crisis” and that the wēi syllable of wēijī does convey the notion of “danger,” the jī syllable of wēijī most definitely does not (italics added for emphasis) signify “opportunity.”

The jī of wēijī, in fact, means something like “incipient moment; crucial point (when something begins or changes).” Thus, a wēijī is indeed a genuine crisis, a dangerous moment, a time when things start to go awry. A wēijī indicates a perilous situation when one should be especially wary.

If one wants to find a word containing the element jī that means “opportunity” (i.e., a favorable juncture of circumstances, or a good chance for advancement), one needs to look elsewhere than wēijī, which means precisely “crisis” (viz., a dangerous, critical moment). One might choose, for instance, zhuǎnjī (“turn” + “incipient moment” = “favorable turn; turn for the better”), liángjī (“excellent” + “incipient moment” = “opportunity” [!!]), or hǎo shíjī (“good” + “time” + “incipient moment” = “favorable opportunity”).

Takeaway: It is scary how easily we take things at face value and accept them as “truths” or “facts” without ever doing the proper research.

*For a more comprehensive discussion, please visit Danger + Opportunity ≠ Crisis: How a misunderstanding about Chinese characters has led many astray.

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

Links

Danger + Opportunity ≠ Crisis. How a misunderstanding about Chinese characters has led many astray. http://www.pinyin.info/chinese/crisis.html

John F. Kennedy Quote. http://quotationspage.com/quote/2750.html

Victor H. Mair. Professor of Chinese Language and Literature at the University of Pennsylvania. https://www.sas.upenn.edu/ealc/faculty/mair.htm

10 Life Lessons from Basic SEAL Training from Admiral William H. McRaven

For those unable to watch the video on my blog, you can watch it directly on YouTube (University of Texas at Austin 2014 Commencement Address – Admiral William H. McRaven), https://youtu.be/pxBQLFLei70.

This is an inspiring and powerful 20-minute commencement speech by Naval Admiral William H. McRaven, ninth commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, at the University-wide Commencement at The University of Texas at Austin on May 17, 2014.

Admiral McRaven’s commencement speech is perhaps one of the best commencement speeches I have ever heard. It is on point and offers some fantastic life and business lessons.

Below are excerpts from his amazing speech.

10 Life Lessons from Basic SEAL Training

1. If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.
“If you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big things right.”

2. If you want to change the world, find someone to help you paddle.
“You can’t change the world alone—you will need some help— and to truly get from your starting point to your destination takes friends, colleagues, the good will of strangers and a strong coxswain to guide them.”

3. If you want to change the world, measure a person by the size of their heart, not the size of their flippers.
“SEAL training was a great equalizer. Nothing mattered but your will to succeed. Not your color, not your ethnic background, not your education and not your social status.”

4. If you want to change the world get over being a sugar cookie and keep moving forward.
“Sometimes no matter how well you prepare or how well you perform you still end up as a sugar cookie.”

“For failing the uniform inspection, the student [in Basic SEAL training] had to run, fully clothed into the surfzone and then, wet from head to toe, roll around on the beach until every part of your body was covered with sand. The effect was known as a ‘sugar cookie.’ You stayed in that uniform the rest of the day — cold, wet and sandy.”

“There were many a student who just couldn’t accept the fact that all their effort was in vain. . . Those students didn’t understand the purpose of the drill. You were never going to succeed. You were never going to have a perfect uniform.”

5. If you want to change the world, don’t be afraid of the circuses.
“Every day during training you were challenged with multiple physical events — long runs, long swims, obstacle courses, hours of calisthenics — something designed to test your mettle. Every event had standards — times you had to meet. If you failed to meet those standards your name was posted on a list, and at the end of the day those on the list were invited to a ‘circus.’ A circus was two hours of additional calisthenics designed to wear you down, to break your spirit, to force you to quit.”

“Life is filled with circuses. You will fail. You will likely fail often. It will be painful. It will be discouraging. At times it will test you to your very core.”

6. If you want to change the world sometimes you have to slide down the obstacle head first.

7. If you want to change the world, don’t back down from the sharks.
“There are a lot of sharks in the world. If you hope to complete the swim you will have to deal with them.”

8. If you want to change the world, you must be your very best in the darkest moment.
“At the darkest moment of the mission is the time when you must be calm, composed—when all your tactical skills, your physical power and all your inner strength must be brought to bear.”

