There are hundreds of assessments for leaders. The content and quality of these assessments vary greatly. There are a few leading indicators that can be used to give a pretty good picture of the overall quality of your leadership. Here is one of my favorite measures.
Strong leaders are enablers
On this dimension there is a stark contrast between great leaders and poor ones. In organizations with great leaders, people view their leaders as enablers. They provide a clear and believable vision of the future that is truly compelling to the workers.
They provide the resources and support required to reach that vision. They engage and empower people to put their best efforts into the journey toward success.
They celebrate the small wins along the way. If there is a problem, the leaders work to reduce or eliminate it.
Strong leaders also enable trust by creating a SAFE environment where people are not afraid to express their true thoughts.
Weak leaders are the opposite
When leaders are weak, you see the exact opposite. Leaders are viewed by the employees as barriers. They get in the way of progress by invoking bureaucratic hurdles that make extra work.
They use a command and control philosophy that stifles empowerment. There is a foggy vision or the vision is not that exciting to employees. Like if they struggle to make it happen, the result will not be so great.
Weak leaders destroy trust by creating fear within their organization.
A real example
I felt that kind of leadership in my final years with a company I once worked for. The vision was very clear; they had to shrink their way to success. That meant huge stress and more workers who would be let go year after year.
What an awful vision! I left and never looked back. In organizations with that kind of vision, people feel they are operating with both hands tied behind their backs. Fear lurks around every corner.
This condition leads to poor performance, and so the leaders pour on more and more pressure to compensate. It is a viscous circle that reminds me of the water funnel in a toilet. In fact, it is very much like that.
If you want to measure the caliber of a leader, just start asking the people in the organization if that leader is an enabler or a barrier to progress. Their answer will tell you quickly how talented that leader is.
Bob Whipple is CEO of Leadergrow Inc., a company dedicated to growing leaders. He speaks and conducts seminars on building trust in organizations. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 585-392-7763.
There is an old adage in quality circles that “What gets measured gets done.” The saying is often attributed to Edwards Deming, although there is some debate on it.
The issue of what to measure and how to feed back performance is a lot more complex and important than many supervisors recognize. This article is to shed some light on common problems that can come up when trying to measure performance.
Selecting the right measures is a first consideration. Believe it or not, it is common for supervisors and managers to select measures that drive performance in the wrong direction.
I know that sounds incredulous, so let me provide a few examples to demonstrate that what may seem to be a logical measure can drive poor performance.
In an effort to increase revenue, a computer company decided to measure the number of calls made by the sales force. History showed that the level of sales was correlated to the number of calls.
When the measure was instituted, sales people quickly realized they could make more money by making more calls, even if the calls were short and did not produce actual sales. The result was a reduction in revenue.
Make sure to verify that all your measures are driving the right behaviors.
An organization was concerned that the “employee satisfaction” numbers were slipping in the Quality of Work-Life Survey. The HR manager read that satisfaction in many organizations is highly correlated to the amount of development conducted in the organization. To improve satisfaction, they mandated at least 50 hours of training for every employee.
The problem was that the managers implementing the training did not deploy it well. They forced people to go to meaningless training in order to make the 50 hour mandate.
They did not backfill for employees when they were out for training, so when the employees returned to work, they found a huge mess. “Employee satisfaction” actually got worse, even though the measure (number of training hours) showed they met the goal.
Make sure your program to improve one measure does not drive a more important measure to get worse.
A plumbing supply house was interested in improving customer satisfaction, so they asked the counter personnel what they heard from customers. They tried to measure what would make customers happier, so they increased the lighting in the showroom and arranged for better snow plowing of the parking lot.
It turns out the actual customers (not the counter personnel) were contract plumbers who were most interested in getting all of their parts delivered to the jobsite exactly on time. The store was measuring the wrong variables.
If you want to know what the customer really wants, don’t ask a surrogate to give you the information.
It is so easy to fall into these traps when inventing measures. The antidote is to always verify that every measure is doing the following five things:
1. Actually measuring what is important 2. Driving the right behaviors 3. Not easy to manipulate or “game” 4. Easy for people to understand 5. Producing the desired results
I believe that imagining pushing the measure to the extreme case often will reveal a flawed measure. Looking at the computer sales example, you can easily see that while encouraging more customer interfaces is a good thing, when you push it to the extreme and make the individual sales calls so short that no business happens, the measure actually reduces sales.
