You’re Not Hiring Bad People, You’re Making Bad People

I’ve heard the conversation a hundred times. I can’t tell you how it starts, but at some point, a manager says, “We need to figure out a way to hire better people. It’s hard to find good people who work harder and show more initiative. If we just hire the right people we can increase our engagement.” They’ll often throw in, “This generation just doesn’t like to work.” It’s as though there is something wrong in the hiring process and if they can fix it, all of their employee engagement problems will go away.

There is a real problem out there. Recently Gallup determined that in 2014, 31.5% of employees were engaged (up from 29.6% in 2013). That sounds like good news. Engagement is increasing, but let’s not miss the reality: if 31.5% of employees ARE engaged, then 68.5% of employees are not engaged. Pause for a second and let that sink in, over 2/3 of American employees are not engaged. The only thing more alarming than that is that for most it’s not alarming.

We’ve come to accept low engagement the norm. We would never accept this in other areas. If you took your car to the mechanic and he (or she), said, “the problem with your car is that only 31.5% of your engine is working at full capacity”, we wouldn’t say, “Oh well that doesn’t sound too bad. How long can I drive it before it becomes a problem?” If we went to the doctor for a checkup and she (or he) said, “Everything’s fine except it seems your heart is only functioning at 31.5%, we wouldn’t say, “Glad it’s nothing serious.” We’ve come to accept and even expect mediocrity in the workplace. Engagement is a serious issue that needs to be addressed. But is the problem really in the hiring process?

Don’t get me wrong; it is possible to hire the wrong people. We’ve all made that mistake. Either they’re not a good fit for the organization, they have their own agenda, they look good on paper but in reality are nothing like their resumes or a variety of other mistakes, but I’m also concerned about the good people we hire who over time disengage. It’s hard for me to imagine that companies are wrong about who they hire 68% of the time. There is something else going on, something that’s happening after the hiring process.

People often speak about employee engagement as though it is some strange abstract concept that requires some hidden, esoteric knowledge to understand. Employees are described as being engaged, fully engaged, disengaged, partly engaged, etc. Then, many of the solutions begin with things like aligning people to the organization’s mission and so on and so forth. By the time we’re all done, trying to find a real, working solution to all of this engagement stuff is like trying to locate the Yeti or the Loch Ness Monster.

All of this engagement analysis is way too complicated. Let’s make this really simple. Employee engagement is a measure of how much someone cares about his or her job. I don’t mean care if they have a job, but actually care about how they do at their job. It’s really that simple. That’s why the phrase “emotional commitment” is so often used in describing engagement; it’s a measure of how much someone is emotionally attached to his or her job. Everything else: enthusiasm, ownership, time at work, going the extra-mile, even performance are simply symptoms or indicators of whether engagement exists. They are signs of life. But at the core, the real issue is how much does this person really care about their job?

For some, the entirety of that answer is internal. There are people out there who work hard regardless of what’s going on around them. They take ownership for their work even when surrounded by those who don’t. Whether it’s due to a sense of responsibility, or their own sense of character and ethics, they will come to work and engage themselves regardless of the circumstances around them and irrespective of how they are treated. But those employees often perform in spite of, not because of their manager and their work environment. For the rest of employees, the vast majority, the work environment has a significant affect on their engagement. And in all honesty, in many cases, the work environment is sucking the life out of many of the good employees.

So how do we fix this? Organizations must be aware of what’s going on at the manager level. It’s widely accepted that an employee’s relationship with his or her manager is the leading factor influencing employee engagement. So if you really want to improve employee engagement, addressing what’s going on at the management level will give you the biggest bang for your buck. Jim Clifton, CEO of Gallup is quoted as saying “Here’s something they’ll probably never teach you in business school: The single biggest decision you make in your job – bigger than all of the rest – is who you name manager. When you name the wrong person manager, nothing fixes that bad decision. Not compensation, not benefits – nothing.”

It’s common to give tips or strategies that managers can incorporate to help increase engagement. The problem with that approach is it assumes there aren’t things that managers need to stop doing. It’s like going to the doctor to lose weight and having her put you on an exercise program without saying that you need to stop eating Twinkies. So here are few common things supervisors, managers, directors and executives who suck the engagement out of their employees need to stop doing and this list is by no means exhaustive:

  • Micromanaging competent people
  • Throwing temper tantrums
  • Talking down to others
  • Stealing credit for others work
  • Having an answer for everything
  • Addressing issues through meetings
  • Not giving specific direction and then being unhappy with the results
  • Giving responsibility without authority
  • Playing favorites
  • Keeping people in the doghouse
  • Withholding information

Have you ever heard the phrase, “It’s not me, it’s you?” If you are doing any of these things, your employees are not the reason for low engagement, you are.

If you are running an organization or (and maybe more importantly) if you’re running a startup or a small business, here are a few questions you should ask in regards to your management team:

First are you selecting the right people? Unfortunately, many managers are selected because they were high performers at their previous job, not because they show high potential as a leader. Choosing leaders who are resilient and don’t take things personally along with having good interpersonal skills, the ability to communicate, a willingness to learn and a high level of integrity (among other things) is a must.

Also, are your managers receiving training and other opportunities for development? There really is both an art and a science to leadership and it is a combination of nature and nurture. Training, along with coaching mentors and development opportunities is a must.