9. If you want to change the world, start singing when you’re up to your neck in mud.
“If I have learned anything in my time traveling the world, it is the power of hope. The power of one person—Washington, Lincoln, King, Mandela and even a young girl from Pakistan, Malala—one person can change the world by giving people hope.”

10. If you want to change the world don’t ever, ever ring the bell.
“In SEAL training there is a bell. A brass bell that hangs in the center of the compound for all the students to see. All you have to do to quit—is ring the bell. Ring the bell and you no longer have to wake up at 5 o’clock. Ring the bell and you no longer have to do the freezing cold swims. Ring the bell and you no longer have to do the runs, the obstacle course, the PT—and you no longer have to endure the hardships of training. Just ring the bell. If you want to change the world don’t ever, ever ring the bell.”

—–

“Start each day with a task completed. Find someone to help you through life. Respect everyone. Know that life is not fair and that you will fail often. But if you take some risks, step up when the times are toughest, face down the bullies, lift up the downtrodden and never, ever give up — if you do these things, then the next generation and the generations that follow will live in a world far better than the one we have today.”

“It matters not your gender, your ethnic or religious background, your orientation, or your social status. Our struggles in this world are similar and the lessons to overcome those struggles and to move forward—changing ourselves and the world around us—will apply equally to all.”

“Changing the world can happen anywhere and anyone can do it.”

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

Link

University of Texas at Austin – Adm. McRaven Urges Graduates to Find Courage to Change the World
https://news.utexas.edu/2014/05/16/mcraven-urges-graduates-to-find-courage-to-change-the-world

Introverts Are Excellent Just As They Are

For those unable to watch the video on my blog, you can watch it directly on the TED Talk website, Susan Cain: The power of introverts.

Here is a great 19-minute TED Talk by Susan Cain, author of the book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.

Below are excerpts from her speech.

“I got the message that somehow my quiet and introverted style of being was not necessarily the right way to go, that I should be trying to pass as more of an extrovert. And I always sensed deep down that this was wrong and that introverts were pretty excellent just as they were.”

“When it comes to creativity and to leadership, we need introverts doing what they do best. A third to a half of the population are introverts — a third to a half.”

“You need to understand what introversion is. It’s different from being shy. Shyness is about fear of social judgment. Introversion is more about how do you respond to stimulation, including social stimulation.”

“Extroverts really crave large amounts of stimulation, whereas introverts feel at their most alive and their most switched-on and their most capable when they’re in quieter, more low-key environments. Not all the time — these things aren’t absolute — but a lot of the time. So the key then to maximizing our talents is for us all to put ourselves in the zone of stimulation that is right for us.”

“When it comes to leadership, introverts are routinely passed over for leadership positions, even though introverts tend to be very careful, much less likely to take outsize risks — which is something we might all favor nowadays.”

“Research by Adam Grant at the Wharton School has found that introverted leaders often deliver better outcomes than extroverts do, because when they are managing proactive employees, they’re much more likely to let those employees run with their ideas, whereas an extrovert can, quite unwittingly, get so excited about things that they’re putting their own stamp on things, and other people’s ideas might not as easily then bubble up to the surface.”

“Culturally we need a much better balance. We need more of a yin and yang between these two types. This is especially important when it comes to creativity and to productivity, because when psychologists look at the lives of the most creative people, what they find are people who are very good at exchanging ideas and advancing ideas, but who also have a serious streak of introversion in them.”

Three Calls for Action:

(1) “Stop the madness for constant group work . . . I deeply believe our offices should be encouraging casual, chatty cafe-style types of interactions — you know, the kind where people come together and serendipitously have an exchange of ideas . . . But we need much more privacy and much more freedom and much more autonomy at work.”

(2) “Go to the wilderness . . . I’m not saying that we all have to now go off and build our own cabins in the woods and never talk to each other again, but I am saying that we could all stand to unplug and get inside our own heads a little more often.”

(3) “Take a good look at what’s inside your own suitcase and why you put it there.”

Extroverts: Take things out of your suitcase “every chance you get and grace us with your energy and your joy.”

Introverts: “You probably have the impulse to guard very carefully what’s inside your own suitcase. And that’s okay. But occasionally . . . I hope you will open up your suitcases for other people to see, because the world needs you and it needs the things you carry.”

