Information and Skills You Need to Get Ahead
Acknowledge Fatal FlawsWhile it's okay for leaders to have weaknesses, it needs to be understood that there is an enormous difference between a common weakness and a fatal flaw, John Zenger, Joseph Folkman, Robert Sherwin, Jr. and Barbara Steel point out in How to Be Exceptional. In every case the authors examined, fatal flaws appear to pull down the effectiveness of a leader.
A fatal flaw is a behavior or trait that has a devastatingly negative impact on a person's overall effectiveness. An important element of a fatal flaw is that it is a behavior that is viewed as being very important in the person's current job or in the culture of the organization.
One way to measure if a weakness is fatal is to note whether it is the first trait people think about when a person's name is mentioned. It becomes the filter through which all other traits are viewed. This filter colors all other characteristics. In many cases, people refuse to attribute any positive characteristics to a person because the fatal flaw has such a negative impact.
In the transition from poor to good leadership, focusing on fixing fatal flaws is essential. Leaders with fatal flaws will never be viewed as key talent in an organization.
People with fatal flaws should immediately take steps to fix them. The really good news is that addressing a fatal flaw can have a substantial, positive impact on how these people are perceived. There are a series of steps that the authors suggest to increase the probability of improvement.
Step 1: Acceptance. Until a person acknowledges the fact that there is significant negative impact that comes from the fatal flaw, nothing will change. The starting point is to acknowledge he or she has a problem.
Step 2: Understand the behavior. In order to change, people need to identify the problem behavior and then study the triggers that cause it to occur. It is important to identify the events or stimulus that cause the behavior (e.g., "When I get in this kind of a situation with these stresses, I act out").
Step 3: Create and make measurable a plan for change. In this step, formulate a plan for change. This plan needs to lay out goals and activities that will demonstrate a significant change to others. In order for the change to occur, it needs to become very specific. A general notion of change might be something like, "To fix my fatal flaw, I am going to be nicer." Being nicer is a good start, but it is general to the point of being somewhat meaningless.
Plans need to move from a general notion of change to a very specific plan for change. People need to specify what they will do differently in the future, where this will be done, when it will be accomplished, and how they will go about the change effort.
Step 4. Apologize and ask for forgiveness. When appropriate, people may need to ask for the forgiveness of others in order for other people to accept that the change is occurring. Asking forgiveness not only allows others to forgive and forget but also creates a higher level of accountability for the person making the change.
Step 5. Enlist the help of others. Sometimes people are embarrassed by the fatal flaw, and so telling others they are working on changing and asking for their assistance is an act of humility they are not willing to take. The reality is that everyone is already well aware of the problem. This is not a big secret, and by enlisting the assistance of others, the person attempting to change will feel the support and be able to take advantage of the good ideas shared by others.
Step 6. Reward progress. While just making the change is rewarding in its own right, identifying a reward for yourself when a goal has been achieved can be an excellent way to keep progress on track.
The Difficulty of Admitting FailingsWhat turns an ambitious leader into a bad character or even a criminal? More often than not, it's an unbridled drive to serve oneself at the expense of all others, according to Nicole Lipkin in What Keeps Leaders Up at Night. So how do leaders start down the path to wrack and ruin? It all comes down to the lies we tell ourselves.
Cognitive dissonance is a concept proposed by Leon Festinger in the 1950s. Cognitive dissonance means that our schemas - the personal stories we use to define ourselves - impel us to hold onto our existing attitudes and beliefs while avoiding disharmony (or dissonance).
To cope with cognitive dissonance, we use three different tactics to reconcile disharmony. First, we can change our beliefs ("Cheating is ok"). However, our schemas make it hard for us to alter our basic beliefs and attitudes.
Second, we can change our actions ("I'll never cheat again"). While powerful emotional motivators such as guilt or anxiety can encourage us to whip our behaviors into shape, we often tamp down feelings of guilt or anxiety over an action or decision because we can easily train ourselves not to feel that way. Guilt seldom sustains learning over the long haul.
