Category: My own words

We all think we’re great drivers

1.

We all think we’re great drivers

I have lived and worked in many countries and in some of these countries I have lived and worked in many cities. I travel for work, domestically and internationally, and I often rent cars to get to my destination. In other words, I have driven thousands of miles, in hundreds of cities, in tens of countries, and here’s a universal fact: everyone rates themselves as great drivers. It’s not a normal (bell curve) distribution around the “good” mean. Most people think they’re great drivers.

And here’s what I suspect is another universal fact: upon reading the above statistic you thought “well, some people are just not realistic about their driving abilities. I wish they acknowledged it. The roads would be safer”.

What does this have to do with management?

It turns out that several surveys report that 70% of managers rate themselves as “inspiring and motivating”¹. Seventy percent – that is not a normal distribution either. And I know what you’re thinking: “well, some people are just not realistic about their management abilities. I wish they acknowledged that. The workplace would be better.”

And while you ponder on how you fare with respect to other managers, here’s the reality: 65% of employees would forego a pay raise if it they could fire their managers² and 82% find their managers to be uninspiring.

==

2.

More numbers

There are 120,000 excess deaths per year attributed to ten workplace conditions³ and they cause approximately $190 billion in incremental health care costs. That makes the workplace the fifth leading cause of death in the U.S. — higher than Alzheimer’s, higher than kidney disease.

I’m going to list them here. As you read through the list, please identify the ones that are directly within a manager’s purview:

  1. Being unemployed sometimes as a result of a layoff.
  2. Not having health insurance.
  3. Working shifts and also working longer periods, e.g., ten or twelve-hours shifts.
  4. Working long hours in a week (e.g., more than 40 hours per week).
  5. Job insecurity (resulting from colleagues being laid off or fired).
  6. Facing family-to-work and work-to-family spillover or conflict.
  7. Having relatively low control over one’s job e.g., workload.
  8. Facing high work demands such as pressure to increase productivity and to work quickly.
  9. Being in a work environment that offers low levels of social support (e.g., not having close relationships with co-workers.)
  10. Working in a setting in which job- and employment-related decisions seem unfair.

In my leadership programs as well as in my coaching conversations with managers we often go over these items, identify the ones that are directly under one’s control as a manager and distinguish them from those that are more broadly defined by the organization’s policies and cultural norms.

There are two that most often stand out:

6. Facing family-to-work and work-to-family spillover or conflict.

7. Having relatively low control over one’s job e.g., workload.

#7 speaks to intrinsic motivation. As per data from McKinsey & Company, when employees are intrinsically motivated, they are 32% more committed and 46% more satisfied with their job and perform 16% better.

This makes sense: it is easier to derive satisfaction from the work itself, to feel good or fulfilled about a job well done, when we have autonomy over the work we do. In other words, it’s hard to experience the work as “my” work when there is little to none of “me” in it.

This begs the question: Am I the type of manager who tells people what to do (and how to do it) or am I the type of manager who provides clarity on the expected outcome and allow for people to attain that outcome on the manner they see fit. And just as in the case of the quality of one’s driving, we should focus not on what we think but on what our direct reports experience.

Spillovers

We come to #6: Facing family-to-work and work-to-family spillover or conflict. For now, I want to focus on the latter. The short version is this: the way you treat your direct reports has an impact not only on them but on their families and the communities to which they belong. A person frustrated at work necessarily carries that frustration with them in their communities – it spills over. The longer version of this point is that what is even more detrimental than the frustration we experience at work is the effort we put in trying to “compartmentalize” and not have it spill over. Unfortunately, it always does. If not to others around you, at the very least to your own health.

Managers have the ability to impact the lives of their direct reports in significant far-reaching ways. The way they treat people day-to-day over a period of time has an impact on their psyche, on their body, on their families, and on their communities.

In other words: your manager is more important to your health than your primary care doctor.

==

3.

When we look back at our experiences at work we can all acknowledge that our managers have played a significant role in making our lives somewhere on a continuum:

miserable – tolerableacceptable – enjoyable – inspirational

And once we acknowledge this for ourselves as someone’s direct report then we as managers can at least be deliberate about what we want our direct reports to experience. And I’m not suggesting that “inspirational” is what all managers should be aiming for, if only for the simple fact that not all direct reports want to be inspired. A lot of folks are fine with “acceptable” and “enjoyable” (“tolerable” entails some form of discomfort and I’m assuming that no one wants to be “miserable”). And if you’re deliberate about what you want your direct reports to experience you can then identify

  1. Ways in which you will carry that out as well as
  2. Some means by which to identify whether your direct reports are there: your own means (ones that befit the people on your team and the context in which they work) rather than the general and generic corporate engagement survey.