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

Link

TED Talk – Susan Cain: The power of introverts
http://www.ted.com/talks/susan_cain_the_power_of_introverts

Ethical dilemma: An overseas distributor sanctioned over corruption

Direction

Photo Credit: Flickr

I was recently quoted in a BBC Capital’s work ethic article titled “Treading a fine line: A case of corruption?” by Chana Schoenberger. However, some rather important details were omitted from my response to a reader’s ethical dilemma involving one company’s business relationship with an overseas distributor that was recently sanctioned over a corruption issue with another company’s products.

Offered in a Q and A format, here (in its entirety) is what I wrote:

Question:

Our company has a contract with an overseas distributor that has recently been sanctioned for some corruption-related dealings involving another company’s products that they also distribute. We are wary of doing business with them now, although we have no reason to believe that there is anything improper about the way they are selling our products. With a large outstanding order that is material to our worldwide sales results, we don’t want to dump them altogether. What can we do?

Answer:

This is indeed a conundrum. I can certainly understand why this issue is a difficult one to tackle. On the one hand, the “large outstanding order” indicates that the business this overseas distributor brings in is a significant contribution to your company’s overall worldwide sales. Financial gain is not something that can be quickly dismissed, especially since it plays an important part in a company’s financial health and, ultimately, its survival.

On the other hand, I got the distinct impression (based on the wording “we are wary of doing business with them”) that while financial profit is important, that there is more at stake for you and your organization.

There are two related points which you may want to consider. The first point is the possible–but very real–damage to your own company’s reputation if and/or when it is revealed that your company “has a contract with an overseas distributor that has recently been sanctioned for some corruption-related dealings involving another company’s products that they also distribute.” Your organization would then be guilty by association. In other words, just being associated with this overseas distributor might cause your company to also look guilty, even if there is absolutely no evidence to support this.

Apple Inc. serves as an example of what one company decided to do once it discovered that one of its supplier was involved in unethical behaviors. Apple decided to cut ties with one supplier after it discovered that the supplier was involved in using underage workers (Blagdon, 2013). And, to ensure greater transparency, Apple also posted information about supplier responsibility and how Apple would hold itself and its supplier accountable (Apple.com).

The second point is about being an ethical leader and what ethical leadership means. Let’s not forget that there is such a thing as ethical leadership and that ethical behaviors and decisions by leaders influence the ethical behaviors of employees and permeate throughout an organization. Ethical leaders can promote and model ethical behaviors in the workplace and the organization. In addition, and perhaps most relevant to your particular situation, ethical leaders can also discourage unethical behaviors by “refus[ing] to share in the benefits provided by unethical activities” (Yukl, 2010, p. 430).

Alas, I cannot make this difficult choice for you. Ultimately, the final decision is up to you and the decision-makers at your company. In the book Leadership in Organizations, professor Gary Yukl explained that there are three criteria people consider when judging whether a decision or act is ethical: (a) purpose (ends), (b) how much behavior is consistent with moral standards (means), and finally (c) what the results or consequences will be for self and others (outcomes).

I have found that rather than giving answers, sometimes it helps to ask more probing questions to get people to look deep within and come up with a decision that they can live with. My hope is that the two points I have raised and the three criteria for judging the ethics of a decision will help guide you and your company in your decision-making process. Good luck.

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

References

Apple – Supplier Responsibility at Apple
http://www.apple.com/supplierresponsibility/accountability.html

Apple – We believe in accountability — for our suppliers and for ourselves
http://www.apple.com/supplier-responsibility/accountability/

Blagdon, J. (2013, Jan 25). Apple cuts ties with supplier after audit reveals 74 cases of underage labor. Retrieved from http://www.theverge.com/2013/1/25/3914252/apple-severs-ties-with-supplier-after-audit-reveals-74-cases-of

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

Locus of Control and The Zorro Circle

zorro

Photo Credit: Flickr

In his book, The Happiness Advantage, author Shawn Achor talks about how by first limiting our focus on small, manageable goals, we can then expand our sphere of power from there. Achor used the movie “The Mask of Zorro” (starring Antonio Banderas and Anthony Hopkins) as an example and describes what he calls The Zorro Circle. For those who have not seen it, there is a scene where young Alejandro (Zorro) is taught how to master the sword and other skills by first training in a small circle. Only after mastering control of that small circle was he then allowed by his master Don Diego to try other larger feats (e.g., swinging from ropes and fighting against his own master in a sword fight).

