management, role

What Story Do Others Tell About You?

Exerting more positive influence with others can take a lot of listening, especially with individuals and groups who appear to be at odds with you. You know your good intentions and probably see yourself in the best possible light. However, the story you tell yourself about yourself is not always the same narrative others tell about you.

When I started a job as HR Director in a unionized workplace, I had no idea the amount of existing baggage that would be heaped on me by others who had been around awhile. Bad blood had existed between previous HR Directors and some employee groups. Simply by stepping into the role, some factions automatically assumed the worst from me. It seemed no matter what I did or didn’t do, my actions and words were interpreted in the most negative light possible.

Even though I didn’t see myself at odds with these groups and even though we shared a common purpose, it took years before the defensiveness decreased enough to have productive interactions. Some groups had crafted a story about me that served their purposes, and I often unintentionally stepped right into their negative narrative because I wasn’t fully aware that my behavior was so easily misinterpreted.

What’s Their Story?

Maximizing your influence starts with identifying the various factions that have an interest in an issue or initiative. These are groups of stakeholders who band together based on common values, interests, and motivations around the issue.

Next, imagine the story they tell about themselves and about you. How do they see themselves? Why do they care? What do they stand to lose in the situation if things don’t go their way? How would they describe YOUR values, interests, and motivations in the particular situation? When you layout each faction’s values, interests, and motivations, along with your own, you can start to see where you can create common ground and where you might need to bridge a divide with the right appeal.

How Does Your View of Yourself Play Into It?

For clarity with each faction, take a good look at yourself. Decide how you want to be seen with each faction. This can help you stay focused on the broader relationship you want to create as you work through a particular challenge. Next, identify your strengths. This helps you know what you can leverage to bring to discussions and the work. Also, be aware of how this group and its interests might trigger you into an emotionally reactive state. What insecurities or vulnerabilities might they hit on that will “tweak” you? When you prepare for what can set you off, you’ll be better able to recognize it when it happens and prepare your reactions accordingly.

With this information, the story other individuals or factions are telling about you emerges. If it’s not the story you want them to tell, start working to change the script. Use this information to exert the most positive influence possible by gaining credibility along the way and seeking a win-win result.

 

WANT TO USE THIS IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with women in leadership who want to have more positive impact within their organizations, by gaining greater composure, focus, and influence with their teams. Learn more at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.

anxiety types

Is Your Influence Recognized and Rewarded in Your Company Culture?

Which leadership behaviors are reinforced in your company? In particular, does your company culture recognize and reward behaviors you would describe as more “masculine” or those you would describe as more “feminine”? And maybe it’s a balanced blend of both.

Male and Female Brains

To set the stage, not all women exhibit 100 % feminine thinking, speech, or behavior. Not all men, have completely male mannerisms, behaviors, or thought and speech patterns. Each of us is our own unique combination of masculine and feminine traits. However, current brain research shows that most women tend to have more female brains, while men tend to have more male brains. Brain structure and functioning is also influence by gender-related hormones of estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, oxytocin, etc. And because of that most women show a propensity for more “feminine” ways of operating, and most men exhibit more “masculine” modus operandi. The culture in which you were raised adds a layer of gender-based expectations.

This makes it interesting to look at the kinds of behaviors your organization tends to reinforce. If you’re a woman in the workplace you know this ground quite well. Even though most workplaces today are roughly 50/50, male/female, most corporate cultures in the US are still very male-oriented. Thus, it is commonplace that your thinking, speaking, and other behaviors are misinterpreted by the corporate culture and the men around you. Because of this, the way women interact within their companies is interpreted and explained away through a male lens. In fact, more and more research shows unconscious bias in companies adversely affects, not only people of color, but also women, especially when it comes to promoting individuals into leadership positions.

For example, the leadership model has been shifting over the past couple of decades from using mostly hierarchical authority towards more egalitarian influence. This seems great for most women because the female brain tends to seek out complex and robust relationships. Most women want to create good relationships in the workplace. Once they foster relationships, they also work to maintain those relationships and keep them intact. On the other hand, the male brain is wired to prove prowess and strength. So, so men tend to be more aggressive and competitive, looking for ways that they can prove themselves.

Relationships Versus Competition

Apply this to one area of being successful in most companies: showing your success by stating your accomplishments. This often comes up in performance reviews. Because women generally seek to maintain relationships, they will tend not to brag about their accomplishments for a couple of reasons. First, if you’re a woman, you don’t want to appear as though you’re better than other people because you’re trying to relate to others without positioning yourself as “better”. Second, you realize that other people contributed to your success. Third, if you have to brag about what you accomplished, it diminishes any recognition you received for your feat.

