Tag Archive for: leaders

Why Are Leaders So Afraid of Change?

It’s common for organizations and teams to undergo changes in leadership or structure.

This typically happens when organizations make cuts in their workforce, when they spinoff businesses or functions, or when they merge with, or acquire new businesses or functions into their portfolio.

Change also takes place when a new leader is brought from outside to lead the team, or when an internal member of the leadership team is promoted to become the new leader or CEO of the group.

These types of events always provide leaders with opportunities to create a new chapter and new beginnings, which is a very good thing.

I think most people would agree that it doesn’t really work to simply jump from one chapter to another without a proper transition phase. The transition doesn’t have to be long. However, organizations and teams need the chance to bring closure and completion to how they’ve done things in the previous chapter before they can fully start the next chapter of doing something in a new or different way.

The bigger the change, the bigger and more important the transition phase. Those who underestimate this often find themselves carrying forward old baggage from one initiative, chapter or relationship to the next. As a result they often repeat the same mistakes and fall into the same traps and dysfunctional dynamics.

In organizations, people refer to the management of transitioning between phases as “Change Management.” Unfortunately, most organizations and teams are not good at this.

Leaders have an essential role in leading their organization through the transition between the old and the new.

What is the role of the leaders?

Please click here to read the rest of this article which I recently published in Entrepreneur.com about what is the role of leaders in change and why most leaders are afraid of change and their role in driving it?

Photo via Entrepreneur article

Five Necessary Areas of Improvement for Your Team

Any organization is a mirror image of its leaders and leadership team. If the leaders operate among themselves with strong and genuine trust, unity, communication and ownership, these characteristics will naturally cascade through the veins of the organization and internalize in its culture and DNA.

However, if the leaders run their organizations and functions as individual silos, rather than a unified team, their people will follow suit.

And, if they have trust issues among themselves or if they are the source of negative, passive aggressive, victimizing or blaming behaviors the same issues will inculcate throughout their teams and the overall organization.

Even if leaders say all the politically correct things in public, their people will watch their behaviors, pick up on subtle remarks and body language, and everyone will line up accordingly.

I often tell the leaders I work with, “Your employees can’t hear what you are saying because they are too busy watching how you are behaving.”

When describing their teams, leaders often make sure to tell me, “We really like each other and enjoy spending time together.” However, when I dig deeper I often find the same dysfunctional dynamics in teams were members like each other that exist in teams that dislike each other. They lack trust, transparency, alignment and courage to have the tough conversations and hold each other to account. In other words, the source of team dysfunctionality is not solely a function of personal likes and dislikes.

There is no doubt that every team is unique and different. The team’s internal culture and dynamic greatly depends on its leaders. It is also influenced by external factors like the type of industry and market conditions.

However, from having coached and worked with hundreds of teams and many thousands of executives, managers and employees, I have seen that there are some fundamental similarities between teams across the board, independent of circumstances.

People often ask me to rate their team’s effectiveness or lack thereof in comparison with the wider universe of teams in their own company, industry and wider Corporate America.

By the nature of the beast, there seem to always be certain areas all teams need to pay attention to if they want to be effective. While some teams have bigger areas of gap in comparison with other teams, there seem to be some common areas that all teams need to improve. I put these areas in five categories:


  1. Boldness & Courage – Most teams are not bold, authentic and courageous enough. Instead, they are too cautious and politically correct in their interactions, communications and behaviors.


  1. Cohesion & Alignment – Most teams talk a lot about teamwork, cohesion and alignment. However, in reality, leaders, managers and employees think and operate too often in silos, they tend to promote their own priorities and agendas, especially in scarce times and, in reality, people don’t stand in the good of the whole first, even if it is the right thing to do.


  1. Ownership & Accountability – Ownership and Accountability are another two of the noble corporate jargons to which people often only pay lip service. Instead of ownership and accountability, people at all levels tend to buy into circumstances a lot, and there is too much excusing, blaming and finger pointing across the board.


  1. Creativity & Innovation – In so many teams, people seem to be frustrated about the lack of creativity and innovation. Often, the leaders and managers with the most seniority and experience are the ones most stuck in the past and unwilling to embrace new ideas and ways of doing things. As a result, in most teams, people don’t do a good job challenging the status quo, thinking outside the box and bringing innovation and future-based thinking to the table.


  1. Passion & Energy – High energy and passion are missing in most teams. It is not uncommon for team members to struggle to feel inspired and energized. It’s not that people are depressed. However, most people who have been around for a while tend to adopt a more skeptical and resigned outlook. They may think of themselves as “realistic” or “pragmatic”, however, when push comes to shove, most will opt for self-preservation rather than rocking the boat to get things done, even if that is more exciting.