And here is a great question, how engaged are those who are already managers? What is most eye opening about Gallup’s report is that among job categories, managers, executives and officers had the highest levels of engagement in 2014 at 38.4%. That means more than 60% of those in leadership positions are not engaged. These are the people who are coaching, training and mentoring other managers. These are the one’s creating your “culture.” If there not engaged than how can you expect the student to surpass the teacher?

Of course, there are other questions that need to be asked as well: How is the overall work environment? Does the company really value its employees? Are people’s daily responsibilities aligned with their skillset? Do people really know how to perform their work? An yes, who are you hiring?

All of this seems like a lot but it really isn’t and it’s not that complicated to figure out. You can either decide to create a culture that fosters engagement, and then hire good people to foster that culture, or you can ignore the problem and let your culture contaminate the good people you hire.

When It Comes To Bad Managers, I Say Blame The Parents

We’ve all seen it, whether at a mall, a playground, our kid’s school or even while visiting family, we’ve all had the unfortunate privilege of seeing some ill mannered non-behaving, tantrum throwing child. Regardless of whether or not we are shocked, alarmed, or disgusted by this child’s behavior, there is something especially egregious when we see the child acting this way in front of his or her parents.

Many times I’ve heard onlookers to such atrocities say things like, “If that were my child,” or “where are the parents,” or “I would never tolerate that type of behavior in my house.”In the same way, we often praise parents with phrases like, “His parents must have raised him right,” when a child is well behaved.We expect parents to take responsibility for the way they raise their child and we know that whether it is an unhealthy sense of entitlement, a lack of love or a lack of discipline, that what the parent invests in the child will at some point show itself in the behavior and character of the child. And to many, nothing is worse than a parent who sees bad behavior and does absolutely nothing to correct it.

Unfortunately, when it comes to managers, we rarely see the same standard applied.
The reality is bad leadership has run rampant throughout the business world. And although there has been a surplus of books, blogs and articles written describing what a bad leader looks like, they seem to have had little if any impact on the real world. No matter how many articles are written that say: stop micromanaging, stop trying to motivate by fear, stop stealing credit for things you didn’t do, and stop being a know-it-all (you know, the things we learn in kindergarten), it continues to happen. Many managers bully, abuse, and berate employees, yet rarely does their parent, the company, do anything about it, so the behavior continues.

The Workplace Bullying Institute states that when employers are notified ofrepeated bullying within their organization, 72% deny, discount, encourage, rationalize or even defend the abuser. In fact, when victims of bullying were surveyed, they stated that 93 % of the time, the bully was protected by someone within the organization. Whether it was a higher ranking manager, an executive, another executive or even the Human Resources Department, more times than not, the perception was that the perpetrator was protected, and when that perception exists, the person is empowered to continue their destructive behavior. In fact, only 2% of the time was corrective action taken.

If these statistics were about parenting, people would be in an uproar.Masses would cry out that bad parenting had reached pandemic proportions. Every presidential nominee would have a slogan or prepared remark addressing the domestic issue of problematic parenting. Unfortunately, in the corporate world, this is just business as usual, and people suffer because of it.

Companies have a wealth of information at their disposal. With 360 degree assessments exit interviews being all the rage, plenty of feedback is available to quickly point out who the bad managers are. Unfortunately organizations often turn a blind eye to the problem. And in reality, most companies know who the bad managers are without this type of feedback. It’s common knowledge.

For organizations to truly change and produce great leaders, they cannot ignore the existence of bad leaders. We need to stop trying to create a science out of something that is so simple. Companies need to begin communicating what is and isn’t proper behavior for leaders within the organization. They then need to provide both the training and the accountability to ensure that standard is upheld.

Workplace Violence – Surprised This Happens Or Surprised It Doesn’t Happen More?

The recent tragedy at a lower Manhattan federal building where a former employee shot and killed a guard before taking his own life was shocking; it was horrendous, but was it really surprising?

Over the next few weeks, many will focus on the gunman’s recent accident and his subsequent medications. Others will question whether he suffered from a mental illness. But are those the real issues?As a Corporate Relationship Expert, organizations bring me in to fix their people problems. From power hungry bosses who terrorize whole departments, to managers who have had their feelings hurt and exact their revenge, to entire offices that show signs of PTSD, I have seen it all. And many who think they are the only ones going through it, or put the blame for what’s happening to them solely on themselves, fail to realize that they are in fact part of a growing trend.

In their U.S. Workplace Bullying Survey, the Workplace Bullying Institute determined that 27% of Americans have suffered abusive conduct at work and another 21% have witnessed it. That would mean that nearly half of American workers have been personally exposed to workplace bullying. Beyond that, the study reveals that 72% of workers are aware that workplace bullying occurs. Other studies reveal similar if not more alarming results. In the Harvard Business Review article “The Price of Incivility,”Christine Porath and Christine Pearsonstate, “In 2011 half of surveyed employees,said they were treated rudely at least once a week—up from a quarter in 1998.” Bullying and workplace abuse have reached epidemic proportions in the workplace.

Unfortunately, in many cases the worse thing the employee can do is report the abuse to an internal resource.Very rarely is anything done about the actual charges. In fact, the workplace Bullying Institute says that 77.7% of the time, the reason the bullying stops is because the victim quits or is fired. With this being the reality, it’s no wonder that the problem is getting worse.

