Category Archives: Personal Effectiveness

Happiness is Within Reach!

It’s a great time of year!  It’s a happy time of year – if you can see and count your blessings.

I am starting to receive Christmas cards from friends and relatives.  Like the greetings I will soon send, many of the notes I receive contain reflections on the year past.  Hearts are warmed by the love of friends and family. In light of the blessings experienced in those relationships, most worries fade into the shadows.  That’s what I see, and it’s what Angus Deaton, Ph.D., a renowned economist, and Daniel Kahneman, Ph.D., a Nobel prize-winning psychologist found in their research.  People who meet realistic life goals, who have enriching friendships, and who earn a “reasonable” income experience happiness.

http://gmj.gallup.com/content/150671/Happiness-Is-Love-and-75K.aspx?utm_source=email&utm_medium=122011&utm_content=morelink&utm_campaign=newsletter

Though life may not be all you hoped it would be – yet,  you can experience happiness if you manage to see that you have been blessed by what counts the most.  Contentment arrives wrapped in relationships – relationships with friends, family and your creator.  That’s a gift available to all who care to open it.

Do Frank Conversations Hurt Your Career?

When I was a young man my Director introduced me the COO of our company (Let’s call him Jerry).  My Director was Jerry’s “escort” on a goodwill tour of our office. (It seems that he didn’t always agree with our perspective on things).  Jerry was regarded by many to be a crotchety old engineer, and I later learned that he had a reputation as a “my way or the highway” kind of guy.  But that didn’t matter much to me when Jerry asked me about a controversial position our department had taken.  I stood there in amidst the cubicles and “argued” with the COO.  I don’t think anyone but the two of us thought this was a good thing to do.

In short order, two colleagues appeared in my line of sight discreetly gesturing for me to terminate my conversation with him.  I distinctly remember one dragging his finger across his throat and mouthing “that’s Jerry, the COO.”  A few others peeped their heads over their cube walls then promptly hid, fearing they might suffer from collateral damage.  One brave person tried to distract me by approaching me with bogus issue that required immediate attention. But I wasn’t having any of it. Instead, I took my cues from my own values, and from Jerry’s signals. We disagreed, and we expressed our positions frankly. But I saw no sign that he took any offense. On my part, I was enjoying the debate and was learning quite a bit. So I engaged him, and the conversation ran its course.  Afterwards, my peers were not shy about telling me how foolish I had been. I wasn’t sure if I had been – I just didn’t know.

Two years later I learned exactly what Jerry thought of me, and it was all good. I had returned to my career in leadership development, and Jerry had an appointment with a colleague to discuss one of our training programs. I saw Jerry in the reception area and approached him to (re) introduce myself.  Before I could finish my sentence, he blurted, “I remember you! You’re Mike Boyes; I like you.”  With that encouragement in hand, I inquired about our previous encounter and he explained why he liked me.  “You took a clear position and gave a sound rationale for it. I didn’t agree with you, but it was a good discussion. We need more people like you.”  Jerry and I later became friends; he attended my wedding, and we had a few more disagreements along the way.  But few people in the company saw Jerry the way I did.  They feared disagreement with him, anticipated his wrath, and avoided crossing him.  I dare say those people missed the opportunity to learn from a smart – and nice guy.

Perhaps he mellowed by the time I got to know him. Perhaps we just shared the same perspective … that people can disagree and even argue without harming each other, that conversation is most interesting when views conflict. Whatever the reason, I am glad that I read Jerry right on that day.   

In a recent HBR article, researchers Batia M. Wiesenfled and colleagues conclude that far too often managers abuse their position of power, using it to advance their own agendas and trod on people. Too many managers view “respect and power to be mutually exclusive avenues to influence.”  (This is the reality my nervous colleagues knew well).  Meanwhile, managers who demonstrate leadership based on trust and respect can be regarded as too weak to handle top positions.  These two styles have a trickle-down effect in the organization and affect the company bottom line. Research tells us that corporate results trend upwards in organizations with a respectful, trusting, and empowering management style. In contrast, corporate results trickle down when managers tend to “power-up.”  Jerry could have powered up on me and hurt me in so many ways, but he didn’t.  I could have acted like shrinking violet, but I didn’t.  As result, I gained access to the COO of a Fortune 500 company and partnered with him on several projects.

