Louie was doing his job well, He was actively selling Marie on all the reasons why she needed to list his firm’s talent assessment on her company’s website. His boss would have been proud if he could have heard him.
He mentioned making money three times and improving metrics four times in response to Marie’s questions.
“Louie, thank you for reaching out,” said Marie. “I appreciate you taking the time to go things with me and answer my questions. From where I stand, there isn’t an alignment between our companies’ interests, so a partnership isn’t going to work.”
“If I may ask, what interests aren’t aligned?”
“Metrics and money.”
“Wait a minute, Marie. Aren’t you interested in metrics and making money?”
“I am, just in a different way than you are.”
“Money and metrics tell me our business is doing well, but they aren’t the reasons we’re in business.”
Back in the 1950’s, the average lifespan of a business was 61 years; today, it’s around 18. Marie wants to beat both of those metrics. Her moonshot goal is achieving what the Nishiyama Onsen Keiunkan Hotel in Japan has done. The hotel opened in 705 AD and is still operating. Impressive.
Professor Makoto Kanda from Meiji Gakuin University studied the Nishiyama Onsen Keiunkan Hotel and other long-term operating businesses to understand their longevity. His findings? These long-term organizations focus on a central belief, a purpose, that isn’t solely tied to making a profit.
That’s different! An orientation to something more than money and metrics is hard to find in most Wall Street analyses and reporting.
Numbers falls short when measuring success
Quantitative metrics are valuable for tracking and assessing the effectiveness of a specific business process. However, making quantitative metrics the only measure of success creates a number of other issues such as:
- People learn to game a system’s numbers and play to specific metrics.
- While many experts promote metrics and AI as the antidote to bias, that’s not really the case. Bias is built into data and algorithms, and that bias can skew greater over time as the algorithms learn.
- Initiative, innovation, and risk-taking lose out because they tend to harm metrics.
- The long-term is sacrificed for the short-term.
- Certain stakeholders are marginalized because of their minimal role in achieving the “right” numbers.
- People fall into binary, either/or thinking patterns that tend to produce an artificial value hierarchy between business practices. For example, it’s not uncommon for companies to believe that improving the bottom line is more important than employee engagement or development.
Quantitative measurements do help people manage more efficiently. However, using a mix of quantitative and qualitative metrics makes managers both more efficient and effective.
A study by James Zenger found that 14 percent of employees viewed a manager who focused only on results as being a good manager. Twelve percent thought a manager who focused on relationships was good.
What about managers who delivered both results and relationships?
72 percent of employees saw them as a good manager. The really sad study finding? Less than one percent of managers focus on both results and relationships.
85 percent of managers prefer either results or relationships. Emphasizing one preference over another means there’s a counter balancing factor that isn’t being used. Picture the playground teeter-totter with one side up and the other down. A singular focus on metrics (teeter up) results in workplaces where employees aren’t fully engaged (teeter down).
The reverse is true, too. Too much emphasis on relationships and too little on results puts sustained business performance in jeopardy.
Going for both money and meaning
Marie’s business, the Nishiyama Onsen Keiunkan Hotel, and the one percent in Zenger’s study focus on actions that aren’t solely tied to making a profit.
These individuals and organizations have mastered “teeter-totter” leadership in that they balance both quantitative and qualitative aspects of managing and leading. They:
- Get things done and are kind
- Have high standards and give positive feedback
- Have a plan and interact with people
- Speak directly and are encouraging
- Are decisive and consider impacts on others
- Are analytical and have good interpersonal skills
- Provide direction and listen to feedback
- Are candid and show empathy
- Think about today and tomorrow
- Are self-aware and trust others
- Compete externally and collaborate internally
- Measure KPIs as well as smiles and laughter
- Deliver the numbers and make people feel valued
Think about places where you’ve worked. Did you thrive in an environment where you were only as good as your last set of numbers? Or where you felt like you were valued and made a difference and were held accountable for solid work performance?
Now think about your leadership legacy. Do you want people to think of you as the boss who only cared about money and metrics, or as the boss they willingly followed because he/she focused on a central belief that wasn’t solely tied to making a profit?
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“Let me take a look at your Twitter profile,” offered my table companion. We were attending a Chamber-sponsored event on how to make the most of social media. “That’s my area of expertise, and I’m happy to offer up a style suggestion or two. Maybe you’ll decide to become a client.”
Curious, I took him up on his offer.
A few days later, I received an email from him that read in part:
The biggest problem with your Twitter account is that you follow too many people. Your following count makes you look less authoritative and diminishes the value of your message. Be selective and exclusive in who you follow. Think of it as a hierarchy of prestige. I suggest you curate who you’re following and drop those who aren’t influencers or a recognized name. You want to look superior, distinguished, and special, not ordinary.
