team psychological safety adaptive leadership

How Uncertainty and Conflict Lead to Innovation and Creativity

Did you know that teams rated as the “best” make more mistakes (not fewer) than others? How come? Because the better teams that make more mistakes DISCUSS them. When they do this, they can work together to reduce them. In short, these “better” teams operate in an environment of “psychological safety”.

According to Harvard Business School professor and researcher, Amy Edmondson, psychological safety is the “belief that you will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes.”

In contrast to a work environment the emphasizes only accountability to produce results, an environment of psychological safety is one that:

• Appreciates diverse perspectives and encourages disagreement instead of assuming there is one correct perspective or answer.
• Allows team members to admit what is unknown, uncomfortable, or uncertain. It is not a trendy “safe space” designed to shelter team members from things they don’t agree with.
• Focuses on experimentation to find ways to address current challenge. To this end, it encourages appropriate risk and allows mistakes.
• Approaches challenges as a system instead of looking for one thing or individual to blame.
• Allows for imperfection and encourages acknowledging personal fallibility and flaws without encouraging unproductive, dysfunctional behavior.

Through her research, Edmondson identified 3 leadership behaviors that help create psychological safety:

1. A Learning Framework.

Work is framed as a learning problem; not an execution problem.  This is accomplished, in part, by acknowledging uncertainty and interdependence. In this way, the team knows it’s OK to encounter fits, starts, detours, and failure before it arrives at an end result.

2. Lean in to Vulnerability and Flaws.

As a leader, when you acknowledge your own fallibility, you emphasize the need for all to speak up and add their perspectives. You can say things, like, “I’m curious to know how you see this.” or “What am I missing here?”

3. Model Curiosity.

Ask lots of questions to show the team how to speak up to get the information they need without being afraid to look less than competent.

For your part, creating psychological safety means that you as a leader must manage your emotions and reactivity. You might think you’re modeling curiosity to encourage participation in a discussion. However, if you get visibly upset at what your team’s input, you’ll undermine psychological safety.

In conclusion, when you create psychological safety with your team, you create an environment that taps into the human element of work instead of treating them as simple cogs in a machine. When coupled with high accountability for results, psychological safety helps you create a learning team that constantly adapts to challenges. In this way, your team has the best chance of expressing its full potential. And that leads to more innovation and creativity in your organization.

Learn more about Amy Edmondson’s research and how to create psychological safety in your organization with her book, The Fearless Organization: Creating Psychological Safety or her TedX Talk.

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 presence and composure, focus, and influence with their teams. Learn more at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.

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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.

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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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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.

Ironically, Collaboration Makes Your Company More Competitive

collaborationIt used to be that leading a successful company was all about withholding knowledge, hording power, and smashing the competition. More and more, however, leaders today are called upon to be more collaborative – sometimes even with their competition.

Typical Corporate Structure Impedes Collaboration

“Collaboration” might sound like a wimpy term to some. In fact, it is typically viewed as a more feminine virtue. Yet, the costs of poor collaboration are concrete and even painful.

Ask General Motors about its non-collaborative (“competitive”), “silo-ed” culture that led to a defective ignition switch, which cost the company at least $2.7 billion dollars in repairs, rework, replacement part, and lawsuits. A consulting report concluded that the cause of the defect stemmed from a silo-based culture that covered up issues and did not collaborate well.

Similarly, many companies operate in silos and do not communicate effectively across spans of control. In some cases, if a manager in one silo needs something from a manager in another silo, the company’s formality requires her to send a request up her chain of command to her Vice President, who then reaches across the company to another Vice President, who in turn goes down the chain of command to the manager, and so on. This form of communication is extremely slow and subject to miscommunication. Add matrix-ed relationships  to this, where employees strive to serve multiple masters, balancing multiple roles and competing interests. Yeow!

