Tip of the Month, April 2019 – Coming Unglued in a Good Way

Rory Gilbert addressed a common and frustrating problem in last month’s blog, Getting Unstuck (read here.) I’ve had lots of stuck moments in my personal life and in helping others with their moments. Whatever the situation, staying stuck is unpleasant at the least, and unproductive/unhealthy at its most. We can be stuck short term and long term, from a couple of weeks to years. What are your stuck examples?
Rory outlined a starting point and 4 strategies in her suggestions, and in this Tip of the Month, we will see how these points apply to two situations.
Start by acknowledging that you are stuck. Then

  1. Step back and reflect.
  2. Ask challenging questions.
  3. Separate fact from fiction.
  4. Enlist a thinking partner.

Michelle had a long-standing job as a middle manager, and she felt she enjoyed good relationships with the people she supervised, her boss, Diana, and her peers. Diana was direct and clear, to the point. There were no doubts about what was needed, but Michelle was also free to do things her way. She was secure in her role, and imagined retiring from this position in another ten years. Nine months ago she had a change in bosses, and her new boss John doesn’t give her much direction at all. . . he’s pleasant enough to work with, but his management style is all over the place. John is a talker, and Michelle finds herself having to use a lot of energy to interpret what John is saying, and listen for the tiniest bit of direction. Because Michelle was so happy with her job before John came on board, she has decided to just do her own thing and ignore John. Consequently Michelle is less and less engaged in the business, basically just biding her time. You are Michelle’s friend at work in another department and it distresses you to see her so disengaged. You guess her direct reports are seeing it too.
Acknowledge that you are stuck. In talking with Michelle, the topic of John comes up easily. Michelle readily admits that she feels stuck. Just the relief of admitting that to you turned out to be a trigger for taking the next step.
Step back and reflect. You ask Michelle to reflect on the situation. Looking at things objectively, what does she think is going on? Is Michelle struggling with change, or style differences? Is this new for her? Has she ever felt stuck in a personal or business situation before? How uncomfortable is the situation for her?
Ask challenging questions. As you continue with your friend, you ask if it is possible that John’s differences have upset Michelle’s plan to take it easy until retirement? How long is Michelle willing to stay stuck? How much is she willing to do to change the situation? How would she know when it might be time to leave the position, before her retirement? Ask Michelle what she thinks she is contributing to keeping the situation going. Has she asked for clarification from John? Does John really understand how Michelle likes to receive direction? How about setting aside time with John for just socializing? What does Michelle think her employees are seeing in her lack of engagement? How does she think it is affecting them?
Separate fact from fiction. What does Michelle tell herself about a boss who is “just a talker”? Does John need to be exactly like her in order to do a good job? Can Michelle accept direction from a person with a style she finds difficult to connect with, or to respect? Is it really possible to “take it easy” until retirement in 10 years? That’s a long time. What could happen in that period to change things?
Enlist a thinking partner. Ask Michelle what she wants from you as a friend and colleague. Consider suggesting that she find a coach or a mentor to listen objectively and help her through this phase. Does she know anyone else outside of work who has faced a similar situation?
Imagine yourself in this situation.
You are worried about your weight. At a recent doctor’s appointment, you were warned about the likelihood of developing Type 2 Diabetes, and you are already taking medication to lower your blood pressure. You saw the word OBESE written on your encounter summary. What a blow! You have struggled with your weight for years, and tried every diet and program that showed promise, but just when you begin to lose a little weight, you let your guard down and slip off the path.
Acknowledge that you are stuck. That word on the chart did it for you, as well as the diabetes scare. When you came home from the appointment, your first call was to a good friend, who knows your weight loss journey. He has weight issues of his own. You tell him that you really are committed this time. You need help.
Step back and reflect. What do you think is going on? Why are you wanting to take steps now to lose weight? Besides your health, how is your weight affecting your relationships and quality of life? Why have your prior attempts not worked long term even when you were losing weight? Were you bored, tired of the regimen, anxious about whether you could really do it?
Ask challenging questions. What are you doing to keep the situation from improving? What is your weight a symbol of? How bad do things have to get before you take permanent action? What is your vision for your life at the weight you want to be?
Separate fact from fiction. You think losing the amount of weight you need to lose is too hard. There’s just too much. . . The number is so big. The reality is that it will take awhile, but it is a one-day-at-a-time experience. And you are capable of losing weight. You have done it before. You decide that you need a plan to keep the weight off, not simply to lose it. You admit that you feel like a failure at this and maybe deep down you wonder if you deserve to be happy. In discussion with your friend, you figure out that you are not your weight. . . nor an ideal body image either. You are much more than what you look like, or even, what you do for a living.
Enlist a thinking partner.  Sharing weight loss stories and plans with your friend hasn’t been very helpful. For support and ideas, you decide to join a group at work who is helping each other with healthy lifestyle choices. You also decide that seeing a therapist could be a good idea, and you start the process of finding someone to work with.
Admitting that you are stuck is the important first step on a journey to create momentum and change a situation that seems to be going nowhere. Being stuck can be a sign that says it’s time to take action, IF we pay attention, and follow through with reflection, great hard questions, separating fact from fiction, and having the support of a thought partner. Thunderbird Leadership Consulting offers executive and leadership coaching, and is available to assist you with situations in which you, or your workplace, feels “stuck”. For more information, contact us at info@thunderbirdleadership.com.