I acknowledge, as I did earlier, that the workplace experience is affected by company policies and culture. It is also nonetheless affected by how managers treat their direct reports.

I’m not talking about the one-time, the extraordinary, the heroic, the bandied-about in the company’s newsletter. I’m talking about the every day, the day in and day out, over the course of weeks, months and years. It’s not what you think you’re doing or the impact you think you’re having, it’s about what your direct reports experience.

In this regard I believe that people have a misguided sense of legacy when they think it’s about the accomplishments that people are going to remember about them. In reality, what we carry with us after a manager leaves, what stays with us after they are gone, is how they treated us, and how they made us feel.

==

4.

So, how’s your driving?

 


footnotes:
  1. “Why frontline workers are disengaged”, McKinsey Quarterly, March 2, 2016.
  2. Casserly, Meghan, “Majority Of Americans Would Rather Fire their Boss Than Get A Raise”, Forbes, October 17, 2012.
  3. Cavaiola, Alan A., “Is Your Job Killing You? Literally Killing You?”, Psychology Today.
  4. McGregor, Jena, ”This professor says the workplace is the fifth leading cause of death in the U.S.”, The Washington Post, March 22, 2018. This reference and the previous one are both drawn from Jeffrey Pfeffer’s book, Dying for a Paycheck: How Modern Management Harms Employee Health and Company Performance—and What We Can Do About It, Harper Collins, 2018.
  5. As distinct from the outcome of the work: recognition, acknowledgement, salary, etc.
  6. I want the book to be a “could” book rather than a “should” book. The purpose is to make the reader think and come to their own conclusions. There are enough management books that tell you what you should do and the challenge with these prescriptions is that they might have been effective for the person writing the book but management is contextual, so the prescription might only work if you find yourself in the very same circumstances as the author of the book. On the other hand, you could think about things you have not thought about before, think in a different way about things you have already thought about, and/or be invited to re-think things you have thought about a while back when your circumstances were different and maybe you also were different.
  7. Nor am I talking about, as I shared in an earlier post, what we do and the example we think we give, but also (and perhaps more importantly) who we are to them.
  8. As per the Maya Angelou poem.

 

These are thoughts on the book I am writing. They were first delivered to readers of my free, monthly newsletter. It’s easy to subscribe… and unsubscribe.

When in doubt, draw a distinction

By far the most substantial piece of content I read recently is from Jay Rosen. He is a press critic who writes about the media and politics. He is a professor at the School of Journalism at New York University.

Here is how it starts:

And here are some of the distinctions he draws in this Twitter thread:

  • Public vs. audience
  • Journalism vs. the media
  • Truth-seeking vs. refuge-seeking
  • Political vs. politicized
  • Issues vs. troubles
  • Ritual vs. transmission
  • Expect vs. predict
  • Subscription vs. membership

He says that

For distinctions to work, the terms have to be sufficiently close that prying them apart clears space for thought. If I write, “bending is not the same as breaking,” well, who said it was? That one is going nowhere. But “naked is not the same as nude” is an idea with legs.

It’s not just semantics. Well, it is, but it’s more than that. It’s a show of clarity of ideas in your field of endeavor. In his case, it’s media and politics.

And it occurs in all fields.

Just last week, I bumped into a few more instances:

  1. My friend and colleague Ed Carvalho invited us to draw a distinction between intelligence and intellect;
  2. And then this one in the Harvard Business Review between habit and routine:

When we fail at forming new patterns of behavior, we often blame ourselves, rather than the bad advice we read from someone who doesn’t really understand what can and cannot be a habit.
A habit is a behavior done with little or no thought, while a routine involves a series of behaviors frequently —and intentionally— repeated. A behavior has to be a regularly performed routine before it can become a habit at all.
The problem is that many of us try to skip the “routine” phase.

There are other distinctions that Rosen does not discuss in his thread, including

  • Lying vs. bullshitting
  • Experience vs. expertise
  • Exit, voice, and loyalty
  • Information overload vs. filter failure

Anyone who took part in one of my leadership development programs will have heard me discuss exit, voice, “loyalty”/conformity, and sabotage as a way to distinguish how different people react differently to finding themselves in conflict situations.

The take-aways from this piece?

  1. When in doubt, draw a distinction;
  2. Doing so is a way to manifest that you are a thinker – that you don’t take things at face value but you do reflect on them and come out with your own thoughts;
  3. Drawing distinctions is also a manifestation of where you put your attention, that is, what your field of endeavor really is.

