Organizational leadership is challenging in any case. It requires maturity, focus, discipline, and extraordinary skills of communication and relationship-building. Good leaders are “go-with-the-flow” people who also stand on a foundation of tremendous mental and emotional discipline. So good leaders are already a valued commodity. And I just read an article in our local business journal pointing out the challenges that high-tech companies are having filling management jobs.
As a musician who loves classical music, I am in awe of the composers who imagine and create classical compositions, and if you’ll bear with me for a moment I’d like to suggest there’s a parallel here between those great composers and effective high-tech leaders.
A composer has to be extraordinarily good at elements of intelligence and personality that are wildly different in nature. They have to have a musical mind – unusually creative – attached to a firmly focused and organized mind – unusually disciplined — which can focus and fill in all the little black dots on the musical staff which then become the “program” that translates their artistic vision into something the musician can re-create according to their intentions.
A good manager/leader in a high-tech environment also must bring in two talent sets that are uncommon to find in one person. One, of course, is the ability to keep up with brilliant programmers and developers technically – to know enough about deeply technical matters to facilitate the work of the team. Matched to this high level of technical ability, the high-tech manager must also demonstrate an uncommon level of relational skill and emotional intelligence. This is especially true because highly skilled technical employees, because of their burning intelligence and their orientation to seeing the world through a technical lens are often more challenging to bring in to highly collaborative and mutually dependent teams.
A composer is an inspired artist with the discipline of a software developer, translating multiple colors of sound into bits and bytes of black-dotted code. A high tech leader is an artist who fashions nuanced and productive relationships, often shaded in grays and pastels, in a world of sharply lit, sometimes monochrome technical brilliance.
Both are amazing, and both are rare.
So you spend a lot of money training your employees, making sure they know the basics of their job, the specific qualities of your products, and how to enter orders and expense reports on the company computer. You even conduct training on safety, and you make sure everyone understands that sexual harassment is a BIG no-no.
But of all the training you provide, do you provide perhaps the most fundamental training of all? Do you teach every employee to understand how your business model works and how it makes money?
Your business has a profit and loss statement, it has cash flow, it has competition, it has marketing strategies, it has development budgets, it has payroll cost ratios, and it has to closely manage the Cost of Goods Sold.
How much do your employees know about any of this? Do they think your gross margin is 75% when it’s really closer to 25%? Do they think management and ownership is bleeding the business dry by taking home huge amounts of cash each year? Do they understand the risks of ownership, the cost of money, the challenges of taxation and government regulation? Do they know which competitors are beating you and why, and which competitors you need to beat? Do they know what your financial and non-financial goals are?
I argue all of your employees – down to the people who answer the phones and sweep the floors – deserve to know all of these things. And best of all, if they understand how your business works and how it makes money they’ll be better employees.
In any business, our employees need context in order to feel engaged and motivated. They have to know what their behavior means in the biggest possible picture, why it’s important they answer the phone in two rings, why it’s important they turn off the lights when they leave the office, and why it’s important they participate in that continuous improvement project you’ve been badgering them about.
Most employees – even those highly educated ones – need to understand the nuts and bolts of your business. Each business and each market are different, and each owner has different needs and goals. Educate your employees on all this, and include this kind of business fundamentals training in your training plans. It will result in employees who are more engaged and make better, independent judgments. If they don’t know where their paycheck comes from they may not do the best job of earning it.
In a business career spanning 40 years, including 15 years running a business that develops business leaders, I’ve become well-acquainted with the meme of “bad bosses.” We hear all about it in popular culture: My Boss Sucks.
And there are the endless parade of surveys indicating alarmingly high percentages of employees who are disengaged from their work. The finger is almost always pointed at poor leadership as the cause of this disengagement.
Of course I’m not going to argue the point that many bosses really do suck. The list of sins is endless: greed, tone-deafness, bigotry, disorganization, crappy communication, and downright dishonesty, to name a few. And in our business, (more…)
Everyone talks about fear of failure. But it’s not failure we’re afraid of.