His advice disturbed me. For lots of reasons.
My dad taught me to be confident yet humble. One of his favorite put-downs for someone acting “high and mighty” was to say, “he forgets we all put our pants on the same way.”
There’s no “hierarchy of prestige” in that mindset. Just common sense and goodness.
Thinking you’re better than others
“The individuals in our sample consistently judged themselves to be superior to the average person.” ~Ben Tappin, The Illusion of Moral Superiority
In one study, two-thirds of the participants agreed with the statement, deep down, you enjoy feeling superior to others. Lots of other studies contain similar findings. There’s even a name for the mental state of thinking you’re superior to others—the self-enhancement effect.
Research shows the self-enhancement effect is most pronounced with moral characteristics. What does that mean? It means we not only see our abilities as above average, but we also see ourselves as more moral, just, trustworthy, loyal, etc., than our peers. That’s too big for your britches territory.
Self-enhancement thinking can lead to self-righteousness. That’s problematic.
Self-righteousness seeps into multiple aspects of our lives—it’s subtle, incremental, addictive, indiscriminate, and destructive. Thoughts about rightness and superiority contribute to polarization, social injustice, intolerance, political discord, and even violence.
My interpretation of the consultant’s recommendation? He wanted me to position myself as being better than other people. Special. Elite. Exclusive.
Creating such a narrative about myself smacked of arrogance and narrow-mindedness, not messages I wanted to convey or even let myself believe. Other social media experts advocate the same approach to those you follow back. For me, curating those I follow back to create an image of exclusivity and superiority felt inauthentic and dishonest.
“What is intellectual honesty? It means always seeking the truth regardless of whether or not it agrees with your own personal beliefs.” ~Perry Tam, CEO Storm8
A very thin line exists between confidence and arrogance. Not crossing that line requires vigilance, commitment, and self-awareness. Curiosity, a desire for humility, a sense of humor, and being kind to ourselves and others are involved, too.
Authenticity over style
Maintaining intellectual honesty and avoiding the trap of self-righteousness requires a few do’s and a couple of don’ts if we’re going to lead ourselves and others with grace and goodness.
- Respect others as equals.
- Be willing to listen to opposing points of view.
- Check our ego at the door.
- Be confident without being arrogant.
- Judge or label people.
- Accept our presumed superiority.
- Attack people who hold different beliefs.
- Be something we’re not.
I thanked the consultant for taking the time to look over my Twitter account and for sharing his thoughts. He asked if I wanted to become a client so I could capitalize on more of his experience and increase my influencer status.
“No, thank you,” I replied.
“I think you’re making a mistake, so may I ask why you’re not interested?”
“Of course. I walk to a different drummer. I want to be seen as knowledgeable, not superior. Accessible, not exclusive. Kind, not elite. If that means people judge me as not being distinguished, then so be it. They wouldn’t be my target audience, anyway. I’ll take substance over style any day.”
“Have it your way,” he said as he shrugged his shoulders and walked away. Convinced, I’m guessing, of my lack of superiority. I’m good with that.
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Power has a reputation problem.
When I use the word power, I’m referring to changing “what is” to “what can be.”
When I ask people to talk about power, they wrinkle their nose in disgust or say, “I’d rather not.” When I ask them why not, they offer up reasons why power is bad, saying things like:
- Power makes people selfish and insensitive.
- Power makes you over-confident, narcissistic, and corrupt.
- Having people makes you intimidating.
People aren’t wrong when they say these things about power. Who hasn’t worked for bosses who were all these bad things—and more? If personal experience isn’t enough, research affirms that some people who have power are selfish, corrupt, and cruel.
As a result of these unsavory encounters, power becomes the bad guy to be avoided, like the creepy stranger who lures kids into cars with candy.
The problem with this avoidance solution?
It leaves the bad guys in charge.
In reality, power, in and of itself, isn’t inherently good or evil. Power takes on either the goodness or badness of the person using it.
Power undirected by high purpose spells calamity; and high purpose by itself is utterly useless if the power to put it into effect is lacking. ~Theodore Roosevelt
Because so many people abuse power, we confuse power with the bad person misusing it and say we don’t want power.
When thoughts like this get into our heads, they can be hard to get rid of. However, for the greater good, now’s the time to let go of the notion that power is a bad thing and reclaim it as something good.
The problem? The bad person misusing their power
The problem with seeing power as an evil force to be avoided? This view removes the person who has the power from the equation. They become an innocent bystander to a situation of their own making. That’s not right.