The verification step is extremely important to do before, during, and after implementation of a new measure. If you forget to do this, it is entirely possible that a well-intended measure is working at cross purposes to your objectives.
Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 500 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, email@example.com or 585.392.7763
Over a period of several decades, I have observed how the trust level in any organization is influenced the most by one single factor. The behaviors of the senior leaders in any organization will have more impact on trust than anything else.
Therefore, if the trust in an organization is not as high as needed, the senior leaders need to take a good long look in the mirror. It is the behaviors of the senior leaders that are almost always the root cause of a trust problem in an organization.
Please do not misunderstand, there will be trust issues evident at all levels of the organization, and often severe untrustworthy behaviors exist at the operational level.
The cold reality is that in most organizations nearly all employees will perform in a trustworthy manner if they are properly led.
Many leaders reject their culpability indicating that it is the workers who are not being trustworthy that account for low trust. Upon closer examination, I find that it is almost always the behavior of the senior leaders that causes employees at various levels to act in a non-trustworthy manner.
The culture of any organization is established from the top. Certainly there are many levels in any organization, and there can be trust issues at any level, but the tone of the environment is created by the behaviors and policies set out by the most senior leader.
Trying to get leaders to step up to this responsibility is one of the most difficult challenges I face in my consulting business. They would much rather blame others, or circumstances, or customers, or the economy, or anything other than themselves as being the cause of the difficulties they face.
Exercise for leaders: Today, ask yourself what behaviors you would need to change in order to begin a new culture within your organization. Think about your role as a leader in establishing the environment in which all employees work. That environment is the creator of either excellence or difficulties in trust.
I rarely meet an executive who will say, “there is a lack of trust in the organization, and since I am the leader here, it must be originating with me.” Occasionally I will run into someone who thinks that way, but it is pretty rare.
The more we can convince leaders of their responsibility in terms of creating the right culture, the more trust we can create in the world.
Here are four “foundational behaviors” leaders can exhibit that will move the culture to one of higher trust along with my favorite quote on each one:
1. Reinforce Candor – make people unafraid to bring up issues. “The absence of fear is the incubator of trust.”
2. Hold people accountable in a balanced way, not just when they have messed up. “Hold people ‘procountable’ rather than accountable.”
3. Extend more trust in the people within the organization. “The First Law of trust: If you want to see more trust, then extend more trust.”
4. Have firm values and demonstrate those values every single day. “Stated values that are not demonstrated by leaders act like nuclear missiles to the fragile trust ecosystem.”
Once leaders can do these four things consistently, then there are hundreds of other behaviors that will take root and begin to accelerate the pace of building trust. I will mention just a few of the behaviors here for the sake of brevity:
1. Do what you say
2. Treat people well
3. Tell the truth
4. Demonstrate respect
5. Be transparent
6. Use Golden Rule
7. Stick up for people
8. Be ethical
9. Admit mistakes
10. Care for other person
11. Adhere to values
12. Listen well
13. Reinforce good behavior
14. Practice humility
15. Be consistent
16. Right wrongs
If you are a leader, step up to your role as the primary force that is creating the culture in your organization. If there are problems, then it is up to you to change the culture to eliminate them.
If you are not the leader, print out this article and put it on the desk of that person. It may have an impact.
The preceding was derived from an episode in “Building Trust,” a 30 part video series by Bob Whipple “The Trust Ambassador.” To view three short (3 minutes each) examples at no cost go to http://www.avanoo.com/first3/517
Many teams in the working world have various symptoms of dysfunction. You can observe all kinds of back biting, laziness, sabotage, lack of support, passive aggressive behavior, grandstanding, and numerous other maladies if you study the inner workings of teams.
Yet some teams are able to rise above the petty problems and reach a level of performance that is consistently admirable.
I have studied working teams for decades and have concluded that there are four common denominators successful teams share.
If your team has these four elements, you are likely enjoying the benefits of a high performance team.
If you do not see these things, then chances are you are frustrated with your team experience.
A common goal –
This is the glue that keeps people on the team pulling in the same direction. If people have disparate goals, their efforts will not be aligned, and organizational stress will result.
If people on your team are fighting or showing other signs of stress, the first thing to check is if the goal is really totally shared by everyone.
Often people give the official goal lip service but have a hidden different agenda. Eventually this discontinuity will come out in bad behaviors.
