Thursday, October 18, 2012

12 Signs That You're A Cowardly Leader

We all feel fear. What separates the proverbial men from the boys, and women from the girls, is how we respond to our fears. Courageous leaders face what needs to be faced and do what needs to be done. Cowardly leaders make excuses, hide their heads in the sand, and generally take the easy way out. All actions have consequences. So does lack of action. With the margin for error so slim in today's workplace, you want to make sure you're thinking as coolly and clearly as possible.

You don't have to be an out-and-out coward to let fear impact your leadership effectiveness. Many people are unaware of how profoundly fear influences their decision making.

Are you leading from a place of fear? See if the following apply to you:

  • You frequently take the easy way out. You avoid taking bold, decisive action because it makes you uncomfortable. Then, you rationalize why you didn't do what you really needed to do: I wanted to go to the national trade show, but we just couldn't get the prototype ready by the deadline…or I've always thought we should take part in the green initiative, but the CEO would just shoot down the suggestion, so there was no point in bringing it up. Generally, such rationalizations boil down to fear. What if you unveiled the prototype at the trade show and it flopped? What if you approached the CEO with your green initiative idea and he rejected you—or worse, what if he didn't reject you and then you had to make it work? It's easier to avoid taking action (at least in the short term), but it's also a sure path to mediocrity and stagnation.
  • You pretend you don't know what you actually know. You pretend you don't know about opportunities in order to avoid risk. You pretend you don't know that a high performer is behaving badly and making other employees unhappy. You pretend that your biggest client isn't crushing employee morale. Maybe, you even pretend you don't know it's time for you to move on. All of this pretending allows you to avoid pain and feel good in the short term, but it exacts a heavy price over time. There is always a price to be paid for necessary actions not taken. Your job as a leader is to look reality in the face and accept it so that you can make the tough decisions that need to be made.
  • You fall victim to "shiny ball" syndrome. Most of us are easily distractible—easily falling prey to every shiny thing that comes into view. In fact, we often don't want to say no to distractions because what we should be focusing on may be difficult, unpleasant, or anxiety producing. Anyone can stay busy. It takes real courage and fortitude to stay focused and on task. I heard a shocking statistic recently: The average Sunday edition of the New York Times has more information in it than the average human being in the 1700s received during his entire lifetime. If we can't achieve focus and manage the deluge of information that comes at us every day, we'll drown in the chaos. We'll fail to do the important things. And we'll fail as leaders.
  • You ignore what's causing "weight and drag" in your company. Maybe it's a policy, a person, or a mindset that's holding you or your team back from optimal performance. Ask yourself now: What am I doing, or not doing, that is adding weight and drag? Am I refusing to make a decision, waiting to hire an assistant, delaying a hiring or firing issue? At the core of your job is your role as an obstacle remover. Be courageous: remove the obstacles you can and work around the ones that remain so that you can stay productive, directed, and focused.
  • You refuse to balance your head and your gut. It takes both facts and intuition to analyze situations effectively. Many leaders stick to the analytic style they're most comfortable with. Courageous leaders understand that decisions that have a direct impact on people's lives require both aspects of analysis—and that means most of us need to step outside our comfort zones when it's time to make decisions.
    Your leadership will be enhanced, the performance of your team will improve, and they will likely trust you more if you lead with both your head and your gut. They are like two sides of the same coin.
  • You hide behind the "I'm not quite ready" excuse. Leaders and organizations spend too much time getting ready to be ready to get ready to almost get ready to be ready to get ready. Then they form a committee or a task force (which is just a committee on steroids) to evaluate more and look into the situation more so that they can really be ready. Getting overly ready is a result of fear. You don't want to fail so instead you put off the moment of truth by perpetually getting ready. Should you prepare? Of course! Do your research? Yes. But stop hiding behind the "we aren't quite ready" curtain. Say, "Enough is enough," and just do it—even if conditions aren't perfect.
  • You see only the information that agrees with your beliefs. We all have a natural tendency to ignore information that contradicts our beliefs about the world, especially our negative beliefs. If we believe someone doesn't like us, we will see only those behaviors that support that impression. If we think we are bad at something, we will see only more evidence of that conclusion. This tendency is so strong that it blinds us to contrary evidence. As long as we don't see other possibilities we don't have to take action.
  • You're constantly blaming others. This is an energy-draining, counterproductive way of dealing with difficult circumstances. Blaming someone else puts you in the position of a victim who is not in control. Therefore, you won't take action to change your circumstances because it's someone else's problem. (How convenient, huh?). Victim thinking affects not just individuals but entire organizations. Acknowledging that you are ultimately responsible for the results of your life, thoughts, and actions creates a level of freedom not experienced by those who choose to blame others. It empowers you to act. Courageous leaders are driven by, even obsessed with, the imperative to eliminate excuse making and blame from themselves and their organizations.
  • You reward effort rather than achievement. It's a mistake to be too "soft" about expectations, to say, "Just do your best." People will not achieve just because you encourage and motivate them. Somebody must drive performance. Somebody must plant the flag on the hill and refuse to accept anything but success. That somebody is you. Courageous leaders lay out expected results in the most effective and humane way possible and are clear about the consequences of not meeting them. Bosses may worry about upsetting their employees, so they don't set high expectations. I believe in a respectful workplace where people enjoy their jobs and look forward to coming to work, but I am also in full support of less whining and more doing, less passing the buck and more personal responsibility, less explaining why you didn't and more showing how you did.
  • You're a helicopter leader. Accountability is a major buzzword for leaders. And it is important for leaders to keep people focused on what matters and so they can align performance with expectations. Unfortunately, some leaders think accountability means constantly standing over employees to make sure they're doing what they're supposed to be doing, in the way you think they should be doing it. This is not accountability; it's hovering. And it's yet another manifestation of fear. Helicopter leaders are afraid to let go because they believe the work won't get done if they don't oversee every detail. Either this fear is unfounded or it's a sign that employees really aren't capable of doing their jobs. The solution is simple: do your job and let them do theirs, or get rid of incompetent employees and replace them with people who can get the job done.
  • You solve all of your people's problems. Problem solving is a big part of leadership. It's also a big part of followership. Do not solve all of your followers' problems; don't even solve most of them. Remember that the more you are involved in solutions, the more likely it will be that your reports will become overly dependent on you. If they know you will come in and fix their problems, they will wait. They will also feel that you don't have confidence in them. Manage your anxiety and have a little faith in others. Your employees will rise to the occasion and you'll be a lot happier.
  • Mental clutter is keeping you from noticing. The more you fear, the more you try to do. The more you try to do, the more you have to think about. You have more meetings, more calls to make, more emails to read and send, and more commitments to obsess over. Once you let go of some of the fear, you can free up the time to do the things that truly inspire and invigorate you. These moments will be the times when you notice that your veteran sales rep needs you to back off a bit, or that your morning grumpiness is affecting everyone's enthusiasm. These will be the moments that show you how to motivate your followers and inspire them to greater success. These moments will refresh your ability to notice the rest of your life. Ultimately, you'll realize this may be the best reason of all to confront your hidden fears and vanquish your inner coward.