Conversely, men aren’t defining themselves primarily by their bonding and relationship skills. Rather, if you’re a man, you compete to the best most accomplished or best performer. That’s why most men don’t have a problem bragging about their accomplishments. In fact, it’s important that they call attention to their abilities. Consequently, men generally can more easily talk about their wins.

Collaboration and Influence

Another area where your influence and might be missed is through collaboration. Masculine versus feminine notions of “collaboration” can look different. Women will ask others to participate in projects or decisions. As a woman, you may hold off landing on an answer to a challenge and gather a lot of input from others up front. Not only do you value the connection with the people, but you might be looking for a lot of different perspectives or ideas that about the challenge. This inductive thinking is about gathering more ideas for a better solution. In contrast, male collaboration comes from a competitive competence angle. If you’re a man, collaborating with others is a way to test out your ideas and see how well they measure up. With this more deductive style of thinking, you start with your idea and see how well it stands up to challenges from others.

How have your behaviors been perceived through the lens of your company culture? How are you perceived by various factions within your company culture? What are the implications for you and your leadership?

WANT TO USE THIS IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with women in leadership who want to have more positive impact within their organizations, by gaining greater composure, focus, and influence with their teams. Learn more at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.

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head in the sand; appease

How to Know If You Are an Appeaser

An Appeaser is the opposite of the Micromanager I wrote about previously in How to Know If Your Are a Micromanager. True micromanagers get a bad rap and deservedly so. However, if you’re an Appeaser, your leadership style is just as ineffective and can cause low team morale.

The Appeaser’s Narrative

If you’re an Appeaser, you seek “peace” and stability over achieving desired results in a timely manner. Consequently, you often keep your “head in the sand”. The story you tell yourself is that it’s your job to make sure everyone gets along. Also, you don’t go looking for trouble. You like to believe that if you don’t see problems, they don’t exist. Thus, you stay out of things as much as possible and allow your team to monitor themselves. No news is good news, so if you don’t hear anything negative, you assume your team knows what to do and will get things done. Accordingly, you don’t check in or follow up on their progress.

Appeaser Behaviors

Appeaser will often:

  • Allow team members to operate on their own assumptions about their roles and responsibilities to remain under the belief that things are all right.
  • Rely almost completely on team’s ability to self-organize while setting few if any parameters.
  • Disregard being explicit about purpose, objectives, values, norms, or system parameters.
  • Avoid following up on progress for fear of walking into problems you don’t want to face.
  • Avoid conflict to avert negative reactions from others.
  • Resolve individual complaints to give the complainant what they want for the sake of peace in the moment, without considering implications of the decision to the team or larger group.
Results of Appeasement

As an Appeaser, other may see you as warm and kind; however, you may create more disruption than you think as you pursue your idea of peace because . . . .

  • Work is stymied and the team is less effective than it could be.
  • Team members are often stuck in “limbo” waiting for things to move forward before they can take their work to the next level.
  • Team members are put in the awkward spot of explaining to those outside the team why things aren’t moving forward or why issues aren’t addressed.
  • You undermine group cohesion by granting too many individual exceptions to standard policy and procedure.
Shifting from Appeaser to Leader

If you see yourself as an Appeaser, you can shift to a more balanced leadership approach by seeing yourself more like a Steward of the work. When you do this, you learn to place the work at the center of every decision you make instead of having “peace”. You will find yourself facilitating discussions to get everyone on the same page regarding purpose and norms. You’ll put conditions in place that allow for robust discussions to hash out topics that might have been too unnerving for you previously. In short, you will move from Appeaser to Leader.

 

WANT TO USE THIS IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with women in leadership who want to have more positive impact within their organizations, by gaining greater composure, focus, and influence with their teams. Learn more at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.

workplace boundaries, appease

Better Workplace Boundaries: Saying “No” Strategically

You might be feeling overworked or overwhelmed because there doesn’t seem to be enough time for you to do what you want and must do. So many people want you to weigh in or work on something. So many tasks need to be accomplished now! You might feel torn in so many directions, or feel you’re not moving forward with the important or critical work.

It’s hard to hear, but chances are it’s mostly your own fault.

If this sounds like your experience, it’s very possible you established boundaries that serve everyone else instead of you. Consequently, your boundaries aren’t working for sanity or productivity (although they might be serving your ego identity and that will be another blog post for the future).