When there is high trust between team members, the environment is real.
Where trust is low, people end up playing games to further their own agendas. Achieving high trust is not simple, nor is it the main topic of this blog article.
I have written extensively on the creation of trust elsewhere. One caveat is that trust is a dynamic commodity within a team.
You need to keep checking the trust level and bolster it when it slips. Constant vigilance is required.
Good Leadership –
A team without a leader is like a ship without a rudder.
But the leader does not have to be the anointed formal leader. Often a kind of distributed leadership or informal leadership structure can make teams highly effective.
But beware if there is a poor leader who is formally in charge of a team. This is like the kiss of death. No team can perform consistently at a high level if the official leader is blocking progress at every turn. The best that can be achieved is an effective work-around strategy.
A Solid Charter –
I have coached hundreds of teams and discovered that the ones with an agreed-upon team charter always out perform ones that have wishy-washy ground rules.
A good charter will consider what each member brings to the team, so the diversity of talents can be used.
Second, it will contain the specific goals that are tangible and measurable.
Third, it will have a set of agreed upon behaviors so people know what to expect of each other and can hold each other accountable.
Fourth, the team needs a set of ground rules for how to operate. Ground rules can be detailed or general, it really does not matter, but some ground rules are required.
Finally, and this is the real key, there need to be specific agreed-upon consequences for members of the team who do not abide by the charter.
The most common problem encountered within any team is a phenomenon called “social loafing.”
This is where one or more members step back from the work and let the others do it. This inequity always leads to trouble, but it is nearly always avoidable if the consequences for social loafing are stated clearly and agreed upon by all team members at the outset.
People will not knowing slack off if they have already agreed to the negative impact on themselves, or if they do it once and feel the pain they will not do it again.
This last element of successful teams is the most important ingredient. When it is missing, you are headed for trouble eventually.
There are numerous other elements that can help teams succeed, but if you have the above four elements, chances are your team is doing very well.
All high performance teams have these four elements in play everyday. Make sure your team has these as well.
If you have ever been on a SuperTeam, you know how it felt. The group accomplished seemingly impossible goals like clockwork. The group stayed pretty much on track, and when it got off the beam, it self-corrected. People on the team shared real interpersonal affection, and the group had a lot of fun. Imagine a world where most teams functioned that way: how refreshing. What would it take to make this dream a reality?
I have been serving on and advising teams for over four decades, and I have come to the conclusion that there are seven traits that enable this kind of environment. If you are on a team that has an abundance of the following seven characteristics, I guarantee it is one of those super groups that is so rare these days.
1. Good leadership
The person in the leadership role must be an excellent leader. Reason: nothing can ruin the ability of a team to rise to greatness more quickly than a leader who cannot maintain the right kind of environment and lead by example. The leadership role can be distributed to more than one member, but there is always one person in charge at any moment, and that person needs to have excellent leadership instincts. Perfection is not required, but a values-based approach to the concept of servant leadership is fundamental, and must be there.
2. A common goal
If all members of the team are aligned behind a common goal, that forms a foundation for great teamwork. To have goal alignment, the team needs to embrace the goal or vision emotionally, not just understand it. Leaders need to foster a sense of ownership of the goal in each team member, and each person must understand his or her contribution to the goal. This alignment is accomplished best by involving all team members in establishing the goal in the first place. With universal ownership of a worthy goal, the team is off to a great start; without it the team could not function.
3. Trust and respect
Without the elements of trust and respect, team members will eventually undercut each other and cause discontent. Excellent leaders know that trust begins with them and their behaviors. It is not likely you will find a trusting team if the leader does not know how to foster trust and practice trust building behaviors daily. I believe the most important skill in building trust is to create a safe environment, where team members can voice any concerns and know they will be rewarded rather than punished. Fear is the enemy of trust and will easily destroy it. To drive out fear, leaders need to make people feel good when they voice a concern. I call it “reinforcing candor,” which is an essential ingredient in good team communication.
4. Good communication
Team members must be able to express themselves freely without fear and have the skills to listen to each other without being judgmental. Great communication skills do not come naturally, and they are not taught very well in schools. Smart leaders recognize any gaps in communication skills and provide immediate training to enable seamless and easy flow of information. Team members need to dig, not just for understanding, but for intent. The most important communication skills are listening, body language, and Emotional Intelligence. How many of us had courses in these critical skills in school? When these skills are not present, the blockages produced will hobble any efforts toward a cohesive group. Smart leaders invest in training of excellent communication skills for all team members.
