Generating Breakthroughs in Challenging Relationships (Part 3): Starting From Scratch

How do you take a challenging relationship — personal or professional — and transform it into one built on trust, respect and intimacy?

Over the past two weeks, we have examined the first two steps for generating this kind of breakthrough. The first step is that both parties must genuinely want to take the relationship to a new, better place and commit to having the necessary conversations. The second step is to have an honest, open, rational conversation about the past so that you can complete the past and “zero it out” so you can start over.

This week, we’ll discuss the third step of the conversation: generating a rich, exciting possibility for the future of your relationship.

Envision a New Future

This part of the conversation is about expressing and declaring what you both want — how you want your relationship to play out going forward.

This is not about creating a plan of action or making promises to each other (that’s step four, which we’ll get into next week). At this point, you’re simply expressing what you want the next level of your relationship to look like and what you both hope to create together.

I picked a few words deliberately here. First is “create.” In this step you are creating the new future of your relationship. You can only create something if you start from nothing, or zero. That is why the previous step of completing the past and returning to zero, or nothing, is so critical. If you don’t complete the past and return to zero, whatever you try and create will be on top of incomplete and unresolved baggage — and it will only be a matter of time before something will trigger the baggage again, and the resentment and lack of trust will re-emerge. If you have done the previous step genuinely and effectively, this step will be very exciting, stimulating, liberating and empowering.

The other word that is important is “want.” In this step you are expressing what you want the relationship to look and feel like: what it could be, what you’d like it to be. When people express their desire, there are very few limitations to the conversation and you can literally create whatever both people want.

Build Excitement for the Future

In the last step of the conversation — where you discussed the past — I suggested taking turns and resisting the urge to interrupt or comment on what the other person has to say. This third phase of the conversation is a different type of conversation — it doesn’t have to be so structured. Ideally, you will build upon what each other says by going through a lot of back and forth.

For example, one person might start off by saying, “You know, I would really like our relationship to be open, easy and straightforward. You are so good at bringing people together and getting them to work together, and I am so good at addressing issues and conflict resolution. If we could work together, we could really do some great things. I would love for us to be able to work like this.” Halfway through, the other person will respond by saying, “You know what? I agree with you. I feel exactly the same way. Remember what happened a year ago when we brought these customers together and they were upset about our quality of delivery? I did a great job getting them to the meeting. But you did such a great job of defusing the tensions and getting a dialogue going that led to our best year ever. If we had done it together in all these other situations, can you imagine how great the results might have been? I would love to work with you in this manner, with no tensions and complications …” “Yes, I agree ….”

This conversation will be highly interactive and energizing, and the two of you will get infected and inspired by each other’s expressions of “What if …,” “How about …,” or “Wouldn’t it be great if ….” The energy will spiral upward. Eventually, both of you will be left in a space of: “What do we do with all this great possibility and excitement?” That’s when you know you’ve just completed the third step of the conversation.

Next week, we’ll examine the fourth and last step — where you cement the new possibilities you’ve created for the relationship through concrete practices, actions and new rules of engagement for the future of your relationship.

Having Effective Conversations to Build or Restore Trust in Any Relationship

There are some people with whom we easily build trusting, productive relationships — people with whom we connect and take our relationships to the next level without much trouble or controversy. But there are other relationships — personal and professional — that require more work, either because past dealings or misunderstandings have created mistrust or animosity, or because different personalities make it harder sometimes to find common ground. Sometimes there is a problem in the relationship that we need to address or react to. But at other times, even if the relationship is functioning sufficiently, we want to take it to a higher, better level.

Communication: The Key to Transforming Relationships

Trust, relationships, partnerships: These are just different ways of talking about the same thing — a level of intimacy and trust necessary in order to connect, interact and collaborate well with others. This intimacy lives in communication and is shaped by communication. It gets built through communication, and it can be destroyed by communication, or a lack thereof.

Over the next few weeks, I will share my thoughts about how to take any challenging relationship and transform it into a genuine partnership based on trust, respect and understanding. I will also cover how to take relationships that are functional to the next level. The principles for both scenarios are the same. The application has to be personalized to each person, relationship and circumstance.