Emphasis on Technical Skills Can Stifle Collaboration

Think about the highly skilled employees in companies within technical industries, who spent years learning a technical function. Often, their companies have not encouraged them to learn the nuanced interpersonal skills required to collaborate on teams. As a result they are not as effective at relating to others, conveying their ideas with impact, getting what they want, or helping others achieve their goals. Therefore, teams in these industries may not perform as well as they could. This results in stalled projects. Ironically, when you multiply this effect across the company — especially when teams have to work cross-functionally — the negative results from a lack of collaboration can hurt a company’s competitive position.

Fostering Collaboration Is Imperative

As companies become more complex, collaboration becomes a core skill that every leader, team, and business unit must have. In some cases, this means you must structure your company to make collaboration easier. In other cases, it means encouraging manager and employees to acquire new skills, attitudes, and behaviors.

Also, leadership today requires you to enhance your own collaboration skills to get what you want from those inside your company and external partners, like suppliers, vendors, regulatory agencies, and customers. Either way, you become a role model for collaboration, setting the example for the types of collaborative interactions you expect from your employees.

When you use collaboration wisely and well, you gain easier cooperation, more information, and greater facility to reach your targets. In short, you become more competitive.

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 leaders who want to confidently become the leader they are meant to be as they maximize the “people side” of business. Learn more at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.

New Beginnings: How to Gain Credibility in a New Role Without Slaughtering Sacred Cows

Sacred CowWhether you were recently promoted to a leadership position for the first time, or you are a seasoned leader hired into a new company, stepping into a new role is exciting . . . and it can also be fraught with landmines and interpersonal dynamics you never dreamed of. If you transition to your new role thoughtfully, you increase your odds of making a great impression on others, avoiding critical errors that come from underestimating the power of corporate culture, and laying the foundation for getting results later on.

The biggest tendency is to jump right in to show how good you are, regaling others with your knowledge or solving problems that you can’t wait to address. Unfortunately, those who have been around awhile might see things different and might even take offense at all of your new-fangled ideas.

Unless you were hired into a desperate situation with the expectation that you would clean house from Day 1, you would be wise to ease in to your new role and be a bit circumspect. For the first three to six months, here are 6 things to do or keep in mind when you are the new kid on the block:

1. Take it slowly.

Remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day. You don’t have to “fix” everything you see that is wrong (in your eyes) all at once (unless that’s why you were hired). Let people get to know you first. Slowing down also allows you to more fully understand why things are the way they are. If you rush to make changes, you’re sure to step on toes that you can’t afford to offend.

2. Clarify what will make you “successful”.

To do this, look at what would make you successful based on the role, what your boss is looking for from you, and what you want to personally accomplish long- and short-term to be successful.

3. Make your boss shine.

Need I say more? It’s always good to make your boss look good, so what can you do in your new role to support your boss’s agenda?

4. Foster a relationship with each direct report.

The better your team knows you as a person, the easier it is for them to put your ideas and suggestions into context. Get to know what’s important to them and for their careers. They will already have trust in you and know you have their best interests at heart.

5. Don’t risk being labeled an “outsider” from the get-go.

Align with the company’s values and behavioral expectations. Figure out how things get done. Get a feel for the sacred cows, pet peeves, superstars, and outsiders. In short, adapt to your new surroundings. You can point out when and if the company doesn’t “walk its talk” later once others know and trust you.

6. Observe and uncover issues without solving them immediately.

Especially in your area of responsibility, get to know other players, learn about current and on-going issues, and just listen and observe. Spot patterns, learn the history of things, and tune into where there are alliances and feuds. Quietly hypothesize about root causes and possible solutions.

Sometimes less is more, and that seems to be apt when starting a new role (and especially in a new company). Ease into your job in the first 3-6 months and let the company adjust to you before you attempt to impact the new culture. Once you are a better-known quantity and accepted as part of the group, you’ll have the credibility to voice your observations, concerns, and solutions and have them taken seriously.

 

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 focus, self-awareness, and influence with their teams. Learn more  atfirebrandconsultingllc.com.

Three Leadership Behaviors That Increase Employees’ Happiness (and Productivity) at Work

collaborateA happy employee is a productive employee. Studies have shown that happy people are more successful generally, experience increased employee satisfaction, earn higher pay throughout a career, and exhibit enhanced job performance.