Obviously, not all teams are the same. A few teams stand out because they are strong across the board. Some teams are dysfunctional across all areas. However, most teams are a mix bag of these gaps.

You should self reflect on your own team and determine: How could my team improve?

Photo via http://www.123rf.com/

Stop the Passive Aggressive Behavior

In most organizations, passive aggressive behavior is rampant.

The dictionary defines passive aggressive as: a type of behavior or personality characterized by indirect resistance to the demands of others and an avoidance of direct confrontation, as in procrastinating, pouting, or misplacing important materials.

In reality, passive aggressive behavior is actually much worse than this definition suggests.

Typical passive aggressive behavior happens in environments where people don’t feel they can fully express their feelings and thoughts–especially the negative ones. So, instead of communicating openly, authentically, courageously and effectively, people tend to pretend that everything is going well, even when they really feel the opposite – irritated, upset and/or angry about what is going on.

They say the positive, politically correct things out loud in the most positive, politically correct and “respectful” manner. But inside, they feel otherwise. This dissonance between the spoken and unspoken conversations creates tension, stress and awkwardness and people often feel they have to walk on eggshells around each other.

Because people who are behaving in a passive aggressive manner make such a big effort to appear as if they are positive about things, they often feel no one is noticing that they are inauthentic. However, for the most part, everyone around them sees through their behavior.

In a passive aggressive environment, the problems go beyond simply walking on eggshells. People also become reluctant and afraid to push back on sensitive topics, address conflict or hold each other accountable for behaviors and performance. People often say “yes” to things and then pay lip service to these. As a result productivity is significantly compromised and undermined.

Some people behave in a passive aggressive manner because they are afraid of their own volatile reactions to challenging situations. They don’t trust their ability to communicate effectively, especially when it comes to conveying criticism and disagreement. They fear that if they really express themselves, especially their frustration and anger, it will get out of hand. Others are afraid that if they fully expressed themselves they’ll get into trouble with their superiors and as a result their career will suffer. So, people simply avoid conflict and don’t say what is really on their mind. This only perpetuates and fuels the source of the passive aggressive behavior. I see this dynamic at all levels of all companies that I am exposed to.

Pent up emotions, frustrations and unexpressed communications are like bottled energy. Eventually, this energy must be released. The more it stays bottled up, the more likely it is to explode when triggered. This often happens at the most inappropriate times, in the most unproductive ways. When people “lose it,” it usually creates damage beyond proportion.

Other avenues of release for the unexpressed feelings are gossip and background noise. As we all know there is a lot of this going on in most organizations. People say one thing in public and another in the conversations around the cooler. And, again, that dissonance hurts organizational spirit, trust and performance.

So, how do you stop it?

Given that passive aggressive behavior lives in communication, it has to be transformed in communication. This requires leadership, ownership, commitment and courage, first by the leaders and managers.

If leaders are willing to create an open, honest environment for communication where people can fully communicate and express their views, they can stop the passive aggressive behavior. But it has to start with them.

However, if leaders are too afraid to be vulnerable, or they don’t trust themselves to create a more powerful and authentic space of communication around them, or they are simply too caught up in the passive aggressive behavior themselves, nothing will change. In fact, they will continue to be a part of the problem.

They will most likely continue to hide behind their title and authority in order to avoid hearing bad news or criticism, especially about them selves. By doing that they will perpetuate the issues and drive their team to more passive aggressive behavior.

Individual team members can also transform passive aggressive dynamics with other individuals, independent of their leaders and managers. They too have to behave with courage and commitment. They could show up as genuinely open to feedback, coaching and open, honest, authentic and courageous dialogue by enrolling and engaging others to always interact with them that way.

The more trust people create with others around them, the less passive aggressive behaviors will take place.

A manufacturing plant supervisor I worked with once told me: “I make sure to have lunch with my people every day, because people don’t screw someone they have lunch with.”

If you want to have power, take ownership

I truly believe that there are no coincidences in life. Things always happen for a reason. Many times, it is easy for us to see that cause-and-effect reason. For example: we raised our voice at someone, they were offended and it caused a rift in our partnership and trust. Now they don’t want to work with us.

Other times we can’t immediately see the bigger reason or lesson taking place. We scratch our head and wonder “why did this happen to me?” or “why did I not get the result I wanted when I wanted it so badly and/or I worked so hard to get it?” But, after some time lapse—which often gives new perspective—we have an “aha moment” and we get it.

