Cruel Bosses: The Gods of Workplace Punishment

Overworked employee

While some folks have fulfilling jobs, many find their work to be torturous. You don’t have to look hard to find examples portraying jobs as boring and/or painful to endure. Here is a short list of movies or TV shows.

  • Office Space
  • Horrible Bosses
  • The Devil Wears Prada
  • 9-to-5
  • American Beauty
  • The Apartment
  • The Office

Even if you don’t currently relate to these examples, there’s a good chance you have been in a toxic work environment. At the very least, someone you know is struggling with a negative job experience. You as a leader may also have blind spots that put your people through unnecessary suffering.

6 Ways Leaders Manage Barriers

There are few figures who have addressed the topic of leadership with the zeal of Tom Peters. Years ago, I participated in an online community of folks on Tom Peters’ website. One day, Tom posted this quote.

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.”
—John Quincy Adams

The statement is a wonderful encouragement to define leadership as an act of inspiration and transformation. But, as I thought more about it, I began to wonder if it was a bit misleading. Who am I to argue with dead presidents? Still, since I believe in the inherent potential residing in each of us, I wrote:

“I don’t think we inspire people to ‘become more,’ I think we help them discover who they really are. In a way, we help them become who they already are. Who they were created to be. We don’t take them BEYOND their being, we help remove unnatural obstacles that keep them from being.” 

To my wondrous surprise, Tom Peters took my comment and used it as a part of his presentation on “The Nub of Leadership.”

How to Balance Creativity and Productivity

Creating something seems synonymous to producing something. Yet, the terms creativity and productivity can be very different concepts. If I describe someone as “creative” you probably imagine an artist or a person who generates clever ideas. When I mention a “productive” person, you likely think of someone very different. Perhaps an assembly line worker cranking out widgets, or a paper pusher who can empty their inbox at lightning speed.

The truth is you need to be both of these people. You need to be productive so you can meet deadlines and help your business be profitable. Meanwhile, you also need to be creative in order to generate new ideas, come up with better ways to do your work or find innovative solutions when things don’t go as planned. In the middle of the daily grind, you probably don’t think much about bringing the proper mix of creativity and productivity to your work.

But what is the proper mix of creativity and productivity? Here are 3 signs they are out of balance and how to balance your creativity and productivity.

4 Reasons Your Team isn’t Performing

Reasons Your Team Underperforms

Last quarter, your team didn’t reach their goals. You chalked it up to market circumstances or a seasonal anomaly. Halfway through another quarter and things aren’t looking any more optimistic. It’s obvious this is a trend and something has to change.

Before you assume you should restructure bonuses or send folks through training, you should consider different reasons your team isn’t performing. If you assume you know what the problem is, then you’re guessing at the solution. And applying the wrong solution may be worse than doing nothing at all.

So, what could the problem be?

Here are 4 reasons your team isn’t performing:

1.     Lack of knowledge

Either people don’t know what to do, or how to do it (or both). Leadership will often assume this is the problem, because training seems like a simple solution.

Signs you may have a knowledge problem:

  • The same questions are asked by different individuals
  • There is a steep learning curve with every project/undertaking
  • Quality is inconsistent

Knowledge Solutions:

  • Training
  • Quick Reference Guides
  • Mentoring
  • Continuing Education

2.      Lack of structure or process

The steps to get things done in your organization are undocumented and it is unclear who has authority. Consultants will often assume this is the problem, because they have methods to address this.

Signs you may have a structure or process problem:

  • Decisions are often delayed
  • People are doing the same work (redundancy)
  • People step on each others’ toes unintentionally
  • It is difficult to report status of projects/undertakings
  • Quality is inconsistent

Structure and Process Solutions:

  • Organization charts
  • Outlining roles & responsibilities
  • Process maps / flowcharts
  • Decision framework

3.      Lack of Tools and Resources

People are not equipped to do their work. They do not have the hardware, software, people, and/or budgets they need to accomplish their responsibilities. Front line workers and line managers will often assume this is the problem because they see the workload, feel overwhelmed, and don’t feel supported by leadership.