Specifically, research shows that compared to unhappy employees, those who are happy at work are:
· Twice as productive;
· Stay 5 times longer with an employer;
· Are 6 times more energized;
· Use 10 times less sick leave;
· Are helpful to colleagues 33% more of the time;
· Achieving 31% more of their goals;
· Are 36% more motivated than their colleagues; and
· Raise performance issues 46% more often.

Sounds like a manager’s dream! So, what must leaders do to create “happier” (and more productive) workplaces? The answers are simple and not necessarily easy.

1. Help Employees Use Their Strengths; Don’t Focus on Weaknesses.

To create happier places for employees, help them focus on their strengths. (This is good advice for yourself, too.) Now, this seems a bit odd, since you’ve probably believed that bolstering weaknesses would make people “better”. Although it might be counterintuitive, the research is clear.

In a psychological study, bowlers were divided into groups. After receiving instructions, the groups practiced bowling. Some groups were videotaped; others were not. Of those videotaped, one group saw only positive things they did, and the other group saw only the negative. Those who saw only the positive improved significantly over the rest of the bowlers (videotaped and not). Among the most unskilled bowlers, those who saw only the positive videotapes improved significantly more than anyone (Cooperrider, 1990). (Having second thoughts on how your company does performance evaluations and give feedback in general?)

What do I mean by a “strength”? I don’t mean simply the activities and skills employees are good at, although that’s a start. Marcus Buckingham takes “strengths” a step further when he says that strengths are the things that you are good at AND in which you lose yourself while doing them AND that energize you.

Have you ever been working on a project at home or work and looked up to see that much more time had passed than you realized? Maybe you spent an evening dancing with friends, writing, painting, listening to others tell their stories . . . if the time passed quickly and you felt energized after doing it, you were in what is known as “flow”, and that activity could be a strength for you.

Once an employee determines her strengths, help her find ways to do more work activities that them. Build more of activities that use her strengths into the job or encourage an employee to apply for another job in your company that could incorporate more of her strengths.

So, while maintaining an adequate level of competence at something that isn’t a strength is usually required on the job, employees are better served (and by extrapolation so is the company) if they can do more work activities that showcase their strengths and get more feedback about how they are doing with respect to their strengths.

2. Create a Sense of Belonging and Contribution

So, what type of work environment leads to happiness at work? According to the iOpener Institute for People and Performance, happy employees reported a stronger correlation with the 5 C’s:

Contribution– feeling your efforts make a difference
Conviction – short-term motivation
Culture– feeling you “fit in” at work
Commitment – long-term engagement
Confidence – belief in your own abilities

Thus, if employees do not perceive they are making a difference, fit in, or are having impact, chances are they are not happy. And if they are not happy, they are not as productive as they could be. These themes are echoed in the Gallup Organization’s Q12.

One way to increase employees’ sense of belonging and contribution is to allow them to use their strengths as noted above, which allows employees the opportunity to do what they do best, let’s employees know you care about them as a person, gives you the opportunity to talk about their progress at work, and lets them know you care about their skill and career development.

3. Cross the Losada Line

The final tip to creating more happiness at work rests squarely on the shoulders of those in charge. To increase happiness and productivity at work, count the ratio of positive to negative interaction you have with your employees. According to research by Marcial Losada, supervisors need to have more positive interactions than negative ones with their employees. Specifically, a phenomenon known as the “Losada Line” says you must have 2.9013 positive interactions to every negative interaction you’re your employees to make your team moderately successful. To lead teams to their very best work, you need to raise that ratio to 6 to 1! (Losada, 1999). How many positive interactions or communications have you given your employees or received from your manager lately? See. Not as easy as it sounds . . . especially if your motto has been “no news is good news”.

What small thing can you start doing today that will increase your employees’ happiness at work?

UPDATE: The validity of Losada’s research was challenged in 2013 by Nick Brown, a graduate student in applied positive psychology, who maintains there is no evidence for the ratio found by Losada.