Sometimes, we feel very attached to an outcome. We feel we just have to achieve it. Our brand and self-worth depends on it. Then, after we didn’t receive it, we realize that “not getting that outcome turned out to be the best outcome for us.”

I believe that most of the time the circumstances and results that we have around us are a function of something about us – our attitude and mindset or actions and behaviors.

Even if what I wrote above is not physically, scientifically or factually true… and it couldn’t be proven, I still believe it is a valid and powerful philosophy from which to view our life and the world around us.

In fact, I coach leaders and people on this topic all the time. People often tend to blame others or the circumstances for their shortfalls and inability to achieve what they want. In most cases, people are simply blind to their own shortcomings and how these impact their surroundings.

For example, I was coaching an executive who is very ambitious and successful. He had achieved great results in his division and he desperately wanted to be promoted to the next level. But, without realizing it, because of his ambition he has frequently treated people around him, including his peers, in what they experienced as an arrogant and condescending manner. In fact, many viewed him as always looking out for, and promoting himself, even at the expense of others. When the time came for his colleagues to give him their vote of confidence for his promotion, they were reluctant. He didn’t end up getting the promotion and, as you can imagine, he felt offended very upset. He blamed others for not getting the promotion, rather than looking inward and owning that he had something to do with people’s experience of him. I deal with this type of dynamic in organizations all the time.

Taking genuine ownership is a transformational step. Sometimes it requires courage to face reality. But, looking in the mirror and owning the situation, especially if it is uncomfortable or challenging, is a game changer. It moves people from being smaller than their problems to being bigger than their problems. I have found that when this shift happens, people always tend to feel more empowered, eager and excited to take action and turn things around.

Taking ownership has a similar impact on the good things as it does on the bad. When we take ownership of our great accomplishments and successes, it also compels and empowers us to step up to the next level of self-expression with greater confidence and faith. People who don’t take ownership of their greatness seem to be more held back and apologetic in and about their life.

Taking ownership gives us power to learn from history so that we can drive things in the future to new heights. It the mandatory step for taking the game to the next level in any area. And, as the saying goes, “The truth shall set us free.” Even if first it “pisses us off.”

Take your head out of the sand

How many times have you participated in a meeting and halfway through it you realized that something important wasn’t being said openly and honestly. You knew that others knew it, too, but no one said anything?

How many times have you seen managers and employees sit around a meeting table, nodding in agreement as their leader explained the plan for a critical change initiative. Once the meeting was over, people pushed back their chairs and drifted back towards their desks. As they congregated at the water cooler, they opened up to each other: “What a pile of crap!”, “That’ll never happen!”, “I can hardly wait until the weekend?”

By the time these underhanded comments go viral throughout the organization cynicism and quiet rebellion are rampant. In this organization, people will definitely be paying lip service to the organizational mandate.

Meanwhile, their unsuspecting bosses leave the meeting imagining that they have done a wonderful job of communicating their strategy, and that people are on board.

Nothing will undermine a strategy or initiative more effectively than a lack of employee ownership and alignment. If employees are expressing skepticism and criticism about their leadership and the initiative in “around the water cooler” conversations that is a sure sign that they are not on-board, and not aligned with the company’s strategy.

So many leaders and managers simply don’t get it. They think that what people tell them to their face is what people really think. Sometime that is the simple truth. But, many times it isn’t.

There are two types of conversations taking place in every organization at all times – one is spoken; what people say out loud. These are often the politically correct things. The other is unspoken. It’s what people only say in private to their close friends and confidants. This is often referred to as the “background noise.”

When leaders don’t create an environment that fosters genuine openness and honesty people go underground to converse. Instead of addressing the important things out in the open they tend to cover their behinds, blame others for things that are not working well, or they simply become silently frustrated and resigned. When they have to, they pay lip service to the authorities, but they say only what they believe to be politically correct and safe.

As a result, far too many leaders simply have no idea what their people are really thinking and saying. In fact, many mistake fear and compliance for commitment.

It takes courage – on both sides – to create an environment of blunt honesty. Leaders must be willing to hear the unvarnished truth, and employees must be prepared to express it. It takes two to tango, however, this has to start with the leaders.

Leaders who learn to listen carefully and engage in blunt and meaningful dialogue with their people will find that the investment of time and effort is deeply worthwhile. Over time, people will rise to the occasion, abandon the background noise and start addressing challenges and opportunities head-on.

In fact, even if the strategy is not optimal, if managers and employees feel they can make a difference and their leaders really want to hear what they have to say, they will go out of their way to make sure it succeeds.

But, in order to succeed leaders have to take their heads out of the sand.