Category Archives: Meaningful Work

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.

The True Financial Cost of Job Stress

It is estimated that job stress cost U.S. businesses between $150 billion (Spielberger, Vagg, & Wasala, 2003, citing Wright and Smye) and $300 billion annually (American Institute of Stress).

However, it is important to note that these estimates have been criticized as guesswork and speculation (Goldin, 2004).

In “Counting the Costs of Stress,” Goldin questioned the $300 billion cost cited in newspapers and the media (e.g. New York Times, Forbes Magazine, NPR). She argues that had the media properly investigated the original source or applied basic statistical principles that it would have discovered that there was no basis for this amount (Goldin, 2004). She goes on to clarify that the $300 billion price tag of stress includes accident, absenteeism, turnover, diminished productivity, direct medical, legal, and insurance costs, workers’ compensation as well as tort and Federal Employers’ Liability Act judgments. Similarly, in their book, Banishing Burnout (2005), Leiter & Maslach stated that job stress is estimated to cost the U.S. economy $300 billion in sick time, long-term disability, and excessive job turnover. However, there was no mention of how the authors arrived at the $300 billion.

Goldin explained that, according to Dr. Paul Rosch of the American Institute of Stress, the statistics of $300 billion are based on a 1979 book called, “Stress and the Manager” by Karl Albrecht. In the book, Albrecht speculated an absenteeism rate, a turnover rate, overstaffing cost for reduced productivity due to stress, and estimated a cost per absentee day per worker. From those guesses, Albrecht rationalized that the cost to U.S. businesses totaled $150 billion per year.

Most interestingly, Goldin wondered if the American Institute of Stress’ recent guesstimate of $300 billion was due to adjustments for inflation since it was never mentioned in Albrecht’s book. Finally, Goldin cautioned that we should be careful to separate causality from correlation. She asked, is stress the cause of the $300 billion price tag or is it just associated with other factors that are the true culprits? (Goldin, 2004).

What is the true financial cost of job stress? It seems there are no clear-cut answers to this question.

Note: For an interesting follow-up story, read my 2016 post, “Cost of Stress on the U.S. Economy Is $300 Billion? Says Who?

References

American Institute of Stress. Workplace Stress. Retrieved from http://www.stress.org/workplace-stress/

Goldin, R. (2004). Counting the costs of stress. STATS.org.

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

Spielberger, C., Vagg, P., & Wasala, C. (2003). Occupational stress: Job pressures and lack of support. In J.C. Quick & L.E. Tetrick (Eds.), Handbook of occupational health psychology (pp. 185-200). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Eight Effective Stress Management Strategies

[NOTE: This post was updated December 2017]

In this post, I want to share eight useful stress management tips and strategies.

Stress may be defined as “the experience of a perceived threat (real or imagined) to one’s well-being, resulting from a series of physiological responses and adaptations” (Donatelle, 2009, p. 62). There are two kinds of stress, eustress refers to stress associated with positive events, and distress refers to negative events. “Stress can be associated with most daily activities” (p. 62).

Strategies to manage stress include: assessing stressors, changing responses, and learning to cope. Find out what works best for you—it may be taking mental or physical action; downshifting; changing the way you think; managing your emotional responses; exercise, relax & eat right; yoga, qi gong, tai chi, deep breathing, and progressive muscle relaxation; learning time management; managing your finances; or using alternative stress management techniques—will help you better cope with stress (Donatelle, 2009).

Six Ways To Relax Your Mind (WebMD; Donatelle, 2009; MayoClinic):

(1) Writing/Journaling – Write about things that are bothering you. Write for 10 to 15 minutes a day about stressful events and how they made you feel. This helps you identify sources of stress and finding ways to manage them (WebMD).

(2) Discussing Feelings – Talk, laugh, cry, and express anger when you need to. Talking with friends, family, a counselor, or a member of the clergy about your feelings is a healthy way to relieve stress (WebMD).

(3) Doing Things You Enjoy – This can be hobbies, volunteer work, etc. Take time to engage in activities that you like (WebMD).

(4) Focusing on the Present – One thing we all struggle with (at one time or another) is the tendency to jump to conclusions or “fortune-telling” where we assume we know what the future holds or what “will” happen (Williams, Edgerton, & Palmer, 2010). Another tip for being more present-minded is meditation (MayoClinic). Check out a nice meditation exercise here.