Many associates and friends were shocked and said there were no warning signs that Downing would commit a violent act. The truth is that Downing was under a great deal of stress outside of his ongoing legal battle with his former employer. New Jersey representative Bill Pascrell Jr.mentioned thatDowning had endured a string of misfortunes as his live-in fiancé died of breast cancer, his house was in foreclosure and he suffered health problems after a car accident.I have spoken to many workers who were at their breaking point. The stress of what they perceived as endless attacks from their boss along with the challenges of life had affected their mental as well as physical health to the point that they had become desperate for relief as well as justice or revenge.

This dynamic is preventable and the fix is not complicated. First, companies need to take reports of retaliation, abuse, harassment, and bullying seriously. It can’t be just lip service or something that high producersand those who are well liked by upper management are exempt from.The organizations I’ve seen who draw real boundaries and enforce them,see a significant reduction in the number of complaints as well as an increase in morale. Second, organizations must do a better job of selecting their managers and supervisors. No longer can companies believe that being a high producer qualifies someone to lead people. These two things require completely different skillsets.
When organizations take into consideration things like resiliency, emotional intelligence, empathy, vision and all around people skills, instead of just rewarding high performers with position they are not qualified for, everyone benefits. Third, companies must invest in training. Not just “hard skill” training but training on interpersonal skills. There is an art and a science to leadership. One organization I work with now requires all new and potential managers to receive training on skills such as leadership, team building, diversity, innovation and conflict resolution. The results have been phenomenal with many of the new managers reporting better performance and fewer complaints than the more seasoned but untrained managers.

Now, let me be clear, I am in no way condoning or supporting Mr. Downing’s actions. In fact, regardless of how one may choose to interpret or misinterpret this article, I’m not trying to justify his actions. His actions are reprehensible. But are they really that surprising? Don’t we all know people at work who are potential victims of violence because they toyed with the lives of other without any regard for the consequence? With the abundance of abuse present in our workplace is it really that shocking?

Last year while conducting a workshop one of attendees explained her reasoning for not attending an emergency preparedness workshop being presented in her office. When her boss asked her,”don’t you want to know what to do if someone comes into the building with a gun?” Her response was, “If someone comes into the building with a gun, I already know what to do: hide under my desk and stay as far away as possible from you. They’re not coming for me, they’re coming for you.”

Summary:
The recent outbreak of deadly workplace violence is alarming, but is it really shocking? The workplace has become more toxic. An unhealthy work environment coupled with the stresses of life can create a perfect storm of emotions that can have deadly consequences. Organizations have a great opportunity to fix these systemic practices but they must be taken seriously.

Surprised This Happened Or Surprised It Doesn’t Happen More?

The recent tragedy at a lower Manhattan federal building where a former employee shot and killed a guard before taking his own life was shocking; it was horrendous, but was it really surprising?The gunman, Mr. Kevin Downing was reportedly fired for reporting what he viewed as inexcusable taxpayer waste. Instead of being lauded as a hero, he was fired, and his reputation and career-prospects were ruined.

Over the next few weeks, many will focus on the Downing’s recent accident and his subsequent medications. Others will question whether he suffered from a mental illness. But are those the real issues?As a Corporate Relationship Expert, organizations bring me in to fix their people problems. From power hungry bosses who terrorize whole departments, to managers who have had their feelings hurt and exact their revenge, to entire offices that show signs of PTSD, I have seen it all. And many who think they are the only ones going through it, or put the blame for what’s happening to them solely on themselves, fail to realize that they are in fact part of a growing trend.

In their U.S. Workplace Bullying Survey, the Workplace Bullying Institute determined that 27% of Americans have suffered abusive conduct at work and another 21% have witnessed it. That would mean that nearly half of American workers have been personally exposed to workplace bullying. Beyond that, the study reveals that 72% of workers are aware that workplace bullying occurs. Other studies reveal similar if not more alarming results. In the Harvard Business Review article “The Price of Incivility,”Christine Porath and Christine Pearsonstate, “In 2011 half of surveyed employees,said they were treated rudely at least once a week—up from a quarter in 1998.” Bullying and workplace abuse have reached epidemic proportions in the workplace.

Whether motivated by retaliation, or a desire for control and dominance, those in positions of power are feeling more freedom to mistreat workers, and are facing less accountability and consequences for doing so. Whistle blower regulations, NO FEAR acts, harassment laws, and a growing emphasis on bullying are of no value unless they are actually enforced and that enforcement must begin internally, within the organization. I have personally witnessed on numerous occasions, HR managers and EEO directors publicly state that their role is to protect management. More importantly, I have seen employees naively go to their HR department, unions or whoever is supposed to be the group that you report concerns, looking for help and safety only to have their concern reported back to there supervisor (often the one whom the complaint is about) with no action taken in regards to the concern.

The results of such actions are horrific. Often the victim is subjected to greater hostility and a more caustic work environment.Very rarely is anything done about the actual charges. In fact, the workplace Bullying Institute says that 77.7% of the time, the reason the bullying stops is because the victim quits or is fired. With this being the reality, it’s no wonder that the problem is getting worse.