Linguist Julia Penelope says the nouns we use and where we place them in a sentence changes how we, and others, interpret a topic. She says we sometimes go so far as even to forget that a person is responsible for what happened to us.
Julia uses the following series of sentences to illustrate this omission: John beat Mary. Mary was beaten by John. Mary was beaten. Mary was battered. Mary is a battered woman.
By the time we get to the third sentence, John has disappeared, and the topic has shifted from John beating Mary to Mary’s identity as a battered woman. When we make these thinking shifts, we delete whomever or whatever initiated the event.
We’re doing the same thing when we say power is bad. Power itself isn’t bad, it’s the greedy or egotistical person who’s changing “what is” to “what can be” to suit their own purposes who is.
What power does is that it liberates the true self to emerge. ~Joe Magee, a power researcher and professor of management at New York University
Professor of psychology and sociology G. William Domhoff notes that power is one of a few universal dimensions that humans encounter at the interpersonal, group, and societal levels.
Why is power’s universality important to recognize? Because doing good involves having and using power—but for the greater good, not personal gain.
It doesn’t matter if the doing good happens at work, at home, in the community, or in pursuit of social justice or equality. Changing “what is” to “what can be” requires power. If you’re like me and want society and workplaces to be more equitable, inclusive, and kind, we need power to effect those changes.
Eligibility checklist for power?
I confess. My tolerance for selfish, money-oriented, glory-grabbing people in positions of power has been exhausted. Because of that, I’ve been thinking about what can be done to ensure that the people who have power are the ones who can properly handle it.
Most powerful is he who has himself in his own power. -Seneca
Here’s what is on my list so far:
1) Change what’s measured and rewarded. Require that leaders at all levels be held accountable for people, principles, and profits. Measuring success only by dollars and cents perpetuates bad behaviors while encouraging more of them.
2) Call’em out. Rather than lauding their actions, criticize CEOs and Wall Street analysts who focus on only the bottom line. Who says capitalism must be heartless?
3) Take a leadership oath of office. Doctors do it. So do new citizens, politicians, soldiers enlisting for the U.S. Army, nurses, lawyers, and pharmacists. Part of the oath would be a promise to hold people, principles, and profits equally important.
What would you put on the power-eligibility list?
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When I was growing up, I envied the little boy next door. His mom asked him questions. Would you like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or soup for lunch? Will you spend the afternoon reading a book or playing?
That’s not how it worked at my house. My folks, especially mom, told me how it was going to be.
While I don’t think Mom intended for it to turn out this way, her telling style was a good life lesson. How so? It prepared me to deal with command-and-control style bosses who wanted answers straight up.
As I grew older, the questions my dad asked took a different twist. He asked lots of questions that began with “have you thought about,” “how/why,” or “help me understand.” Dad said he wanted to make sure I thought things through.
He prepared me to work for bosses who wanted thoughtful answers and options that demonstrated a command of the issues.
I worked for a boss a few years into my career who asked a whole new style of questions. He tested both the logic and emotion of his employees.
His rational was like that of Socrates, who was “well known for using questioning to probe the validity of an assumption, analyze the logic of an argument, and explore the unknown.”
That boss wanted to know how we were going to achieve both quality and quantity or how we would meet our short-term goals without jeopardizing our long-term position. Answering his questions required deeper thought and analysis of the big picture.
Only years later did it hit me that these individuals had gifted me with a well-rounded repertoire of knowing how to respond to or deal with different types of questions.
The key to wisdom is this: constant and frequent questioning, for by doubting we are led to question, by questioning we arrive at the truth. ~Peter Abelard
Sometimes questions are more important than answers.
Questions lead to discovery and meaning. They can eliminate confusion or point to hidden agendas. They help us reflect, develop critical thinking skills, or clarify intent and understanding. Questions help us make sense of our surroundings, distinguish fact from fiction, or define our purpose. Questions provoke lively debate, satisfy our curiosity, and prompt us to assess our assumptions.
A good question can disrupt, inspire, show humility, and open closed doors.
Research done by O.C. Tanner Institute showed that “asking the right question increased the odds of someone’s work having a positive affect on others by 4.1 times. It made the outcome 3.1 times more likely to be deemed important, 2.8 times more likely to create passion in the doer, and 2.7 times more likely to make a positive impact on the organization’s bottom line.” That’s powerful stuff.
He who asks a question is a fool for five minutes; he who does not ask a question remains a fool forever. ~Chinese proverb
So why do we ask less and less as we get older?
Tom Pohlmann and Neethi Mary Thomas with Mu Sigma polled 200 of their clients on question asking. Clients who had children estimated that 70-80% of their kids’ dialogues with others were comprised of questions.