(5) Cognitive Restructuring – The modification of thoughts, ideas, and beliefs that contribute to stress. “To combat negative self-talk, we must first become aware of it, then stop it, and finally replace the negative thoughts with positive ones—a process referred to as cognitive restructuring” (Donatelle, 2009, p. 79).

(6) Downshifting – “Today’s lifestyles are hectic and pressure-packed, and stress often comes from trying to keep up [with others]” and trying to “have it all.” “Downshifting involves a fundamental alteration in values and honest introspection about what is important in life” (Donatelle, 2009, p. 78).

Two Ways To Relax Your Body (WebMD; Donatelle, 2009; MayoClinic):

(1) Exercise – Regular exercise is one of the best ways to manage stress (WebMD; MayoClinic).

(2) Relaxation Techniques – Breathing exercises, meditation, muscle relaxation, yoga, qi gong, and tai chi can help relieve stress (Donatelle, 2009; MayoClinic; WebMD).

Stress has an enormous impact on the human body (See this Washington Post link). Stress affects the nervous system, respiratory system, cardiovascular system, gastrointestinal system, etc.). “Successful stress management involves mentally developing and practicing self-esteem skills, focusing on positive thinking about yourself, and examining self-talk to reduce irrational responses” (Donatelle, 2009, p. 79).

Finally, there’s a concept called psychological hardiness:

“Psychologically hardy people are characterized by control, commitment, and an embrace of challenge. People with a sense of control are able to accept responsibility for their behaviors and change those that they discover to be debilitating” (Donatelle, 2009, p. 75-76).

Hardiness is the “foundation of an individual’s ability to cope with stress and remain healthy” (Donatelle, 2009, p. 76).

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

References

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

Mayo Clinic — Exercise: 7 benefits of regular physical activity
https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/in-depth/exercise/art-20048389

Mayo Clinic — Stress Relief
https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/basics/stress-relief/hlv-20049495

Mayo Clinic — Video: Need to relax? Take a break for meditation
https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/multimedia/meditation/vid-20084741

Washington Post: Stress and Your Body
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/graphic/2007/01/22/GR2007012200620.html

WebMD: Stress Management – Ways to Relieve Stress
http://www.webmd.com/balance/stress-management/stress-management-relieving-stress

Williams, H., Edgerton, N., & Palmer, S. (2010). Cognitive Behavioural Coaching. In E. Cox, T. Bachkirova, & D. Clutterbuck (Eds.), The complete handbook of coaching (pp.37-53). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

10 Most Visited Posts and 10 Posts You Might Have Missed

10 MOST VISITED POSTS

  1. People with a Situational Value System – “A person who is nice to you but rude to the waiter, or to others, is not a nice person.”
  2. Leadership Lessons from the Titanic – “Madam, God himself could not sink this ship.”
  3. What Gets You Up in the Morning? – “What Keeps You Up at Night?”
  4. The 4 Character Strengths of a Leader – Humility, Forgiveness, Self-Control, and Kindness.
  5. How Face-to-face Conversations Help Us Deal with Technostress – The most profound and easiest solution on “unplugging” is to simply “talk.”
  6. Implementing Change and Overcoming Resistance – When employees resist change they are protecting/defending something they value and which seems threatened by the attempt at change.
  7. The Dangers of Charismatic Leaders – 4 negative consequences of charismatic leaders.
  8. 5 Reasons Why Employees Stay – Pride, Compatibility, Compensation, Affiliation, and Meaning.
  9. How to Create an Inspiring Work Setting – Some great ways to foster an inspired work environment.
  10. Work Stresses, Bad Bosses, and Heart Attacks – 75% of the workforce say their immediate boss is the most stressful part of their job.

10 POSTS YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED

  1. Elements of Corporate Cultures – Culture can be the company’s values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors.
  2. A 24/7 Mindset about Work is Bad for Your Health – Employees who are highly engaged need time off the job to unwind and distance themselves from their work.
  3. The Price of Workplace Incivility in the Navy – “Nasty people pack a lot more wallop than their more civilized counterparts.”
  4. Coping With Fear-Lessons for Business and Life – “Don’t let fear undermine your chance to do that one thing you’ve wanted to do.”
  5. What Really Motivates Employees – The top motivation for workers is making progress.
  6. Are You A Chronic Kicker? – A “chronic kicker” is a person who’s constantly complaining about his or her job.
  7. Seven Ways to Avoid Becoming the Boss from Hell – Treating employees with respect and dignity tops the list.
  8. Leadership and Life Lessons from John Wooden – “Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to become the best you are capable of becoming.”
  9. Workplace Incivility Hurts Employees & Businesses – A survey of public sector employees in the United States found that 71% of respondents reported at least some experience of workplace incivility during the previous 5 years.
  10. Workplace Incivility Causes Mistakes and Even Kills – “Incivility doesn’t shock people into better focus. It robs concentration, hijacks task orientation, and impedes performance.”