Signs you may have a tools and resources problem:

  • Tools are not evenly distributed and those with proper tools are your highest performers
  • The use of existing hardware or software is a consistent bottleneck (be sure it’s not lack of knowledge)
  • Multiple workers are putting in overtime on a regular basis
  • There is a large area of responsibility within a group for which no individual has the required skills or experience

Tools and Resource Solutions:

  • Assess needs through outlining team goals, roles and responsibilities
  • Research industry best practices on staffing and tools (could be informal questions asked of employees who worked elsewhere)
  • Assess ROI of additional budget for staffing and tools

4.     Lack of Motivation

People have no incentive to perform better. Entrepreneurs will often assume this is the issue, because they believe others share similar motivations to themselves.

Signs you may have a motivation problem:

  • It is unclear what is rewarded and recognized by your organization
  • You have a hard time retaining people who have a healthy sense of competition
  • People complain about expectations and adopt a victim mentality
  • Opportunities are unaddressed

Motivation Solutions:

  • Clearly stating how and why individuals are rewarded (meeting goals, taking good risks, giving extraordinary effort, etc.)
  • Have a system for tracking and reporting performance
  • Give employees honest feedback on their performance (more often than once a year)
  • Be consistent with rewards and recognition

So, when it appears your team is chronically underperforming, take stock in these 4 key areas. By identifying a specific cause, you can define a specific solution and increase your opportunity for successfully reaching (or exceeding) team goals.

What have you done to improve your team’s performance in the past?

I’d love to hear other thoughts and solutions you’ve seen work before. Share your experience by commenting below.

Envision Versus Division: Which Will You Choose?

In your organization, you have a choice. You can envision something bigger than yourself that others can rally together around. Or you can cut things down to size and try to divide, because you’re afraid of hoping for something bigger.

When you have a mindset to envision, you unite people around a common cause. You share in the responsibility and in the credit. You inspire others to “step up to the plate” and challenge themselves. You include people who bring different skills and experiences to the effort. You motivate everyone to achieve something great, and you focus them on what is truly important.

When we divide, we separate people into “us” and “them.” This restricts what we’re able to do, because “we” don’t want “them” to show “us” up. So, things become very political and begin to alienate people from the team and the organization’s goals. This can deflate any energy and determination our teammates had, which makes our whole organization weaker.

Envision-versus-divisionThink about whether you support a culture that ENVISIONS or one that is DIVISIVE.

Why is it so easy for us to lose sight of how counterproductive divisiveness can be in our work environment?

 

 

How to Deal with Your Insecurities

In my previous post, I outlined an approach for dealing with insecure leaders or coworkers. Of course, it’s hard to do this for someone else when your own insecurities are controlling you. So, maybe it’s better to start with our own “stuff.”

Our insecurities can hold us back at work and at home. When we feel threatened or uncertain, we can act out in ways that hurt ourselves and others we care about. We sabotage our own efforts and erode the trust of friends and colleagues. How can we manage our insecurities and avoid destructive behavior?

Some of the same steps I stated before can be helpful. Here’s a quick summary from last week’s article:

Dig Deeper

Know thyself. Understanding your personality through an index like the 9 Domains, the DISC Model or Myers Briggs Personality Types can help you know when you are operating in a stress behavior. (The Birkman Method is another more advanced / thorough tool for the workplace.)

Give Complements

Surround yourself with people who balance out weaknesses and strengths.

Follow Up

Check back on your progress. Without checks and balances, it is easy to fall back into old habits and veer off course.

What else can you do to deal with YOUR insecurities?

  1. Keep a Log
    Notice when you act out in unhealthy ways at work (e.g. avoiding responsibility, blaming others, becoming territorial, procrastinating, claiming someone else’s reward). Next time you do, write yourself a note. Describe what was happening and how you felt. Keep a log of these incidents and look for patterns. Do they occur around deadlines or when work is added to your plate? Maybe it happens when you are confused or when your requirements are not clear.  Some people may exhibit stress behavior when they feel alone, or when they feel others are ganging up against them. (Here’s a list of common causes of workplace stress)
  2. Get a Reality Check
    Once you’ve identified the source of your insecurity, you can ask yourself whether it fits with reality. Do you actually miss deadlines or just worry about it? Is there really no one who will help you with your full plate? Can you not ask for clarity on expectations?Ask a trusted friend or coworker for their perspective. You may be putting unneeded pressure or expectations on yourself. You may discover what you are worried about isn’t even happening. And if it is happening, it may be a self-fulfilling prophecy. By worrying about missing a deadline, you start micromanaging and interrupt other people’s work. They can’t get their work done because of the interruptions and you end up missing your deadline.
  3. Be Patient
    Lifelong habits are hard to break. So don’t expect to “cure” yourself. You will likely fall back into your old routines. The trick is to be aware of yourself and to manage your reactions. Give yourself (and others) the grace to fail, and the courage to try again. This process takes time, but can be more fulfilling if you’re patient with yourself.