5. Encouragement and reinforcement
Team members need to feel that someone truly has their back. They need to know someone really cares and will go the extra mile to ensure all members are doing their best. Reinforcement for good work must be sincere and immediate. The best reinforcement on a team is from one member to another and in a loving, spontaneous way. Good reinforcement does not need to be financial. Many times the most effective reinforcement is just a sincere thank you from another team member.
Discipline should not be confused with punishment. What team members need is an understanding of the rules of engagement and a sense of resolve for upholding their end of the bargain. The most frequent source of team stress is a feeling that one or more members of the team are not pulling their weight. I believe more than 50% of all team problems are caused by this one aspect alone. Teams quickly become fractionated when there is social loafing going on among some members. The best way to avoid this is to have a team charter with expected behaviors spelled out in advance and a specific agreed-upon consequence for any member who does not pull his or her share of the load. If all members agree that a slacker will be expected to “wash the dishes for a week,” then a potential slacker is not likely to goof off. If he or she does, then the penalty has already been agreed on, so a fair application is not subject to argument. My observation is that having a solid team charter with visible consequences for social loafing is the most significant ingredient that will prevent team discord.
7. Balanced Accountability
Holding people accountable is usually a negative expression. Someone is not measuring up in some way, and is forced by others to face the fact and make corrections. I advocate a more holistic or balanced approach to accountability where the good things are reinforced in addition to some coaching on things that need to be corrected.
Great teams have a deep sense of accountability, because they have a high level of commitment to each other and the goals. Since most of the team members are making positive contributions daily, they are responsible to the team for their efforts and performance in positive ways most of the time. Acknowledging accountability for positive acts is also called “reinforcement.” If an individual does come up short on occasion, he or she receives some shaping that can be anything from some gentle coaching to a more serious discussion depending on the circumstances.
For example, if John has been regularly reinforced for his accurate reporting on the quality report, it is a much easier conversation to have when a single error occurs and his boss does some coaching on how John might prevent a future lapse. Reason: you have the string of good will as a backdrop for the coaching discussion, and you avoid the common frustration of “the only time I ever hear from them is when I do something wrong.”
All teams that have these seven elements are going to be highly successful; I guarantee it. Take away any one of them, or somehow thwart their application, and the team will suffer sub-optimal performance. Foster these seven elements in all of your teams, and they will glitter like gold and perform like SuperTeams.
Speaking in front of a large audience can be a terrifying experience. Studies have shown that fear of speaking in public is stronger than the fear of death for many people.
Why do we put so much pressure on ourselves to appear perfect? I will offer some insight into the dilemma and share an alternate path that leads to lower stress and better performance. I will use public speaking as an example and then generalize the concept to cover many other areas of our lives.
When we think about why people get nervous in front of a large crowd, it seems pretty obvious. We are afraid we are going to goof up, so we practice our part over and over, attempting to perfect and polish our delivery so we do not look stupid in front of others. The irony is that, after a certain point, the more we attempt to perfect our speech, the more likely we are to actually flounder with our delivery.
I witnessed a professional speaker who was giving a presentation to over 1000 other professional speakers. Talk about pressure! She had practiced her speech so many times she was assured that she would not make a mistake. But when she faced the stage lights, all of her preparation and build up actually made her goof up. Reason: when she got flustered and messed up a word or two, then she forgot her place in the memorized text and stumbled badly.
Finally, in desperation, she pulled out a typed paper with the words. After reading a few lines, she put the paper away and tried to go back to the memorized material. The same thing happened again; she totally blanked out at the first misstep and had to resort to her printed text again. It happened a third time as well. I expect that day will live in her mind as an example of a disastrous day. The audience was uncomfortable as well, although we all supported her and had great empathy for her pain.
Think about the alternative, where she would know her content cold because it came from her heart, not her rote memory. All she needed were a few key points to recall the topic areas, and she could wax eloquent with no miscues. It was her desire to be perfect that led to her being embarrassingly imperfect.
Here is a stark contrast to the speaker described above. At that same speaker’s conference, Brian Tracy, the great author, speaker, and philosopher, was presented with a lifetime achievement award by the National Speakers Association. The award is the highest honor a speaker can receive, and Brian proceeded to demonstrate why he was worthy of the award.
