Fear in the Workplace

Long before I founded Midwest Consulting Group in 1990 I worked in a variety of organizations in management roles. One thing I noticed was the presence of people who seemed to be in fear much of the time. I came to understand that Fear is a reality in many working environments. You may define workplace fear differently, but what I sensed and saw were some of the following fears:

  • Fear my boss will fire me; I could be without a job, lose my house, etc.
  • Fear people will realize I don’t really know what I’m doing.
  • Fear others will think my ideas are silly or unworkable.
  • Fear I’ll be viewed as not a “team player” if I disagree with plans or priorities.
  • Fear I’ll make a bad decision, support an unsuccessful initiative, or chose the “wrong side” in disputes within the team.
  • Fear of . . . some unknown something that might happen someday.

Recently I worked with a nonprofit arts organization where most of the above fears seemed to be operating. Even the director exhibited some level of fear. As you can imagine, the atmosphere and energy around the group was decidedly negative; people were constantly watching their back.

In “The 8 Essential Skills for Supervisors & Managers” Freedom from Fear is described as the “foundation” of Skill 3 – Building Successful Relationships. When the relationship is one based on Fear, the higher-level aspects – honesty, trust, personal interaction, acceptance, good communication, development and growth, mutual benefit – simply cannot happen.

Over the next several posts we’ll examine the components of successful relationships. As our colleague and coach Mary Jo Asmus says, “It’s all about the relationships.”

Paul

Teacher vs. Coach – II

Shortly after the 1st edition of The 8 Essential Skills for Supervisors & Managers was published I posted some thoughts about one of the important roles you fulfill in the course of your work – Teacher and Coach. Based on the number of times that term gets searched on the blog, maybe it’s time to explore that a bit more.

Teacher

As a manager we can work with people whose skill level and job knowledge vary considerably. Particularly when the employee is new to the organization or your team, you are likely to be in a Teacher mode. You are teaching when orienting them to the team or the job; you teach them about the culture of the organization and the group. What do they need to know in order to be effective in their specific job and as part of the team? You teach them about the standards and expectations for performance, quality, communication, attendance, participation, and how much freedom they have to make decisions on their own. You make sure you give them plenty of feedback as they learn and progress. Once they demonstrate the appropriate level of competence in the basics of their job, you can shift toward more of a coaching role.

Coach

The role of a Coach is different from that of a teacher and involves a different set of skills. At the highest level it requires a well-developed sense of awareness about each employee’s talents, skills, and needs. Knowing when an employee needs some encouragement and positive encouragement versus when they might need corrective feedback or bit of refresher training can involve some subtle differences. Asking open ended questions can help lead the employee to figure out what needs to done without you “telling” them what to do. Once the employee has successfully mastered the basics of their job you can increase the level of involvement they have in managing themselves. Obviously that doesn’t happen right away; you want to empower them but must do so purposefully. Beware the “aimlessly empowered!” Of course the two sides of this coin are not mutually exclusive. You will likely move back and forth on a continuum between teaching behaviors and coaching behaviors. What do you think? Are you teaching and coaching your people? Do you have a firm grasp of when to teach and when to coach with each personal on your team? PS – for a great take on the difference between Coaching and Feedback, see what executive coach Mary Jo Asmus has to say on the topic. You’ll find an excellent post on her blog at Aspire-cs.com. As she points out, Coaching is future-oriented while Feedback is focused on what has occurred in the past. She says, “In the end, coaching is about ‘letting go’ of advice-giving and assuming the person being coached is whole, smart, and understands the best direction to head in.”  Good advice from one who knows.

As a manager, how adept are you at knowing when it’s time to shift from Teacher to Coach?

Paul

Exciting Times

Organizations in all parts of the economy, at least those that made it through the Great Recession, are running pretty lean at this point. During the Recession organizations tightened their belts, reduced or eliminated  discretionary spending, and concentrated on survival. Positions were eliminated, projects scaled back or postponed, and in many cases headcount reduced. The organizations that survived are now leaner, more thoughtfully focused on core products and services, and have a changed workload distributed across a smaller number of heads, hands, and hearts. Whether you think the result is positive or not, it represents reality. The question now is, “How can we be successful over time in a rapidly changing world? ”

We see changing roles, expectations and challenges for supervisors, managers, and professionals all around us. Responsibilities and assignments change frequently, priorites are moving targets, and everyone is required to grow and adapt all the time. The increased pace and changing demands requires an adaptive and flexible approach at all organizational levels, and that means life-long, continuous learning.

Knowing what is needed for the future is only possible through knowing where you are right now. That’s where 360-degree assessments like the Management-Leadership Practices Inventory come in. They provide a baseline of valid, reliable feedback to serve as the foundation for an individual, team, or organization development plan. Click here for more information on the assessment tools we use; we know they work.

In addition to the ONEplace Nonprofit Leadership Academy, we are currently completing a 360-degree management and leadership assessment process for two large teams. In both cases the organizations recognized that the need to invest in professional development was long overdue. Helping our clients to adapt and change – and being part of the individual and team growth that results – is exciting, rewarding and just plain cool!

What is your organization doing to develop the skills, attitudes, and behaviors needed today and tomorrow?

3 Leadership Traits

What leadership traits will be needed 10, 20, 50 years from now? Recently I was part of an audience of business and community leaders, faculty, students, and others who attended the first event in the Frederik Meijer Lecture Series at Grand Valley State University’s Eberhard Center. Distinguished author, thinker, and businesswoman Dr. Jill Ker Conway. The first female president of Smith College, Dr. Conway serves on numerous corporate boards and took as her topic “The Next 50 Years in the World.” Frankly, anyone willing to tackle that topic deserves my attention.

