Anger Management for Leadership?

Recently, I witnessed a leader yell at an employee.  It was so bad that the yelling reverberated through the office.  It created an atmosphere within the department of confusion, stress, and anger.  Employees began to take sides.  Unfortunately for the leader, it was not for their team.

I am sure that this leader felt they had a good reason to be upset; but no matter the excuse, as leaders it is important that we have the ability to demonstrate composure even in the worst of situations.   Although maintaining composure is not always an easy task, the ability to do so in any situation, generates invaluable opportunities to have a significant and positive impact as a leader, coach, role model, and facilitator.

The minute a leader loses their composure by letting their emotions or reactive self takes over, they run the risk of demonstrating judgment, generating misinterpretations, or creating biases in themselves and/or others, all of which will hinder their ability to most effectively create success.  Leadership composure means:

  • Maintaining levelheadedness in volatile situations and times.
  • Maintaining distance in difficult situations or conflicts without losing sight of the impact or importance of swift decisions.
  • Being self-aware, so that when we feel our emotions rising to form a possibly negative reaction, we are able to shift our vantage point to allow us to consider all available data and people, and ultimately focus on the business outcomes.
  • Demonstrating a cool and confident demeanor that helps to minimize anxiety in others.

I understand that employees can push our buttons and some do so deliberately.  However, before you think about losing your composure, remember these three things:  1) employees will be looking at you, 2) employees will begin to lose confidence and trust in your ability to lead them, and 3) losses of composure are losses of credibility and professionalism.

The rules of professionalism in the work place must not be forgotten. Be calm. Be supportive of others. Show leadership by avoiding and actively managing drama that could distract, embarrasses, or unsettles others. And never, ever be the cause of that drama yourself.

One final insight:   If you are in a situation in which your composure is hard to maintain because for some reason you have become upset, riled up or anxious and a deep breath or glass of water is not enough, go for a walk.  Leave the office or whatever space you are in.  How do you maintain composure?  Please share your thoughts.

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The Leadership ‘What Not to Do’ List

There are many great articles about how to be an outstanding leader, the essentials for creating a high performance team, to-do lists for new managers, and books on management principles. But what is forgotten and can be equally important is the What Not to Do list. Despite a leader’s best intention, there are quite a few leadership mistakes that are easy to make.

  • You Are Doing Great (Um not!):  It is important to give your team members high fives, ‘great jobs,’ and praise to make them feel great about the work they are doing. What gets missed is if they do something wrong and you do not say anything because you want to be seen as the “best boss” and protect your relationship with that person. However, you reach your breaking point with that person and then as you are filling out their performance evaluation, you let your honest assessment about their work come out all at once basically blindsiding them.
  • Treat Your Direct Reports like Babies:  You lead as if your direct reports are not smarter than you and they do not know nearly as much as you do. You shield them from projects where they have to assume any responsibility and prevent them from making any mistakes at all. You always provide extra structure than necessary because you are unsure about their ability to create their own.  Bottom-line you do not empower your employees to do the job.
  • Play Enforcer:  You act as if your job as a manager is not to get things done; it is to enforce every rule in the employee handbook. So you do not wait for an issue or employee behavioral pattern to surface before you jump to conclusions. After all, it is your responsible to nip this in the bud and set a precedent for the rest, right? And as leaders, we certainly do not want to point out when someone has done well. No way do we want our employees to get big egos.
  • Focus on the 20%:  You neglect the high performers because you rationalize that they do not need any help, attention, or feedback from you.  They are already doing great all on their own.  Instead, you waste 80% of your energy on those 20% who are showing up late, giving attitude and missing deadlines.  You rationalize that if you cannot engage them, it is your fault and make excuses for them and try harder to make a bad employee a good employee.  All the time forgetting to praise the high performers so they continue to perform.

Have you seen this before?  Please share any other Leadership mistakes that you have experienced.

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Leadership Framework For Helping to Make Tough Decisions

Every day you as leaders are tasked with making tough decisions, some of which are unpopular. As the leader, you know you sometimes need the strength to go “against the grain” if that is required. The tough decision you are tasked with making include:

  • Who are the right people to lead the organization?
  • How do you discipline with fairness and compassion?
  • Should we grow or shrink the organization?
  • What size staff is necessary to support our business?
  • When should we exit a business?
  • How do we manage scarce resources – money, talent, equipment, etc.?

