Friday, September 27, 2013

Give this to a lousy manager

Do your people love or hate their jobs? How long will they stay?

When the alarm buzzes to get you up for work, what's your reaction? Do you open your eyes to a world of endless possibilities or do you hit the snooze button and contemplate calling in sick? What do you think your employees do?

The people you work with, your work environment and your own emotional intelligence will influence what they do. If your work place is filled with anxiety, anger and fear then they are unlikely to wake up full of enthusiasm. They'll be more likely to hit ‘snooze' than leap out of bed ready to take on the world.

On the other hand, what if people at your workplace, especially managers, respect and understand of the role of emotions and conduct themselves in tune with the concepts of managing emotions intelligently (EQ)?

It is a statement of the obvious but managing people is essentially about understanding and managing emotions: our own, our employees and our colleagues.  If EQ is missing, especially in managers, then the price is likely to be high - dwindling commitment, productivity, profits and high staff turnover.

Lousy managers are often victims of The Almond Effect (R)

Managers or leaders with a low capacity to manage their reactions are often at the mercy of The Almond Effect®. This is when our emotional center, the amygdala, reacts to everyday situations as though our lives absolutely depended on it. Maybe it is more aptly described as over-reacting. From an organizational perspective, this can be immensely damaging.

For example, you probably know someone like, let's call him, Rick. He is a manager who likes things done his way. He is results focused and has little time for alternative approaches to his way of doing things. He has the final say on decisions to do with his team and he doesn't like being challenged. Does this conjure up a picture of anyone for you?

During one meeting, a member of his team offered her opinion on how things could be run more efficiently within the team. Rick didn't like the idea simply because it went against his own. He shot down the idea but then the rest of the team agreed with her. Rick felt backed into a corner and became angry and upset. He refused to hear any more on the topic.

Are you surprised that the number in Rick's team is often reduced due to mysterious sick days? And what do you think the chances are in future for creative and innovative input from the team?

In a cruel twist of fate, our reaction often brings the very thing we are afraid of

I think Rick's heavy-handed reaction to his team likely stems from his emotional memories. As a member of a competitive family, he always had to fight to get his ideas accepted. It was the same at the school he went to. And when his ideas weren't taken up, he always felt miserable, left out and missing out on the praise.

Rick noticed in his previous roles that his teams were not particularly innovative but he didn't think it was anything to do with him. It was because they were so busy!

However his current team soon realized that every time his ideas were questioned or challenged, he became over sensitive and reacted aggressively. So they now simply keep their mouths shut.

Why do people refuse to listen to other ideas?

Rick has a deep-seated fear of not being respected and major doubts about his self worth and the value of his input. His amygdala interprets this as a threat to his job and so to his survival.

In an ironic twist, his fear translates into aggression that brings about the very reaction he is afraid of: lack of respect, no new ideas to get runs on the board and his job on the line. His aggressive behavior is the result of his brain's survival instinct kicking in and manifests as being closed to the team's input.

In the workplace, aggression is a potent and paralyzing emotion that can render even the most rational person inept. It is often an irrational reaction triggered by your emotional memory.

But the price is high.

If you are having difficulties retaining employees, check the emotional pulse of the organisation, starting with yourself, the other managers managers and team leaders.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Do you feel guilty if you sit still?

My life as a comma

I find it hard to sit still. My mind is always buzzing. The moment I sit down I usually jump up again because I think of things I've forgotten to do, can't forget to do or have to do at that moment. When I do sit down, my husband says it's just a comma in my life!

In fact, unless I am on holiday I feel really uncomfortable, even guilty, just sitting down to read a magazine or novel. And watch a movie or TV during the day? It would be simpler, emotionally, to fly to the moon.

Can you relate to that?  What is it that drives this behavior? And what implications does it have, not only for rest and recharging but also for creativity and innovation? 

And how does this spill over into our lives at work? How can we be energized and efficient, reflective and strategic if we don't sit still long enough to let thoughts percolate? How can we build trusting relationships with the team around us if we don't stay still long enough to be emotionally engaged in the relationship?