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

Psychology Majors Unhappy about Lack of Career Options

I came across an interesting article in the Wall Street Journal about the dissatisfaction of students majoring in psychology and their career paths (Light, 2010). According to a Wall Street Journal study, only 26% of psychology majors are “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with what’s available to them career-wise.

The study was conducted by PayScale.com between April and June of 2010 of 10,800 employees who received their bachelor’s between 1999 and 2010. However, the study did not include those without work, rather it only included those who already have jobs.

Dr. R. Eric Landrum (author of Finding Jobs with a Psychology Bachelor’s Degree), explained that one reason for the dissatisfaction is that there are not many fields that recruit students with psychology undergraduate degrees. In addition, the Wall Street Journal article also said those who choose not to pursue graduate education in psychology will oftentimes (within a year) switch to a different area completely.

In an earlier article on Psi Chi, Dr. Landrum (2001) shared,

“It’s best to think of your undergraduate education in psychology as learning ‘about’ psychology, not learning ‘to do’ psychology.”

I wholeheartedly agree with this statement. Unlike many other fields that offer students practical, hands-on skills, the undergraduate psychology degree offers an introduction to what the field of psychology is like. It isn’t until the Master’s level, when students are introduced to practicums, that they will actually “use” the things they’ve learned and apply it to real life, especially in a mental health counseling capacity.

It can be frustrating to those at the bachelor’s level to feel that they are not as “marketable” as their peers majoring in other fields, especially in this tough economy. However, if students understand that learning about psychology equips them with important critical thinking skills and a broad understanding of human behaviors and the science behind it, then they will approach any career with confidence and an awareness of the unique skillset (see the University of Dayton link below) that psychology provides in preparing them to become “a well-rounded, well-educated citizen and person.”

References

Landrum, R.E. (2001). I’m Getting My Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology–What Can I Do With It? Retrieved from http://www.psichi.org/pubs/articles/article_50.aspx

Light, J. (Oct. 2010). Psych majors aren’t happy with options. Retrieved from Wall Street Journal, http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704011904575538561813341020.html

University of Dayton. The Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology: Employment Opportunities and Strategies. Retrieved from http://campus.udayton.edu/~psych/handbook/BACHOP~1.HTM

How to Create an Inspiring Work Setting

Harvard Business Review’s Answer Exchange lists some great ways to foster an inspired work environment:

  • Regularly explain to your employees the importance of their work to the company’s larger goals.
  • Break down long-term assignments into clear, achievable, short-term milestones that can be celebrated when achieved.
  • Demonstrate confidence in your employees’ ability to overcome problems.
  • Regularly take employees aside and ask them if they feel challenged, listened to, and recognized.
  • When giving feedback, balance negative criticism with feedback that accentuates the positive.
  • Always recognize others for a job well done. Use rewards to acknowledge superior performance.
  • Celebrate every success and milestone.

Reference

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

Work Stresses, Bad Bosses, and Heart Attacks

“In 2007, nearly 80 million Americans—one out of every three adults—had some type of cardiovascular disease (CVD)…[In fact,] CVD has been the leading killer of U.S. adults in every year since 1900, with the exception of 1918, when a pandemic flu killed more people” (Donatelle, 2009, p. 347).

Robert Sutton in his new book “Good Boss, Bad Boss” located a Swedish study which tracked 3,122 men for 10 years. The study found that those with the best bosses suffered fewer heart attacks than those with bad bosses. Another researcher discovered that no matter what the occupation, roughly 75% of the workforce listed their immediate supervisor/boss as the most stressful part of their job (Sutton, 2010).