He got up to give a 10-minute acceptance speech: one of the most important speeches of his life, out of thousands of speeches. As he started the speech, he had no idea what was about to happen to him. His lavaliere microphone started to die, and the audience could only hear every other word. Horrified, the sound technician rushed on stage with another lavaliere mic, and Brian carried right on as if nothing had happened. Two minutes later the replacement mic also died in the same way. Brian just stood there smiling at the audience until the technician came out with a hand held mic, and Brian was able to finish his speech.
He did not get flustered, or angry, or sad, he just stood there smiling until the situation had cleared. Doing that in front of 1000 professional speakers took real poise. Brian was even gracious to the bumbling technician, who was undoubtedly dying a thousand deaths over the incident. Brian was sincerely grateful for the honor and was not about to let a cantankerous sound system mess up his moment.
My method of rehearsing a program is to mock up the platform and go over a program from my prepared key points a few times, but I make no attempt to memorize any part of the actual wording except for the very first sentence and the very end of the program. Brian Tracy taught me that the first sentence should be memorized verbatim. His reasoning was that “well begun is half done.” After the first sentence rings out, then it is as if I am having a natural conversation with the assembled group like I was talking with a friend over the kitchen table. This method allows me to be more authentic and relaxed. If I make a mistake and stumble, it is not the end of the world at all, I just look for ways to make it humorous.
Seth Godin had a blog entry I read recently about the same concept. He wrote, “Perfecting your talk, refining your essay, and polishing your service until all elements of you disappear might be obvious tactics, but they remove the thing we were looking for: you.” He even implied that some top performers inject some kind of faux imperfection in their routine because it tends to endear them to the audience. Personally, I don’t need to inject imperfections in my programs; they have enough of them naturally. I am okay with an occasional goof, because it makes me more human and credible to my audiences, and that is a very positive thing. Somehow having them join me in laughing at myself is a kind of bonding action with the audience.
The same kind of problem exists for all of us in many different areas of our lives. By trying to be perfect (which we are not) we put immense pressure on ourselves. We get uptight as we try to rehearse every possible situation and then lose our train of thought in the complexity of the moment. For example, the other day I was at a very formal dinner, and I was trying to put on my best manners. In my attempt to be perfect and charming, I was paying more attention to the conversation than to what my hands were doing, and I spilled a full gravy boat of salad dressing all over the table. Oops!
When we put too much pressure on ourselves to be perfect, we tend to cause the very thing we are trying to prevent. The antidote is to simply be yourself with all your warts and problems. Relax, so you can roll with the situation naturally, and you will come out ahead most of the time. People are going to forgive you, even though you feel totally embarrassed at the time. The trick is to think about the major issues, but not try to work out the fine detail in advance. Let your natural self take care of the fine grain actions. Know your material but avoid over preparation.
We need to understand that nobody goes through life without making some embarrassing gaffes. What makes the difference is how we react when an unexpected snafu occurs. If we are calm and make light of our foible, the incident will pass, and our long term credibility will be intact with the embarrassing moment nothing more than a humorous footnote: like my spilled salad dressing.
Try this big-picture method of preparing yourself for your next important meeting, speech, or social event. If you prepare and then relax to present naturally, you will usually come out just fine. If you are not good at coming up with a funny line after a mistake, then try taking some improvisation classes. They will help you become more spontaneous with humor. Another organization that has great techniques is Toastmasters. Get involved with your local chapter.
We are all familiar with the word “toxic” and recognize that toxic substances are known to cause human beings serious injury or death. We are also aware that some individuals have mastered the skill of being toxic to other people. When a toxic person is the leader of an organization, the performance of that unit will typically be less than half what it would be under a leader who builds trust. There is documented evidence (see Trust Across America statistics) that high trust groups outperform low trust groups by a factor of two to five times.
Thankfully, the majority of leaders are not toxic. One estimate given by LTG Walter F. Ulmer in an article entitled “Toxic Leadership” (Army, June 2012) is that 30-50% of leaders are essentially transformational, while only 8-10% are essentially toxic. The unfortunate reality is that one toxic leader in an organization does such incredible damage, he or she can bring down an entire culture without even realizing it.