Failure, by itself, doesn’t feel bad. Screwing up is just a neutral experience — in a social vacuum. What feels bad is when people find out we screwed up.
Because what we’re really afraid of is rejection.
A recent survey of 1,200 older Americans showed that their most common regret was that they’d wasted too much time worrying. So what if we could train ourselves not to worry — about rejection?
Imagine yourself as one of these “older Americans.” Put yourself at the end of your life. Look back at how you approached your fears and your ambitions. Will you regret the ways in which you held yourself back due to fear of rejection? What might have been possible for you if you hadn’t?
In our podcast release this week, we did a feature on the fascinating saga of Jia Jiang, a Chinese American who wanted to be Bill Gates and realized that what stood in his way was his fear of rejection. So he went on a “rejection therapy” odyssey. Every day for 100 days, he made a preposterous demand of a stranger.
He went to a burger joint and asked for a burger refill, instead of a drink refill.
He went to PetSmart and asked for a hair trim.
He asked a stranger to let him join his Super Bowl party.
And he got rejected. Over and over again.
I’m not suggesting you submit yourself to this kind of rejection therapy. Really, if you’re courageous enough to do what Jia Jiang did, maybe your fear of rejection isn’t as limiting as you thought it was.
Here’s what I am suggesting: every day for the next two weeks, ask yourself, with pen in hand, “What would I do if I didn’t worry about being rejected? What life purpose, what creativity am I holding back, am I afraid to put into the world, because of what I fear others will think, and what I fear will happen to me as a result?”
Do this exercise consistently and you might arrive at your deathbed with fewer regrets – with a hindsight view of a life well-lived.
How do you deal with the coworker whose feelings seem to get hurt constantly? who overreacts to the most innocent comments? who takes everything personally?
On our podcast the other day, Jim (“The Business Guy”) asked me (“The Psychology Guy”) how to handle these people. You can hear how I responded – it’ll give you some tips for positive approaches – but I wanted to flesh out my answer here in a way that applies to all conversations. Especially all difficult conversations.
When a conversation goes south, we tend to think one person is to blame. In the case of hurt feelings, we think “Jane is too sensitive,” or “John was just plain mean.”
More often than not, both are responsible.
There are two parts of every message: (1) the delivery, and (2) the receipt. Reality lies in the dynamic between the two.
When I have something challenging to say, two things matter:
If my intention, truthfully, is to blame you, make you wrong, or control you, then no carefully crafted language is likely to land well
If, on the other hand, my intention is to understand, to open to your perspective, to resolve an issue without blame, to make things better for all involved, then I have a foundation for delivering the message effectively.
Then it’s about “the quality of my execution”: my ability to strip my language of judgment, subjectivity, and generalization. Also my body language, facial expression and vocal tone as I address you.
Do these things right, and the arrow sails true from the bow.
And then it becomes about how the target moves, and what it’s made of.
Words are never reality. Words simply point to reality. And the reality that words point toward is slightly different for everyone who hears them. Because we’ve all traveled unique roads and have unique filters that transform those words on their way to landing in us. In a word, we interpret. Everything.
How I “hear” your words depends on so many things – my relationship with you, my personality style, my values, my self-confidence, my maturity, my neuroses, my sense of humor. You know this: you can deliver the exact same message to two different people and have it received entirely differently. Vive la difference! … and how frustrating at the same time.
The most effective challenging conversation is one in which the Message Deliverer is not only:
And the Receiver, for his part:
Recipe for a challenging conversation, from 30,000 feet.
The Boss Show episode, “Poor Baby! Hurt Feelings in the Workplace!” was released on July 18, 2013.
I’m supposed to be an expert on workplace dynamics, partly because I co-host The Boss Show. But I love it when one of our listeners suggests something profound that I’d never thought of.
It’s about emotions in the workplace – a subject we discuss frequently and recently dedicated an entire episode to. The listener was Elizabeth Cole from New Jersey.
What we focused on in the episode was how we tend to deny emotions in the workplace, not because they’re unimportant but because they’re so damned messy. And when we deny emotions, we deny the source of all motivation, positive and negative. Stupid idea.