Landy & Conte (2010), citing studies by Fox, Dwyer, & Ganster; Cohen & Herbert; Krantz & McCeney) state that work environments that are stressful are linked to increases in cortisol (a stress hormone). Furthermore, long-term, elevated levels of stress hormones (like cortisol) lead to decreased functioning of the immune system and heart disease. Cortisol is released as our bodies adjust to chronic stress, and stays in the bloodstream longer because of slower metabolic responses. If the stress remains unresolved, cortisol can reduce the body’s ability to fight off diseases and illnesses (Donatelle, 2009).

“The largest epidemiological study to date, the INTERHEART Study with almost 30,000 participants in 52 countries, identified stress as one of the key modifiable risk factors for heart attack. Similarly, the National Health Interview Study, conducted annually by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) National Center for Health Statistics, has reported that stress accounts for approximately 30 percent of the attributable risk of myocardial infarction (heart attack)” (Donatelle, 2009, p. 65).

Bottom Line: 75% of the workforce say their immediate boss is the most stressful part of their job (Sutton, 2010). Stress-filled jobs usually mean working for “bad bosses.” As statistics (on stress and heart attacks) indicate, and as Sutton (Aug. 2010) explains, “Lousy bosses can kill you—literally.”

References

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

Landy, F. J. & Conte, J. M. (2010). Work in the 21st Century: An Introduction to Industrial and Organizational Psychology (3rd Ed.). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

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

Sutton, R.I. (August 2010). Why good bosses tune in to their people. McKinsey Quarterly. Retrieved from https://www.mckinseyquarterly.com/Why_good_bosses_tune_in_to_their_people_2656

Are You A Chronic Kicker?

In a previous post (“Busy Work and Fake Work“), I talked about a man named Dilbert, a real person with a fictional name. Dilbert never worked, but instead was always doing “busywork” and complaining to everyone around him about how busy he was.

In this follow-up post, I’ll talk about the chronic complainer or a “chronic kicker.”

A “chronic kicker” is a person who’s constantly complaining about his or her job (Spector, 2008). This person may look like a “Dilbert” (i.e. complains and is engaged in only busywork) or it can be someone who actually does “real” work but is constantly complaining while working.

The opposite of a “chronic kicker” is an individual who is “hardy.” In their classic I-O psychology text, Landy and Conte (2010) talk about individuals with a “hardy personality” as having THREE characteristics:

  1. They feel they are in control of their lives.
  2. They feel a sense of commitment to their family and their work goals and values.
  3. They see unexpected change as a challenge rather than as an obstacle (Landy & Conte, 2010, p. 470).

What’s more, people who are always whining and complaining about their work and life tend to be those who are more likely to be sick, have more physiological reactions to stress, and have lower general well-being compared to those who are more “hardy.” And the opposite is true – those who are “hardy” are less prone to being ill, have fewer physiological reactions to stress, and have higher levels of general well-being (Kobasa, Maddi, & Kahn, 1982).

“[H]ardiness is an important characteristic associated with stress resistance and successful performance in demanding occupations” (Landy & Conte, 2010, p. 470).

References

Kobasa, S.C., Maddi, S.R., Kahn, S. (1982). Hardiness and health: A prospective study. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 42(1), 168-177.

Landy, F. J. & Conte, J. M. (2010). Work in the 21st century: An introduction to industrial and organizational psychology (3rd Ed.). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

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

Busy Work and Fake Work

In “Fake Work” Peterson & Nielson (2009) contend that “much of the hard work people do for their organization does little to link people to the strategies that are intended to help the organization achieve its goals” (p. xx).

The authors discovered that roughly 50% of the work employees do “fails to advance the organizations’ strategies.” They decided to give this “ineffective work” a name – “fake work.”

“Fake work…include[s] everyone from the inattentive CEO who changes strategy too frequently, to the social-climbing manager who creates busywork to make herself look important, to the shirking line worker who just doesn’t want to do anything today” (p. 50).

I love this sentence:

“Lots of people squander their effort with long to-do lists that are chock full of busywork” (p.89).

Years ago I worked in a place where a man (I’ll call him Dilbert) was the living, walking, breathing example of “busywork.” Each morning, Dilbert would complain that he has so much to do. And, at first glance, it did appear that he had a lot because there were always piles of papers stacked up on and around his desk. Dilbert made it a point to mention how busy he was to anyone who asked him how he was doing. “I’ve got so much to do today,” he would lament.

The funny thing was that although he had a large mountain of paperwork on his desk, he actually never really “worked” on them because he was too busy telling people how busy he was. Because he wanted to make it evident of the amount of work he had on a daily basis, he would frequently sigh loudly and say to himself, “I can’t get anything done because I’ve got so much to do!”