The Four Steps for Transforming Any Relationship

There are four steps that if you follow will enable you to significantly transform or improve any dysfunctional or functional relationship no matter what the starting point. The more you understand these steps as principles or spaces to navigate the conversation through, the more confident and effective you will be at applying them to any circumstance:

  1. Step One: Align both parties on the need for improvement in the relationship and the level of trust, the desire to achieve these improvements, and the commitment to invest the time to achieve them.
  2. Step Two: Complete the history of the relationship by fully getting each other’s reality and experiences.
  3. Step Three: Create rich and exciting new possibilities for the future of the relationship.
  4. Step Four: Turn the new possibilities into clear actions, practices and results that take the relationship to the next level.

Get on the Same Page

The first step for generating a new level of trust in the relationship is that both parties genuinely want to transform the relationship and are willing to commit the time, energy and emotion to the conversations that can make this happen. You can’t force people to do this. It’s got to be authentic. This doesn’t mean that people know how to achieve the desired outcome. It means they want it.

Create a Common Interest

It’s always easier if both sides want this and there is no need for anyone to convince anyone else. But, as we all know very well, that is often not the case. So, in order to get people on the same page, there sometime needs to be an explicit dialogue about “Why do it?” “What for?” “Why now?” and/or “What’s in it for me?”

Consider a contrarian view: There is a benefit and cost associated with having a prolonged dysfunctional or dissatisfying relationship. The benefit is typically status quo, avoidance of conflict and uncomfortable conversations. When operating in the benefit mode, people tend to blame others rather than take responsibility for the situation. This is often accompanied with some self-righteousness, which could sound like, “Why should I take the first step?” “It’s all because of them;” “I’ve tried to address this before but they didn’t cooperate;” etc.

On the other side, the cost typically includes stress and loss of joy and satisfaction. And overall it drains energy to stay upset, incomplete and/or dissatisfied in a relationship for a long time. Sometimes people become cynical or numb in the relationship or about relationships in general. I had a single woman friend who every time I asked her how her love life was going, she would tell me the same story about how “all men are selfish and only care about one thing…” Self-righteousness is costly in itself.

So, when discussing the need or opportunity for change in the relationship, you can look for the areas of cost. These will give you opportunities for areas of common interest.

We all know the saying: “It takes two to tango.” However, I believe that when it comes to relationships and trust, “It takes one to take two to tango.” So, if you are the one initiating the transformation in the relationship, don’t get distracted, discouraged or fall into blame — take responsibility for enrolling the other person in the breakthrough. Listen to their concerns. Swallow your pride. Acknowledge them as valid, even if they are not factually true. And respond to them from your commitment, not reaction.

Sometimes people don’t want to move on because they don’t trust the other person’s sincerity. So, declare your sincerity, even if you have done it before. Sometimes they feel they’ve tried to address issues before and the other person wasn’t sincere, didn’t listen, wasn’t open to what they had to say, didn’t take ownership or responsibility for past transgressions, etc. So, stay open, own their experience of your past attempts as valid, apologize if needed and express your sincere commitment to making it work this time.

This first step is the ticket into the game. Without a shared desire to elevate the relationship, the next steps are irrelevant. While it takes courage to take a relationship to the next level, especially if the starting point is dysfunctional, isn’t it “better to fail giving it your all, rather than give up without trying at all?”

Stay tuned for more next week.

Courageous Living: When Ignorance Is Not Bliss

This is the final blog in my three-week series on blissful ignorance and awareness. Over the last two weeks, I have discussed the ways in which ignorance of certain information can be both empowering and disempowering (Is Ignorance Bliss? & Blissfully Ignorant or Blissfully Aware?). This week, I will discuss the areas of our life in which we definitely want to be aware—and how to ensure we stay awake and aware in these important areas.

While there’s a lot we don’t need to know in order to be happy, even information that we are better off not knowing, there are a few areas of our lives in which awareness always trumps ignorance. These are the fundamental aspects of our lives—the people and things that are most important to us and that can either make or break our bliss. For many of us, these may include, but are not limited to, our:

  • Health
  • Finances
  • Career
  • Marriage
  • Family

There may be other areas of our life that also belong on the list—perhaps our close friends, a philanthropic cause, or some other endeavor that gives our life purpose and that is included in our vision of a happy, successful life.