Getting Unstuck!

We all have issues in our lives, professional and personal, that seem to just persist on and on and never get resolved.  How do we manage the “no-solution” situations?  What do they look like?

  • An employee who you like, who tries really hard, is not succeeding in their role.
  • A staffing problem that just doesn’t seem to resolve – resulting in overtaxing valued employees who have to fill in.
  • A process that gets stuck over and over again in the same place delaying necessary action.
  • A position that was fulfilling that has changed because of new leadership.

You’ve tried so many interventions! But nothing seems to work.  You are dissatisfied, folks around you are dissatisfied and yet the problem just won’t go away.
How do we approach these sticking points? My partner-in-blog, Jill Bachman, reflected, “think of getting stuck in the physical world, like lost on a hike, and the first thing to do is stop, stop the struggle, breathe and take stock.”  So, the first thing to do is to step back from the situation and reflect on what is going on.  We tend to do this on our commute, in the shower, doing physical labor (sweeping the front porch, gardening) or when we are away from the office at a concert, on vacation, on a hike.
Reflect on what is really going on.

  • How would you describe the situation?
  • What values and beliefs are at play?
  • What role do you have in sustaining the current “stuck” place?
  • What influence or decision-making power do you have?

Noushin Bayat, one of Thunderbird’s coaches, suggests separating fact from fiction – identifying what we know (observable facts) from the story we are creating about the situation (fiction, beliefs that may or may not be true) and challenging ourselves to consider other possible stories (other possible beliefs?).
For example, with the employee we like who tries really hard but does not appear to be making progress, what do I know?

  • I like the employee.
  • I care about the person as an individual.
  • They are trying.
  • We’ve tried to help.
  • They are not succeeding.

What values are in play?

  • Loyalty
  • Commitment
  • Supervisory responsibility and accountability
  • Organizational success
  • Others?

What role do I have in sustaining the situation? (How do these ideas relate to the fact/fiction dichotomy? What other ways of seeing things are there?)

  • Taking responsibility for their lack of success.
  • If I provided better direction, guidance or coaching…
  • If I advocated for the employee better…
  • Valuing loyalty and caring over organizational success. I don’t want to be heartless!
  • Believing things will get better time after time after time…
  • Not wanting to hurt this person that I like…
  • I am accepting substandard performance and hoping it will get better.

What decision-making power or influence do I have?

  • I can help the individual assess their own ability to be successful.
  • I need to be clear about expectations and goals for success.
  • I have the power to terminate employment.

So how do I decide I have tried hard enough, and they have tried hard enough? How do I know when it is time to act?  How could the following questions help?