Many associates and friends were shocked and said there were no warning signs that Downing would commit a violent act. The truth is that Downing was under a great deal of stress outside of his ongoing legal battle with his former employer. New Jersey representative Bill Pascrell Jr.mentioned thatDowning had endured a string of misfortunes as his live-in fiancé died of breast cancer, his house was in foreclosure and he suffered health problems after a car accident.I have spoken to many workers who were at their breaking point. The stress of what they perceived as endless attacks from their boss along with the challenges of life had affected their mental as well as physical health to the point that they had become desperate for relief as well as justice or revenge.

This dynamic is preventable and the fix is not complicated. First, companies need to take reports of retaliation, abuse, harassment, and bullying seriously. It can’t be just lip service or something that high producersand those who are well liked by upper management are exempt from.The organizations I’ve seen who draw real boundaries and enforce them,see a significant reduction in the number of complaints as well as an increase in morale. Second, organizations must do a better job of selecting their managers and supervisors. No longer can companies believe that being a high producer qualifies someone to lead people. These two things require completely different skillsets.
When organizations take into consideration things like resiliency, emotional intelligence, empathy, vision and all around people skills, instead of just rewarding high performers with position they are not qualified for, everyone benefits. Third, companies must invest in training. Not just “hard skill” training but training on interpersonal skills. There is an art and a science to leadership. One organization I work with now requires all new and potential managers to receive training on skills such as leadership, team building, diversity, innovation and conflict resolution. The results have been phenomenal with many of the new managers reporting better performance and fewer complaints than the more seasoned but untrained managers.

Now, let me be clear, I am in no way condoning or supporting Mr. Downing’s actions. In fact, regardless of how one may choose to interpret or misinterpret this article, I’m not trying to justify his actions. His actions are reprehensible. But are they really that surprising? Don’t we all know people at work who are potential victims of violence because they toyed with the lives of other without any regard for the consequence? With the abundance of abuse present in our workplace is it really that shocking?

Last year while conducting a workshop one of attendees explained her reasoning for not attending an emergency preparedness workshop being presented in her office. When her boss asked her,”don’t you want to know what to do if someone comes into the building with a gun?” Her response was, “If someone comes into the building with a gun, I already know what to do: hide under my desk and stay as far away as possible from you. They’re not coming for me, they’re coming for you.”

In The Leaders Vs. Managers Debate, Managers Are Getting A Raw Deal

Nowadays you can’t go 20 minutes without seeing an article contrasting leaders and managers. Leaders are described as those who inspire, motivate, and empower. They establish direction, create vision and clarify the big picture. Managers by contrast plan and organize. They oversee a team of employees, manage schedules and activities, establish rules and procedures, provide structure and ensure that things run smoothly. Being a leader has become the Holy Grail of business whereas managers have become second-class citizens. In fact, nowadays, bashing managers is all the rage.

But I think managers are getting a raw deal. First, what many people are labeling as managers really are just bad leaders. Let’s not confuse the two. Someone who micromanages everyone, criticizes them publicly and steals credit for their work is not a manager. They’re a jerk

Second, let’s be honest, although the attributes of leadership are all hot, sexy and in style, every company still needs effective management to be successful. Inspiration and motivation without any structure or protocols is a recipe for disaster. This is the failure of many entrepreneurs and small business owners. They’re visionaries with amazing ideas, but they don’t know how to create the infrastructure necessary to scale up theirconcepts into a sustainable business.

Also, if leaders are the one’s who really drive change, aren’t there going to be times when we’ve had enough change. Have you ever seen how people act during change? Who wants that all of the time. It’s good to have things stable out after change, to create rules and protocols. I know thinking outside the box is a big buzz phrase now, and I’m all in favor of thinking outside the box, but not all boxes are bad. Once you’ve thought outside the box, you need to make a new box. Boxes can keep you out of trouble (and the courtroom).

At this point, many would respond by saying, “great leaders are both managers and leaders.” OK, I’ll give you that. Now think back over your career. How many truly great leaders have you had? I can honestly say, that I’ve had one really good leader, and maybe two or three others that I would call “good.” The rest were average or really bad. Many of the people I’ve talked to have expressed similar experiences. Some have had a great leader, almost none have had more than one. There are actually very few great leaders out there; most are average (by definition).

In fact, most descriptions of great leaders are fairly unrealistic. Few people have all of the attributes of a great leader. Far less have none of the weaknesses often used to describe bad leaders. What we often describe as great leaders are more like mythological creatures than real people living in a real world. Even the people I’ve met whom I would consider great leaders, all have some glaring weakness, but the positives outweighed the negatives to such an extent that people were OK with it. Expecting leaders to be perfect, or close to it, puts unrealistic expectations and stress on both the leaders and the people they lead.

What most organizations really need is to have their good and average leaders partner with a good manager. Someone they can bounce ideas off of, andwho will be frank and honest with them. Someone who is not competing with them, but is comfortable with their role and can stay in their lane. Onewho can transform their vision into realistic plan,a person who can actually help implement their ideas.An organization that has a good leader working with a good manager can accomplish great things.

Does that mean the managers should work on leadership skills and vise versa? Of course not, managers who develop leadership skills will be more effective, just as leaders who know when to take the foot off the gas are more successful. But let good managers be managers.

Consider baseball as an example. No one in their right mind would want their team to take an all-star shortstop and convert them into a catcher just because there is a need. You would let them play their natural position and look for a great catcher. In the same way, we need to let leaders lead and managers manage, and let both feel great about doing so.