The third and most common tactic for resolving cognitive dissonance involves changing our perception or memory of an action ("Since everyone cheated on the test, why shouldn't I?"). Re- conceptualizing the behavior provides a pleasant and convenient way to deal with disharmony, and it supports our natural human desire to see ourselves as basically good and reasonable people.
Given our imperfections as human beings, our minds have created a whole host of defense mechanisms and biases to cope with cognitive dissonance, including self-justification, rationalization and the self-serving bias. While we readily observe those behaviors in others, we find it much harder to see them in ourselves.
No matter how much bad behavior, faulty decisions, abusive leadership and unethical practices some leaders commit, they will not change their ways. They will, instead, do whatever it takes to preserve their positive view of themselves.
Leaders hate to admit their failings, but doing so makes people respect you more than all the rationalizations and justifications in the world.
Master Consistent EmotionsOne of the mindsets that Bill Wiersma identifies in The Power of Professionalism examines the fact that professionals aspire to be masters of their emotions, not enslaved by them. Mastery of one's emotions produces three especially important byproducts. Each is essential in inspiring trust in others:
- Professionals are respecting when it's difficult to be respectful.
- Professionals maintain their objectivity and keep their wits about them.
- Professionals manage their ego and resist the urge for immediate gratification.
As author C. Terry Warner noted, "One sign of the immature mind is the ease and frequency it feels offended." Emotions can trip us up and make smart people dumb. Here are two important points: 1) Each of us is responsible for our emotional reactions to experiences and people, and 2) we alone are responsible for our external responses to those internal emotional reactions.
Events trigger emotions. This is an automatic reaction - or that's what most people believe. But that's not really the way it works. Rather, emotions are determined by what we think about an event, not by the event itself. In other words, our interpretation of an event ultimately becomes the precursor to the emotion we experience. Simply put: Emotions are self-induced.
Thus, to master one's emotions is to master one's constructive thinking. As renowned psychologist Seymour Epstein said, "It's one thing to suppress the expression of an unwanted emotion or impulse and quite another not to have the emotion or impulse in the first place."
Reasons for Cruel Boss BehaviorWhat drives so many bosses to be seen as so cruel by so many followers? Robert I. Sutton addresses this in Good Boss, Bad Boss. Many bosses are buffeted by forces that bring out insensitivity and nastiness. These include
tandem and power poisoning. Professor
Dacher Keltner has studied power dynamics for more than 15 years. He
reports, "When researchers give people power in scientific
experiments, they are more likely to touch others in potentially
inappropriate ways, to flirt in a more direct fashion, to interrupt
others, to speak out of turn, to fail to look at others when they are
speaking, and to tease friends and colleagues in a hostile and humiliating
Another of his studies shows that when people get a little power, it dampens how much compassion they convey and how much distress they feel when listening to others talk about painful things.
performance pressure. Although
all bosses risk focusing on performance too much and humanity too little,
this balance gets especially out of whack when performance pressure
becomes intense - a feature of countless bosses' jobs.
Sleep deprivation, heat and other bodily sources of bad moods.
Research shows that a lack of sleep causes people to make lousy decisions and turns them into impatient jerks - and when deprivation is severe, people turn irrational and fly into wild rages.
Also, when people are physically hot, they turn mean. Folk sayings like "hot under the collar" and "steamed" are bolstered by research on temperature and aggression.
- Nasty role models. It is difficult for any person to avoid imitating teachers and authority figures. When everyone around you acts like a jerk and admires the creeps in charge, there is no good behavior to copy, and refraining from nastiness is often treated as a weakness.
A Leader's Behavior in Conflict ManagementA leader must have an understanding of how he or she deals with conflict, according to Howard M. Guttman in From When Goliaths Clash. This involves being crystal clear on where you stand in terms of the two personality dimensions - assertiveness and cooperativeness.
Assertiveness is the extent to which a person attempts to satisfy his or her own needs. Cooperativeness is the extent to which an individual attempts to satisfy another person's needs. Examining these two basic dimensions of behavior in one's own personality makes it possible to assess the balance that exists between the concern for oneself and a concern for others.
It also becomes possible to identify five distinct methods that people employ when dealing with conflict. The Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument defines each method as follows:
- Competing implies being assertive and uncooperative. A person who chooses this method is more interested in pursuing his or her own interests at the expense of others and using whatever power is necessary to win.