One of the things I always like to do is to find a better, faster, and/or more efficient way to do a task or job. I’m sure there’s a fancy-sounding name to it, but I am a firm believer in the idea that things are not complicated, but that people tend to make things complicated.

In Dilbert’s case, analyzing his work habits revealed two things.

  1. He couldn’t tell the difference between nonessential tasks and critical tasks.
  2. He didn’t know how to prioritize his tasks (even when his boss told him which ones were the “priority” ones).

Peterson & Nielson (2009) describe situations like this as when “busyness overwhelms emphasis” (p. 31).

The irony was that Dilbert’s “job” was actually not hard. But if you asked him, it sounded like he was about to perform brain surgery every morning and by midday he was mentally and emotionally exhausted. What’s more, it doesn’t take a brain surgeon to figure out that perhaps the easiest answer to Dilbert’s “busy work” and “fake work” problem was that he never really “worked.”

I still think about Dilbert every once in a while. I bet he still has a mountain of paperwork piled high on his desk that he’s never gotten around to actually working on. Yes, I know, it’s because he has so much to do.

For people like Dilbert, who struggle with not doing much but always being swamped with “fake work,” Peterson & Nielson (2009) recommend doing it now to avoid fake work, or as the famous Nike commercial slogan declares, “Just Do It!”

Reference

Peterson, B.D., & Nielson, G.W. (2009). Fake work: Why people are working harder than ever but accomplishing less, and how to fix the problem. New York: Simon Spotlight.

Book Review: Good Boss, Bad Boss

good-boss-bad-boss-book-cover

In an email exchange, Professor Robert I. Sutton (author of the highly acclaimed book, “The No Asshole Rule”) asked me if I was interested in seeing a “galley” of his upcoming book, “Good Boss, Bad Boss: How to Be the Best… and Learn from the Worst” (due out September 2010). According to Dr. Sutton, “galleys” are “essentially cheap paperback versions of the book that usually have a few typos and may need a little more editing” sent as advanced copies “to the press and other opinion leaders.” I responded that I’m eagerly anticipating the arrival of his book and would love to have an advance copy.

I am a fan of Dr. Robert Sutton. I follow his blog, Work Matters regularly and enjoy his writing style. Because I’m fascinated by workplace psychology (I write the WorkplacePsychology.Net blog), I am always interested in articles and books that have a good mixture of research and practical writing and applications. In other words, cut through the bull and tell me what I need to know and make sure that what I need to know is backed by evidence and research. Last year, a book I read (“The Cost of Bad Behavior: How Incivility Is Damaging Your Business and What to Do About It” by Christine Pearson and Christine Porath) met this practical application + evidence-based criteria.

Here’s a little history for those not familiar with Dr. Sutton’s previous book. “The No Asshole Rule” is about the harm done by jerks or assholes in the workplace and what to do to survive working with or for an asshole and how organizations can get rid of or better yet, screen these individuals out before hiring them in the first place. As he explained, while words like bullies, jerks, creeps, tyrants, etc. could have been used, the word “asshole best captures the fear and loathing I have for these nasty people” (Sutton, 2007, p. 1).

Ok, let’s move on to “Good Boss, Bad Boss.”

Dr. Sutton says that as more people shared with him their asshole stories, about working and dealing with assholes (as a result of reading or hearing about “The No Asshole Rule”), he realized that everything came back to one central figure — the boss. It was from the countless workplace asshole stories and the desire to share how to be a skilled boss or how to work for one that led Dr. Sutton to write “Good Boss, Bad Boss.”

The book cites a University of Florida study that found employees with abusive bosses were much more likely than others to slow down or make errors on purpose (30% vs. 6%) [the technical term for this is “counterproductive work behavior”]. When you purposefully slow down your work, it’s called production deviance. Employees with abusive bosses also hide from their bosses (27% vs. 4%), not put in maximum effort (33% vs. 9%), and feign being sick (29% vs. 4%).

“Good Boss, Bad Boss” is about the best bosses and what they do. It’s not about incompetent or even mediocre bosses. As Dr. Sutton puts it, it doesn’t matter if you’re a boss whose team brought in the highest sales number or a principal of an award-winning school, if you treat people badly, you don’t deserve to be called a great boss.