Why would a leader speak and behave in a toxic way if he or she recognizes the harm being done to the organization. Is it because leaders are just not aware of the link between their behaviors and performance of the group? Is it because they are totally unaware of the fact that their actions are toxic to others? Is it because they are lazy and just prefer to bark out orders rather than work to encourage people? While there are instances where any of these modes might be in play, I think other mechanisms are responsible for most of the lamentable behaviors of toxic leaders.
Toxic leaders do understand that people are generally unhappy working under them. What they fail to see is the incredible leverage they are leaving off the table. They just do not believe there is a better way to manage, otherwise they would do that. If you are in an organization, there is a possibility you are in daily contact with one or more toxic leaders. There are three possibilities here: 1) you have a leader working for you who is toxic, 2) you are a toxic leader yourself, but do not know it or want to admit it, or 3) you are working for a toxic leader or have one higher in the chain of command. I will give some tips you can use for each of these cases.
Toxic Leader Working for you – this person needs to become more aware that he or she is operating at cross purposes to the goals of the organization. Do this through education and coaching. Once awareness is there, then you can begin to shape the behavior through leadership development and reinforcement. It may be that this person is just not a good fit for a leadership role. If the behaviors are not improved, then this leader should be removed.
You are a toxic leader – it is probably not obvious to you how much damage is being done by your treatment of other people. They are afraid to tell you what is actually going on, so you are getting grudging compliance and leaving their maximum discretionary effort unavailable to the organization. The antidote here is to genuinely assess your own level of toxicity and change it if you are not happy with the answer. This can be accomplished through getting a leadership coach or getting some excellent training. Try to read at least one good leadership book every month.
You are working for a toxic leader – in my experience, this is the most common situation. It is difficult and dangerous to retrofit your boss to be less toxic. My favorite saying for this situation is, “Never wrestle a pig. You get all muddy and the pig loves it.” So what can you do that will have a positive impact on the situation without risking loss of employment? Here are some ideas that may help, depending on how severe the problem is and how open minded the boss is:
1. Create a leadership growth activity in your area and invite the boss to participate. Use a “lunch and learn” format where various leaders review some great books on leadership. I would start with some of the Warren Bennis books or perhaps Jim Collins’ Good to Great.
2. Suggest that part of the performance gap is a lack of trust in higher management and get some dialog on how this could be improved. By getting the boss to verbalize a dissatisfaction with the status quo, you can gently shape the issue back to the leader’s behaviors. The idea is to build a recognition of the causal relationship between culture and performance.
3. Show some of the statistical data that is available that links higher trust to greater productivity. The Trust Across America Website is a great source of this information.
4. Bring in a speaker who specializes in improving culture for a quarterly meeting. Try to get the speaker to interface with the problem leader personally offline. If the leader can see some glimmer of hope that a different way of operating would provide the improvements he or she is seeking, then some progress can be made.
5. Suggest some leadership development training for all levels in the organization. Here it is not necessary to identify the specific leader as “the problem,” rather, discuss how improved leadership behaviors at all levels would greatly benefit the organization.
6. Reinforce any small directional baby steps in the right direction the leader inadvertently shows. Reinforcement from below can be highly effective if it is sincere. You can actually shape the behavior of your boss by frequent reminders of the things he or she is doing right.
It is a rare leader who will admit, “Our performance is far off the mark, and since I am in charge, it must be that my behaviors are preventing people from giving the organization their maximum discretionary effort.” Those senior leaders who would seriously consider this statement are the ones who can find ways to change through training and coaching. They are the ones who have the better future. Most toxic leaders will remain with their habits that sap the vital energy from people and take their organizations in exactly the opposite direction from where they want to go.
Another key reason why toxic leaders fail to see the opportunity staring them in the face is a misperception about Leadership Development. The typical comment is, “We are not into the touchy-feely stuff here. We do not dance around the maypole and sing Kum-ba-yah while toasting marshmallows by the campfire.” The problem here is that several leadership training methods in the past have used outdoor experiential training to teach the impact of good teamwork and togetherness. Senior leaders often feel too serious and dignified for that kind of frivolity, so they sit in their offices and honestly believe any remedial training needs to be directed toward the junior leaders.
To reduce the impact of a toxic leader, follow the steps outlined above, and you may be able to make a large shift in performance over time while preserving your job. You can even use this article as food for thought and pass it around the office to generate dialog on how to chart a better future for the organization.