  • What will happen if I continue doing what I am doing?
  • How will I know when it is time to act? (Chip and Dan Heath[1] describe this as establishing a trip-wire.) It can be a particular event that would have to happen – e.g. a specific failed project, or it could be a lack of progress by a certain date.  If nothing changes in three more months, I have to act.
  • What would I tell my best friend if they had this problem?
  • If I were leaving tomorrow and someone was taking my place, what would I advise them about this situation?
  • Are there possible solutions outside of the binary: continuing the way things are or termination?

What do you think the answers would be in the above situations?  What will happen if action isn’t taken?  What would you advise someone else to do?  Are there more solutions than the simple binary?
Some of us can do this analysis on our own.  Many of us work better with a thinking partner.  Who do you have in your world that you can be vulnerable with? Who will listen to you? Who will ask you the hard questions? Who is far enough away from the situation not to be stuck inside it?
In Vital Friends: The People You Can’t Afford to Live Without[2], Tom Rath describes how important it is to have people in our lives who support us, encourage and motivate us and help us navigate decisions.  He references Gallup research that stresses the importance of having “a best friend at work.”  Having someone we trust, can confide in and be vulnerable with at work increases our engagement, satisfaction and success enormously. Rath identifies various roles friends play in our lives and emphasizes that no one person can do it all.  Our vital friends can be at work and at home, colleagues, friends, family, coaches, mentors and sponsors.
When we get stuck, it is not uncommon to turn inward instead of reaching out.  By being aware of our vital friends (what I consider my “kitchen cabinet), we have the human resources to help us get unstuck.
So, how do we get unstuck?

  • Step back and reflect
  • Ask yourself challenging questions
    • About your role in the situation
    • About what you would tell someone else in the same situation
  • Separate fact from fiction
  • Use a thinking partner

And first and foremost, recognize that you are stuck and need to get unstuck.
“Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.” – CG Jung
[1] Heath, Dan and Chip. (2013) Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work. Currency, New York.
[2] Rath, Tom. (2006) Vital Friends: The People You Can’t Afford to Live Without. Gallup Press.

Tip of the Month, March 2019 – More on Managing Up

In Jill Bachman’s February Blog Post (link here), she referenced Mary Abbajay’s definition of managing up. “Managing up is about consciously and deliberately developing and maintaining effective relationships with supervisors, bosses and other people above you in the chain of command.”[1]  Jill further clarified that managing up is the “how” of doing your work so that you can most successfully align with your boss(es).
For Tips this month, we’ll focus on her first general principle, “Communicate. Communicate some more.”  How do you know what to communicate, when to communicate and how to communicate?
Jill provided some ideas which we will revisit here – and then explore a really uncomfortable one: if your boss has been unhappy with an aspect of your work, how do you help him/her notice the changes you are making?
So, first the basics.