But Elizabeth Cole brought in an “aha” – a new dimension of the complexity of dealing with emotions in the workplace.
She noted that we convey different levels of status on different ways of expressing emotions – and the status rankings tend to line up
with the genders. Meaning this: the manager who rages at a subordinate tends to earn “respect” by doing so. We might not like the behavior, but it intimidates us, and his perspective is likely to hold sway as a result. So expressing emotions in dominating ways builds power.
On the other hand, when a coworker cries – even as a result of the same anger that led the other coworker to yell — we tend to discount her (and yes, it most often is “her”). We might offer her compassion, but what we tend not to offer is respect. Tears are seen as evidence of powerlessness, not passion. And the crier seldom gets promoted. The yeller is seen as powerful, and often does get promoted.
To put icing on this poisonous cake – the result of yelling is that the conversation gets shuts down, dissent and creativity get stymied. All of which make it less likely that a higher level result will be reached. The crier doesn’t have that impact.
Is this how we want to regard emotions in the workplace? Do we really want to reward the yeller and punish the crier? And what about the subliminal sexism this dynamic represents?
Whenever someone says they have no gender bias, I like to remind them they don’t know what they don’t know – like the many ways our culture unwittingly treats women worse than men. And how deeply our own thinking is influenced, like it or not, by our culture.
We asked Elizabeth to come on the show, and she expressed it better than I did here. Take a listen – and then tell us what you think
Watching reality TV is, to put it mildly, not my thing. At best, it’s voyeurism. At worst, it encourages us to emulate the worst in human behavior. The very label “reality show” is absurd on its face, a true oxymoron.
But I had to check out the newest workplace reality show, “Does Someone Have To Go.” Hell, I’m co-host of The Boss Show. It’s background research.
In the first half hour, my mind went to typical assessments of reality TV: How do they find this many dysfunctional people in one workplace? How can these people have so freaking little self-awareness of what they’re doing to their coworkers, let alone to themselves? How can people spend years in the same office and not know what their coworkers think of them?
The show was a mid-season Fox replacement that aired three two-part episodes this spring. The premise: employees become, collectively, “the boss” for two days. A small-company CEO hands the reins of firing, demotion, pay cuts and probation to all the employees in a democratic process.
After hearing what everyone thinks of everyone else, the employees cast secret ballots for the “Bottom 3.” Then those three plead their case at a meeting of their coworkers, who collectively decide what’s to be done with them. In between, the camera records some of the worst of human workplace behavior: gossip, denial, defensive rationalizations, unhealthy conflict.
But what I didn’t expect is that the camera also records some of the best of human workplace behavior: true caring– even love–for coworkers, passionate dedication to job and company, and a genuine desire to blast through denial and defensiveness to personal growth, despite the pain.
This last piece is the most impressive source of redeeming value for “Does Someone Have To Go?” When faced with the undeniable, uncomfortable truth of what all my coworkers think of me, it’s pretty hard for me to remain in denial. When my options are either to get canned or to grow, many choose growth – including the painful self-awareness that growth requires.
On The Boss Show, Jim and I constantly harp on this essential workplace truth: your success depends on your understanding of how you’re perceived. That understanding needs to be refreshed day by day in open and honest interactions with your coworkers.
That cultural norm of consistent feedback clearly doesn’t exist in the companies depicted in “Does Someone Have to Go?”, and the CEOs deserve part of the blame. Had they fostered that healthy culture, they would have avoided the dysfunctions that delivered their companies into the hands of the show’s producers.
Let that be a lesson to you. If consistent, honest feedback isn’t what your team does, work toward it. It ought to be a reflection of the caring for your colleagues and the dedication to your job that every worker ought to experience every day. Otherwise, you might end up in the Bottom 3 on a workplace reality show.
In the July 9th Boss Show episode, Jim & Steve discuss the TV show, “Does Someone Have To Go?” They also explore what to do when an employee gets fired.
by Steve Motenko
Time Magazine stirred up the generational pot recently with an indictment of Gen Y’s, aka “millennials,” in the cover story, “The Me Me Me Generation.”