We all know that the list could go on, as there are hundreds of areas where leaders make tough calls. Great leaders do not shy away from controversy; they realize it is why they are called leaders. The best ones make courageous decisions within a framework that guarantees the decisions are the best ones under the circumstances. Listed below is a framework that can help when making tough decisions:

  1. Leaders need to always operate from a set of values. Test every action and decision to determine consistency with the values and the vision.
  2. Lay out the facts and assess them.
  3. No great leader operates alone or in a vacuum. Get input from the people impacted. Be cautious though so that you do not let the will of the masses dictate the decision.
  4. Develop a list of potential decisions, and test the validity and impact of each.
  5. Check for and assess support for the decision in advance, and do what you can to gain support especially if it will be unpopular.
  6. Leaders act swiftly and decisively, avoiding the “analysis paralysis” (over-analyzing) problem.
  7. Communicate the decision and rationale with high energy, and listen carefully to the feedback.
  8. Commit wholly to the decision, and do not waffle if there is resistance. Admit ownership of the decision. Take accountability and do not blame someone else.
  9. Leaders, you need to continually evaluate the impact. Have the courage to admit if it was a mistake.

Using this framework ensures progress toward the mission, while preserving the environment of trust within the organization, even if the decision is unpopular and going against the grain.  What steps have you used to make those tough decisions?  Please share.

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Management Goal Setting and Video Games?

In watching my older son play a video game online with his friends, I was surprised by the comparison that could be made with management. The video game involved him being a platoon leader of an army of friends with the goal of winning the battles to ultimately win the war.  In business, managers lead employees with the purpose of achieving a specific goal for the organization which is to gain customers and achieve profit. 

Below are some steps you can use to manage your team to reach success in its business goals or in the case of combat video games – success of a mission?

  • Communicate the goal using the strategic plan:  As leaders, you need to the set the most important priorities for the business in order to succeed and be dominant in the marketplace.  Goals stems from a solid well thought-out strategy for success.  Like with collaborative video game objectives, where you can only survive by working together, managers cannot get very far without working with their team.  My son, as platoon leader, must work with his friends to communicate the plan and priority targets to eliminate the enemy army.
  • Launch the plan to achieve the goals:  It is not enough to set goals in a vacuum and expect them to somehow be reached. Leaders need to develop a clear plan of action, resource needs, roles and responsibilities, organizational structure, and commitment in order to put substance on how goals will be met. The goals need to be broken down into manageable chunks of time and tasks, with specific people responsible. My son provided a plan of attack regarding who was covering who, what weapons should be used, and worked with his friends to execute.
  • Create metrics to track goals:  Managers need to know if the goals are being achieved to see if midcourse corrections will be needed and to track where intervention may be necessary.  In the video game, my son is following the kills and the kids are communicating to him their location so if back-up is needed he would correct the plan to accommodate the unexpected.
  • Hold people accountable for achievement of the goals:  Develop a recruitment and retention system to have the right people in the right places in the organization.  People that you trust to get the job done. You need to constantly recruit for talent, and have a process to develop, reward, and retain top performers in the context of business goals.  If employees are not achieving the goal, they need to be held accountable with action taken.  My son is constantly watching team members make the same mistakes again and again and again, just like in the workplace, for not recognizing they need a team strategy to win.  If they continue with solo tactics, he will not invite them into the next game and replaces them with someone that will.

After achieving the goal, do not forget to thank your team and share in the success of achieving the goal with your team.  My son always ends the round with a thank you to his friends for a job well done and of course a coke because he is thirsty.  Do you use these steps to achieve your goals?  What works for your organization?

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Managers: Let’s Not Forget the Basics

Recently, many workers have come to me to complain about a lack of respect and courtesy that seems to be growing, both within peer groups and with supervisors. The complaints stem around etiquette and courtesy specifically the scarcity of a “thank-you,” you’re welcome,” and “how may I help you?” in daily conversations.

You may now be saying to yourself, “Hold on, I am already extremely polite – I say “hello”, hold the door open for people and thank people.” If so, I salute you, but encourage you to do more.  Workplace evidence shows that employees want to work at a place where they feel respected, appreciated and valued.  As supervisors, you would be remiss to not convey to your staff that your organization values courtesy, kindness and helpfulness.  Consider these five steps:

  1. Set clear expectations and think about establishing a code of conduct:  If the concept of a “kinder, gentler organization” is a new one, be sure to have the CEO convey the concept to the team in a positive, upbeat fashion. It will be up to you in management to set the example by being responsive and practicing what your preaching.
  2. Reward good behavior.   Ask yourself:  do you reward those who go out of their way to be good employees, or do you simply expect them to behave well? Let’s be honest, most of the time bad behavior gets the attention.  Focusing on and rewarding good behavior, action and deeds will almost always get the behavioral changes you are looking for among your staff.  As managers, be sure to comment on even small efforts made by employees, such as using “please” and “thank-you,” and maintaining a helpful attitude.
  3. Send personal notes.  Nothing takes the place of a personal note from you the boss. When you hear about someone who has been especially courteous to a customer or colleague, write a quick note thanking them for exemplifying those traits you are eager to promote. I guarantee that once that employee knows you appreciate his or her efforts, that behavior will continue, and s/he will become a role model for others.
  4. Get Buy-in.  If you have an employee infamous for their temper tantrums, screaming fits or power trips, take the opportunity to put them on notice that their past behavior is no longer acceptable. Offer counseling, set up a performance improvement plan, or suggest the employee contact the EAP if you feel that the unacceptable behavior can be overcome. If the person simply lacks interpersonal skills and does not see the need to change, you may be moving towards progressive discipline eventually asking for his or her resignation.

