Monthly Archives: August 2011

And the Survey Says . . .

And the survey says, “It’s all about leadership!”

  • Gallup’s famous research, highlighted by Buckingham and Coffman in First Break All the Rules suggest that the front line manager is the key factor in determining whether employee’s answers to the 12 questions are positive and affirmative. They further demonstrate that affirmative answers to those 12 questions have a statistically significant impact on profits, productivity, retention and satisfaction.
  • Jim Collins’ research in Good to Great demonstrates that right leadership doing the right things is what it takes to turn companies around to achieve good to great results for 15 years running.
  • Wiseman and McKeown’s research highlighted in Multipliers demonstrates Multipliers actually increase the intelligence and capabilities of those they lead, getting more from them than even the employees themselves even believed possible.
  • Dick Thompson, Ph.D. in his book The Stress Effect suggests that people actually do take their emotional cues from their boss. And we know that employee emotions have a significant impact on their performance, productivity, engagement and satisfaction at work.

The recently released 2011 Maritz Research on Employee Engagement indicates that we, as leaders, have a huge opportunity. Maritz found that the American workforce is less engaged with its employers than it was in 2010 and that trust in leadership is eroding.

Some of the findings are sobering:

  • Just 14 percent of respondents said they believe that their company’s leaders are ethical and honest.
  • Only 12 percent believe their employer genuinely listens to and cares about its employees.
  • Ten percent of employees said they trust management to make the right decision in times of uncertainty.

And just 7 percent said that senior management’s actions are consistent with their words.

I am stunned by these findings. Whether you have been (or believe you have been) a part of the digging of this hole is irrelevant. The reality is that as a leader, this hole of negative perception is one that you share with those defined as leaders by the people surveyed.

The first step is to acknowledge and own the problem. And that is part of the difficulty. In my May 26th posting, “So you’ve blown it! Now what?” I write about coaching executives who find themselves in a similar situation.Frequently, these executives, even the ones that are open to coaching, have a hard time seeing the damage they have done and do not realize how deep a hole they have dug for themselves. Leaders tend to be optimistic people who believe that anything is achievable with a little effort. They also believe that others will quickly recognize their shift in attitude and behavior, realize their good intentions, and all will be well.I love the optimism, but this is not a problem that a little optimism and a little effort will turn around. The emotional cue that employees receive from such minimal efforts tells them that that their leaders either don’t hear them, or, God forbid, that they really don’t care.

The next steps could be a book in themselves. But we’ll start with reference to another statistic in the Maritz survey:

  • Where employees had greater trust than the year before, nearly a third said their personal values were completely consistent with the values of the company.

In order for that to occur, leaders must be sending the emotional cues that tell the story of the company values, cues of courage, optimism, persistence, compassion and respect. They must care enough to listen to the employees to know what they value and to find stories that help employees see that their values are a match. Awareness, listening and communicating sound like great places to begin if we hope to turn the tide back toward confidence in leadership. Turning the tide is a must, because none of us can build our organizations without the support and engagement of great employees

Multipliers and Diminishers

A friend recently pointed me to a new book, Multipliers by Liz Wiseman and Greg McKeown. I didn’t have to read far before my mind sped off in all directions. I have had the privilege of working for and around both Multipliers and Diminishers. One leads to fulfillment and confidence. The other leads to stagnation and frustration.

Multipliers are talent magnets. They get more from people than the people knew they had to give. Their people actually get smarter as they work for them. Their people are engaged. Their opinions matter. They are encouraged to bring their ideas and debate to the table. They are liberated to be the best they can be. The Multiplier is confident and secure in their own skin and does not need to be the center of attention. They don’t believe they have all the answers. That is why they hired the talented people, to get better answers, ideas and solutions. They are not afraid of mistakes; their own or those they lead. They continually raise the bar, challenging their people to achieve more than they dreamed possible, and celebrate with them when they pull it off.

Multipliers have created organizations like Wal-Mart, Google and Whole Foods. Their efforts have led to things like Wikipedia and Open Source development where the brightest and the smartest are engaged and unleashed to contribute their best efforts. Others are making the transition, like IBM, once the stalwart of the “buttoned-up” are embracing a new cultural environment that is more conducive to releasing the power and competency of the highly talented.