  1. Learn your style and your boss(es)’ style.
    1. Find out if your company uses a personality type inventory for training and development. If so, take advantage of the opportunity to take it, learn about it and find out more about the people you work with.
    2. If the company does not use a specific inventory, research and find one that is relevant to the work environment.[2]
  2. Big picture or detail? How do you know how much to share?
    1. Ask. How do you prefer to get information?
    2. Observe. What do you notice about his/her response to information you have shared?
      1. Have they read it? (And if not, take it as data not an insult.)
      2. Do they just ask you to give them an idea of what is in the detailed report you have prepared?
      3. Do they ask for bullet points?
    3. Cover all your bases.
      1. Send highlights and/or key points within the body of the email.
      2. Attach a more comprehensive report for further reference.
  3. How quickly do they expect you to respond?
    1. It would be really nice if your superior would tell you.
      1. It is confounding when you have a superior for whom everything is an emergency.
      2. It is also troubling when a request is not clear – is this a “nice to have” suggestion or a requirement.
    2. This is a great opportunity to “manage up” by taking the initiative to ask for the clarification you need.
      1. Is this a priority?
      2. When do you need it?
      3. Explain if something else will have to be delayed.
        Especially if you have been having some communication and expectation challenges, do not assume anything.  Your boss may not know or remember your work load, your other assignments, your planned family vacation, etc. if you do not share that information.You might try to find an agreed upon “default” expectation if no other date is given.  I acknowledged to my staff that I don’t always remember to give a due date (awareness of my own imperfections) and said that in the absence of another due date, the default expectation would be one week.  If I needed it sooner, it was up to me to convey that.  It would also have been nice if I could have said, when appropriate, “this is not a priority – can you get to it within the month?”
  4. How do they prefer to communicate? This is a major challenge if you and your boss have different needs/preferences and styles. In the best of worlds, you have a conversation to better accommodate both your needs because as much as you might adapt and manage up, if your communication needs are not met, you will struggle to succeed.
    1. Face to face v. electronic (text, email, etc.)
      1. If you need face time and your boss just wants electronic notifications, you will struggle.
        1. You may need to find a way to explain how much a face to face meeting will contribute to your effectiveness.
        2. And, you need to honor what information and updates can be sent electronically to ensure timely and time-efficient communication.
      2. If they prefer face to face meetings and you see them as a waste of time, propose a format or structure that will help meet your efficiency needs. What can be written up v. what needs to be discussed.
    2. Drop-in or scheduled — Every boss tries to say they have an open-door policy because it is the right thing to do. Some people do really well with interruptions. Others really get derailed from their focused work. As much as possible, know and honor their style.
      1. Try to clarify when “drop-ins” are appropriate – what is really time sensitive?
      2. Keep a list of questions, topics, discussion items for a scheduled meeting.
      3. Text first if something does seem time sensitive – and/or will stop you or your team from hitting your time lines – to see if you can drop in.
      4. Keep the conversation focused and brief.

So now, to the second question.  How do you manage a situation where your boss has expressed concern about your work, and you are making an effort to correct it?  This can be a major challenge where efforts to improve are not observed but any misstep is immediately noticed and reinforces the original concern.
If it is possible, create a written action plan for change with your boss. Describe what you will do, what change will look like and how you and your boss will know it is happening.  Frame this as development and accountability not correction or punishment.
For example, suppose your boss is concerned that you are not staying on top of your employee’s work assignments. He or she has asked you for updates on projects and you were not able to answer – saying you have to check with staff.
You see your boss looking annoyed or frustrated.  They may or may not say anything…but you know…  You can either address it right there or you wait until he/she finally brings it up to you. (Consider the benefits of addressing v. waiting.)
What does an action plan look like?
What is the issue?  Boss expects me to know the status of all projects for my direct reports.
(You may have been a more laid-back supervisor who just counts on things getting done.  Boss is not that way.)
What can you do? Propose a plan. Pick choices that make sense for you:

  1. Have more frequent 1:1 update meetings with staff.
  2. Have stand-up meetings daily or weekly as needed to be sure you have all updates.
  3. Use or create a reporting system that keeps you updated and sure that timelines are being met.
    1. Be sure your reports use it.
    2. Be sure you review it regularly.
  4. Make sure to notify your boss if anything is causing delays, problems, etc. before he/she hears it from anyone else.

Build in accountability. This is critical to your successful relationship with your boss and ensures changes and effort are noticed.

  1. Clarify how you and your boss will communicate about the implementation and impact of the new plan. What does he/she need to know?
  2. Clarify how you and your boss will assess the results and/or identify any other needed changes.