It seems to me that entering frank conversations with peers, employees, and superiors can hurt your career.  That’s too bad because honest frank conversations are more than important for success; they are required. The gate to success is marked “Courage to Deal with Reality Required; No Ostriches Allowed.”   

So muster the courage to be honest with yourself and others – then speak frankly and tactfully.

 

Handle the Truth

teams as well as couples have a list of undiscussables, issues they avoid broaching at all costs in order to preserve a modicum of peace, to preserve the relationship. In reality, the relationship steadily deteriorates for lack of the very conversation they so carefully avoid. It’s difficult to raise the level if the slide has lasted over a period of years, and that is what keeps many of us stuck.                                                                         —–Susan Scott, in Fierce Conversations

As long as I can remember, I have always been struck by the lack of honesty in conversations. It seems futile to me. Why talk, why relate if you won’t be honest with each other? People walk around constructing fictional stories about what is happening. Instead of putting ourselves out there, we place our mannequin selves in the world to talk with others’ less than life-size dolls. A young man tells his soon to be ex-girlfriend, “It’s not you, it’s me.”A boss tells the employee, “You didn’t get the promotion because the other candidate was just more qualified.” And a woman tells the waiter “Everything is fine.” It’s fiction; it’s deceit, and it’s destructive to people and relationships. It prohibits us from living the honest, connected lives we all yearn for. It blocks growth in organizations.

On occasion, the audience buys your fictional story. More often than not, deep down he/she knows that it’s a tale, and another insipid story is constructed. The story says “I can’t trust what people say, people don’t believe in me enough to be honest with me, there is something wrong with me, I can’t get a fair shake.” And in return they give you more fiction. Reality is lost. Mistrust is gained.

Maybe you’re thinking, “Well, you can’t always be honest with people. It’s often better to shade the truth or leave things undisclosed.”  To that, I say two things:

  1. You have obviously been told a lot of stories – and told a few yourself.
  2. How’s that working for you?

Six years after hiring a narcissistic, insecure manager who wreaked havoc on the company, a vice president asked an exiting employee for advice: “What do I do with this manager? She berates me and is despised all over the company. I was hoping her peers would deal with her.After six years, one-hundred percent turnover, and immeasurable damage to the organization, the VP was still unwilling to have an honest conversation with herself, with the manager, and with numerous people throughout the organization.One year later the manager was fired. Why? What took so long?The longer the tale, the harder it is to look up to face reality.

Handle the Truth

Who can forget how the infuriated Colonel Jessep pompously screams “YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE TRUTH” at Lieutenant Daniel Kaffee in the movie, A Few Good Men. I believe this line resonates with so many of us not only because it is Kaffee’s triumphant moment, but also because at some level we believe it. People simply can’t handle the truth.

You must handle the truth – that is the truth. It would seem obvious but it seems not be.Top-selling books, Good to Great, Fierce Conversations, and Integrity all feature facing the truth as a central component of personal and business success.Why does it need to be said?Because it is a habit that is so uncommon in our world, that’s why.

A few weeks ago I attended a training program. During the first evening of training, one facilitator dominated the dialogue. He talked over his counterpart and crowded out any room for participant engagement.My initial reaction was to withdraw and, honestly, to dislike the man.Despite myself, I resolved to speak truth. The next morning before class I caught-up with the facilitator and gave him some straight feedback. Guess what he did.He handled the truth; no he embraced it and thanked me for caring about him!There in that conversation, a relationship was reborn.I left it liking him and him liking me. The rest of the workshop went very well.I, and about twenty other people, re-engaged in the workshop because we handled the truth.That conversation cost me nothing, salvaged the $18,000 expense for the course, and is producing a tremendous return on the investment.

Now, as I sit here recounting this story, I feel incredibly gratified because that is what I do for a living. I help people have honest truthful conversations with themselves, with their teams, and with their stakeholders and customers.As a result, they can make effective decisions and move forward together honestly and productively.

That is pretty cool.