Author Joel Stein – a millennial himself – presented all sorts of data showing millennials to be more narcissistic than previous generations at their age.
I’m a Baby Boomer. Maybe I should I be crotchety and agree with the indictment of Gen Y’s. But I don’t.
Look – all of us were the “me” generation at some point. It’s a law of nature: we’re biologically and culturally programmed to individuate ourselves from our parents, our families, and our larger communities at various stages as we develop. Just look at a 2-year-old. Or a 15-year-old. Or a mid-life crisis.
If we’re healthy, we go through some often painful developmental stages. Developing means turning our backs on old ways of being and forging new ones. For 20-somethings in any generation, that involves a focus on “me” that looks like narcissism. To decide who I am to become in the next stage, I have to explore my own needs, my own journey, my own uniqueness.
(And yes, each of us is unique, just like everyone else.)
The conventional indictment of Millennials also sees them as disloyal, demanding, and entitled. “A lot of what counts as typical millennial behavior is how rich kids have always behaved,” Stein says in the Time cover story.
This option-retaining attitude has in part been forced on them by a culture that no longer can guarantee them a job, let alone job security for decades, like so many Boomers and our parents experienced. If we don’t have job security – if there’s virtually no chance of staying in one job for 40 years and earning a nice pension – you have to keep your options open.
And why would anyone commit to 40 years in the same job anyway? What’s the purpose of choosing loyalty over flexibility? Why would anyone settle for a boring life if they’re brave enough to take a more adventurous path?
So millennials are willing to take more risks than we or our parents did. So they’re willing to risk uncertainty and instability for the sake of following their interests. So they piss off a few of us old codgers in the process. What are we to tell them: “Oh, you’ll regret it when you’re 65 and without a pension…”?
In her response to the Time cover story, Huffington Post Blogger Simone Sneed says simply that millennials are seeking purpose in their lives. They’re “attempting to redefine success … by aligning their passions with their day-to-day existence.” We Boomers promised to do that, too. But we got lost, and conservative, along the way.
More power to ‘em. Give those millennials a break. You’re just jealous. They’re doing what they’re supposed to do, and in some ways, they’re showing the rest of us a more organic, more creative, more exciting, more evolved way to be at work.
In a recent, trending blog post, author Cal Newport says the old adage “follow your passion” is “the worst career advice.”
Maybe he’s being spectacular to attract readers, but he’s so misguided, I got angry. Most of us don’t honor our intuition, our values, our life energy near enough to live a fulfilled – and fully contributing – life. Now he’s suggesting do less of it?
To be fair, he makes several useful points:
But a number of his ideas are egregious. He says:
There’s little evidence that most people have pre-existing passions that can be transformed into a career
Okay, some people don’t have pre-existing passions. Others have them but “there’s little evidence” they can be turned into careers? Is this because they’ve tried and failed – or because they haven’t even tried? His statement is unclear – it can lead to different conclusions. Maybe if more of us took the time to find and honor our passions we would do what it takes to turn them into careers. It’s not always possible. But it’s most often fear that keeps us from trying.
… studies on workplace motivation and satisfaction point toward the importance of more general traits like autonomy and a feeling of competence — traits that can be cultivated in many different jobs
Well, yeah, duh, but autonomy and competence are way more likely to be cultivated if you’ve got a natural interest in the content of the job! Hire me as an accountant and I don’t care how much “autonomy” you give me – I’ll be miserable. My housekeeper has tons of “autonomy” – I wouldn’t have an ounce of “motivation and satisfaction” in her job.
And “competence” – how competent are you going to be at a job you have no passion for?
There’s no perfect position waiting for you to discover…
I agree that there’s no perfect position for you, and if you think there is, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. Again, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t identify what you do and don’t love to do – and the conditions in which you would thrive doing them.
Turn your attention toward getting the most out of what you have now
This is a recipe for making lemonade out of lemons, for making the best of a bad situation. It’s good advice, but I won’t resign myself long-term to lemons, and neither should you.