However, those same clients guessed that only 15-25% of their own interactions consisted of questions. Tom and Neethi attribute the reduction in the number of questions asked by the adults to working in a you-need-to-get-it-done-yesterday business environment.
“Leaders should encourage people to ask more questions, based on the goals they’re trying to achieve, instead of having them rush to deliver answers. In order to make the right decisions, people need to start asking the questions that really matter.”
Asking questions that really matter + actively listening to the answer + critically reviewing what’s been shared = a good thing.
A very good thing.
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At one point in my career, I was a vice president in a Fortune 500 company that had $2 billion in annual revenues. I successfully managed a department of 150 people, consistently delivering projects ahead of schedule and under budget.
When asked by the CEO to describe me, can you guess what my boss said?
He said I was a “soft and round Aunt Polly.”
Wow, that stung.
I can’t deny that I’m a woman. That I’m blonde. And that I’m overweight.
But why would my boss describe me by my appearance and sex instead of my accomplishments?
Because I’ve hit the trifecta of stereotypes. Tilt, tilt, tilt for being a dumb, fat broad.
It’s 2019, and gender stereotypes still exist that make it challenging for business women to be seen as both a good leader and a good woman.
That really troubles me.
What about you?
Is that the kind of workplace culture we want for our children and grandchildren?
For the women and men who want their kids and grandkids to have a different experience, now’s the time to partner up for change.
Provided both sexes are willing to modify a few workplace practices, together we can change how leadership is defined and practiced. Together, we can put an end to the stereotypes that limit the potential and passion of too many.
9 ways to say good-bye to gender stereotypes
Here are nine actions you can take to bring equity and gender-balanced inclusiveness to your leadership practices.
1. Be mindful of gender stereotypes that influence your thinking about which sex is better suited for certain kinds of work.
Social conditioning nudges people to think about leadership in terms of masculine traits, a practice that puts women and feminine attributes at a disadvantage.
If you find yourself thinking that men make the better bosses because they’re good at taking charge and women the better assistants because they’re the best at taking care, stop. If you always ask the women in your meetings to take the notes or plan parties, stop. If you question the leadership potential of a kind-hearted man, stop. If you describe assertive women as shrill, stop.
Stereotypes push us to apply a specified set of expectations to a whole group of people, whether they apply or not. When we do that, we ignore individual attributes and deny people their potential.
2. Check for inconsistencies in how you select a man or a woman for a job or evaluate their promotion readiness.
Research tells us that women are judged on their past performance, men on their future potential. Why not evaluate all candidates on both their past performance and future potential?
3. Assure that all voices are heard equally in the meetings you conduct.
If the men keep interrupting the women, call them out. If the women remain silent, call them into the discussion. If anyone co-opts an idea that someone presented earlier, assure that proper attribution is given.
4. Monitor how you pay your people.
If you supervise others, look for—and correct—any wage disparities that exists between sexes, ethnicities, etc., holding the same positions.
5. Sponsor both women and men and be proactive about it.
For anyone who has the audacity to insinuate that an inappropriate relationship exists in a mixed sex sponsorship, call out their boorish and stereotypical thinking.
6. Let go of the incorrect myth that power always corrupts.
There are those who use the power of their position for personal gain, but don’t confuse power with the selfish person using it. Power reveals what a person already was.
7. Avoid the “parent” trap.
When a man becomes a parent, it’s assumed he’ll be more dedicated to his work because he has a family to support. When a woman becomes a parent, it’s assumed she’ll be less dedicated to her work because she has a family. Be on the lookout for these incorrect assumptions. Along the same lines, don’t penalize either moms or dads for using family leave time.
8. Don’t confuse physical presence with true inclusion.
Just because there’s a woman or a minority on a team doesn’t mean there’s an inclusive, participative environment with meaningful engagement. Ask yourself some tough questions about whether your leadership practices are reflective of real participation or just window dressing presence.
9. Be willing to be vulnerable so your biases can be detected and managed.
While we all work hard to not be biased, we still are. Create mechanisms so that the presence of biases, gender and otherwise, can be safely and nonjudgmentally identified and eliminated.
Seeing someone else’s biases is much easier than seeing our own. That means using tact, grit, kindness, persistance, and grace are essential for achieving progress, openness, and inclusion.
Psychologists once believed that only bigoted people used stereotypes. Now the study of unconscious bias is revealing the unsettling truth: We all use stereotypes, all the time, without knowing it. We have met the enemy of equality, and the enemy is us. ~Annie Murphy Paul, journalist and author
As you head out to work tomorrow, remember the shining eyes and hopeful faces of your children. Build the kind of place where you would want them to work.
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