The Case of the Reluctant Blogger

If you have ever attended a leadership training course, there is a good chance that you have heard that everybody is different, so you have to take a different approach for motivating them. Excuse me for saying so, but anyone who tells you that needs to go back to school. Why?  First, because there is so much value to learning the general motivational “rules” that apply to 9.53 out of 10 humans.  Second, because saying so undermines the cardinal rule of motivation which is: you have to believe that you can do it! People simply don’t want to waste their time, energy, or emotions on something they aren’t sure they can do. And that brings us to Case Study One from our previous conversation: What’s love got to do with it…

Reluctance

Six weeks. That’s how long it took me to start blogging. I’ve written plenty before and have usually received positive feedback about my writing. Still, my confidence faltered when it came to this particular task. The first link in my motivation chain, confidence, was broken and nothing else mattered.

Call it what you will, negative self-talk, irrational thinking, the saboteur, the devil on my shoulder, or the voice in my head, but it was saying you don’t have anything to say worth reading; you won’t be able to keep up with the work; you really can’t do it.

I know you are familiar with this motivation killer. It’s what you experience when you see a huge mess in your kid’s room. It’s no use, this room will never be clean; I can’t keep up. It’s what your child experiences when she has fallen off her new bicycle for the third time I will never be able to ride a two-wheeler. And it is what employees experience when the boss routinely changes (corrects) their work, gives impossible deadlines, and provides fuzzy performance goals. There is just no way to succeed. People who believe they can’t succeed simply don’t try. So where did my lack of confidence come from?  Hmmm, I’ll have to think about that.

If you are an attentive reader, and I hope you are, you noticed that I said that confidence in my capacity to perform was just the first link in the motivation chain. The next link in the chain is trust in the connection between performance and outcomes. For me, actually sitting down to write something depended on whether I expected that publishing a blog (performance) would yield the outcomes it is supposed to like… interested readers, responses from readers, a closer connection with my clients, interest from potential clients, and maybe even more business. Did I really believe that my blog could do that? I wasn’t sure. So is there any wondering why I would procrastinate?  My confidence was faltering and my trust in the outcomes was uncertain.

Do people in your organization have cause to believe that they will be recognized justly for their performance? People mostly want just one thing – that they are known and appreciated for their individual contribution. That can be communicated in many ways: with words of appreciation, a promotion, a raise, a choice assignment, a reward, public or private recognition, etc. I’ve often seen managers offer such “rewards” while unwittingly neutering their power by failing to distinguish among high, average, and low performers. Performers, when they are treated similarly to non-performers, conclude that they are not seen as any different, and that is downright offensive. Employees quickly withdraw trust and become cynical when poor performers are not dealt with. As a leader, you must make sure that people are rewarded for their level of performance.

At this point you may be asking just how I got to writing this dissertation with shaky confidence and uncertain rewards (outcomes). You may even say that it is the elephant on the page. Well, I am glad you asked!  It’s the value of potential rewards (our final link) that got me to this place. While I am still not sure that I will be able to write interesting material on a regular basis, and I don’t know if I will be rewarded, the value of the potential rewards more than makes up for the uncertainty. There is a lot in this for me. I get to express my ideas (which I love doing), I can help people, I can reuse this material in leadership seminars, it may help me stay connected with clients and build interest among prospective clients. To me, that is good stuff, and so I go through with the work of getting it done.

That brings us full circle to the much maligned point that everyone is different and does in fact place different reward value on various outcomes. For one person, the opportunity to express their ideas creatively is energizing and for another it is frightening. So does that mean I am eating crow? Not really, but I may have to admit to using a bit of hyperbole. It is true that to truly lead people, you must be in relationship with them, and that entails knowing them and treating them as individuals. That is one of the difficulties public institutions have. In an effort to be fair, policy says that everyone must be treated the same – not as individuals – not as people. The result is that people neither get what they need to thrive nor contribute what they have to offer.

So what can we say about motivation from this tale?

  • Motivation is the result of confidence, trust, and the personal value placed on available rewards.
  • Build confidence through skills building, encouragement, and by scaling work to fit the person and situation.
  • Build trust by ensuring that people actually get the rewards implied or promised for their performance.
  • Reward people in a variety of ways and at a variety of levels based on their values and level of performance.

Next time, we will talk about the motivational “rules” that apply to 9.53 out of 10 humans.