For each of these areas, there are certain questions we need to ask ourselves on a regular basis:

  1. According to my definition of success and happiness, what is my vision for how this area of my life would look if it was working perfectly for me?In other words, what’s my desired end state? In order to know if we’re on track to achieve our vision of a blissful life, we need to know what we are working toward—an end state with which to compare the actual state of things. If our marriage was working exactly as we wanted it, what would that look like? If we had exactly the career we wanted, what would we be doing right now or working toward? How would we be feeling every day at work? If our finances were completely on track with our vision for our family’s future, what would our financial situation look like?
  2. Am I blissfully aware in this area of my life? Or am I blissfully ignorant, thinking if there doesn’t seem to be a problem, then everything is OK?Awareness is an active state of mind where we gather and consider all the necessary information so that we know what is working well and what isn’t. So when it comes to our health, we are having regular checkups and taking preventative measures against potential health problems based on our age, personal history, and family history. We are having regular conversations with our accountant or money manager so that we have all the facts about our financial well-being. We are paying attention to our spouse and having conversations about the state of our relationship, rather than just assuming he/she is happy because we are not arguing or fighting. The same goes for our children. Just because they’re not complaining doesn’t mean they feel an intimate connection with us. If we are blissfully aware, we are actively seeking out areas of our life in which we may be ignorant. This is never about perfection, and we can never be sure to have the ultimate awareness in every area. But, when we take the life commitment to be aware, stay aware, and even grow our awareness in all the areas that are most important to us, the commitment itself and the living of it is very empowering. For many it becomes life changing.
  3. What’s the current shape of this area of my life?If we are truly aware, rather than unintentionally ignorant, we have the information we need to accurately evaluate each area of our life and how it compares to our vision, or ideal, we want to achieve. Once we know what is and isn’t working well, we can start to take action. What could be improved? What could I do differently? What steps should I be taking in order to be happy and on track for achieving my vision?

Most people don’t think this way. They don’t have this kind of orientation or these kinds of practices. Instead, they just react to things in life. They don’t regularly ask themselves these questions, often because they don’t want to know. It’s easier to just go with the flow than to have tough conversations with our spouses and our children, or to be honest with ourselves about the challenging steps we need to take in order to have the careers we want.

Being aware ultimately leads to the happy lives we envision for ourselves, but it doesn’t always feel so blissful in the moment. It takes courageous thinking to be honest with ourselves about what we really want. It takes courage to own up to the way it’s going. And it takes courageous living to make it happen.

Blissfully Ignorant or Blissfully Aware?

Is ignorance really the key to bliss? Is it awareness? Or is it, perhaps, a combination of the two?

In last week’s blog, we discussed the benefits and drawbacks of being aware or ignorant about certain information and why it’s important to deliberately manage a balance between the two. But how do you know when knowledge is power and when it can be disempowering?

Here are some questions to ask yourself when deciding whether you really want to know more:

Is this information true?

Benjamin Franklin once said,

“Believe none of what you hear and only half of what you see.”

Most of the information we use to make decisions is not based on fact. It is based on our interpretations and opinions about what we observe and what others tell us about their own observations. In today’s tech-driven, social-media-connected society, very little of what we hear (or read) is factual. In fact, much of it is actually based on incorrect facts. Yet, a frightening number of people believe not only everything they hear on the news but everything they read on Facebook as well.

“Believe none of what you hear and only half of what you see.” Most of the information we use to make decisions is not based on fact. It is based on our interpretations and opinions about what we observe and what others tell us about their own observations. In today’s tech-driven, social-media-connected society, very little of what we hear (or read) is factual. In fact, much of it is actually based on incorrect facts. Yet, a frightening number of people believe not only everything they hear on the news but everything they read on Facebook as well.

Before taking action on information, think about it for yourself. Do some research. Gather more information before forming your own opinion. It may not always be possible to be certain whether a piece of information is true, but an equally important question is whether or not it is true to you—to what you think, who you are, and what you’re about.

Is this information empowering?

Some information simply has little to no positive value in our lives. Some knowledge can be depressing (often because there’s simply nothing we can do to change it), disempowering, and even dangerous. For instance, consider the images we see of models and celebrities, with their perfect bodies and faces. We start to wonder why we don’t look like that. The truth is that they don’t look like that either. Without strategic lighting and Photoshop, most of them look more like us than their pictures. And so we have this culture where people starve themselves to lose weight, teenagers get breast implants, and people literally get addicted to plastic surgery—all in pursuit of an unattainable standard of beauty.

Remaining ignorant of these undermining, disempowering conversations and similar information could certainly be blissful—and even beneficial. When we’re not inundated with other people’s ideas, standards, and values, we can start thinking more clearly for ourselves. We can take a stand for who we are and what we value.

Is this information useful?