Achor suggests that the first goal to regaining our internal locus of control (when we don’t feel in control) is to to become more self-aware. When you’re in a high stress situation or feel a high level of stress, identify how you’re feeling and put those feelings into words. Try writing down your feelings in a journal or share with a close friend or trusted colleague. “[V]erbalizing the stress and helplessness you are feeling is the first step toward regaining control” (Achor, 2010, p. 137).

“Brain scans show verbal information almost immediately diminishes the power of these negative emotions, improving well-being and enhancing decision-making skills” (Achor, 2010, p. 136).

After you’ve mastered the self-awareness circle, the next step is to identify which part of the situation that you do have control over and which ones you do not. The basic idea here is to see that there are things that are out of your hands that you simply have no control over; but also that there are things that you do have real control over and to focus your energy on those areas.

“By tackling one small challenge at a time—a narrow circle that slowly expands outward—we can relearn that our actions do have a direct effect on our outcomes, that we are largely the masters of our own fates. With an increasingly internal locus of control and a greater confidence in our abilities, we can then expand our efforts outward” (Achor, 2010, p. 137).

The lesson is this: If you focus on and master the small, manageable goals first (the small circle), you can then expand your sphere of power to larger goals. Tackle one small challenge at a time and clearly see and let go of things that you do not have control over and focus your energy and efforts on things over which you do have control.

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

Reference

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

To Spread Excellence You Need Excellence To Spread

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Photo Credit: Flickr

In the book Scaling Up Excellence (which I recently reviewed), Stanford professors Robert Sutton and Huggy Rao said this:

“To spread excellence, you need to have some excellence to spread” (Sutton & Rao, 2014, p. 181).

This sentence captures something that is actually quite simple: if you don’t have some excellence, don’t try to spread something you do not have. As Sutton and Rao explained in the book, if you can’t deliver on your most basic promises, then it is pointless to try to scale up excellence. Just think about how hypocritical that is.

There’s a lesson in the Bible in which Jesus tells people to not worry about a speck in someone else’s eye, but to take it out of your own eye first. Although the lesson is about not judging others, it can also apply to not being a hypocrite and deceiving yourself.

“Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:3-5, English Standard Version).

How many times have you been in an organization, on a team, or part of a group that was already struggling to meet just the basic expectations, but yet was attempting to start spreading excellence (e.g., initiating a training program, delivering professional development workshops, etc.)?

I was once in a meeting where an executive talked about the qualities necessary to be an effective team member. What was so ridiculous was that the executive did not possess many of these qualities and employees in the department knew that this executive was struggling to meet even the most basic ones on that list. Every person in that meeting knew it, except the executive.

Shortly after the meeting ended, employees sat around discussing the absurdity of the list and the apparent contradiction between the executive extolling those same virtues that she lacked.

What bothered them most was that the executive expected everyone to live up to these values, but that she herself struggled to attain even the simplest ones. The hypocrisy of demanding excellence of others when she herself did not have some of that same excellence was what angered the staff most.

Rather than uniting the team, the hypocritical behaviors of this executive revealed itself when the executive tried to spread something that she did not possess.

Sutton and Rao said that prior to attempting to spread excellence, “the first order of business should be to drive out bad behavior” (2014, p. 239). Here’s the lesson: Don’t broadcast that you are spreading and expecting excellence when you (or your team or the organization) are not even adequate. Be excellent first, then you’ll have something to spread!

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

Reference

Sutton, R. I., & Rao, H. (2014). Scaling up excellence: Getting to more without settling for less. New York: Crown Business.

Book Review: Scaling Up Excellence

scaling-up-excellence-book-cover

As owner of the WorkplacePsychology.Net website, which continues to get a high number of visitors daily, I am frequently asked to review books. In fact, publicists and sometimes even authors will ask me to review their books. I rarely need or want to reach out to authors. Robert I. Sutton is one of those authors for whom I make an exception. Back in December 2013, I reached out to him for an advance copy of his new book to review.