Good bosses need to have the right mindsets by embracing five beliefs:

(1) Following Lasorda’s Law? Finding the balance between over-managing (or micromanaging) and under-managing. Good bosses understand when to exert more control vs. when to back off, and when to coach vs. when to discipline.

(2) Got Grit? Good bosses think of managing in terms of a marathon, not like a sprint. Effective bosses can communicate a sense of urgency without treating things like one long emergency.

(3) Small Wins? Having long-term goals is important, but good bosses also know that the day-to-day efforts and small accomplishments also matter. The best bosses are those who can break down problems into bite-size, achievable pieces for their employees.

(4) Beware the Toxic Tandem? The Toxic Tandem is made up of the boss’s obliviousness (to what their employees need, say, and do) and self-centered ways and the idea that followers closely watch their boss’s words and actions.

(5) Got Their Backs? Good bosses protect and fight for their employees. These bosses take the heat (from upper management) when their employees screw up.

Good bosses have their fingers (and ears) on the pulse of what their employees are thinking, feeling, and acting. These bosses know that to be successful they have to spend time and energy to reading and responding to employees’ feelings and actions. Good bosses also possess self-awareness, being highly aware of their strengths and weaknesses while striving to overcome pitfalls that may sabotage their performance.

“Good Boss, Bad Boss” warns that there is no panacea. There is no magic formula to what makes a good boss, and anyone who “promises you an easy or instant pathway to success is either ignorant or dishonest — or both,” says Dr. Sutton.

“Good Boss, Bad Boss” ends by asking and suggesting the audience think about two questions. These two questions should be something good bosses focus on daily:

(1) Would people want to work for you and would they choose to work for you again if given a choice?

(2) Are you in tune with what it feels like to work for you?

Summary: “Good Boss, Bad Boss” is an insightful and well-researched book. Following in the footsteps set by The No Asshole Rule, “Good Boss, Bad Boss” delivers a knock-out punch to those asshole bosses whose cluelessness continues to harm both their employees and the overall organization. Using the power of storytelling, Robert Sutton masterfully weaves together research and stories about good and bad bosses and behaviors in the workplace that led to their successes and failures. If you want a magic pill or quick solutions on how to be a great boss and avoid being a bad one, this is not the book for you. However, if you value the power of insight and self-awareness as part of an on-going process toward becoming a great boss, then you’ll love “Good Boss, Bad Boss.”

References

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.

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

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

What Gets You Up in the Morning?

Rule #23

Keep Two Lists: What Gets You Up in the Morning? What Keeps You Up at Night?

As I’m gearing up to teach my next college course, thinking about how to best help my students be successful, I picked up Alan Webber’s “Rules of Thumb” while sorting through stacks of papers in my room. Webber delivers yet another wonderful story, this time about what energizes you about work.

Webber, as you recall in an earlier post I wrote called Failure is Failing to Try, is the co-founder of Fast Company magazine. About 18 months into Fast Company’s young existence as a magazine, the topic of business was cool again. With the new economy featured prominently in the news, the explosion of the Internet and technology, and the emergence of innovation, Webber observes…

“All of a sudden America had a new attitude toward work: work didn’t have to be drudgery. The work you did could make a difference, make you rich, make a dent in the universe” (p. 111).

Webber noticed that people “were genuinely excited about the things going on in their workplaces” (p. 111). “Work” became the subject of many conversations. And it didn’t matter what line of work people were in or when or where, talks about work would come up.

For Webber, the question was more than just “what are you working on,” it should be, “What gave them a jolt of purpose in the morning? What was waiting for them at work that got them excited?”

It was in thinking about this that Webber refined his question to:

“What Gets You Up in the Morning?”

Fast Company took great pride in their interviews with thought leaders and innovative executives and noticed that when they read interviews with top executives in other business magazines, the interviews “almost always were puff pieces; the whole point seemed to be to give the executive a platform for broadcasting the company line” (Webber, 2009, p. 112).

Wanting to set itself apart, Fast Company instead began its interviews by asking executives:

“What Keeps You Up at Night?” (the counterquestion to “What Gets You Up in the Morning?”)

It was a way for Fast Company to stand apart from the rest of the pack, but more importantly it was a way to solicit authentic answers from these executives. This counterquestion “became a Fast Company signature question” (p. 112).

Webber wrote,

“Some people just have jobs. Others have something they really work at. Some people are just occupied. Others have something that preoccupies them” (p. 113).

