June 26, 2008

Trust in the Workplace

Do you trust your manager? Does he/she trust you? How do you know? Does it even matter?

There are differing opinions regarding this issue. Some say it is unreasonable to expect trust between employees, managers and peers in the workplace given the nature of work today and it may even be counterproductive or detrimental. For example, being overly trusting of others may lead you to divulge information that is then used against you. You tell a fellow Sales Manager about potential leads you are working on, and later discover that person following those leads and making the sale. We all have examples of people who have taken credit for our work after we innocently shared the information "trusting" that we would not be undermined. Why trust, better to be self-protective.

Others posit that Trust is EXACTLY what is needed in the workplace---the more the better. In the situation described above, for example, a trusting relationship between the Sales Managers could serve as deterrent for such undercutting behavior.

I am particularly interested in the topic of Trust between Managers and their Employees. In my work, I have seen the damage that occurs when it is lacking. A manager who cannot trust his/her employees will have difficulty achieving business goals and objectives. An employee who does not trust the manager, may not reveal concerns about work that is going awry and could conceal errors that may potentially have a major negative impact on productivity.

Though Trust goes both ways, one cannot deny that there is a power differential between managers and direct reports. Leaders must set the tone and create the environment that will foster trusting relationships at work.

If you are a manager, you should ask yourself these questions..
  • Do my employees trust me?
  • Do they really?
  • How do I know? and if not,
  • How can I change that?

June 19, 2008

Is "Political Leadership" an Oxymoron?

A blog on leadership cannot ignore the obvious---what is happening in the political scene. It is clear that today people are cynical about politics and politicians. Polarization seems the norm--one side takes a position, the other side reacts. The other side takes a stance, again a reaction. Few political leaders are willing to stand up and "cross the aisle" to tackle the really difficult issues, knowing it may involve losing support and ultimately being voted out of office. This may be what got us into the Iraq war.

Yet, beyond our cynical views of the state of politics, we have to ask ourselves: to what extent are we to blame? Do we expect our leaders to give us all we ask for? Do we criticize and vote them out of office when they don't? Isn't it true the really difficult issues require some give and take, open debate, and willingness to compromise?

I believe in Contextual Leadership which means that leaders do not live in a vacuum, they operate within a context. The current political context is very polarized--Right/Left, Democratic/Republican, black/white, Christian/Muslim, etc. It makes it almost impossible for a true leader to emerge within this volatile landscape. Though there exists individual politicians truly lacking in integrity, the primary problem is systemic, i.e. a broken system. Therefore, putting all our faith in individual leaders will not get us to where we need to go.

This is also evident in business, which is why the failure rate for newly hired senior managers is so high. Even a really talented executive or politician will need help from within the larger system in which he or she works.


June 13, 2008

Values-Centered Leadership in Action

Last night I had the opportunity to hear Tom Chappell, co-founder and CEO of Tom's of Maine, speak on values-centered leadership. You probably know Tom for his natural toothpaste and other various natural products. He presented his company as a Case Study with an emphasis on the various trials and tribulations of developing a business that was consistent with one's values. Tom sees himself as a sort of self-made man who operated from an intuitive level as opposed to an MBA--business school approach. Nonetheless, he is clearly infused with the entrepreneurial spirit which is apparently a family tradition.

I must say the presentation was inspiring---it is refreshing to see someone so obsessed with the notion of being totally consistent with his values. How hard is that today? To give up short term gains for long term benefits and sustainability. To risk failure and avoid taking the easy road because you are paying more attention to the heart than the head?

Of course Tom's success is not based solely on fluffy, intuitive, "go with the flow" behaviors and he spoke highly of a very talented Board of Directors that helped to guide him along the way.

The main takeaway for me: One can be successful and profitable while also living with integrity. This is a lesson that is sure to benefit any leader in business (or politics) today!

June 9, 2008

Learning in the midst of Confusion

Why does the most profound learning come in the midst of a crisis? You have probably had that experience. After a failed project, a personal set back or a time of major transition, you find yourself making major breakthroughs. This is very common and there is evidence suggesting a physiological basis for this phenomenon. What happens is that during these times you are more open to new learning. When everything else in your life is being challenged, you question basic assumptions and reflect upon things you usually take for granted. This can result in great insights or "AHA" moments.

Let's say, as a leader, you receive 360 feedback and you are totally slammed by peers, direct reports and/or managers. You are floored! You had no idea! Do you pick up and leave the job, try to escape? Do you dismiss the information as lacking credibility? Admittedly, you are embarrassed as well as confused. However, this is a critical moment and an opportunity. Rather than dismiss the data, you can take it on as a challenge. You do some serious self reflection. You work at understanding the perspectives of your colleagues and you use the information to become a better Leader.

You always have a choice and choosing to learn and improve yourself is probably better than hiding your head in the sand. Even if it does involve some confusion.

June 5, 2008

Leading through conversation

Sometimes the simplest things are the hardest to accomplish. Like having a difficult conversation that may change the course of events.

In the work setting, people are always confronted with the decision to speak or not speak their minds---"Should I give my opinion on this controversial issue?" "Do I tell my manager I have concerns about x ?" "Should I put myself out there in the team meeting, and be the person to raise criticisms regarding our present strategy?"

We all have a conversational style which can work well in some situations but not others. Some of us are too blunt, others too quiet or evasive, and most fall somewhere in between. But speaking with an authentic voice and saying what really needs to be said is surprisingly difficult. Yet, that is what really sets a leader apart from others. It involves courage, tact and interpersonal savvy. It usually involves some risk. But the payoff in the long run can be immense.

If you are a business leader and you are not confident about your ability to communicate effectively, you may want to get some advice, coaching or feedback from others. Carefully observing people who are particularly effective in conversation can also be instructive. Or, you might just want to give it a try, push yourself a little beyond your comfort zone. What's the worse that could happen? OK, I suppose you could get fired, but how likely is that really?????

June 4, 2008

The Leadership Journey Begins

Is there really enough room in cyberspace for another blog on leadership? Well, I say a resounding YES! As an Organizational Psychologist, I bring a perspective that attends to both the personal and the organizational---and leadership is all about the dynamic between these two realms.

Some folks are scared off by the word "Psychology", fearing that it is too focused on the soft and fuzzy as opposed to business competencies. But consider this: Being a great leader means having the personal skills, courage and commitment to make things happen.....
  • It means being resilient---able to bounce back after adversity.
  • Being a communicator---able to have the difficult conversation when needed.
  • Being a decision-maker--not afraid to make the tough decisions.
  • Being humble--keeping your eyes on the prize and at times helping others to take credit for success
  • Being agile---able to deal with complexity and change in a world filled with enormous challenges
Yes, business and technical skills are critical. But Leadership is also personal and leaders today need a high level of self awareness and resilience to be successful.