By Ian Cook
These are SHORT pieces that offer practical tips and useful insights to help managers bring out the best in the people they lead.
I have been enjoying the first season of the Netflix production, The Crown. It’s about the reign of Queen Elizabeth II, starting around the time of the death of her father, King George VI.
Early on there is a poignant flashback scene where the King gets his young daughters, Elizabeth and younger sister Margaret, to swear that they will always put one another first. They swear.
Flash forward to Elizabeth on the throne and Princess Margaret deeply in love with Group Captain Peter Townsend, a senior attendant to the British royal household and recently divorced. Margaret asks the queen to consent to Peter and she marrying. Elizabeth, impressed by the depth of her sister’s feelings, pledges to support the marriage, on the condition that the couple wait two years, until Margaret has turned 25 and no longer requires the Queen’s formal consent.
The couple patiently remains apart for the two years. But then a glitch appears. It turns out that, as head of the Church of England, Elizabeth must, constitutionally, support and honor the tenets of her church. One of those tenets: Christian marriage is indissoluble. Elizabeth finds herself in an impossible position.
After days of agonizing over her dilemma, Elizabeth has the excruciating task of informing her dear sister that she cannot now honor the promise she had made. She is not able to give her approval and, furthermore, if Margaret proceeds she will be stripped of her royal privileges and income.
The stab of feeling betrayed cuts into Margaret like a knife. And the agony of guilt floods through the Queen as she stoically standsby her duty as monarch. It’s a powerful scene in the TV series that portrays a pivotal leadership moment calling for high courage and steadfastness from Her Majesty..
The lesson? Leadership is not just about vision, strategic intelligence, and inspiring people to follow. It also, on occasion, calls upon the leader to find within themselves a level of courageous authenticity that others rarely have to demonstrate.
Here are a few examples: Hanging tough when others are losing faith in your stretch organizational goals, turning around a toxic workplace culture, confronting poor performers, and…finding yourself thrust into a point-of-choice situation where either decision will violate your core values and perhaps your very integrity.
Long may you reign, leaders.
Are you a “go to” person–too often–in the eyes of your boss?
Are there times when you want to decline a task but don’t know how to say it?
When is it smart to say “Yes?”
We all get extra assignments delegated by our boss. Sometimes they are thankless tasks. Sometimes they are “drudge work.” Sometimes we are genuinely too busy. Sometimes we resent always being the one called upon to step up.
Then again, often assignments carry positive outcomes for us…to learn and stretch, to work with new people, to build our reputation, to do a favor for our boss, to honor the trust being placed in us.
As a general rule, I think saying “yes” whenever you can is a smart career move. It solves your boss’s immediate problem and builds your brand as a team player. Never saying “no”, however, can hurt you in at least two ways:
- Jeopardize your ability to deliver on your expected job outcomes and standards.
- Build for you a different brand: doormat.
Here’s the audio link to a great podcast (#517, March 2016) from Harvard Business Review IdeaCast. It’s called “Saying ’No’ to More Work.” It will give you lots to think about as you determine how best to respond when someone higher up says to you…
…“here’s something else I’d like you to handle” offer.”
|What I’m Reading|
|An Everyone Culture: Becoming a Deliberately Developmental Organization,
by Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey
I love how this provocative book opens:
Most people are doing a second job no one is paying for. [They] are spending time and energy covering up their weaknesses, managing other people’s impressions of them, showing themselves to their best advantage, playing politics, hiding their inadequacies, hiding their uncertainties, hiding their limitations. Hiding.
We regard this as the single biggest loss of resources that organizations suffer every day.
For whom of us does this not ring true? But imagine what it would be like to work in a place where we didn’t have to operate like this.
An Everyone Culture will appeal particularly to senior leaders whose organization faces a marketplace or domain of service that is fraught with rapid change, uncertainty, and complex forces. The authors challenge enterprises to shift their culture toward one of openness where it is safe to admit when you don’t know and when you have pulled back–out of fear–from taking a strong stand or giving your authentic feedback or point of view.
They present three companies that have achieved this. These firms start with the assumption that people want to learn and get better, are wired to grow. Their way of operating presents learning opportunities every day. Within a culture of unparalleled candidness, all employees engage in helping themselves and others overcome their limitations and blind spots and improve their mastery of increasingly challenging work.
It’s one thing to have to deal with a negative team member, one who sees the worst in everything, who dwells on “what’s wrong” rather than considering “what’s possible.” You can gently begin to confront them by asking ask what they would like to see instead.
But what if your employee is not just negative? What if he or she is downright cynical?
Cynicism is a deeper and more virulent form of negativity. The cynic distrusts the motives of other people and expects negative outcomes in most situations. Where the negative person says, “it won’t work” or “he’s not up to the job,” the cynic declares “it won’t work because nothing like this ever does” or “he can’t lead the department because he’s just out for his own self-interest.”
Embedded in the cynic’s words is a feeling of contempt, of bitterness. They express the perceptions of someone who has lost faith in the honorable intentions of others or in a life that can and frequently does generate positive outcomes.
It’s wise to keep in mind, of course, that chronic cynicism in a staff member may well reflect deeper psychological issues that require the services of someone who is clinically trained.
Short of that situation, however, you may try a couple of these approaches:
What causes you to say (or believe) that?
Where did you learn this to be the case?
How can you be so sure (of what you are saying)?
Is it possible that you are missing something in your assessment?
Would you be open to looking at things through another lens? What would it take to consider another point of view?
The strategy here is to first get the cynical employee to see how absolute and unyielding their belief is about the individual or the situation in question. It’s hard to believe but most cynics are not consciously aware of how dogmatic they are. Nor do they realize how their rigid negative views hamper their effectiveness as an employee and team member.
Only when you succeed in raising their awareness of their cynicism and its impact can you invite them to explore alternate versions of the “truth.”
Jack Gibb, the author of the book Trust, said that the key life question is whether or not I trust that the universe is a friendly place. The cynic, sadly, doesn’t.