It’s important to be aware of information that is useful to you—not just what makes you feel good but what you need to know in order to achieve your vision for your career, life, or even your family.

When my oldest daughter (who is now twenty-four) was preparing to enter high school, my wife and I started to think about what we believed was best for her. We had conversations among our social networks (mostly upper-middle-class people like us). Like many parents, we wanted a certain kind of success for our daughter. So we convinced ourselves and her that she should go to this highly-academic private school, where they raved about their statistics for how many students ended up in the more prestigious, high-earning professions like medicine and law.

My daughter suffered the whole year. It wasn’t the right place for her. Regretfully, it took us a few months to wake up and realize we were totally hypnotized by standards that had nothing to do with what was best for her. We, like many people, were in this rat race of standards and keeping up with the Joneses. And we hadn’t realized that before. We just thought we were looking out for her best interests. So we took her out of the school and placed her in a local school where she blossomed and did very well. I still see many people in our social circles that are still caught up in the same predicament.

Success, achievement, and happiness are concepts we should define for ourselves—based on our values, our visions of our lives, and what we truly want. It takes awareness to get off the bandwagon of keeping up with the Joneses. It also takes courage—to stand up for what you believe and to think for yourself. It’s much easier to just go with the flow. But when it comes to important, life-defining decisions, ignorance is not bliss. It’s a curse.

In next week’s blog, I’ll discuss the areas of our life and work where we definitely want to be aware—and the questions to ask ourselves to ensure we aren’t operating in unintentional ignorance.

Is Ignorance Bliss?

The phrase “ignorance is bliss” is often used in sarcastic, critical, and judgmental ways—as if it means burying your head in the ground like an ostrich to avoid dealing with the real challenges of the real world. But is that really true? Is staying ignorant and protected from certain information or conversations a blessing, or a curse?

On the one hand, the older I get, the more I understand the validity of the idea that knowledge, or information, is power. The more facts you have in an area that is important to you, the more empowered you are to make informed and effective choices. When we lack information, we are more likely to make rush decisions based on emotions.

For example, people can act emotionally about their finances when they don’t have accurate information about the status of their affairs, market trends, or the performance of certain types of investments. Someone once told me that when people don’t understand the stock market so they just listen to their stockbroker and do what he/she tells them, it is like “parking and praying.” You park your money and pray that it will be OK.

This is true for most people (with the exception of people like Warren Buffett, for whom investing is more of a science than an art). Most of us read a little bit, but we don’t have a lot of information. So we just have to hope our financial agents know enough to make it work and that the companies we’re putting money into are in good shape.

Usually when people are blissfully ignorant, they are hopeful. But hope is not a strategy—especially when it comes to important areas like our finances. Wealth is another important one. We’ve all heard stories of people who were cured of life-threatening diseases because they detected and addressed the issue early on. Unfortunately, we’ve also heard stories of people who never did their checkups and found out about their fatal illnesses too late.

While I certainly believe that knowledge can be powerful, I’ve also come to understand and appreciate the power of staying ignorant and naive about certain things. For example, consider the media today. Advertisers bombard us with different life standards—their ideals about how we’re supposed to look, how much money we’re supposed to make, or how much we need to achieve in order to be successful. These ideals are designed to make people feel inadequate, to create dissatisfaction so we’ll buy their products. No wonder we have more anorexic teenagers than ever before, and no wonder most of our society is in debt, trying to keep up with the Joneses.

Add to that the fact that news media organizations tend to only report the sensational, gloom-and-doom stories—sound bites about the economy, government, murders, rapes, child abuse, war, and other unpleasant topics. Because media is all about selling ratings, they look for the most shocking stories, which are usually the most depressing. Even though they’re often reporting on people’s opinions and interpretations, rather than actual facts, people eat it up like it’s the gospel. We stop thinking for ourselves and allow the media frenzy to make us reactive, afraid, cynical, resigned, unhappy, and even obsessive.

I am not suggesting anyone stop watching and reading the news. It’s important to know what’s going on in the world. But I am very selective about what I read, what news channels I watch, and how much I read about different things that happen, because certain conversations don’t make any difference. In fact, some information (or at least “expert interpretations” of that information) can have a negative impact.

The opposite of ignorance is awareness—and both can be blissful. The key is to deliberately manage a balance. Over the next two weeks, I’ll delve more deeply into this topic—including how to know when it’s better to be ignorant and when it’s better to be aware. I’ll also discuss how this concept applies to different areas of our life—including our finances, career, health, marriage, and family. Stay tuned for more, and be sure to share your thoughts on the matter.