Remember these rules of etiquette and common courtesy have been in place a long time.  We just need to be reminded to use them especially when the end result is that your employees are happier, which leads to higher productivity and satisfied customers.  Seems like a very nice cycle.  Managers, what etiquette and courtesy have you demonstrated today?

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Leaders: How Do You Manage Perception?

We have all heard the phrase “that perception is reality.”  Perception is how people tend to operate and behave in the world, based on what they believe to be true.  For leaders, what people observe or assess as your ability and your effectiveness as a leader becomes their reality about you (their perception).  And what sets great leaders apart from average ones is the ability to manage perceptions. 

Perceptions that are not managed become rumors, then gossip, then backstabbing, which is destructive for an organization’s environment.  Unmanaged perception becomes a truth that was not intended.  So, as leaders if you want to communicate successfully, influence, or lead people, you must understand how you are perceived so you can change perception. 

  • Get feedback.   Find out what others perceive about you by asking for feedback from people you trust and spend some time on self-reflection. If you do not know how you are perceived, you cannot change things.  Building self-awareness though, involves courage and commitment.  So be open to constructive criticism as this helps with understanding your own strengths and weaknesses.  
  • Let your leadership actions match your words every single time.  Especially now when employee confidence in organizations might have been shaken, leaders need to motivate and act with conviction. You need to continually communicate the reasons behind your decisions, especially the difficult ones. Do not forget to follow- through on your actions because without follow-through, this can lead to a negative perception of you as untrustworthy. 
  • Be aware of the effect you have on others.  Are your employees happy when you visit their work area or do they dread it?  Know the effect that stress has on you and how this looks to others.  Most importantly, be visible at strategic moments, both the good and bad.  Be around to give explanations and answer questions when bad news is delivered but also celebrate along side your staff during good times.

If people do not perceive you as their leader, they will not treat you as such and will not follow you. If they will not follow you, you cannot be effective.  How do you manage perception?

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Can Political Correctness Hamper Leadership?

“Political correctness” is defined as a descriptor of the considered use of euphemisms or terms and phrases that are less offensive. Some see it as selective censorship; others refer to the practice as consideration for others’ sensibilities.  However defined, the main problem with politically correct thinking is that it confuses kindness and courtesy with bureaucratic mandates, and can strip people (leaders) of their real opinions.

There are reasons why leaders embrace having a politically correct mindset – usually for the pursuit of position and advancement of individual goals and the ambition to climb the career ladder.  For some there is the opinion that to create winners, losers must exist.  And some leaders do not hesitate to step on others during the course of their climb.

Sadly, these leaders in the face of conflict, dissension, threats, or controversy, tend to default to denial, justification and rationalization. Leaders that do not want to rock the boat hide in the safety of the majority and coast along without making any waves instead of taking the risk of being outspoken, innovative, disruptive, challenging, convicted, bold, controversial or truthful. Therein lays the problem with political correctness.

What makes a great leader is that they are able to let the facts and/or the truth surrounding a particular matter rise above the rhetoric and guide their actions rather than to blindly adopt an attitude of political correctness. Good leaders keep themselves informed of what is going on around the organization and are adept at recognizing times and events where politics will most likely occur and resolving them before they arise.

Therefore, these great leaders are not politically correct but are politically savvy.  Yes, there is a difference. Political savvy means putting political agendas and peer pressure aside and not making choices based upon public opinion but rather by benchmarking decisions against the question of “is it the right thing to do?”  Instead of hiding, these leaders embrace organizational politics and deal with it.  These political savvy leaders not only balance the demands of all stakeholders but also develop strategies to convert adversaries, internal and external, into allies by recognizing the importance of human dynamics in organizational power-politics.  Here are some other characteristics of great leaders who are political savvy:

  • Chooses to become an active, ethical player:  open and honest
  • Believes in and cares about the issue at hand:  tries to find solutions and not afraid to give opinion
  • Uses power effectively to get things done:  uses influence when necessary
  • Spreads the credit:  gives credit where deserved

What are your thoughts on political correctness?

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