If you are a part of a large organization, you know who the Multipliers are. You know where to go so you can contribute, grow and develop. You also know where the Diminishers are, the places to avoid if at all possible.

Diminishers also attract talent. They lure them with great promises, but then underutilize them. They actually drain intelligence by stifling contributions. They are critical of the ideas and opinions of others by always having a better answer. Talent either leaves their organization or they stay and become the walking-dead. Diminishers are also a drain on the organization, always asking for more people to get the job done; the jobs that could easily be done with the talent they currently have, but which they have diminished.

Why do Diminishers do what they do?

There are probably a lot of reasons for such behavior, but the following are some that I have witnessed through my experience in coaching, consulting and executive leadership.

Some of it stems from their desire to be recognized for their empire. They hire great people but never show they have confidence in them or release them to contribute their very best.

Some of it stems from their own insecurity about having really smart people surround them. They know that these people are as good as or better than themselves, and their insecurities quickly surface. They become fearful for their own jobs and begin to pull back to total control. They overtly or inadvertently communicate to the person they have hired and to others in the organization their lack of confidence, further diminishing a talented hire and their potential for success.

Some of it stems from the new person coming into their new role and making the typical errors or mistakes that come with acclimating to a new organization. The Diminisher, in their insecurity sees these mistakes as a reflection on them as the hiring manager, and immediately sees this as a level of incompetence, leading them to devalue the person. As they devalue the person, they don’t challenge the person to take on greater responsibility for fear that they will make more newbie errors, errors that may embarrass them. Again, their own insecurities surface and the talented are stifled and begin to deteriorate.

Some Diminishers do their diminishing unintentionally. They actually believe their reigning in and controlling behavior is a good thing for the organization. Most will never know what could have been because they have never allowed for a fully empowered environment of unleashed high performers.

Unfortunately, the majority of Diminishers are convinced they are not. People tend to frustrate Diminishers. They subscribe to the philosophy that it is easier to control a box full of caterpillars than a room full of butterflies. They never actually get to see what those caterpillars could become, or how much nicer life would be with them functioning at their full potential and capacity.

Stress and Emotional Intelligence

Daniel Goleman provided much of the seminal research around Emotional Intelligence (EQ) and helped us understand how important EQ is to leadership effectiveness. He coined the concept of the “amygdala hijack” as an episode in which a person fails to control their emotional response to a situation and overreacts, usually saying something they later regret.

Additional research suggests that stress has a lot to do with these reactions. Since most leaders live on the edge of overload, it seems valuable to understand the impact that stress may have on us. Dr. Dick Thompson, author of The Stress Effect: Why Smart Leaders Make Dumb Decisions, makes the following observations:

The prefrontal cortex (PFC), or CEO of the brain, controls “higher” level thinking processes, e.g., logic, analysis, decision-making, etc.—a significant portion of the leader’s IQ.

The amygdala, the emotional center of the brain, responds incredibly fast to incoming stimuli. Fortunately, in most cases, the PFC is able to exert control over the amygdala reactions and help the leader avoid an “amygdala hijacking.”

Too much stress “turns off” the PFC, resulting in a drop in cognitive ability (including IQ) and in ability to control the amygdala.

At the same time, the increased stress “turns on” the amygdala creating an oversensitive heightened state of emotion.

A leader loses a significant amount of ability to “control” his or her emotions, thus becoming temporarily less emotionally intelligent! Stress reduces the leader’s ability to fully access their IQ and  EQ abilities!

Since stress shuts down the CEO of our brain and engages the emotional center, it is critical to be aware of our stress level and to develop strategies for ensuring that our load does not become overload. The tough thing about leadership, is that shift can happen in a matter of minutes, on the next phone call or when the next person walks through your door. Step back and consider what disciplines you are building into your life to keep your stress at the optimal level. Hmm?  Optimal Stress, that will be a topic for another discussion.

Work and Family: You Can be Great at Both?