If you do not use a written plan, it still helps to bring it to the boss’s attention if it is a subtle thing, like a soft skill. “I heard what you asked, and this is what I did about it.” And you can help focus your boss’s attention on the requested change by asking them to give you feedback when they notice you meeting the new expectation.
We often assume that our work will speak for itself. We worry that these efforts at communication will be seen as self-serving or manipulative.  And yet, without effective communication, we are relying on other people seeing what we are seeing.
Jill concluded her article by saying, “The bottom line is that managing up involves straightforward approaches, based on assessment and intention, rather than subtle manipulation. Managing up helps you be more effective in your work. The question is, if your boss asked you what you are doing differently in your approach with her, could you comfortably tell her how you are managing up? If the answer is yes, you are good.”
Here’s to “good.”
[1] Abbajay, M. 2018. Managing Up: how to move up, win at work, and succeed with any type of boss.1.Wiley.
[2] Options may include:

  1. Abbajay’design: see note above.
  2. DiSC (which Thunderbird uses quite a bit) – note that one of the features of Everything DiSC is a comparative report providing insight in how two people will work together. Contact us at Thunderbird for more information or go to: https://www.everythingdisc.com/Home.aspx
  3. Myers Briggs Personality Type Indicator (MBTI) https://www.myersbriggs.org/my-mbti-personality-type/mbti-basics/home.htm?bhcp=1


Tip of the Month, February 2019 – Creating a Safe Environment

In this month’s blog post, “It’s Your Job!” we reviewed the book, Radical Candor[1], which emphasizes the importance of honest, timely and useful feedback in order to ensure quality results. Most of us would agree that doing this would be a great thing…and yet we often choose not to.
One of the main reasons we opt not to speak honestly and directly is because we fear how the message will be received.  We do not trust our colleagues or superiors. We do not feel safe.
And the result is lost opportunities to improve a product or project, to correct or avoid a mistake, or to retain a valued employee.
So, how do you, as a leader, create an environment that encourages clear, direct and helpful communication? Here are some tips combining ideas from some of my favorite authors as well as my own experience.[2]

  1. Publicly affirm your desire for honest, timely communication. If this will be a change or adjustment from the way you have been doing business, you’ll need to explain why and what this type of communication looks like.
  2. Don’t expect anyone to believe you at first. Be sure to manage your responses to efforts at honest, timely communication. If you are committed to the change, be gracious, accept effort, even if awkward, abrupt or bordering on rude.
  3. Have a discussion with your team about their comfort level with how these communications proceed.
    1. Set some team agreements including things like no personal attacks (it is about the work), not interrupting (depending on your group culture), taking the time that is needed to come to the best solution, etc.
    2. Commit to creating an environment where everyone’s input is needed and valued.
    3. Interrupt behaviors that violate the team agreements and remind everyone of the agreements.
  4. Capitalize on opportunities to identify and celebrate examples of this type of communication.
    1. If two people begin having a discussion (a disagreement) in a meeting related to a plan or outcome, stop action long enough to point out what is happening, that this is exactly what you are hoping to see more of and invite them to continue.
    2. If someone gives you clear and courageous feedback, thank them for their honesty and courage. You may or may not have an immediate answer for them, but definitely consider their feedback seriously and ensure they receive a timely reply.
    3. If the feedback above was given to you in private, share what happened and your answer in a group setting so people have that example as well.
  5. Tune in to non-verbals in your group.
    1. Can you see that there are people who look puzzled, uncomfortable, concerned, etc. who are not speaking up? Invite them to share what they are thinking…and leave some silence while they collect their thoughts. (Then, of course, thank them for sharing, acknowledge their opinion or ideas, and reflect on a strategy to integrate their thoughts into whatever decision-making process is occurring at the time.)
    2. Is there a silent leader in the group who keeps others from speaking up?  Watch for facial expressions, eye-rolls, etc. that indicate some form of negative control.  This may require some additional strategizing to overcome.  You may need to do some investigating to find out what is going on. (We might need another blog article to address this issue…let us know if you’ve had this experience and how you managed it.)
  6. Summarize meetings by reviewing what was agreed upon and identifying time lines and responsibilities.
    1. This is a great way to find out what people were hearing and what they are really committed to.
    2. Let the group share what they heard. You scribe. Let them do the work – it is amazing what will come out of this conversation.
    3. Be sure to leave enough time to re-explore issues that finally come out when the work is assigned. It is one thing for “someone” to have to do x, but when it is assigned to me, I may suddenly realize I have to speak out.  This is a critical moment when you are changing the culture.
      1. Do not get mad because they didn’t say anything before.
      2. Do not say, this was already discussed and cut off the conversation.
      3. Do not say, we don’t have time for this.
      4. Instead, go back to “tip # 3” and celebrate the fact that concerns are being brought up. This is what you want to see! Hopefully, your team will see that you mean it and bring up concerns earlier next time.
  1. Take a risk to give some feedback (use radical candor) privately with a member of your team or a colleague.
    1. Remind them that you are trying this new way of addressing issues and after you discuss the issue, you’d like feedback on how this worked.
    2. Then provide a balance of care and challenge in giving the feedback. “I know working toward excellence is important to you, so I wanted to share that ….”
    3. Ask for their thoughts about the issue, what they might need, etc.
    4. Once the issue is addressed, ask them what they felt about the conversation itself. Is there something you could do better next time?
  2. And ultimately, be consistent in your way of being. If your team is not sure what mood you are in, or how you are reacting “today,” they will not trust that your proposed changes are real.  You will not be creating a safe environment.  You need to model the behavior you want to see in your team…and then some.