Why would you put yourself in the position of being pulled in too many directions for your own good? As a woman, there are biological and cultural forces that might be contributing.

Female Biology and Cultural Attitudes Encourage Women to Foster Relationships

Biologically, research using brain scans shows that female brain structure and function put a premium on bonding with others and building relationships. Additionally, the female hormone estrogen and the hormone oxytocin (usually higher in females), promote bonding with others. Moreover, many cultural norms expect women to be “warm”, accommodating, and passive.

While there’s nothing wrong with showing warmth, putting others first, and not always getting your own way, it’s not always required or even healthy for you to put your needs, wants, and priorities last. When your own attention and priorities slip to the bottom of the list on a regular basis, you’ll feel negative emotions, such as taken for granted, underappreciated, or overwhelmed. You can avoid these feelings by enforcing healthy boundaries that serve to honor your priorities while allowing you to be a team player who appropriately pitches in to assist others.

In order to do this, you’ll want to consciously and strategically choose when to say “no” to protect your own time, attention, and energy and when to work on others’ priorities for the good of your team or company.

If your plate is already full, here are some guidelines for when, to whom, and how to say “no”:

Who’s Asking?

Consider your experience and position. The more senior you are, the more leeway you have to “say no” to others with less experience or seniority, unless it will be good for your career in the company; gives you desired/important job skills; or will be personally gratifying.

As a general rule, you will honor requests from your boss or other senior leader. If that feeling of overwhelm creeps in, work with your boss to ensure you both agree how you will re-prioritize your other projects and tasks as necessary.

When Saying “No” Is Warranted.

Consider declining a request for your time, attention, and energy when the request does not come from your boss and when at least one of the following is true:

  • The work does not align or correspond with your current personal and work priorities.
  • You can’t accept the request without your other work priorities suffering;
  • The requested work does not offer you a significant opportunity for learning or career development; or

Another way to look at it is consider saying “yes” if the requested work fits in with your current priorities; you can take it on without putting your own work on hold; or the requested work is a great opportunity to learn or meet other people that will be great for your current position or your career trajectory in general.

How to Say “No” Without Appearing Uncaring or Selfish.

In general, it’s best to say “no” as little as possible and in line with your current time commitments and career aspirations. One suggestion is to indicate you’ll accept if certain conditions can be met. For example, you could say, “YES, I am happy to be a part of that project IF it will only take about an hour of my time each week.”

Other ways to say “no” include:

  • Indicate that the relationship is important by being gracious when “saying no”.
  • Take time to consider the request before declining. A fast, abrupt “no” can leave the other person believing you didn’t even listen to what they asked.
  • Be clear that you are saying “no”. Too much sugar-coating or hemming and hawing will bury your “no” and lead to misunderstandings.
    Show respect by declining requests in person if possible.
  • Don’t refuse a request just because it’s outside your comfort zone. Say “yes” if it won’t take away from your current focus and/or is related to your work priorities, learning, or career development.

You probably say “yes” to many requests to look like a team player when you really don’t need to. It’s okay to decline a request. However, when you do say “no”, it won’t always be easy. Keep in mind you are going against your biology and family or cultural norms. So, be smart about how you decline a request. Others will respect knowing where your boundaries are, and you’ll teach them over time when to ask.

WANT TO USE THIS  IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with women in leadership who want to have more positive impact within their organizations, by gaining greater composure, focus, and influence with their teams. Learn more at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.

How to Know If You Are a Micromanager

micromanaging, adult assignmentWhen you lead other people, there is no shortage of learning opportunities. After all, humans are varied and complicated, and circumstances change constantly. Factor in into the mix your own strengths, vulnerabilities, and triggers, and things get really interesting. This is the reason many of my clients aren’t clear about how to follow up and follow through with direct reports without overstepping.

It’s true that a few employees will accuse even the best leaders of micromanaging, often as a way to avoid accountability for their lack of capability or ownership of the work. Sometimes, the leader’s gender influences how much or how little direction the employee is willing to accept. Additionally, the company culture influences the extent to which these complaints are taken seriously.

In general, however, true micromanaging goes beyond typical managerial follow up and follow through. The critical distinction is the MANNER in which you get your team to accomplish the work. This, in turn, hinges on how you see yourself – your IDENTITY.

Here are a few key differences in how you know whether or not you’re micromanaging.