Or maybe I’m “dead wrong”! What do you think?
Would you read more books — and not just business books – if you knew doing so would increase your income and your effectiveness as a leader? Jim & Steve talk to top business blogger Jeff Haden about some of his favorite books. Then we dive into the subject of ridiculous (and not-so-ridiculous) job titles, and Jim makes an interesting suggestion for a new job title for Steve. Listen / download the full episode
Stories about bad bosses enrage me. Really infuriate me. This is how I know that, in calling attention to the wrongs perpetrated by bad bosses, I’m following a true calling. There’s a reason I’m an executive coach, a leadership trainer, and co-host of The Boss Show.
It’s about the passion that I feel.
One of my favorite authors, Parker Palmer, calls leadership (i.e. being a boss) a “sacred responsibility”:
A leader, Palmer writes, is a person who has an unusual degree of power to create the conditions under which other people must live … conditions that can either be as illuminating as heaven or as shadowy as hell. A leader is a person who must take special responsibility for what’s going on inside him or her self … lest the act of leadership create more harm than good.
There’s no excuse for being a bad boss. There’s no excuse for abdicating this “sacred responsibility” – no excuse for not taking it as seriously as it absolutely is. Jim and I just released a show on the most common complaints about the boss. None of these behaviors is acceptable. No boss should get away with them.
If you’re a boss, and you see yourself in any of the behaviors we discuss on the show – CUT IT OUT! Get help. Make amends and change your ways. No, it’s not too late for the old dog (you) to learn new tricks.
And if your boss is the offender, leave a copy of this blog post (anonymously if necessary) on his/her desk. But also find a way to talk to your boss about your concerns, rather than complain behind their back.
Here’s the complete list of Top 8 Complaints About the Boss. Let us know what you think below.
What are the most common gripes workers have about their boss? Leading biz blogger Jeff Haden wanted an answer, so he approached the Ultimate Source of All Boss-Related Wisdom – that’s right: The Boss Show. Bet you’ll recognize your boss in this episode, if s/he’s a bad one. And you’ll pick up some tips about how to cope. Listen / download the full episode
I was just reading that the Alaska North Slope oilfields will largely play out in my lifetime. My father made good money working for one of the companies that built the Alyeska Pipeline. Some day the Alyeska Pipeline and the North Slope fields will be history. And so will your business.
But this doesn’t mean my father’s work was wasted. It means his work meant something other than he might have thought.
Business people spend a tremendous amount of their lives building and running their businesses. But it’s unlikely that anything substantial will remain from these businesses in another generation or two. With the rapid rate of technological change, we’re mostly working on some version of a dried out pipeline, a software program that will draw ridicule from the next generation of users, or a retail concept that will be driven from the scene by faster and smarter competitors.
Someday, sooner than you think, no one will really care about your business.
So what does our business really mean in the grand scheme of things? It should mean something more than the physical output of its machines, computers, or people. It should make some contribution to our culture, our families, and the world. It should make lives richer and happier. It should help build schools, and care for those in need. It should teach virtue and compassion, and other values that will pay forward to the lives of people 100 or 200 years from now.
When I drive through an older city, I see scant evidence of the businesses that paid the wages of the local population. What I’m more likely to see is evidence of the values and intentions of those businesses – whether or not they paid fair wages, picked up their trash, and paid their taxes. The businesses will be largely gone. The legacy of their products will be seen in museum displays. Their lasting legacy will be seen in the lives of people.
I didn’t learn from my father how to build an oil pipeline, but I learned a great deal that will be passed on through generations. That’s what Dad was really building, and that will last for a long time indeed.
“Can’t we all get along?”
Ironically, Rodney King may ultimately be remembered more for publicly uttering that prophetic question than for getting the crap beaten out of him by LA cops – which is what got him in front of the microphones to ask the question.
And in a way, if we took the question seriously, we could resolve countless workplace dilemmas.
Here’s why: Most of what we find objectionable in the workplace can be framed as what Jim & I discussed in this week’s show: personality quirks. We deny them in ourselves, and we don’t tolerate them in others.