[1] Scott, Kim. Radical Candor.  …
[2] Kim Scott, Patrick Lencioni, Kouzes and Posner and others…


In Kim Scott’s introduction to her book, Radical Candor[1], she describes a frantic time at work where she was confronted with back to back, high emotion, high stress demands and interruptions. She called her coach and complained, “Is my job to build a great company, or am I really just some sort of emotional babysitter?” Her coach’s response is the most honest and difficult thing that a coach has to say, “This is not babysitting…It’s called management, and it is your job!”
Managing people is the hardest and MOST Important part of the work we do. In almost all work environments the cost of “human capital” is the largest part of the budget and yet we prefer to skirt the techniques that produce optimal results. We make sure the automobile fleet gets oil changes, brake checks and lube jobs on schedule, we change the air conditioning filters regularly and schedule a repair call as soon as we hear a funny noise. But when it comes to people, we postpone performance conversations and avoid or couch feedback that would improve an employee’s results because we don’t have the time.
The truth is, even with the myriad of management books, training programs and seminars on the market, we avoid dealing with our employees because of the emotional toll it takes – and the more we avoid addressing issues, the harder it gets.
What I appreciate about Kim Scott’s book is she clarifies the types of responses we make to employees on two axes – “caring personally” and “challenging directly,” and allows us to reflect on the outcomes of each of these approaches.

When we combine caring personally and challenging directly we have radical candor – which is telling people what they need to know in a way that is kind, compassionate and above all, clear.
When we challenge directly without caring personally, we move into obnoxious aggression.  I think about folks who pride themselves on “telling it like it is,” or “brutal honestly.”  The truth is more important than you or your feelings.  Now the plus side of this approach is that at least you know where you stand and what’s going on.  However, as you can imagine, it does not create an environment of trust and safety.  If you need to be ready for the two by four to the back of the head at any moment, you will be keeping energy in reserve that could be better used for creative, productive oriented work.
On the other hand, if we care personally but do not challenge directly, Scott describes a way of engaging she calls ruinous empathy. In this case, I am so worried about your feelings (or perhaps concerned about my own discomfort?) that I only share positives, hedge about any issues or concerns, and never tell you what I really think or what is really needed.  Scott shares a story of having to terminate an employee who was producing poor quality work over ten months. During the termination interview he asked, “but why didn’t you tell me?”  How much do we invest in failed hires that could have been saved with more clarity early on?
What is significant about ruinous empathy is how much damage it does under the guise of being nice: loss of trust, loss of relationship, loss of quality work, loss of time, loss of employee morale.  There is nothing nice about it.
And finally, in the fourth quadrant we have manipulative insincerity, engagement where the individual doesn’t care and doesn’t challenge.  They avoid the truth, say what needs to be said to get through the moment and move on without any relationship or feedback at all.  At least with ruinous empathy there is a sense that the person actually cares and is just stuck in “nice” mode.  Here we’ve got nothing.
Scott challenges us to assess our own actions and responses whether as a manager or a colleague.  Few of us get it right all of the time, but by being cognizant of what we are doing and the impact our actions are likely to have, we have the opportunity to change and improve.
And that is where the book gets even more interesting! Because in amongst the stories and examples, Scott provides useful recommendations on how to begin to implement radical candor in the workplace.  It is solid people-management best-practice!
She discusses strategies for both formal and just-in-time performance feedback, team development, addressing bias, structuring meetings and getting results. And, she provides time frames and time lines to address the anxiety about how to do all that and “my real job!”
Ultimately, it is about creating an environment where employees can “bring their best selves to work.”
Check out her book and go to her website: radicalcandor.com
[1] Scott, Kim. (2017)  Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity. New York: St. Martins Press.