Micromanaging

You’re more likely to “micromanage” others when you see yourself at the center of the issues that come your way. In other words, your identity is that of a “fixer”. You believe the spotlight is on you to perform using your technical expertise, capabilities, and performance. In other words, you overly focus on the tasks to be done as opposed to attending to the interpersonal elements involved.

When you see yourself at the center of the work as the fixer, you might focus too much on your technical competence and on your position to get things done. Thus, you may:

  • Believe your technical knowledge and capabilities are superior to that of your team and are what make others want to be led by you.
  • Portray yourself as “right”, “strong” and/or “in charge”, exhibiting your strengths and hiding your vulnerabilities.
  • Expect respect you based on primarily your position.
  • Make decisions and insist on employees’ work being done your way without their input, even in non-urgent or emergency situations.

This way of seeing yourself, may lead you to:

  • Focus on the technical aspects of the work rarely if ever refer to the reason for the work and its impact to the team, customer, community, or company.
  • “Hover” and often jump in to do the work yourself because “it’s faster if I do it” or “they won’t do it right”.
  • Ignore putting in place systems and shared understandings of how to work together, so your follow up may seem haphazard or unpredictable and taken personally as blame.
  • Take it personally and/or look for who is to blame when things go wrong.
  • Surround yourself with others who reinforce your view of yourself as the most competent.
Leading Without Micromanaging

In contrast, you’re more likely to lead without micromanaging when you take the focus off of yourself and put it on the challenge, issue, or opportunity. Thus, you identify yourself as a “facilitator”.

Even with competent technical skills, you know that the “soft skills” of understanding and engaging people is key to mobilizing their abilities. You rely less on your formal authority and relate to others using more informal influence instead. You are more likely to:

  • Honor your strengths and own your vulnerabilities without trying to hide either.
  • See yourself as a resource for your team and as a steward of ideas and talent.
  • Hold yourself and direct reports accountable for deviations from purpose, values, objectives, and systems.
  • Stay with conflict and dissension within your team to channel it into productive discussion.
  • Give credit and take the blame.

Because you keep the work at the center of everyone’s attention, you most likely:

  • Value talent and seek those who complement your capabilities and add to the team’s capabilities to do the work.
  • Focus on creating conditions that grow and harness team capabilities to accomplish the work.
  • Spend time clarifying roles and responsibilities to make sure your team knows who owns the various aspects of the work.
  • State the purpose and objectives for tasks and projects to focus your team on what’s important to guide the work.
  • Get input from your team on what’s working and what’s not working.
  • Set up formal, systematic ways to follow up and check in with each other to make sure the work is on track and to address unexpected obstacles and accountability, to get other support, or to celebrate successes.
  • Approach some aspects of the work experimentally, addressing calculated risks, mistakes, and failures as learning opportunities.

Determining your manner of leading with accountability and without micromanaging is a like learning to balance use of the gas and the brakes. It’s an art and a science to know when to follow up for accountability and when to let someone continue down a path to learn from a potential failure. It starts with how you see yourself in your leadership role: fixer or facilitator. As with the gas and brakes, with practice, you’ll get the feel for what it’s like to lead without micromanaging.

WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with women in leadership who want to have more positive impact within their organizations, by gaining greater composure, focus, and influence with their teams. Learn more at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.

Harmonize Your Work/Life Balance

calm responseA recent survey found that 66% of workers in the US struggle with finding the right work/life balance – and they aren’t all parents. With our 24/7 culture, even employees without children find it challenging to keep work and home priorities in reasonable proportions. The real issue isn’t the continual balancing act between work and home; rather, it is the fact you don’t know what the balance is all about.

When you are clear about what’s important to you, choices are easier to make, and you are more content with your decisions. In contrast, when you aren’t clear and find yourself struggling with decisions about where to spend your time and energy, your feelings of stress and guilt go up and your energy plummets.

To get back more energy and to counter the stress and guilt of where to focus, re-frame the idea finding “work/life balance” by harmonizing your personal identity and purpose with your current employment.

How Compatible is Your Personal Vision /Mission with Work?

Start with creating a big picture vision for how you want your life to be. Your vision includes what you want to experience and/or contribute throughout your lifetime. Your corresponding mission goes into more detail about what you want to do to make your vision come true as you use your talents and gifts.

Once you have a broad personal vision and mission, notice how compatible they are with those of your chosen career and current employer. For example, if your vision is to create a world where you help others express themselves uniquely, using your ability to empathize with others, see how that dovetails with your career. I’ll assume it is possible to fulfill you vision and mission in all careers, while it’s easier to do so in some versus others. The more you can live your own vision and mission through your career, the less you’ll struggle with work/life balance and the more you’ll be in flow.