Building a Team of Warriors Starts with YOU

If you find yourself leading a group of people who are locked into that negative, cynical, victim mentality, how do you shift it? How can you not only avoid becoming mired in the negativity, but actually change it? In other words, how do you help your team transition from Worriers to Warriors?

The attitude and mindset of any organization or team, no matter how large or small, is always a reflection of its leader’s mindset and attitude. If the leader is a Worrier, the team will follow suit. If the leader is a Warrior, he/she will naturally create the same environment for his/her team.

In order to transform a negative environment, you must lead by example. In other words, start with yourself.

Transformation always begins with honesty. Honesty allows for awareness. And awareness allows for ownership. Ownership means understanding, accepting, and taking responsibility for what’s not working. In the absence of ownership, leaders tend to resist and to be defensive and in denial about their issues. When people own and accept their issues, they are able to engage others in conversations about change in a much more authentic, direct, and courageous way.

So, as a leader, start with your own authentic reflection. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What is my attitude most of the time?
  • How do I react to issues, challenges, and bad news?
  • What conversations do I engage in when things don’t work or go wrong?
  • Overall, do I behave like a Warrior or a Worrier?

Leaders often have blind spots about their own attitudes and behavior, especially when it is of the Worrier variety. You may want to reach out to a few trusted colleagues, peers, superiors, and/or subordinates and ask them to give you candid feedback. Just remember: People will only tell you what they feel you are willing to hear. Even if you say all the right things, if people sense you are not open to receiving honest feedback, they will adjust their input accordingly. Make sure you are sincere about your quest to gain awareness and ownership of your issues before approaching others.

Many leaders tell their people that “feedback is a gift” but then react badly when they are on the receiving end. So people just roll their eyes, keep to themselves, and avoid authentic conversations.

It’s much easier, safer, and more comfortable to behave like a Worrier. You always have someone or something else to blame. You can also avoid taking responsibility and therefore certain risks in addressing the issues. Being a Worrier doesn’t require courage, but you pay a price for that comfort – usually in terms of lost collaboration, trust, effectiveness, quality of work, morale and company pride, and even financial success.

Most leaders sincerely want to create a Warrior environment for their teams, but many seem to be stuck in their old habits and reactions. When leaders start confronting and internalizing the “costs” associated with a Worrier environment, they are usually more willing to change.

Being a Warrior requires courage and even the willingness to change. But for those who want to feel alive and make a difference, it is an exciting existence.

Being a Warrior is like any other skill. To develop a Warrior mindset, you must commit to this way of being and regularly exercise those muscles. There are certain attitudes and practices that enable you to live and operate in the Warrior space.

In my next couple of blogs I’ll talk more about what these are. Stay tuned and see you next week.

When It Comes To Failure, Choose Your Point Of View

Life is a conversation. Things happen, and we have interpretations about them. That’s the way it works.

For example, two people going through the same challenging circumstance or event can have completely different takes on the situation. One might be very upset and have the following reaction to a particular “failure”:

  • That was horrible.
  • I told you so.
  • We shouldn’t have done that.

However, another person, when faced with the same situation, might just smile and say:

  • That could have been worse!
  • That was tough, but what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
  • We stayed in this together and became closer because of it.

Both reactions – negative and positive – are valid, but they have different outcomes and consequences. One is empowering; the other is disempowering.

As part of my business, I coach, guide and support people. Some people never seem to be happy or satisfied, even when good things happen to them. They always see the “half empty” part of the glass. They just won’t count their blessings. Others are always oriented around the “half full” part. They look for the good, the blessings, and the lessons and opportunities in every situation, no matter how bad it may be.

We don’t believe what we see. We see what we believe. People always find evidence and validation for their points of view. If they predict that an upcoming event will be “hard or un-enjoyable,” guess what? It probably will be. And if they view a future challenge as an “opportunity,” they’ll prove that right as well. Whatever our points of view, we will always prove them right. So why not choose to focus on empowering perspectives?

Winston Churchill said, “Success is going from failure to failure without any loss of enthusiasm.” I find that inspiring. There is great power in realizing that we always have a say about our mindset, point of view and attitude – no matter what circumstances we are facing.

The more we learn to think like that, the more empowered we will be. We can always justify why we will play smaller. Or we can create exciting justifications for why we’ll play even bigger than before.