Preparing Next Generation Leaders

Preparing Next Generation Leaders – can we change or just get out of the way?

by Rory Gilbert, M.Ed., SPHR, SHRM-SCP

In my work, I have often heard people complain about millennials…even millennials complain about each other! Millennials (MLs) are described as needy, slackers, demanding instant gratification and constant feedback. They don’t want to pay their dues and want to be able to speak up and contribute right now! They don’t know their place and they are not loyal to the company. They keep talking about work-life balance – where is their dedication?i

We also know that as boomers retire, especially in leadership positions, there are not enough folks to replace them without an infusion of millennial talent and energy. People worry because they believe MLs are not prepared, not ready for leadership.

I would challenge those of us who see this dilemma to revisit three things.

  • What do we know are best practices to create successful organizations?
  • How do MLs fit into these recommended best practices?
  • What do we need to do to prepare MLs for the leadership demands of the future?

So, what makes an organization successful in the current environment?

Alex and David Bennetii tell us that organizations must be able to adapt quickly to change. This means hiring people, not positions. Organizations need capable, competent people who can be assigned projects that use their skills and develop their skills. People need content knowledge and the ability to collaborate well with others to respond effectively and creatively.

People need to be clear about the organization’s mission and empowered to make timely decisions within their field of influence to respond to changes in the environment. People need to be willing to take risks. Hierarchies and overly controlled environments do not allow for this type of activity.iii

Patrick Lencioni emphasizes that taking needed risks requires a deep level of trust in the organization from leaders to employees – that they will act in the best interest of the company, and that they have the knowledge and ability to make good decisions. And for employees, when (not if) they make mistakes, it is essential that leaders back them up and support them in learning from and correcting those mistakes. To do so, leaders need to provide quick and clear feedback, advice and counsel. iv

When there is an environment of deep trust like this, an organization can have true accountability – where people own their actions and decisions, speak up about concerns, work together to take the best actions and make the best decisions. In a truly accountable organization, people can easily review, learn from and rapidly respond to mistakes, so there is as little negative impact as possible. v

Harvard Business Review identified the leadership competencies that were most important for all management positions. Among the top competencies were inspiring and motivating others, displaying high integrity and honesty, communicating powerfully and prolifically, collaborating and promoting teamwork and building relationships. Displaying technical or professional expertise finally emerged eighth on the list. vi This list indicates the importance of interpersonal skills for effective leadership.

How do millennials fit into these best practices? I would suggest they fit perfectly if we reframe the attributes so often used to describe them.

They are ready for a challenge, want to learn and try new things and want honest, supportive feedback. They recognize people for their skills and contributions not their titles, and they want to be recognized for what they can contribute as well. They seek resources that will help them solve problems, rather than relying on stifling chains of command.vii

They want strong, genuine and honest relationships with their leaders. They count on rapid feedback that allows for quick course-corrections so they can be successful. viii

When they feel valued by their organizations and see opportunities to advance, MLs prefer to remain with their organizations. They are loyal when the organization’s values and goals are aligned with their own. ix

They commit to giving 100% when they are on the job and are wise enough to believe what we say (but not what we do), that we perform better when we take time to refresh and rejuvenate. While they are wired in 24/7, that doesn’t mean they want to work 24/7. x

What do we need to do to prepare Millennials for the leadership demands of the future?