Do you know your tendencies? Are you doing anything to manage your insecurities? If you don’t take intentional action, you’re unlikely to improve your behavior and more likely to hamper your own success.

This is not exhaustive and you may have other thoughts or suggestions. Feel free to share your comments below.

How to Deal with an Insecure Leader

Insecure-LeaderYou probably get along with most people in your life. But it probably doesn’t take long to think of someone who challenges you in a negative way and makes your life difficult. These folks don’t just wake up and scheme about making you miserable. It’s more likely they are trying to do what they feel is right, but because of some insecurity they sometimes will exhibit unhealthy behavior – which can affect you.

We all deal with insecurity at different points in our lives and careers. It’s challenging enough to deal with our own “stuff,” but we’re often in an environment that requires us to deal with other people’s insecurities as well. Compound these internal and external factors and you can see why offices, homes and little league baseball can be a breeding ground for drama and conflict.

When reacting to stress or difficulties, your boss or colleague may start acting out from their insecurity. What are some signs of insecurity? 

  1. Pointing fingers at others’ mistakes (even insignificant errors)
  2. Whining and complaining
  3. Taking all the credit
  4. Drawing attention to their plight
  5. Withdrawing from any interaction
  6. Becoming indecisive
  7. Ramping up activity needlessly
  8. Being domineering and/or territorial
  9. Getting stuck or paralyzed

So, how do you deal with an insecure leader (or coworker)?

React

One way is to respond to their actions.

  1. Defend yourself against criticism
  2. Pacify their complaints
  3. Placate to their ego
  4. Rescue them from themselves
  5. Guard the door until they’re ready to face the world again
  6. Make decisions on their behalf
  7. Help them spin their plates
  8. Walk on eggshells
  9. Wait patiently for them to get unstuck

Dig Deeper

Another way to deal with insecure people is to deal with the insecurity itself. Ask why they are acting the way they are. Just be sure to do it in a way that conveys you want to help them, not criticize them. Encourage them to talk to someone (a mentor, a coach, a friend, clergy, etc.) who can give them guidance and peace of mind. Help them see that facing their insecurity is better than letting it control them.

Understanding the differing personalities and their ways of operating is definitely helpful. The lists above follow the 9 Domains, but a basic understanding of the DISC Model or Myers Briggs Personality Types can help you recognize when others are operating out of insecurity or responding to stressors.

Give Complements

These aren’t compliments like, “Nice shirt.” or “Have you lost weight?” I’m talking about finding people who complement each other with different strengths and weaknesses. John Maxwell calls this “Developing a Complementary Friend”.

If your trusted friend also complements your insecurities and helps make up for some of your weaknesses, you’ll be well on your way to overcoming this problem.

Encourage insecure people to collaborate with people who complement them. Point out how they can help one another because of their differing styles. This can help make their differences a positive instead of a negative.

Follow Up

As with most things, making a one-time course correction doesn’t mean you’ll stay on target.  If you have addressed someone’s unhealthy behavior, follow up with them to check on progress. Make observations. Ask a few open-ended questions of colleagues. And ask the insecure individual how they feel it’s going. If they know you are checking back and will hold them accountable, they will be more aware of when they start slipping back into reacting to their insecurities.

Working with others is hardly ever neat and tidy. It can be a messy ordeal, especially when dealing with insecure people. But dig a little deeper, complement strengths and weaknesses, and follow up on progress. By doing this, you may find your workplace can be (in general) a healthier and happier place.