Also, compare your personal vision and mission with those of your company. They don’t have to match up 100%. However, the less overlap, the more likely you’ll experience the dissonance between them, causing those feelings of overwhelm and lack of balance. If the disconnect is great, you may want to consider finding an employer that is more in line with your personal vision and mission.

How About Your Personal Values?

As with your vision and mission, work and home harmony is easier the more your personal values are in line with your employer’s values. To assess this, determine your top 3 personal values — the conceptual principles that are critically important to you and by which you act and make decisions. Seek commonality or connection between your personal values and those touted and lived by your company. For example, if one of your core values is “honesty” and you work for a company that is deceptive with customer and employees, then you might routinely feel conflicted at work – even if that company purports to value “honesty” or “integrity”. In contrast, if the company goes the extra mile to be honest and keep its promises with customers and employees, you’ll experience more harmony and flow.

Again, you don’t need 100% alignment between your core values and those of your employer. Yet, the more synergy there is between them, the less tension, overwhelm, and guilt you’ll have about spending extra time at work or taking time off for personal priorities.

Harmonizing Goals, Projects, and Tasks

Based on your vision, mission, and values, you probably have set some aspirations for yourself, personally and professionally. Compare these personal and career goals/aspirations with the goals you are currently charged with at work. Is there a way to further your personal goals through your work goals? Often, work goals give you opportunities to receive training and make connections that are beneficial personally.

In turn, focusing on the relevant projects and tasks that further your work goals can also harmonize your schedule between work and home. When you intentionally schedule the work tasks that further company goals, you may realize you’ve been caught up in a lot of “busy” work that has sapped your time and energy, leaving you with the stress and guilt of not attending to things at home.

That’s why it’s important to align your personal and work priorities. Doing so, can clarify the personal and work choices presented to you. When your career and current employment fit within your personal vision, mission, values, goals, and priorities, the balance or harmony between them is greater.

WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with women in leadership who want to have more positive impact within their organizations, by gaining greater composure, focus, and influence with their teams. Learn more at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.

Re-Inspire and Engage Your Team with These Simple Tips

inspire engage teamIt’s easy to lose focus on the fact that your team’s work is part of a strategic plan to accomplish the company’s big picture vision and mission. You can get so caught up your own focus and tasks that you assume everyone else is automatically aware of how their work connects to the company vision and mission. Consequently, your team and its work becomes mundane, reactive and uninspired. This kind of atmosphere can lead to higher turnover and lower productivity and engagement.

This disconnect between vision/mission and daily work happens in part because you forget that leading others requires you to continually make the connection between their work and the company’s vision, purpose, and mission. Also, you might be making assumptions that others can read your mind and that they know why they’ve been asked to complete various tasks. People are not mind readers. This is why you must be transparent, explicit, and quite frankly, redundant. After all, it’s said that people don’t really “get” something until they’ve heard it 7 times.

When you don’t share the vision and overall outcome with your team for a project or individual assignment, you’ll likely experience less cooperation between team members because they will focus only on their piece. Your team doesn’t volunteer their perspectives or participate in problem solving because they can only see as far the tip of their current task — they don’t see the bigger picture or the final aspiration. When your team is this myopic, they can become defensive when mistakes happen and look for someone else to blame. After all, they did what they were assigned.

Daily work happens routinely and re-actively; direct reports are uninspired; and your team dreads meetings because they are boring. Even one-on-ones become simple updates with little discussion or input from your employees.

How To Use Vision to Re-Inspire and Engage Your Team

To inspire your team and to increase their engagement in their work, use these tips to re-connect daily work to the big picture vision and mission:

  1. Communicate the vision and mission regularly. At the start of a project, during meetings, or when processing through mistakes or failures, make a brief introductory statement to remind everyone involved why you’re working on what you’re working on and what overall end results you’re headed for. Embrace any chance you get to remind your team of the big picture for why your company exists.
  2. Connect the dots from general vision to daily work. When assigning work to your team, describe the general outcome desired and why this outcome impacts the world, your customers, the team, etc. Then describe how the team’s work is meant to contribute to moving the company in that direction. Doing this provides your opportunity to discuss which aspects of the work are critical along with the timing of the work to reach milestones.

WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with women in leadership who want to have more positive impact within their organizations, by gaining greater composure, focus, and influence with their teams. Learn more at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.