Is competition between individuals or teams at work good or bad? The answer is “yes.” When taken to extremes, it is easy to see that cut-throat competition where one group works to succeed at the expense of another group will lead to poor performance or even sabotage. If you doubt that, just start watching The Apprentice on TV. I have not watched it in a few years, but it used to be based on taking 1000 bright business students and creating 999 losers and one winner.
On the other extreme, we know that pit crews are amazingly competitive in a good way. They will work for days to shave a few tenths of a second on a pit stop. They are seeking perfection, and the friendly competition between teams creates an atmosphere that breeds excellence.
How can you know if you are creating the kind of competition that is healthy? Here are some signs that you have crossed the line from useful competition to the detrimental variety.
1. Teams plan activities that advantage their group but disadvantage another group.
2. People manipulate numbers in order to win out over the competition.
3. People try to raid personnel from a different team.
4. Gossip or rumors about another team take on a hurtful tone.
5. The formation of cliques becomes an egregious activity.
6. Team celebrations become disruptive or dangerous.
7. Teams fail to share resources that were intended to be used by multiple teams.
8. Teams demonstrate a lack of trust.
9. Team members refuse to be cross trained.
10. Teams hold information back or become secretive on some issues.
Monitor your teams at work, and look for the signs of unhealthy competition. In general, some friendly competition is a good thing, but when it is carried to an extreme, really bad things can begin to happen. If the competition is fostering some of the symptoms above, here are seven remedies that can help.
1. Clarify the goals. Remind people in different groups that they are all part of a larger effort.
2. Reinforce people who demonstrate healthy competition, and counsel people who are on the other extreme.
3. Cross-pollinate members of the teams so it becomes harder to draw on historical loyalties.
4. Hold team building activities for the larger team and intermingle the groups to build chemistry.
5. Be sure stated goals do not encourage silo thinking by ensuring alignment with the larger organization.
6. Celebrate success of teams in the larger environment to create a winning culture.
7. Remove team members who exhibit poor attitudes toward other teams.
Many organizations use contests or other overt methods of encouraging team competition. These can be helpful or hurtful depending on how they are administered. Make sure the competition in your organization is enhancing overall performance rather than fostering bad blood between groups. Use the tips above to keep competition healthy.
Several managers I know are fond of saying “we have to hold our people accountable.” I think the process of making sure people need to step up to responsibility is a good one, but it really needs to start at the top. Unfortunately, I see many top leaders failing to hold themselves accountable first.
Let’s envision a plant manager who has a problem of extremely low morale in the factory. The supervisors are telling the manager that people are upset because of no raise in 3 years and the threats of layoffs. They are tired of being abused and kept in the dark. The productivity is at an all time low, and the only way to take cost out is to further reduce the workforce. If you were that manager, how would you go about engineering a rapid turnaround in the performance of your plant?
One interesting strategy is push your chair back from the desk, stand up, walk down the hall, go in the bathroom, look in the mirror, and ask yourself some tough questions like the following:
• Morale is terrible in this plant, and as the manager in charge, how have you been contributing to this problem?
• What is preventing you from fully holding yourself accountable for this awful situation?
• In what ways have you been trying to lay the blame on the supervisors, employees, bad economy, suppliers, business downturn, competition, etc., and how can you deal with the current situations and business environment in a more empowering and effective way for all concerned?
• What fundamental changes in the structure, behaviors, values, and vision are you going to make to completely change the environment?
• What behaviors do you need to change, starting right now, to build a culture of higher trust?
• In what ways can you change the attitudes of the workers by changing your own attitudes and behaviors?
• Since bonuses, or picnics, or parties, or hat days are not going to have much impact on long term motivation, how can you find out what really will inspire people and then implement the proper changes to the environment?
• How can you be a better mentor for your supervisors as well as train them to be better mentors to their own staff?
• How are you going to find a way to quadruple the time you have available to communicate with people?
• Do you need assistance to solve these issues? If so, what kind of help could you use and where can you find it?
• How can you know if or when it is time to pursue other opportunities and let someone with a different skill set handle the turnaround?
Yes, that is tough medicine, and yet I believe if the cold realities in these questions were internalized by some top leaders, conditions might start to change. It is only through the behaviors and attitudes of the top leaders that real changes can be made in an organization. Once top leaders step up to their own accountability, then the rest of the organization will quickly become enrolled in a new and positive vision for the enterprise.