As I’ve written in the “About this Site,” we spend 8 to 9 hours a day, 5 days a week working. When you add it up, we spend one-third of our day or half of our waking hours at work. If you work 40 hours a week for 47 weeks out of the year (taking 5 weeks off for various vacation, holiday and sick days), that would add up to 1,880 hours a year. And if you work from the age of 23 to 63 or 40 years, you will have spent 75,200 hours of your life working!

The idea is not to quit work, but to honestly answer the question:

“What Gets You Up in the Morning?”

Webber advises that if the answer to this question doesn’t jolt you out of bed in the morning and give you a sense of purpose and direction then the next question to ask yourself is:

“What are you going to do about it?”

“[W]hatever your answers are, you’re spending almost two thousand hours a year of your life doing it. That makes it worthwhile to come up with answers you can not only live with but also live for” (Webber, 2009, p. 115).

Reference

Webber, A. M. (2009). Rules of Thumb: 52 Truths for Winning at Business without Losing Your Self. New York: HarperCollins.

How Leaders Can Help Employees Find Meaning at Work

Note: If you have trouble viewing the video, you can watch it on YouTube.

In this video Dave Ulrich, co-author of “The Why of Work: How Great Leaders Build Abundant Organizations That Win,” talks about how organizations can be places where people find meaning in their lives.

“Work is one of those places where people can find meaning and purpose.”
“What is it that helps people find meaning in their work setting?”

Ulrich says that when people find their meaning that not only do they feel better about themselves and their own work improves, but the organization is more successful. Employees are more productive, customers get better value, and investors get better results.

[From the WhyofWork website]: Leaders need to attend to shaping meaning at least three levels: 1) for the organization as a whole; 2) for them as individuals; and 3) for each of their employees.

1) At an organization level, leaders need to forge the vision and values that will guide and infuse all aspects of the organization, tying the organization’s broadest sense of meaning directly to customer needs, investor values, and community interests.

2) In addition, leaders need to discover their own “language” of meaning: What types of experiences and perspectives help them find passion for their work, guide their pursuits, and infuse their workday with energy and delight?

3) Leaders also need to become multi-lingual in the languages of meaning, understanding the range of motivators and experiences that create meaning for the variety of employees they interact with each day.

The Ulrichs (2010) share 7 Principles of Abundant Organizations:

1. What am I known for? (Identity)

Principle 1: Abundant organizations build on strengths (capabilities in an organization) that strengthen others.

“Great leaders help individuals align their personal strengths with the organization identity (firm brand) and with customer expectations” (p. 53).

2. Where am I going? (purpose and motivation)

Principle 2: Abundant organizations have purposes that sustain both social and fiscal responsibility and align individual motivation.

“Great leaders recognize what motivates employees, match employee motivators to organization purposes, and help employees prioritize work that matters most” (p. 81).

Leaders need to ask: What are the insights we need to succeed as an organization? What achievements and goals will keep us in business? What types of relationships will help us get our work done? What human problems are we trying to solve? What are the most pressing motivations of this organization? (Ulrich & Ulrich, 2010).

3. Whom do I travel with? (Relationships and Teamwork)

Principle 3: Abundant organizations take work relationships beyond high-performing teams to high-relating teams.

“Great leaders help employees build skills for professional friendships between and among teams” (p. 103).

4. How do I build a positive work environment? (Effective work culture or setting)

Principle 4: Abundant organizations create positive work environments that affirm and connect people throughout the organization.

“Great leaders recognize and establish positive work environments that inspire employees, meet customer expectations, and give investors confidence” (p. 125).

5. What challenges interest me? (personalizing and contributing work)

Principle 5: Abundance occurs when companies can engage not only employees’ skills (competence) and loyalty (commitment), but also their values (contribution).

“Great leaders personalize work conditions so that employees know how their work contributes to outcomes that matter to them” (p. 157).

6. How do I respond to disposability and change? (Growth, learning, and resilience)

Principle 6: Abundant organizations use principles of growth, learning, and resilience, to respond to change.

“Great leaders relish change and help employees grow, learn, and be resilient to bring new life to their organizations” (p. 185).

7. What delights me? (Civility and happiness)

Principle 7: Abundant organizations not only attend to outward demographic diversity but to the diversity of what makes individuals feel happy, cared for, and excited about life.