Ultimately, we either live in empowering conversations or disempowering ones. The beauty is that it’s our choice to make.

Balancing The Budget And Employee Morale

When times get tough, most executives move to cut costs, reduce resources and shore up company savings. And while focusing on financial issues in the short term is important, this is often done at the expense of the long-term health of the organization.

In a weak economy, it’s of critical importance that leaders practice “giving back” to the company culture, even as things are being taken away.

In our experience, it’s deflating and demoralizing to a workforce when things are only being taken away and nothing is being put back in. Leaders often underestimate the level of upset brewing among staff and even misread the fact that people are not complaining to mean that they are not bothered by the current state of the company.

Worse still, some leaders take the position that since the job market is tight, people cannot leave so there is no need to take care of them.

These conclusions ultimately lead to a situation where, when the market does come back and opportunities open up, employees — who are resentful of how things were handled during the difficult times — leave.

Even in the face of reducing expenses, you need to infuse conversations with energy, confidence, hope and a sense of the future.

One important thing you can do to maintain employee morale and balance things out as the budget gets rightsized is to rally everyone around the new strategy. Start by telling employees the truth about how things are — even if the news is bad, they can handle it. Involve them in the process of fixing and improving things, developing new products and finding new customers. By having the courage to be sincere and transparent, you cut rumors and speculation off at the pass and engage employees’ commitment to both deal with today’s reality and plan for tomorrow’s recovery.

What are you doing to strike a balance between budget constraints and employee morale? We would love to hear your comments.

 

How To Cultivate Strategic Thinking In Your Company

It’s very easy today for people to become paralyzed by fear and uncertainty. This places a greater demand on leaders to keep staff focused on the prospect of a brighter, yet plausible, future. This week’s post examines how managers can do this by helping their staff learn to think strategically about the company and their own careers.

We have found that encouraging strategic thinking from the top of the organization to the shop floor is largely a matter of executive action and intention. In our experience, when executives make strategy development an activity exclusive to the top members of the organization, they discourage strategic thinking.

Specifically, executives and managers stifle strategic thinking by not actively being open to others’ feedback, pushback and ideas. When people feel that their suggestions are not being met with receptiveness, they will not participate in a strategic discussion even when given the chance.

To overcome this dynamic, we advise getting everyone in the company involved in strategic conversations. If you demonstrate that you are committed to other people’s ideas by incorporating and promoting them, you will encourage people to think strategically.

One easy process is to pick several areas where you want to create a breakthrough in performance and form teams. Gather people from varying levels and departments, creating a blue team and red team for each desired area of breakthrough. Then have a friendly competition for ideas on how to achieve the desired leap forward.

To encourage maximum strategic thinking, tell the groups that you are looking for “out-of-the-box, yet plausible” ways to take the organization to the next level.

Another common contributor to hindered strategic thinking is asking your staff to always put forth their tactical ideas, but never their strategic ones.

Executives can encourage higher-order thinking by making sure meetings are balanced out between time dedicated to discussing long-term strategic issues and short-term tactical ones. One of the biggest complaints we hear in companies is that all the meetings are about tactical items. Employees complain that time is never spent having conversations about the bigger picture and longer-term issues.

What can you do today to encourage strategic thinking? I would love to hear your comments.

Micro-management Is The Enemy of Strategic Thinking

In last week’s blog post, we discussed the way that leaders’ actions impact the cultivation of strategic thinking within their companies. This week, we continue the theme by examining the role that micromanaging plays in the process.

Heed the warning. Leaders who micromanage create an environment of compliance where people won’t think strategically and don’t act as partners.

Micromanaging suffocates strategic thinking because it forces people to interact at a tactical level only. It requires people to protect their world, and a huge amount of their energy just goes into how to survive and keep their boss off their back.

One research study on micromanagement by Dr. Robert Hurley PhD at Fordham University found that 30 to 35% of executives succeed as managers but faltered as leaders when they found themselves in higher-level positions. “For this sizable group of under-performing executives, the underlying root cause is compulsive micromanagement caused by perfectionist tendencies. By micromanagement we mean an over-controlling style that inappropriately inhibits the people the executive needs to mobilize,” says Dr. Hurley.

To counteract this, we suggest that executives and managers ask their staff to think about what they would do if they were put in charge of a particular situation, department or organization. Ask your staff what they would start, stop or continue, then discuss the responses as a group so people can learn to think strategically at a level or two above their current job.