The bottom line is we really do need managers, really good ones. And we need to stop bashing managers. If someone’s a bad leader, let’s just call them what they are, a bad leader. But let’s not call them a manager.

Too Many Chiefs – The Need For Good Followers

Everyone wants to be a leader. People study leadership and many measure their value in the workplace by the level of leadership they obtain, pursuing it as though it is the ultimate professional goal. But not everyone can or should be a leader at work. More importantly, if everyone were to lead, who would follow? Who would actually do the work?

It seems as though we have put to much value on a person’s ability to be a leader. Workers are the real backbone of any organization. We need people who are great workers and who are great at following the direction and implementing the plans of their leaders. They are the real contributors in the workplace and in many ways they are having a greater influence the organization’s performance than leaders. But when was the last time you read a book or even an article on how to be a good follower? We all have great ideas, we all have our opinions and we all have our on agenda and we get frustrated when we see people proposing a plan that is inferior to our own. But the reality is that for an organization to be successful, to actually get things done, it needs more people that are willing to follow and implement the plan, than leaders. When organizations lack good followership you will see competing personal agendas, unmet goals, low morale, and high levels of conflict accompanied by low productivity, low employee engagement and unsatisfied customers.

I often give managers a hard time, and rightly so. I strongly believe that due to poor selection and a lack of training, there is a vacuum of good leaders and that vacuum extends for the corporate world, to government, to the military to the non-profit sector resulting in low employee engagement, high turnover, low morale and low productivity. But to place all of the blame solely on the managers is neither fair nor realistic. The reality is that many managers are also frustrated and on the cusp of burnout, and a lack of good followers is partially to blame.

The reality is even leaders have to follow. There can only be one person at the top and at any given time, there can only be one leader in a group. Every leader has times when it is in the best interest of the organization and it’s goals to submit to another’s authority, even if it’s on a temporary basis. When leaders are not good followers, you have backbiting, territorialism, sabotage, and a company that works in silos, but when leaders put their egos in check and learn to follow at the proper times, they create a healthy, cohesive, collaborative environment. Aristotle once said: “He who cannot be a good follower cannot be a good leader.”

Following is not a passive activity it is intentional and dynamic.Good followersmust actively engage themselves to be a effective. Here are 4 things that all great followers do:

Complement your boss’weaknessesinstead of criticizing them– The reason you are part of a team is because you bring unique skills to the table. To be a good follower means you are willingto use those skills to make the team better, bringing insights, talents and resources the team can’t produce without you. That also means that you may bring talents that your boss doesn’t have. Instead of getting frustrated because you see your boss’s weaknesses, get engaged and use your skills to be a support to your boss and a benefit to the entire team.

Take ownership of your job – If you know me, you know that one of my pet peeves is a manager who constantly micromanages their associates. That doesn’t mean that some micromanaging isn’t justified. One reason managers tend to become micromanagers is because they see their people standing by and waiting for specific instructions. If people only work when they are told what to do, guess what’s going to happen? They’re going to be given a lot of instructions. If you see a problem fix it. If you’ve finished the work that’s been assigned to you, find out what else can be done. Help out one of your coworkers with their workload, be a resource. Provide more service than you get paid for. Almost everyone I talk to thinks they are under paid and deserve more. But rarely is that belief based on what people actually do. Prove that you’re worth more and you might just get more. And what ever you do, when your leader asks you to do something (assuming it’s not illegal or unethical) do it! You may have to get clarification, or if you already have a million things to do, you may need to understand how to prioritize it within your workflow. You may even need to express concerns if there is information that the boss may not have considered, but a good contributornever says, “that’s not in my job description.”

Communicate – Things rarely go as they should, problems always arise and deadlines are missed. Tell your leader about problems on the early end. A great follower never waits for an assignment to approach it’s deadline or until someone asks them for an update to notify their leader about delays and problems. Even if you already have a plan to work around the problem, keeping your leader in the loop is critical for the team to experience success.

Be a support to your boss and know when to keep your opinions to yourself – All of us have good ideas and there is a time and place to share them. But there are also times when a decision has been made and that adding your opinion is of no value. It is a treacherous thing to undermine your boss or blame them for a decision that is not popular, regardless of how smart you believe you are. Recently I was part of what I’ll call a team building activity. I had just finished being the leader of the team for an activity. We were now starting a new activity and a new leader was assigned from within the group. He told us how he wanted to approach the activity. I made a suggestion about how we could use what I thought was a more effective strategy, but he then said “I hear you, but this is how I want to go about it.” I was about to reiterate my suggestion when a voice in my head said, “Hey, you’re not the leader so go with his plan,” at which point I closed my mouth and listened to what he wanted me to do. I decided that I would not only do it, but I would fully invest myself into his plan instead of just go through the motions. Guess what, the plan worked. I still believe I had a better strategy, but often it’s not the great idea that brings success, it’s the team functioning as a team to implement the idea that brings success.

Many of the best leaders are also great followers. In fact, one of the greatest ironies of being a good follower is that following actually prepares you to be a great leader. Aristotle once said: “He who cannot be a good follower cannot be a good leader.”

Are You An Expendable Leader?

Last year I hosted a going away party for a close friend. It was a small gathering of some of his closest relationships. Within two weeks of the party, my friend would be deployed to Afghanistan where he would spend the next year aiding the military reduction in force.As he sat in my living room pondering his uncertain future, we each took turns, expressing our love for he and his family, providing words of encouragement, and vowing to protect and help provide for his wife and their two young children while hewas gone.