“Great leaders move away from hostility and intolerance toward multiculturalism through problem solving, listening, curiosity, diversity, and compassion and by bring creativity, pleasure, humor, and delight into their organizations” (p. 219).

References

The Why of Work. Further Reading. Retrieved from http://thewhyofwork.com/index.php/books/why-of-work-further-reading/

The Why of Work. The Method. Retrieved from http://thewhyofwork.com/index.php/books/why-of-work-the-method/

Ulrich, D. & Ulrich, W. (2010). The Why of Work: How Great Leaders Build Abundant Organizations That Win. New York: McGraw-Hill.

The Power of Praise and Recognition on Organizational Success

Note: If you have trouble viewing the video, you can watch it on YouTube.

In this video Chester Elton, co-author of The Carrot Principle, talks about how to use the power of carrots (praise & recognition) to motivate your employees and maximize business results.

In “The Carrot Principle” Gostick and Elton maintain that unlike the latest leadership fads, principles don’t go out of style. A principle is “not a program [or] an activity” (p. 192), but a constant.

Drawing from more than 200,000 interviews, the book highlights the relationship between recognition (carrots) and individual and organizational manager success (Gostick & Elton, 2009).

The authors created a recognition model based on 4 elements: Goal Setting, Communication, Trust, and Accountability. Next, the model introduces recognition as an “accelerator,” increasing supervisor relevance and employee engagement leading to improved business results (Gostick & Elton, 2009).

Gostick & Elton (2009) assert that in order to boost engagement and create organizational results, recognition should have two things:

(1) Alignment (“recognizing what matters most”) – which is what matters most in your organization. This includes the desired objectives, values, and culture.

(2) Impact (“recognizing people the right way”) – which is having inclusive programs that are clearly understood and meaningful to the employees and making sure that it is based on performance.

“Recognition accelerates business results. It amplifies the effect of every action and quickens every process. It also heightens your ability to see employee achievements, sharpens your communication skills, creates cause for celebration, boosts trust between you and your employees, and improves accountability” (Gostick & Elton, 2009, pp. 192-193).

Reference

Gostick, A. & Elton, C. (2009). The Carrot Principle: How the Best Managers Use Recognition to Engage Their People, Retain Talent, and Accelerate Performance. New York: Free Press.

Coping With Fear-Lessons for Business and Life

In his book, Rules of Thumb, Alan Webber talks about one of the rules in his book: When things get tough.

Rule #1: When the going gets tough, the tough relax.

In crisis management, I teach people that fear is normal and natural. In fact, what matters most is our behaviors in these stressful, frightening situations that strongly determine the difference between a safe or disastrous outcome. If it weren’t for our ability to experience fear, we would not be able to survive for too long in this world. Just think about the number of times your own fears warned you of impending dangers (a car coming dangerously close to yours on the freeway, a stranger who seems a bit creepy, etc.). Most of us are familiar with the “fight-or-flight response,” which experts describe as a physiological arousal response in which the body prepares to fight or escape a real or perceived threat (Donatelle, 2009). Although this instinctual response is designed to help us, if overused, it can actually damage our bodies.

Simply stated, although it’s normal to be afraid, if you live a life based on fear, you will hurt yourself and those around you.

In Webber’s case, his fear was of failure, of being embarrassed, or appearing to ask a stupid question. The person he was scheduled to interview, Helmut Schmidt (a former German chancellor), was “notoriously difficult.” It was completely understandable that Webber was fearful of this guy “dismissing my questions as stupid” (Webber, 2009, p. 3).

However, rather than letting his fear get in the way, Webber decided to jot down some notes to himself on a yellow legal pad. On it he wrote: “Relax! Smile! This is a blessing, a treat, and an honor. It’s not a punishment to be endured.” After all, “[h]ow many people get to sit across from a world leader and ask him questions?”

Webber’s advice, applicable to business and life, is this:

“Anytime you approach a task with fear you are at least a double loser. First, you color the work with fear and increase the chances of failure…Second, you guarantee that you won’t enjoy the experience. Whether you succeed or fail, wouldn’t you like to remember the experience as one you enjoyed, not one you suffered through?” (Webber, 2009, p. 5)

“Don’t let fear undermine your chance to do that one thing you’ve wanted to do.” -Alan M. Webber

References

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

Webber, A. M. (2009). Rules of Thumb: 52 Truths for Winning at Business without Losing Your Self. New York: HarperCollins.