When I answered the phone he told me that his regional executive suggested he give me a call, rather than simply calling the 800 number for assistance. This executive and I had several personal conversations and his confidence that I could help one of his managers was communicated clearly to the person on the other end of the phone. But after hearing the manager’s first statement, I knew that this one would be a challenge. After our introductions, he said “I don’t think that married people are cut out to be managers for this company.”

Wow, that is surprising. I know a whole lot of managers in the field and in corporate who have very strong and healthy marriages. Why do you say that? “Well every person in management I know around here is either divorced, separated or having a lot of trouble in their marriage”

Man, that’s unfortunate. How is your marriage doing? “I think it is pretty good. We have been married a few years and have a little girl who is a lot of fun. You know I work about 80 hours a week now and its harder. We used to fight a lot about it, but we don’t anymore.”

I caught him a little off guard when I responded, ‘Really, So, when is she leaving you?’ “What do you mean, when is she leaving me?”

Well, in my experience a woman will fight for her marriage for a long time. When she was fighting with you about all this she was raising up what I call the yellow flags, telling you that there is a problem. You tell me that you are no longer fighting, but nothing else has changed. That tells me that she has finally raised the white flag of surrender. Two things might occur when that happens. You can continue on in a life of mediocrity, which many do. Or, the unhappiness can be so overwhelming that she could soon raise the red and final flags of “I’m outta here”. That’s when she informs you that she can no longer live like this and now wants a divorce. You would be surprised by how many men come into my office and tell me that their wife has asked them for a divorce and they sit there all broken up and dumbfounded, telling me that they had no clue that there was anything wrong. It is as if they think that as long as she was smiling, cooking the meals, cleaning the house and having sex with them, that all was well on the marriage front.

That is when he interrupted me abruptly and said, “O my God, my brother-in-law is sleeping in my house on my sofa right now since his wife kicked him out, and all he can say is that he didn’t know anything was wrong. It was as if she had never indicated there were problems, but my wife and I knew there had been problems for years.”

Man, that’s unfortunate. Maybe your marriage won’t turn out that way. You know, some women are troopers and will put up with a lot for the sake of ‘family’ or at least the image or fantasy of ‘family’. “ I am not sure I want to take my chances with that, but I am also not sure I know how to change things. I mean, this is my first manager’s job and I have a whole crop of new assistant managers who are pretty green. I mean, I simply have to work these hours to stay on top of it all.”

That may or may not be true. I would think that the people who promoted these people to assistant managers believed they were ready for the responsibilities of the job, especially if they were under the supervision of the right coach. And I hear from your regional executive that he is certainly concerned about you and your family. Maybe they are actually more ready than you have given them credit for. It may be worth further exploration.

We then discussed the skills of delegation, development and accountability, and the role of him as a coach in that process. I encouraged him to look into this and let me know what happens.

About three weeks later I received another call from this manager. “Tony, I am now working 55 hours a week. I am spending time with my wife and daughter, and things are going really well at work and at home.”

What happened? “Well after our call I got my thoughts together and gathered my assistant managers and told them that I had been putting in 80 hours a week and had been sacrificing my life and family for the company, and that I couldn’t do it any longer. I told them they would have to step up. And you want to know what they said? They said that they were wandering how long it was going to take for me to let go and let them do the jobs they were hired to do. I mean, I had actually been micromanaging them and making them feel completely incompetent all because of my own insecurities.”

How are they doing? “You know, they aren’t perfect, but they are doing a decent job. I am working on being an involved coach and helping them get better, and it really is a much better way to live.”

How about your brother-in-law, how is he? “Man, I gave him ‘what for’ and told him he needed to get his act together and step up to his responsibilities and make things right with his wife. That got him up off the sofa and out of the house. We will just have to see if they can make it work.”

How about your wife, how is she? “She’s pretty happy that I am doing this and making these changes. She’s a little skeptical about whether it will stick, but I told her, and really meant it when I said how much I love her and our daughter and want to really make sure we are happy for the long haul. Man, I couldn’t imagine life without either of them”

He went on to say, “She understands that there will always be ebb and flow with the schedule and time requirements of this business, but she truly heard me renew my commitment to our family and believes that together we will ensure that work never keeps us from what is most important to us, even if that eventually means finding another line of work. And that is about the very best I could ever ask for, don’t you think?”