- Accommodating means begin unassertive and cooperative. This method, which is the opposite of competing, implies self-sacrifice. The accommodating person chooses to neglect his or her own concerns to satisfy the concerns of others. This method requires giving in to another's point of view when you prefer not to.
- Avoiding is being unassertive and uncooperative. A person using this method chooses not to take action at this time, either for himself or herself or for others. As a result, the conflict is not addressed. The avoidance behavior may involve sidestepping discussion of a past issue, postponing it, or withdrawing from what the person feels is a threatening situation.
- Compromising involves being square in the middle in terms of both assertiveness and cooperativeness. This method is often efficient. Both parties try to quickly arrive at a middle ground by "splitting the difference." The end result might be a solution that is mutually acceptable yet only partially satisfying to each side.
- Collaborating means both assertive and cooperative. Collaborating requires that both sides work together to find a solution that fully satisfies the concerns of each side. It involves listening, empathizing and exploring each other's strategic goals and concerns.
The nonassertive individual, in effect, says, "I've got needs and so do you, but I'm not telling you what mine are. And if you don't guess them, I'm going to hold it against you." The nonassertive individual is a volcano waiting to erupt. At the other extreme, the aggressive person proceeds on the basis that "I've got needs and so do you, but mine count more." The aggressive person is the schoolyard bully in business attire.
People who are nonassertive must learn how to protect their boundaries -- whether physical or psychological -- and express their agenda without crossing the line to aggression. The aggressive individual, in contrast, must learn not to violate the boundaries of other people.
Each type of behavior has payoffs, and each exacts a price. For the nonassertive executive, the payoff is avoiding argument and coming across as a team player, but the price is steep in terms of unmet needs and reduced effectiveness. Aggressive executives tend to get their way and benefit from their bullying behavior. They pay the price, however, by alienating other people, stifling input and feedback, and failing to gain commitment, especially in the new knowledge- based organization.
The continuum along which behavior ranges goes from nonassertive to assertive to aggressive. When the behavior of the most senior executive falls into one of the two extremes on the continuum, there is certain to be fallout. The nice-guy model of leadership doesn't work because such a leader will try to avoid confrontation, when in many instances, constructive confrontation is exactly what is needed. The tough-guy leader typically carries baggage that is unsuited for building a high-performance team, such as being controlling, unreceptive to feedback and intimidating.
Pay Attention to Your StoryIf we can find a way to control the stories we tell, by rethinking or retelling them, we can master our emotions and, therefore, master our crucial conversations. If strong emotions are keeping you stuck in silence or violence, Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan and Al Switzler offer the following tactics in Crucial Conversations:
- Notice your behavior. If you find yourself moving away from dialogue, ask yourself what you're really doing. "Am I in some form of silence or violence?"
- Get in touch with your feelings. Learn to accurately identify the emotions behind your story. Ask yourself, "What emotions are encouraging me to act this way?"
- Analyze your stories. Question your conclusions, and look for other possible explanations behind your story. Ask, "What story is creating these emotions?"
- Get back to the facts. Abandon your absolute certainty by distinguishing between hard facts and your invented story. Ask yourself, "What evidence do I have to support this story?"
- Watch for clever stories. Victim, villain and helpless stories sit at the top of the list. Victim stories make us out to be innocent sufferers. When you tell a victim story, you ignore the role you played in the problem. With villain stories, we overemphasize the other person's guilt. We automatically assume the worst possible motives while ignoring any possible good or neutral intentions a person might have. In helpless stories, we make ourselves out to be powerless to do anything. These clever stories cause us problems. The dialogue-smart recognize that they're telling clever stories, stop, and then do what it takes to tell a useful story. A useful story creates emotions that lead to healthy action -- such as dialogue.
Catch yourself before you launch into a monologue. Realize that if you're starting to feel indignant or if you can't figure out why others don't buy in, you need to recognize that you're starting to enter dangerous territory.
Back off your harsh and conclusive language, not your belief. Hold on to your belief; merely soften your approach.