While Dr. Conway’s talk, and the subsequent Q & A addressed wide-ranging global issues, I found her answer to the following question the most interesting:

Q. – What kind of leadership traits will be needed in the future?

A. – Effective leaders will need the following three attributes:

1. The ability to deal with, communicate with, and work with opposition without demeaning them.

2. Confidence in their own ideas but open to the ideas of others.

3. The ability to find and attract good, bright people and to then nurture them.

The 1st trait would certainly come in handy today, when elected “leaders” tend to demonize each other.  When the relations between tribes, countries, even regions become excessively polarized, there is no search for common ground, compromise, or a way through our disagreements to a solution that works for all of us.

There is certainly no shortage of confidence in our own ideas, but far too often it seems we are, in the words of Ambrose Bierce,  “never in doubt, but often in error”. Win-Lose thinking, I’d say.

The 3rd trait is essential if a manager and their organization are to successfully grow and develop. We may be able to find and attract excellent candidates when a job becomes available, but if we fail to help them increase their capacity and capability to contribute the talented employee will either go elsewhere or settle into mediocrity.

What do you think?

The 8 Skills at Indy – Lessons – Part 4

Slightly more than a week has passed since we attended the Indianapolis 500 and time to finish reflecting on examples of The 8 Essential Skills in action.

Skill 7Leading & Empowering: I saw examples of Leadership and Empowering behavior from the time we walked in the gate at IMS. With few exceptions, and I mean really few, the staff know their jobs . . . own their jobs, whether they are full-time, temporary, or volunteer. There has been quite a bit of change at the top of the organization in the past year as Tony George was forced out as CEO and head of the Indy Racing League. And sometimes that sort of change can throw a lot of people off their game. Not in this case. You can see leadership in crew chiefs managing their pit crews, race strategists adjusting to changing conditions and challenges while maintaining an overall race plan. It’s not quite choreography, but more a large, fluid team, all committed to helping create the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

Skill 8 – Growing Yourself:  Over the years I’ve watched a series of drivers develop from rookies into seasoned veteran drivers. Team owners like Bobby Rahal and Michael Andretti graduated from the ranks of champion drivers. Their sons have “gone into the family business” and are now drivers. Sarah Fisher was a rookie in 2000 and Danica Patrick was a rookie in 2005. Both are seasoned veterans now and the 2010 race had five women drivers on the starting grid. The Indy 500 is the pinnacle of oval-track racing and to win one 500 is a remarkable achievement and is usually the result of years of preparation. Winning four 500’s like Al Unser, Rick Mears, and A.J. Foyt have takes a huge commitment to getting better all the time.

It was interesting to look for The 8 Essential Skills while at this year’s Indianapolis 500. Let me know when you spot examples in your own travels.

Teacher vs. Coach

When you manage you fulfill a number of different roles in the course of your work. In this post I’d like to take a brief look at two of those roles; Teacher and Coach.

Teacher

Managers and supervisors work with employees who have a wide variety of skills and knowledge. This means you’re frequently placed in the role of teacher with employees, particularly if they’re new to your organization or team. You will, in effect, be teaching them how to do their job. At the very least you’ll need to teach your employees about the expectations that will affect their success.

 You also teach employees what they need to know to help them be ready for new challenges and opportunities. Being a mentor is a form of teaching; you are imparting knowledge that will help the employee prepare for a new assignment, position, or project.

Coach

The role of a coach is different from that of a teacher. As a coach you’ll be a guide, motivator, encourager, and supporter in your interactions with employees. When you coach employees you’re less focused on telling or showing and more focused on asking questions or involving them in figuring out what needs to be done and how to do it.

When you coach employees you’re actively demonstrating your confidence and trust in them. If you don’t trust your employees to do their jobs, then you either have the wrong people in the jobs or you haven’t sufficiently trained them. In either case the problem isn’t with your employees but with you as their manager.

What do you think? Are you teaching and coaching your people?

Help Me Discipline My Inbox

A few years back I had the priviledge of teaching in one of George Washington University’s outstanding Leadership courses, along with Air Force Maj. Gen. Perry Smith (Ret.) – the author of several excellent works on leadership. Like most pilots, Gen. Smith believed in checklists and created several that have proved quite useful. Among his “Useful Phrases for Leaders” checklist is one that has become one of my personal favorites; “Help me discipline my inbox; don’t send me issues you are competent to decide”

Why do I like this one so much? Think about the implications of his statement and what it says to your employees. It works well on several levels: 

  • It says, “There are issues that are within the scope of your job and expertise, and I think you can figure out which issues those are and what needs to be done about them.”
  • It says, “I’m confident in your ability to make good decisions on those issues and implement them.”   
  • It says, “When you face an issue that you think I can help with, let me know how I can best do that.” 
  • It even says, “You decide what to keep me informed about and when to do so.” 

What an affirming, empowering viewpoint! From personal experience, I know it to be a very effective guide to leading, empower, and managing others.

Gen. Smith is currently the Secretary of the Medal of Honor Foundation and a noted speaker and author on Leadership. His military career spanned three decades and included several stints on the faculty of the Air Force Academy, 150 missions as an F-4 pilot during the Vietnam war, Commandant of the National War College, and various other leadership posts. His final active duty post was as Air Force Director of Strategic Planning. He knows leadership!

What do you think? How about trying Perry’s approach to empowering your people? You might just be pleasently surprised!