A few years earlier, I had reviewed professor Sutton’s Good Boss, Bad Boss book and have been wondering about the type of book he would write after it. While there were a few examples borrowed from Good Boss, Bad Boss, the latest book, Scaling Up Excellence (written with Huggy Rao, also a Stanford professor) is completely different.

Simply stated, scaling is about finding pockets of excellence and building and spreading those pockets of excellence throughout an organization and beyond.

The stories and examples Sutton and Rao shared in Scaling Up Excellence were outstanding and nicely dovetailed (as Sutton is so fond of writing) with the many research studies in support of the various scaling lessons.

Among the things I found interesting and helpful were the following:

1. Scaling starts and ends with individuals—success depends on the will and skill of people at every level of an organization. (p. xv)

2. Scaling is not about more, it’s about more and better (p. xiii). Sometimes better means subtraction (p. 27, 110), and subtraction can even mean addition [like adding a load buster to direct employees’ attention to what matters most when mental demands are high and priorities collide and when it’s easy to lose or miss important information]. (p. 119-121)

3. Scaling is a ground war, not just an air war. It’s about “moving a thousand people forward a foot at a time, rather than moving one person forward by a thousand feet” (Sutton & Rao, 2014, p. 5).

4. Watch out for the clusterfug – The terrible trio of illusion, impatience, and incompetence. Read about the story about Stanford University’s own failed IT systems upgrade in 2003. (pp. 24-26)

5. The best scaling teams know how to balance between replication and customization (what Sutton and Rao referred to in the book as the difference between Catholicism and Buddhism*).

*I personally found it really annoying and hated the use of the terms “Catholicism and Buddhism” because there was a connotation about religion, although that was not their intention.

6. Scaling is about understanding when to inject enough hierarchy, structure, and process. It’s about knowing when to add more complexity, when it’s just right, and when you need to wait a bit longer. (p. 133)

7. “To spread excellence, you need to have some excellence to spread” (Sutton & Rao, 2014, p. 181). If you can’t even deliver on your most basic vanilla promises to customers, then don’t even attempt scaling. Remember, adequacy before excellence. (p. 239)

8. Finally, you need to ask yourself whether scaling is a good idea. Is it feasible? Is it worth the cost to your own and your team’s mental and physical well-being? And, would you be happy “about the destination you will have reached”? (p. 271) Would you be happy in that world that you have built?

Seven Lessons for Scaling Up Without Screwing Up

Lesson #1: Start Where You Are, Not Where You Hope to Go

Start your scaling journey where you are and do the best with what you got regardless of whether you have a little (or none) or a big budget, staff, and resources at your disposal.

Lesson #2: Scale, Don’t Just Swarm

It is fine to have a kick-off event and infuse some energy and excitement into an initiative, but make sure that you are serious about enabling and encouraging people in your organization to live the scaling mindset, or else it will not spread.

Lesson #3: Use Your Mindset as a Guide, Not as the Answer

“[M]indsets are double-edged swords. You need them, but never stop asking whether the time is ripe to cast them aside” (Sutton & Rao, 2014, p. 277).

Lesson #4: Use Constraints as Guardrails that Channel, Rather than Derail, Ingenuity and Effort

There are always constraints, but people with the will and the skill will find ways to work around these constraints and turn them into virtues.

Sutton and Rao (2014) shared a great story about how Michelangelo finished the famous statue of David by working within the constraints imposed (must finish within 2 years; how it should look; and working with a piece of marble that a previous sculptor, Agostino di Duccio, had started but never completed).

Lesson #5: Use Hierarchy to Squelch Unnecessary Friction, Instead of Creating and Spreading Hierarchy

Leaders ought to do everything they can to get rid of friction and complexity and “not burden employees with ‘rules, tools, and fools’ that make it tougher to do their jobs and waste money and talent” (Sutton & Rao, 2014, p. 282).

Lesson #6: Work with People You Respect, Not Your Friends

“[H]ire people whom you respect and who bring new thinking to the organization; whether you like them should be secondary. . . . Diversity of style, thought, and culture can sometimes generate friction. But if it is productive friction, and if your team frames it that way, it can help build resilience . . . like allergy shots for your organization” (Sutton & Rao, 2014, p. 285).