As we went around the room, there was one person whose words I personally had been waiting to hear. He was anofficer in the army and had attended many of these “deployment parties” as he called them, so I knew that his perspective would be unique. But I was in no way prepared for the lasting effects that his words would have on my perspective of leadership.

The officer began his sharing by saying, “You are what we in the army refer to as a “force multiplier.” The overall effectiveness of your group is increased by your presence. Because of your personality and character, you bring out the best in each and every resource you come into contact with.”

Those words resonated with me. As one who trains leaders, I often hear experts and even other leaders, give all types of definitions of what a leader is. But whether referring to the ability to provide vision and direction; the ability to solve problems; or the ability to motivate others; there is one question that is rarely asked when talking about leadership effectiveness: “Is more accomplished by the person’s presence than would have occurred if they weren’t there?”

Many leaders, if asked this question regarding themselves, would immediately answer “of course.” But think about it for a minute. A lot of leaders spend more time interrupting work than they do multiplying it. They call unnecessary meetings, they micromanage, they randomly show up at other’s desks, they fail to give information, they misdirect and when frustrated or overwhelmed, they pass their anxiety down to their team. Not only are there not a lot of force multipliers out there, I would argue there are a good number of force dividers.

Even for those who are not dividers, there are also plenty of others who because of their lack of leadership ability are only capable of giving direction. I remember a conversation with a man who was looking for a new job. I asked him what things he was good at and the first thing he said was managing people. I asked him if that was really one of his skills (that should have been a hint). His response was yes, as long as I have people who want to work. He wasn’t a force multiplier; he was more of a force director.

The ramifications of not having leaders who are force multipliers are showing up all around us. Recently I heard an interview with the owner of a start-up business. As he discussed his business model he casually mentioned that he has no real managers. There is a top-level leadership team, but below that he doesn’t hire people to manage his staff. His reasoning was that they weren’t necessary. He decided that if he hired the right people, he didn’t need managers. And I’m inclined to agree with him, but only partially.

There really isn’t a need for mediocre leaders. For many, it is nothing more than another rung on their career ladder; a means to an end. And it is reasonable to conclude that these are the types of managers this business owner had experienced. But if this business owner had worked with force multipliers, his perspective would have been different. He never would have decided that he didn’t need someone who makes his employees better and increases their effectiveness.A force multiplier is never expendable.

A Simple Solution to Our Most Pressing Leadership Issue

Last year, leadership rose to become one of the most pressing talent challenges faced by global organizations. Deloitte University Press stated, “nearly 9 out of 10 global HR and business leaders (86 percent) cited leadership as a top issue.” This, coupled with the widening gap between organizational leadership needs and leaders available to meet those needsindicates what many of us already know, most companies have been unable to successfully develop their current leaders as well as build an effective leadership pipeline for the future.

Many organizations proposeleadership training as the recommended solution for this problem (and trust me, I am all for leadership training), butI believe that ignores the core leadership deficiency in most organizations. Before training, must come selection and most organizations do a poor job of selecting leaders.

Most supervisors and managers are promoted first and foremost because of their technical skills and often that is the source of the problem. Starting with first time supervisors, many are promoted for the wrong reasons and this is the source of the problem. Many supervisors become supervisors because they were good at their previous position. If they worked as customer service representatives, they stood out as customer service representatives. If they worked as engineers, they were stood out as engineers. If they were sales people, their sales were above average.

But there is an inherent problem with this: The skills necessary to succeed in a leadership, supervisory, or managerial role are completely different than those necessary to succeed in a non-managerial role. Yet, as people’s roles travel from contributing to leadership, the skills necessary succeed go from technical and specific, to tactical and social. Where as a contributor, the ability to handle specific task, may have been critical, as a leader the ability to motivate and instill vision within people is an absolute must.

Although the ability to perform is an absolute must when looking for candidates who can take on greater leadership responsibility, data shows that high performance does not equal high leadership potential.CEB, a member-based executive team advisory company, says that just one in six high-performance employees also exhibit the attributes that indicate leadership potential. Research from the Corporate Leadership Council of the Corporate Executive Board indicates that only 15% of high performers show high leadership potential. There are many other surveys that have produced similar results. The bottom line is clear, being a top performer is not an accurate indicator of leadership potential.

Many organizations never consider this when promoting people into leadership positions. Instead it is assumed that because they excelled beyond their peers, they should be promoted above their peers, yet in reality many of these new leaders do not posses the skills needed to succeed in management. For these individual, the words of Marshall Goldsmith ring true, “What got you here won’t get you there.”

Unfortunately, most organizations have no alternative method of rewarding their top performers. There are many who are subject matter experts in their field, who in the best interest of everyone involved should remain as such. But too often, the only way to work your way up the ladder and increase your compensation is to take on a supervisory role.

Let’s use baseball as analogy to show how unreasonable this really is. Let’s say that a baseball team has an all-star catcher. This catcher is the best player on the team. No manager in his (or her) right mind would entertain the idea of moving that catcher to the first base in the name of upward mobility (on average 1st basemen make approximate 74% more than catchers). That would be a horrible idea, but unfortunately, in the workplace it happens everyday. Lineman are moved to receivers, catchers are moved to first base, centers are moved to point guard, and left wings are moved to goalie, and the team suffers.