I think that’s pretty good, I responded.

Speaking of Stress

He came into my office one afternoon and sat down. I could tell immediately that he had a lot on his mind and that he seemed to be overwhelmed by something. He started our conversation by gratitude that I did not actually work for the company and that our conversation would be confidential as he considered the decisions ahead of him. I had seen him around the offices on several occasions where we had exchanged small talk. I could tell from a variety of interactions that he was a dedicated employee who had been with the company for several years and was highly valued by colleagues, coworkers and superiors. However, he was not feeling any of these that day.

He began by stating outright that he was seriously considering leaving the company. I could tell that the thought of this in itself was distressing. He truly bled the company colors. As I inquired as to what was bringing him to this decision, he stated that he was working 80 hours per week, was coming in at all hours of the night to get his job done, and it didn’t look like there was any hope or light at the end of the tunnel.

My next question caught him a little off guard, at least until he stopped to gather his thoughts. I asked, “How did you behave yourself into this situation?” After he recovered from the initial shock he asked me to elaborate. I did so by asking a few more questions.

What do you do? “I take care of 16 of 26 divisions for the company in my particular function”

Who takes care of the other ten divisions? “There are two other people who share those”

Why the extensive imbalance? “They are new and inexperienced”

Who raises their hand when there is a new and significant project to be handled? “I do”

Why? “I have more experience and know what needs to be done and can be sure it is done well. . . . . I think I see where you’re going with this”

Does your supervisor know you are overloaded and considering quitting? “Well, he should, he’s my supervisor”

With what I know about the managers/supervisors in this company, that is a big assumption. I am sure he doesn’t. His plate is as full as yours. “That’s true”

We spoke briefly of the need for supervisor training on social awareness and truly engaging and listening to their people.  Then I told him that should this occur, it would take some time to make a difference, and would not solve his immediate problem.

When your supervisor walks by and asks you how things are going and how you are doing, how do you respond? “Well, I tell him I’m fine or that things are great. I am not a complainer and am not looking for sympathy.”

And as long as you keep on responding this way, he may never know. You know, I believe he would be really surprised by your departure. (keep in mind; I do not know who his supervisor is) “You think so?”

Do you think you or your work will be missed if you leave? “Well I’m sure they would have to scramble to get it all done, but I just don’t think I can do this anymore. It is taking a toll on my family and now it’s beginning to take a toll on me physically”

I believe you are right. I can see your stress and anxiety. You are visibly shaking and upset, and I believe on the verge of burnout. Something does need to change, and pretty fast. “That’s why I think I need to quit?”

That is a good alternative, because you can’t go on this way. “What other alternative is there?”

Well I would suggest that you keep this as plan A. Plan B, which I would encourage you to consider since you have nothing to lose, is to sit down with your supervisor, and in a very professional manner, explain to him just what you explained to me. I think you may be surprised. “That will be a tough conversation, but you are right. I have nothing to lose. If nothing changes I will just go ahead with plan A and quit. I just don’t want him to feel as if I am blackmailing him for my personal benefit, because that is really not what this is all about. I’ll do this and let you know what happens.”

A couple of days later he came back to my office.  I told him I was surprised to see him because I thought he had been pretty intent on quitting. He said “I followed plan B and explained the situation to my supervisor, who was utterly surprised by the load I was carrying, and deeply ashamed of his lack of awareness about it. He really made me feel good when he told me that there was no way he wanted to lose me. He agreed that my two counterparts were not quite ready yet, but he realized that I could not keep on doing things the way I had been doing them. Together we developed a plan to move a few of my projects to my counterparts and to hire an assistant to help me with a lot of the administrative things that would allow me to be more effective until we got the others ready for more responsibility.”

So, how are you feeling now? “I really believe I am going to be okay. My wife is very happy with the outcome. I can already feel the load lightened and can enjoy my wife, my kids and my life, again.”

I am glad you’re better. I concluded our conversation with one more question. So, how will you ensure that you don’t behave yourself into something like this again, or allow your future direct reports to end up in the same situation? This conversation took us on a full review of the learning points from this experience.