Lesson #7: Make Sure that Accountability Prevails and Free Riding and Other Bad Behaviors Fail

The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel is a fantastic example of scaling up and especially about accountability. During the terrorist attack on the Taj Hotel (in Mumbai, India) on November 26, 2008, employees of the hotel risked their own lives and safety to help hundreds of guests escape. While their actions were heroic, it was impressed upon them—from the initial 18-month training to the daily reinforcement at the Taj Hotel—to look out for their guests.

Sutton and Rao shared another incredible story of sawmill workers who were stealing for the thrill of it. Management, with the help of a consultant, devised a simple but brilliant library system whereby any worker could check out any equipment at any time and this idea worked! The stealing stopped because it was no longer exciting to steal and brag about it to others because the items could now be checked out for free.

Summary: Unlike, my previous experience with Good Boss, Bad Boss, reading and completing the Scaling Up Excellence book left me feeling unsettled. This is certainly not a bad thing. On the contrary, I think it reflects the complexities and the uncertainties that scaling entails. Indeed, one of the major lessons about scaling discussed in the book is that it is messy, unpredictable, and unpleasant; but the best scaling people are able to manage and even delight in it.

Reading Scaling Up Excellence is akin to the experience of enjoying a fine steak. It is wonderful, full of flavor, but also heavy. You cannot, nor should you, devour it. Instead, you savor it, making sure that you take your time to enjoy it.

When I read a book, I typically jot down a few notes here and there. However, with Scaling Up Excellence, I found that my notes added up to a total of 20 pages! There were simply too many amazing stories and examples that I felt compelled to write many of them down. In fact, I had tried to stop taking notes and just read, but upon revisiting the 85 pages where I wasn’t taking notes, I ended up “jotting down” 5 more pages of notes!

It is very clear the amount of work that went into researching and writing the Scaling Up Excellence book. Sutton and Rao have done a superb and impressive job of distilling the complex subject of scaling into mouthwatering, easily digestible morsels of goodness. Sutton’s excellent story-telling and writing style made reading Scaling Up Excellence almost like listening to him and Rao tell these stories in person. Scaling Up Excellence earns my highest recommendation. Just one warning: Do not read this book without taking notes!

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

Reference

Sutton, R. I., & Rao, H. (2014). Scaling up excellence: Getting to more without settling for less. New York: Crown Business.

The Truth About Leadership: “You Make a Difference and You Can’t Do It Alone”

Here is a fantastic 13-minute TEDx Talk by Barry Posner, co-author (with James Kouzes) of the book, The Leadership Challenge, and Professor of Leadership at the Leavey School of Business at Santa Clara University.

Below are excerpts from his excellent speech.

There are two truths about leadership: You make a difference and you can’t do it alone.

Leadership does not have to be complex. It can be simple: You make a difference and you can’t do it alone.

(1) You make a difference – Believe in yourself, understand who you are and what you’re about and what you care about. You make a difference and it’s easier when you know who you are.

The first person who has to follow you is you! The first person who must believe in you is you. The first voice of self-doubt that you must address is that little voice inside yourself. If you don’t believe in yourself and if you are not willing to follow yourself then you will have a hard time getting someone else to be willing to follow you.

(2) You can’t do it alone – “Being with you, working with you [and] being in this organization will make me better than it would be if I were someplace else.”

The essence of leadership is that a leader has followers. You cannot be a leader without a follower.

“It’s hard to imagine that you can be a leader without a follower. . . . If you find yourself walking forward and you turn around and there’s nobody there, then . . . you’re just out for a walk.” -Barry Posner

“Leadership is a relationship. It’s a relationship between those who would lead and those who would choose to follow.”

Leaders need to turn their followers into leaders. “If you’re going to be a leader, you have to be a leader that makes it possible for other people to lead.”

“Leadership’s not a solo act. It’s not a monologue. It’s a dialogue. It’s a conversation.”

“It’s about wanting to be in a relationship in which people have our best interests at heart and they think that we’re great and those are the people we wanna be with and we want to work with, and we want to do great things with.”

“The research is quite clear about this: If you ask the question, “Why do some managers get ahead in an organization and some don’t?” It all has to do with the quality of the relationships with the people that they have in an organization.” -Barry Posner

“You make a difference and you can’t do it alone. I make a difference, but I can’t do it alone.” -Barry Posner

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

Link

TEDxTalks University of Nevada – I make a difference, but I can’t do it alone
youtube.com/watch?v=3cpLFFZsbWY