Not only is this not in the best interest of the organization (we need more people who really know their areas of expertise inside and out and who love learning more about them), its’ not in the best interest of the people they will attempt to lead. And many of these individuals end up resenting their new roles and miss being “in the trenches” of whatever they were doing before. But what are they going to do, turn down the opportunity to be more highly compensated for what they bring to the table? Stall their career path because there is no alternative?

Organizations must decide to choose potential over performance as a basis for leadership selection. In addition to this, an alternative career path needs to be developed that rewards high performers who are not capable of effectively taking on leadership roles. Until this occurs, we will continue to see a shortage of effective leaders.

You’re Not Hiring Bad People, You’re Making Bad People

I’ve heard the conversation a hundred times. I can’t tell you how it starts, but at some point, a manager says, “We need to figure out a way to hire better people. It’s hard to find good people who work harder and show more initiative. If we just hire the right people we can increase our engagement.” They’ll often throw in, “This generation just doesn’t like to work.” It’s as though there is something wrong in the hiring process and if they can fix it, all of their employee engagement problems will go away.

There is a real problem out there. Recently Gallup determined that in 2014, 31.5% of employees were engaged (up from 29.6% in 2013). That sounds like good news. Engagement is increasing, but let’s not miss the reality: if 31.5% of employees ARE engaged, then 68.5% of employees are not engaged. Pause for a second and let that sink in, over 2/3 of American employees are not engaged. The only thing more alarming than that is that for most it’s not alarming.

We’ve come to accept low engagement the norm. We would never accept this in other areas. If you took your car to the mechanic and he (or she), said, “the problem with your car is that only 31.5% of your engine is working at full capacity”, we wouldn’t say, “Oh well that doesn’t sound too bad. How long can I drive it before it becomes a problem?” If we went to the doctor for a checkup and she (or he) said, “Everything’s fine except it seems your heart is only functioning at 31.5%, we wouldn’t say, “Glad it’s nothing serious.” We’ve come to accept and even expect mediocrity in the workplace. Engagement is a serious issue that needs to be addressed. But is the problem really in the hiring process?

Don’t get me wrong; it is possible to hire the wrong people. We’ve all made that mistake. Either they’re not a good fit for the organization, they have their own agenda, they look good on paper but in reality are nothing like their resumes or a variety of other mistakes, but I’m also concerned about the good people we hire who over time disengage. It’s hard for me to imagine that companies are wrong about who they hire 68% of the time. There is something else going on, something that’s happening after the hiring process.

People often speak about employee engagement as though it is some strange abstract concept that requires some hidden, esoteric knowledge to understand. Employees are described as being engaged, fully engaged, disengaged, partly engaged, etc. Then, many of the solutions begin with things like aligning people to the organization’s mission and so on and so forth. By the time we’re all done, trying to find a real, working solution to all of this engagement stuff is like trying to locate the Yeti or the Loch Ness Monster.

All of this engagement analysis is way too complicated. Let’s make this really simple. Employee engagement is a measure of how much someone cares about his or her job. I don’t mean care if they have a job, but actually care about how they do at their job. It’s really that simple. That’s why the phrase “emotional commitment” is so often used in describing engagement; it’s a measure of how much someone is emotionally attached to his or her job. Everything else: enthusiasm, ownership, time at work, going the extra-mile, even performance are simply symptoms or indicators of whether engagement exists. They are signs of life. But at the core, the real issue is how much does this person really care about their job?

For some, the entirety of that answer is internal. There are people out there who work hard regardless of what’s going on around them. They take ownership for their work even when surrounded by those who don’t. Whether it’s due to a sense of responsibility, or their own sense of character and ethics, they will come to work and engage themselves regardless of the circumstances around them and irrespective of how they are treated.But those employees often perform in spite of, not because of their manager and their work environment. For the rest of employees, the vast majority, the work environment has a significant affect on their engagement. And in all honesty, in many cases, the work environment is sucking the life out of many of the good employees.

So how do we fix this? Organizations must be aware of what’s going on at the manager level. It’s widely accepted that an employee’s relationship with his or her manager is the leading factor influencing employee engagement. So if you really want to improve employee engagement,addressing what’s going on at the management level will give you the biggest bang for your buck. Jim Clifton, CEO of Gallup is quoted as saying “Here’s something they’ll probably never teach you in business school: The single biggest decision you make in your job – bigger than all of the rest – is who you name manager. When you name the wrong person manager, nothing fixes that bad decision. Not compensation, not benefits – nothing.”

It’s common to give tips or strategies that managers can incorporate to help increase engagement. The problem with that approach is it assumes there aren’t things that managers need to stop doing. It’s like going to the doctor to lose weight and having her put you on an exercise program without saying that you need to stop eating Twinkies. So here are few common things supervisors, managers, directors and executives who suck the engagement out of their employees need to stop doing and this list is by no means exhaustive:

  • Micromanaging competent people
  • Throwing temper tantrums
  • Talking down to others
  • Stealing credit for others work
  • Having an answer for everything
  • Addressing issues through meetings
  • Not giving specific direction and then being unhappy with the results
  • Giving responsibility without authority
  • Playing favorites
  • Keeping people in the doghouse
  • Withholding information

Have you ever heard the phrase, “It’s not me, it’s you?” If you are doing any of these things, your employees are not the reason for low engagement, you are.