The ramifications of fear-centered leadership wreak havoc that extends beyond the workplace,. The anxiety that comes from not doing what you know deep down needs to be done—and from managing the fallout from your poor decisions—drains the energy you could be spending on friends, family, and the outside interests that make life worth living.

About the Author(s) :- Mike Staver is a business coach and speaker and is CEO of the Staver Group. He is a certified speaking professional (CSP), a designation held by fewer than 10% of professional speakers. His most recent book is Leadership Isn't for Cowards: How to Drive Performance by Challenging People and Confronting Problems (Wiley, 2012). His other published works include the book Do You Know How to Shut Up? And 51 Other Life Lessons That Will Make You Uncomfortable.

Thanks to Mike Staver / AMANET / AMA—American Management Association

Overwork, Underwork And Depression

Of all the topics discussed during last Wednesday's presidential debate, the recession and the critical issue of job creation rightfully took center stage. Work is our livelihood, our identity, and the structure of our days; it is how we describe ourselves at parties when someone asks, "And what do you do?"

Of course work generates income, but it is, in other ways, immaterial.

If work lends a sense of self, meaning and purpose to our lives, what happens to our mental state when we are unemployed? In the context of a global recession, I can't help but wonder.

So, as any responsible public health student would do, I looked at the data.

It appears that this year's World Mental Health Day topic, depression, is a timely one. Depression is related to the economy and to unemployment in a number of ways, and the relationship manifests itself differently throughout the world.

But, in all, the economic climate poses a serious threat to mental health. Here are some examples.

  • A telephone survey carried out in Greece revealed a 36 percent increase in the reported number of attempted suicides between 2009 and 2011, a period of serious economic turmoil.1
  • Back in the U.S., analyses of data from the Epidemiologic Catchment Area panel revealed that, of employed respondents not diagnosed with major depression at first interview, those who became unemployed had over twice the risk of increased depressive symptoms and of becoming clinically depressed as those who continued their employment.2
  • On the flip side, overwork also effects health, sometimes severely. Take Japan, for example, a wealthy nation whose citizens work the longest hours of any industrialized country. Due to low base pay, many workers are forced to put in more overtime, holiday hours and night shifts, with occasional "voluntary" work for suggestion programs, employee-generated ideas to increase productivity.
  • Many Japanese also have homework (furoshiki zangyou, or "wrapped work") to do after they leave the office. In 2011, Japanese workers spent 26 percent of each day working, the highest of all 26 OECD countries.