And since a lot of readers of this newsletter are managers then it begs the question: are your distinctions mostly about the domain of expertise that preceded your becoming a manager or are they about management itself?


The content of this post is an edited version of an entry in my free, monthly newsletter in which I share my own writing as well as links to articles and research on management, leadership, and strategy. It’s easy to subscribe… and unsubscribe.

One more time: How do I lead by example?

You don’t. You never do.

Leading by example is based on a faulty assumption: that people will see only the behavior you want them to see and follow only the behavior you want them to follow.

News flash: the people who work with you see everything.

They see not only what you want them to see but they also see what you don’t want them to see.

They see not only what you do but they also see what you don’t do and what you choose not to do.

They see what you choose to do or not to do and to whom.

They see what you choose to do or not to do and for whom.

As a matter of fact, the more time they spend with you, the more clearly you reveal yourself to them. The longer they observe you, the less what you say matters. What matters more are your actions – and specifically how consistent they are over time.

They see when and how often you tell them what to do.

They see when and how often you ask for their opinion.

They see when and how often you admit not knowing something.

They see when and how often you admit you made a mistake.

They see when and how often you apologize… and when and how often you apologize in public when you offended in public.

They see when, how often, and how well you listen.

They see when and how often you praise in public. And how specific your praise is: not the anemic “good job!” but rather a vigorous acknowledgment of what exactly a team member does well and how that contributes to the good of the team.

In addition to being based on a faulty assumption, “leading by example” might also be caused by attribution bias (you believe that your behavior has caused theirs, that your “leading” has caused their “following”) or by buying into the narrative of the “heroic manager” (what I call the “Gandhi complex”). But that will have to wait for another post.

 


These are thoughts on the book I am writing. They were first delivered to readers of my free, monthly newsletter. It’s easy to subscribe… and unsubscribe.

 

 

Loss

In memory of my mother’s passing, I’m paraphrasing a passage from a book by Parker Palmer. It expresses exactly what I experienced. I share this as a way to reach out to other people who are dealing with loss and grief.

A few years ago, my mother died. She was more than a good person, and the months and years following her death were a long, hard winter for me. But in the midst of that ice and loss, I came into a certain clarity that I lacked when she was alive. I saw something that had been concealed when the abundance of her love surrounded me. I saw how I had relied on her to help me cushion life’s harsher blows.

When she could no longer do that, my first thought was, “Now I must do it for myself.” But as time went on, I saw a deeper truth: it never was my mother absorbing those blows but a larger and deeper grace that she taught me to rely on.

When my mother was alive, I confused the teaching with the teacher.

My teacher is gone now, but the grace is still there. And my clarity about that fact has allowed her teaching to take deeper root in me. Winter clears the landscape, however brutally, giving us a chance to see ourselves and each other more clearly, to see the very ground of our being.

 

Happy Canada Day!

11 Canadians living in the United States share what they miss most about home in Our True North.

I miss people minding their own business. I miss the politeness and courtesy. I miss the lack of drama and not taking oneself seriously. I miss the shades-of-grey world that is downtown Montreal. I miss Montreal’s food and its summer.

Living with a notebook

I carry mine everywhere and jot down EVERYTHING in it: ideas, meeting notes, phone call notes, appointments, etc. I also use it to outline and draft articles, correspondence and any other writing I do.

As things get done or transferred to permanent platforms, I cross them off. As all items in one page get done, I draw a big X on a page. When both sides of a page have Xs,  I tear the page out. When all notes have been filed and all tasks completed, I throw away the notebook and start a new one.

I don’t keep my notebooks. I have no sentimental attachment to them. They help me keep all notes in one place and get things done.

Inspiration for this post comes from Design Observer.

 

007, Blindness, and the City of God

Daniel Craig has not stopped that franchise from letting him secure a slew of other roles to take on in between his adventures as 007. The actor currently has two pretty big films (The Invasion, The Golden Compass) coming out later this year, and is now in talks to star in Blindness — adapted from Nobel Prize winner Jose Saramago‘s novel — and to be directed by Fernando Meirelles (The Constant Gardner). Also in talks to co-star alongside Craig is the very beautiful (and very talented) Julianne Moore. (Cinematical)

The latest 007 movie, Casino Royale, was quite sober on the technology/gadget front. Not a bad way to introduce the “new” Bond.

I enjoyed Saramago’s novel (writing “I enjoyed Blindness” would have made an awkward sentence) in spite its long sentences and the author’s disdain for punctuation. The book is an allegory. It will leave you wondering. Saramago received the Nobel Prize for literature in 1998.

If you liked the photography in The Constant Gardener then you also want to see Meirelles’ City of God (Cidade de Deus). It was nominated for four Oscars.