Maybe the end of denial would signal the beginning of tolerance. I dare you not to recognize yourself in at least one of the 10 Personality Quirks That Drive Coworkers Nuts from this week’s The Boss Show. If you don’t recognize yourself in any of them, you’re lying to yourself …
We try to offer a few tips for dealing with these quirks – whether they describe you or that horrible other person.
Starting here: we can accept coworkers’ (and our own!) quirks better if we can do one relatively simple thing: understand the motivation that underlies them.
Very few people are intentionally malicious. Most bad behavior can be attributed to good (or at least self-protective) motivations … overused. The Perfectionist craves quality and fears embarrassment. The Social Butterfly craves connection and fears isolation. The Multitasker craves accomplishment and contribution, and fears boredom and criticism.
Here’s my challenge for you, for your next day at work: Every time you feel challenged by a coworker’s “personality quirk,” ask yourself “What is the flip side of that trait? Where’s the positive motivation – or understandable anxiety – at the source of it?”
That question might net you some tolerance, and help you answer, in the affirmative, Rodney King’s famous question.
From the Perfectionist to the Procrastinator, from the People Pleaser to the Overly Organized, certain coworkers annoy just about everybody else. Jim & Steve explore, with Boss Show regular Elizabeth Bowman, the 10 Personality Quirks she recently blogged about – and what to do if you have one on your team – or if you are one yourself. Listen / Download the full episode
by Steve Motenko
We’re not supposed to show emotions in the workplace.
Bullcrap, I say.
Emotions in the workplace imply neither strength nor weakness. Emotions in the workplace are a given. Our feelings are intertwined with all our motivations, our dreams, our life satisfaction. Ignore them or suppress them, and life becomes flat and inauthentic.
In the workplace, what matters is not what emotions we experience. Specific emotions aren’t good or bad, right or wrong. Showing tears doesn’t mean we’re weak (though it’s often interpreted that way), and showing anger doesn’t mean we’re strong (though it’s often interpreted that way).
Only two things matter about workplace emotions: (1) What we can learn from them, and (2) How we deal with them.
Anger, fear, frustration, hurt — they all give us clues about what needs to change in our work experience, in our approach to our jobs, or in our relationships with co-workers. If we interpret their messages wisely, and we manage our behavior effectively in the presence of strong emotion, we become more successful. This is what great leaders do.
Martin Luther King was driven into his life’s profound work by the powerful emotions that came up when he was forced to move to the back of the bus as a high schooler. He got angry; really angry. What did he do with that anger? He could have become a serial murderer. Instead, he channeled it into behavior that made him an international hero.
I often counsel my coaching clients: In dealing with your own or a co-worker’s emotional display, don’t address the emotion. Address the motivation that underlies it. Only then will you begin to resolve conflicts – both inner and outer.
They say “Leave your emotions at the workplace door.” Ridiculous! Emotions run through all of our workplace experience. They drive our motivation and our decisions. Best to know how to deal with them – including the crying co-worker and the stressed out or emotionally distant boss. Jim & Steve chat on this topic with Harvard Business Review blogger Scott Edinger. Listen / download the entire episode.
You don’t have to be a manager to be a leader. You’re a leader if you have any influence over your co-workers – or intend to. The good leader questions everything, even the company’s most basic beliefs and assumptions. In Part 5 of our exploration of the difference between a leader and a manager, Jim & Steve discuss the importance of what we call cultural curiosity. Listen / download the full episode
Everyone’s talking about Lean In, the controversial, debatably feminist book by Facebook exec Sheryl Sandberg. Jim & Steve are talking about it, too. Even though they’re guys. Their angle? How men can support women in becoming all they can be. Listen / download the entire episode.
In our hectic culture, we see relaxation as a luxury. But brain science tells us it’s a must… Plus, is “Listen to The Boss Show” a high priority on your to-do list? Jim & Steve talk about the use of a good old fashioned to-do list with Boss Show regular Elizabeth Bowman, along with a discussion of how your boss wastes his time — and yours. Listen / download the entire episode