    These trends help explain the problem of Karoshi, the Japanese term for death from overwork. Although depression in Japan might be a taboo topic, Karoshi is all too well known. The first case was recorded in 1969, when a 29-year-old man died of a stroke thought to be the result of the stress and exhaustion of extended work time coupled with ill health.5

  • Most Karoshi victims had been working more than 3,000 hours per year prior to their deaths. That comes to at least 58 hours per week, every week, each year. In 1994, the Japanese government's Economic Planning Agency in the Institute of Economics estimated that Karoshi causes 1,000 deaths per year in the 25 to 59 age group.6 But this number pales in comparison to the number of work-related suicides: In 2007, there were 2,207 work-related suicides in Japan, and the most common reason (672 suicides) was overwork, according to government figures.

Both overwork and underwork significantly affect depression and mental health in general.

I believe this is a structural problem that cannot be attributed to individual failings, and governments must play a larger role in regulating the job market to increase job growth. Stricter limits on work hours also are needed.

Depression and employment are strongly tied together; thus they must be considered simultaneously on a societal level, especially in the light of economic reform.

Thanks to Joanna Jungerman / PsychCentral / Psych Central

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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Cheap Talent Can Cost You

Picture the scene:  your company is seeking to employ an Operations Manager, and the leading candidate is currently "in transition."  Human Resources has pegged the market value of the job at $ 75,000, but it's known that the preferred candidate (Bob) will accept $ 65,000.  A seasoned and experienced professional, Bob was previously paid $76,000 by his last employer, but was caught up in a restructuring staff reduction.  He's been out of work for almost a year and is getting desperate, worried about feeding his family and paying the mortgage.

When the decision point arrives, other less qualified candidates are already making $ 70,000 and asking for $75,000.  Some hiring managers would look at this situation as a no-brainer.  "Let's hire Bob and save $10,000 to $15,000" would be the smug decision. 

That wasn't hard, was it?   An exceptional candidate has been gained at a low ball price.  The manager deserves a pat on the back for saving the company money.   But, wait a minute.   Perhaps it should be a boot in the butt instead. 

A savvy professional like Bob will have a sense of the competitive market, so he'll be aware of having taken a significant pay cut to land this job.  So how excited will he be with the offer?  Today, he'll be delighted and will celebrate getting a job and finally having money coming in again.  Tomorrow, not so much enthusiasm.

How long before his resentment grows, knowing that he was taken advantage of – gotten on the cheap?  What will happen to his energy level, engagement, even his morale?  What will he now think of the company, never mind his hiring manager?

What's the likely future for Bob?

It's always safe to presume that how a candidate is treated will be discovered later by that same new employee; otherwise you'll be stuffing skeletons into a closet – and you know that trick never ends well.  So when Bob confirms for himself the low ball treatment, what reaction can you expect?

  • Angered by a sense of being taken advantage of he could continue with his job search - looking for a better opportunity - while still working for you.
  • His job performance might suffer, dropping from 110% to automatic pilot to somewhere south of Satisfactory.  He'll be going through the motions – not exactly the dynamo you thought you had hired.
  • His attitude will turn negative and he'll morph into another disengaged employee – critical of the company and management, doing no more than he must in order to get by.
  • And he'll ultimately quit, but on his terms and timing.  His anger will have kept simmering and he'll likely feel little concern as to how his departure affects the organization.

What you have now is a bad hire - a situation that's unnecessary and easily avoidable if you treat candidates fairly.  Look at it from the candidate's perspective; when your back is to the wall and you feel your "rescuer" is taking advantage, that feeling causes a pit-of-the-stomach resentment that lingers and festers.  And it costs.

Let's tally up the cost

The manager claimed a cost savings by the hiring decision.  But when you factor in the longer term ramifications of that decision, how do the initial savings hold up?

  • The hiring decision saved $10,000 to $15,000 per annum by consciously underpaying the candidate.
  • What is the discounted value of a disengaged employee who doesn't perform as expected or desired?
  • What is the value of time lost when Bob quits and the job is vacant while a replacement is sought?
  • What is the value of hiring a potentially more expensive replacement (plus agency costs) and perhaps relocation?
  • What is the value of productive time lost while a new employee gets up to speed?
  • Finally, what is the subjective value of a discontented employee in your midst, who is possibly poisoning the attitude of other employees?

So the next time a hiring manager proudly announces how to save a bunch of money on a candidate who's in transition, take a moment to think it through.  You may want to consider a boot in the butt instead.

Chuck Csizmar CCP is founder and Principal of CMC Compensation Group, providing global compensation consulting services to a wide variety of industries and non-profit organizations.  He is also associated with several HR Consulting firms as a contributing consultant.  Chuck is a broad based subject matter expert with a specialty in international and expatriate compensation.  He lives in Central Florida (near The Mouse) and enjoys growing fruit and managing (?) a brood of cats.

Thanks to Chuck Csizmar / Compensation Cafe