If you are running an organization or (and maybe more importantly) if you’re running a startup or a small business, here are a few questions you should ask in regards to your management team:

First are you selecting the right people? Unfortunately, many managers are selected because they were high performers at their previous job, not because they show high potential as a leader. Choosing leaders who are resilient and don’t take things personally along with having good interpersonal skills, the ability to communicate, a willingness to learn and a high level of integrity (among other things) is a must.

Also, are your managers receiving training and other opportunities for development? There really is both an art and a science to leadership and it is a combination of nature and nurture. Training, along with coaching mentors and development opportunities is a must.

And here is a great question, how engaged are those who are already managers? What is most eye opening about Gallup’s report is that among job categories, managers, executives and officers had the highest levels of engagement in 2014 at 38.4%. That means more than 60%of those in leadership positions are not engaged. These are the people who are coaching, training and mentoring other managers. These are the one’s creating your “culture.” If there not engaged than how can you expect the student to surpass the teacher?

Of course, there are other questions that need to be asked as well: How is the overall work environment? Does the company really value its employees? Are people’s daily responsibilities aligned with their skillset? Do people really know how to perform their work?An yes, who are you hiring?

All of this seems like a lot but it really isn’t and it’s not that complicated to figure out. You can either decide to create a culture that fosters engagement, and then hire good people to foster that culture, or you can ignore the problem and let your culture contaminate the good people you hire.

5 Phrases You Never Say to an Angry Person at Work

Conflict at work has always been a problem, but with the recently added stresses of the national recession and the mortgage crises the problem is sky-rocketing. In fact, the Center for Disease Control has classified workplace violence as a national epidemic.
Whether you are concerned about violence in the workplace, want to help reduce tension and improve morale at work or just don’t want to be part of the problem, learning to avoid these 5 phrases when people are angry can help resolve problems before they escalate.

Phrase 1 “Calm Down”

We’ve all said it, someone is angry, or upset, they’re in a heightened emotional state and before we can even think about, the words just naturally slide out: “Calm Down!” As natural as this phrase may seem when dealing with an employee (or anyone) who is upset and emotional, it is not, I repeat, is not an appropriate phrase for helping the individual to calm down. Why? Has it ever worked? Of course not, in fact it seems to have the opposite effect, instead of calming down they often become more upset. This happens because the phrase calm down, insinuates that the person has no real legitimate reason to be upset or emotional. Now they spend more time defending their reason for being upset in the first place which just amplifies their frustration or anger. Instead try phrases like “I see you’re upset, is there anything I can do to help”. Remember, conflicts are never resolved when the person is still upset.

Phrase 2 “What Do You Want Me To Do About It?”

First, this is one of the biggest cop outs there is. It immediately says, “I’m not going to help you” and “it’s not my problem.” But there is another part to this; it communicates “I don’t care” or even worse, you’re being unreasonable in expecting me to help you. That’s a huge problem, especially if it is something that was your responsibility. It immediately discredits you both as a responsible person and as an ally. Instead, try phrases like “How can I help?” or “Is there anything I can do to help?” Help them solve the problem and if you are in any way to blame for what happened, apologize. Just don’t sound like a telephone customer service rep “I’m sorry for any inconvenience that this may have caused you….”

Phrase 3 “Grow Up!” or “Be Rational”

“Grow up” and “Be rational” have the same effect as saying “Stop acting so childish” and “You’re an idiot” (regardless of whether you think its true or not, it will do nothing to help resolve the matter at hand). This is like an invitation for more conflict. You must remember that at that moment, the person feels justified in his or her response and calling them childish will just inflame the situation even more. Plus, what’s the chance of this person responding by saying, “I know, I’m acting like a complete moron but I was wronged!” Instead, try saying (in a concerned voice) “Are you OK, is there anything I can do to help?” or “What’s wrong”. These phrases will help pacify the person’s emotions allowing them to settle down.

Phrase 4 “What’s Your Problem?”

This phrase, usually accompanied with an offensive tone, a facial expression that screams “disdain” towards the other person, and an emphasis on the word your, immediately sets up a “me vs. you” dynamic instead of the mutual concern/”we’re in this together” feel needed to calm the individual. The other problem is that this phrase points to the person as the source of what ever is wrong which almost always leads to that person feeling the need to defend his or her self. Instead try using “What’s wrong” or “What’s the matter?” These phrases communicate empathy and concern and will help the person begin to deal with the problem without provoking them. Just be careful not to get pulled into their frustration with them.

Phrase 5 “But”

For the love of all that is good, don’t follow any of the above mentioned phrases with “but”. “But negates the previous statement, causing people to both disregard the previous statement and to interpret whatever is coming next as negative. Substituting “and” for “but” will make you much more effective.

If you can learn to use these phrases while looking people in the eyes with a calm expression and a disarming tone AND you can keep your “but” out of harms way, you can effectively cool people down when things get hot.

Summary:

Conflict at work has always been a problem, but with the recently added stresses of the national recession and the mortgage crises the problem is sky-rocketing. In fact, the Center for Disease Control has classified workplace violence as a national epidemic. Whether you are concerned about violence in the workplace, want to help reduce tension and improve morale at work or just don’t want to be part of the problem, learning to avoid these 5 phrases when people are angry can help resolve problems before they escalate.