The boss who never stops

I thought about Peter. He was a man I worked with many years ago. Peter arrived in the office at 7.30am and was usually the last to leave. He was always on the go - visible, active, always busy but he didn't get the results that we anticipated. And his relations with his team were poor.

That made me think about a CEO I worked with for a number of years. Let's call him Simon. Simon was another of those people always on the move. Yet I spent most of that time trying to get him to stay out of the operational areas and focus on being ‘emotionally' available to his executive team. The challenge was that his comfort zone was in the operational area where he had excelled and charted his very successful career.

Our boss didn't know us

To put it bluntly, he was shy and uncomfortable talking to people who weren't his buddies. And it showed. His staff meetings and presentations made us all see and feel his discomfort. He shared plenty of facts and figures, strategy, plans for the future and intelligence about what the competition was up to.

But he never engaged us on a personal level.  although he was always busy, we didn't know anything about Simon. And we certainly didn't believe he knew anything about us.

As a result, people switched off, felt uninspired and did not feel they could raise questions that were on their minds. Simon lacked personal credibility as a leader even though he was a smart and likable man and a great engineer. 

Inevitably the good people took their ambitions, ideas and innovative ‘what if's' elsewhere and the organization lost serious intellectual capital.

If only Simon had taken the time to do the things that really count: ie get to know people personally, share stories, pay attention to their individual needs, goals and aspirations, help them overcome their concerns and encourage and reward their enthusiasm. And as a leader, that was his job.

Guilt in the home

I also thought about two women I am close to - a friend and a family member. One works extraordinarily long hours (over 13 hours a day) in a very senior role, then spends almost all of her non-working time looking after her young daughter. Yet she feels guilty if she reads a magazine for 5 minutes or takes time to exercise.

The other woman has just had an operation to remove a cancerous growth. 48 hours after the operation, she is feeling guilty because her pain and exhaustion mean she has to sit still.

Too much activity can sabotage us

As a leader and change catalyst, engendering trust, building relationships, listening to others and garnering emotional commitment are mission critical skills. How else can we get our people on board with cost cutting, streamlining processes, with changing or eliminating practices and behaviors they know and are comfortable with? How else can we excite their curiosity and passion about a new version of the future and what it might mean for them?

Three fundamental of successful change

ChangeTrack Research (CT0508
has identified three fundamentals of successful change:

* Change must make a positive difference to the bottom line
* Trust in leaders. If it evaporates, change falls over
* There is no such thing as ‘one size fits all'

So while Simon and Peter were setting out to achieve the first, their inability or unwillingness to be ‘still', to be in relationship with their people long enough to work on the other two fundamentals, meant that neither they, nor the companies, achieved their full potential.

What drives this behavior?

Perhaps it's a gene and generational thing. I recall my mother, who never sat still herself, made sure that we were always doing something. Sitting and reading was only permissible if it was homework and all the housework was done (almost an impossibility). That's my recollection yet it's probably faulty because we now know that each time we recall a memory, we refashion it into the new context. That's both the ‘beauty and the beast' of neuro-plasticity.

But unless and until we examine our behavior drivers, we simply keep doing them and they become ingrained, habitual and hard to change. Even though I know that the implications I draw from my memory may not be accurate, the ‘guilt' attached to sitting still feels real.

Visibility at work

And at work, what do we value? What have we habitually valued over the years? Even though organisations talk about focus on outcomes and results, how many managers do you know, still feel uncomfortable if someone is not in the workplace, is working from home, seems to be spending a lot of time talking to others or conversely doesn't seem to be doing very much at all? Why aren't they DOING something!

The Almond Effect®

Of course I suspect our amygdala is  involved in this. So I ask what are we anxious (fearful) about that conjures this need to be constantly on the move and be suspicious of others who aren't?

As I have discussed many times, The Almond Effect® is when our amygdala triggers reactions to perceived threats that are simply psychological not physical. It doesn't make it any less real of course.

And thoughts are just that. They are simply constructs in our brains. We can change those thoughts and the feelings and behaviors that go with them. We can apply STAR to these behaviors:

* Stop and catch yourself moving, moving, moving whether it be in your mind or your body

* Think about what's driving your behavior and what would be the consequences if you were ‘still' and reflective for a period

* Act differently - set goals for how long you will be 'still' and 'present' for others

* Rewire - ask yourself if anything disastrous happened when you did reach your goal and stayed ‘still' whether in mind or body. When you realize it didn't, rewire that insight and reflection into your memory.