Just remember that you will never get any company strategy perfect, rational or right enough to work without having engagement and commitment at all levels. Encouraging your staff to participate in strategic planning and practice strategic thinking is key to creating a strategy that does not just get talked, but walked.

Cheat Sheet of Strategic Thinking Dos and Don’ts

Do:

  • Actively ask for input from all departments and levels.
  • Promote and incorporate others’ ideas.
  • Ask your staff what they would start, stop or continue in your position.
  • Routinely balance out your meetings by discussing both strategic and tactical issues.

Don’t:

  • Make strategic development an exclusive club limited to the higher-ups.
  • Stifle strategic thinking by not being open to and acting on others’ feedback.
  • Try and maintain control by micromanaging.
  • Solely focus on and encourage tactical thinking in meetings.

How has strategic thinking been hindered in your organization? I would love to hear your comments.

4 Ways You May be Undermining Employee Engagement

This looks at the four most common ways leaders undermine employee engagement.

1. Not saying thank you: Managers who only criticize and find fault with their employees’ performance run the risk of creating an unhappy – and less productive – workforce. Rarely saying something as simple as “good work” or “thank you” creates an environment where staff feel unappreciated and taken advantage of.

2. Recognizing the same people all the time: Some leaders single out the same staff over and over again for recognition and praise. No matter how deserving these employees may be, repeatedly acknowledging one small group of individuals can create an environment of exclusion, which leads to a negative backlash within the team.

3. Participating in background conversations about others: Managers may think they can confidentially talk about one employee to another, but what they say always leaks out. Leaders who grouse, gossip and gripe about their co-workers, employees and bosses — especially behind their backs — create an environment of distrust and disharmony.

4. Not letting your staff shine: Many managers miss the opportunity to have their staff be recognized for their contributions, both by their immediate team members and by senior management. Failing to give people an opportunity to make an important presentation to their peers or higher-ups, not acknowledging the significant contribution of an employee to other members of the team, and actively taking credit for an employee’s work all lead to decreased trust and reduced confidence among staff.

What all these behaviors have in common is an active narcissism, a blind insensitivity or a management immaturity that makes the manager look like a jerk and their staff feel uncared for.

One 2009 study was conducted to examine the narcissistic tendencies of bosses in American organizations. Wayne Hochwarter, the Jim Moran Professor of Management in the Florida State University College of Business, asked more than 1,200 employees to provide opinions regarding the narcissistic tendencies of their immediate supervisor. Their responses:

  • 31 percent reported that their boss is prone to exaggerate his or her accomplishments to look good in front of others.
  • 27 percent reported that their boss brags to others to get praise.
  • 25 percent reported that their boss had an inflated view of himself or herself.
  • 24 percent reported that their boss was self-centered.
  • 20 percent reported that their boss will do a favor only if guaranteed one in return.

“Having a narcissistic boss creates a toxic environment for virtually everyone who must come in contact with this individual,” Hochwarter said. “The team perspective ceases to exist, and the work environment becomes increasingly stressful. Productivity typically plummets as well.”

When it comes to employee engagement, all signs seem to point in the same direction. You are either building motivation or destroying it. You are either moving forward by appreciation or acknowledgment or going backward with lack of attention. The choice is one every manager makes daily.


From Human Resource Manager to Chief Commitment Officer

In our work, we often hear HR executives lament about not having a seat at the table when it comes to being part of the strategic decision-making process. They frequently speak of the desire to be true strategic partners with their peers, rather than merely comp and benefits administrators or purveyors of training programs that may or may not contribute to the bottom line of the business.

The good news is that the time has never been better for HR execs to reconstitute their role — by shifting from Human Resource Managers to Chief Commitment Officers. What CEOs and business leaders want and need more than ever is employees who are 100% engaged and committed to the success of the organization, and no one is better positioned and equipped to support this need than HR.

But to do this, rather than say yes to every request for training they receive, HR instead needs to identify the key opportunities for driving increased engagement and commitment — and focus laser-like on dissolving the fear, apathy, cynicism, resistance and resignation that permeate most organizations.

Much of what HR has historically provided that does not make the greatest contribution to the success of the business can be either outsourced, if appropriate, or at least made routine and automated.

HR managers today are uniquely positioned to a) identify areas of misalignment and friction, and b) help business leaders transform those dynamics into total alignment and shared commitment. The results of partnering with business leaders in this fashion will be exactly what HR leaders have longed for all along.