My goal

So I have just been still for the last couple of hours writing this blog. 

Admittedly I am on a plane so that may have an influence! But I am practicing what I preach and am re-training myself to be still both in my mind and body, in the office and at home.

Practicing Mindfulness is one part of that strategy and we will come back to Mindfulness, its role in focusing attention and controlling stress and anxiety (The Almond Effect®) in another blog post. 

In the meantime the goal I'm aiming for? That my husband tells me I've progressed from a comma to a semi-colon and so I'm aiming to be ultimately to a page break!

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Sleep deprived? It could make you a lousy manager

Are you getting enough sleep?

Ever considered that the amount of sleep you get is a key factor in whether you retain your staff?

Researchers tell us that sleep is critical for our children's capacity to learn. If they don't get enough sleep, their ability to make new connections and their ability to concentrate is impaired.

Typical daily sleep requirements for children by age are:

• Infants (3 to 11 months): 14-15 hours 
• Toddlers: 12-14 hours 
• Preschoolers: 11-13 hours 
• School-age children: 10-11 hours

So, are your kids getting enough sleep?

And as importantly, are you?

Why does it matter?

High performing brains, especially the pre-frontal cortex areas (PFC), require heaps of energy in the form of glucose. The PFC is responsible for our executive functioning like planning, decision-making, analysis, comparisons and behavior control i.e. complex cognitive activities.

Just like children, if we are haven't had enough sleep then our bodies prioritize the available energy just to keep us physically functioning. That means our brains, especially the PFC, lag behind in the race for glucose.

Result: tired brains find it hard to come up with new answers. One consequence is that we end up repeating what we have done before even if we know we should find a new way. We find it hard to focus, we procrastinate or we hastily make decisions that we should sleep on!

Negative memories and bad decisions prevail

Add this piece of research into the mix: Dan Ariely at Duke University wondered if decisions made in negative emotional circumstances in the past influenced future actions when the original emotion was no longer present. He did some experiments and concluded that they did.

Reason: when we make decisions, we tap into the memories of decisions we made in the past in circumstances that can be linked in some way to the present situation. That's easier for our brain than having to come up with new neural connections (a new decision).

Now, negative memories (and their associated decisions) will always come to mind first because our amygdala is always on guard to protect us. They will, as Ariely puts it ‘become part of the blueprint' for future actions.

And it's when we use this blueprint and respond inappropriately, that's what I call The Almond Effect®.

If we are tired our PFC is too exhausted to reflect back on the emotional circumstances in which the original decision was made and consider whether the decision is still the correct one in the fresh situation.

We are then likely to make the same poor decision again even though we may not be feeling the same negative emotions we felt when the original decision was made!

I wonder if that's why office feuds, silo battles, home arguments, even wars, go on for so long - long after the original cause has been defused. We just haven't stopped to challenge the pattern in our brain and so keep repeating decisions and behaviors because ‘that's the way it's always been.'

Ask your people if they like working for you when you are sleep deprived

So, for most of us lack of sleep means snap decisions, procrastination, repeating bad decisions, inability to concentrate and bad moods. And because we are tired we eat the junk food our bodies crave for an instant sugar (glucose) hit. We are too weary to do any exercise and so the exhaustion cycle continues - just adding to the load on our bodies and the depletion of energy.

Do your people love working for you when you are like that? Are you a good leader? Do they feel ‘engaged'? They might put up with it for a few days, a few weeks, even longer but in the end, they'll walk away and find someone who is easier to work with.

What to do about it

I'm not your mother so I'm not going to tell you to go to bed earlier, take a break, get some exercise, eat proper food, cut down on the alcohol - you can work that out yourself.

But at the very least, acknowledge when lack of sleep is impacting the way you lead. Consider whether, if you were in your people's shoes, you are providing the kind of leadership that will encourage your best employees to stay?

If the answer is no and lack of sleep has something to do with it, then maybe you should let your kids put you to bed, read you a bedtime story and kiss you goodnight!