I believe we need to follow the lead of MLs in creating the organization of the future. We need to support environments that are flexible, non-hierarchical and capitalize on their greatest asset, people.

That means letting go of some archaic notions. Things like:

  • what it means to pay one’s dues
  • the number of hours at the office demonstrates commitment or ability
  • setting boundaries on work time means slacking or disloyalty
  • speaking up too soon is a sign of disrespect
  • trying something new and failing is dangerous

We need to look at what people are capable of doing rather than being limited by job titles, and then let them have a chance to try something new! And we need to build genuine relationships that allow for risk-taking, creativity, innovation and adaptability. For millennials, this is the standard they are seeking.

This means providing information, context and mentorship for our emerging leaders and providing them with growth opportunities to test their abilities and learn from failure.

This means demonstrating how to give and take constructive feedback, manage conflict respectfully, admit our mistakes and learn from others. These are critical skills for the next generation of leaders. No one knows it all, but in strong and collaborative environments, a leader can facilitate making the most of what everyone knows.

None of these skills is new. Leadership books have been espousing them for years…but most of us have not mastered them…or in many cases even tried. xi Millennials come to us ready to embrace a supportive, collaborative, adaptive environment. Now is the time to shape that future. Organizations cannot afford to make MLs conform to leadership styles that are destined to fail. We need to model the new way of being (even if imperfectly) or it may well be time to get out of the way.

Updated 4-3-17:  Just read this article. It reinforces my main points. Check it out.


iMillennials have been labeled as lazy, entitled, and narcissistic, with an innate distrust of bureaucracy and authority. This generation is also known for being difficult to manage in the workplace and prone to job-hopping. For better or worse, Millennials now make up the largest generation in the U.S. labor force which means it’s time for employers to start adapting to an ever-changing workforce.” http://www.inc.com/sujan-patel/6-tips-for-managing-millennials.html

ii Bennet, Alex and David (2011). Organizational Survival in the New World. Routledge Taylor and Francis Group: New York.
iii Bennett, Alex and David (2011).

iv Lencioni, Patrick. (2012) The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else In Business. Jossey-Bass:San Fransisco.

v Lencioni, Patrick (2012).

vi https://hbr.org/2014/07/the-skills-leaders-need-at-every-level

Top skills ranked in order: inspires and motivates others, high integrity and honesty, solves problems and analyzes issues, drives for results, communicate powerfully and prolifically, builds relationships, displays technical or professional expertise…

vii Shaw, Haydn (2013-07-22). Sticking Points: How to Get 4 Generations Working Together in the 12 Places They Come Apart. Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

viii Shaw, Haydn (2013-07-22).

x Shaw, Haydn (2013-07-22).
xi Consider the body of work of Peter Drucker, Peter Senge, Kouzes and Posner, Jim Collins, Margaret Wheately and many others.

Embracing Diversity in the Workplace

Why do I as a leader need to pay attention to diversity and inclusiveness in the workplace? There are so many other factors I need to take into account already. Isn’t inclusiveness just one more thing? I ask all my employees to do the best job they can and I evaluate them on their performance. Isn’t that what equality is all about? Isn’t that just good business?
The strategy of setting clear expectations and providing fair evaluations would probably be enough if you had everyone on an assembly line and they were all doing the same job. But even then, you might have to consider if one person was taller than another, had longer arms, greater or lesser muscle strength or different levels of coordination. The more you think about it, the assembly line is a great example of why, even there, knowing about diversity and inclusiveness would be really important…because in fact, no two people are the same. And, your challenge as a leader or manager is to optimize your most valuable resource, your people.
So you would have to think through who is best suited for what task on the assembly line, how long they could work without a break and maintain quality performance, how you could keep them motivated, focused and retained so you would not have to train new people. You’d have to make sure that people were close enough, tall enough, nimble enough…to do the task…and you might want to have some additional resources like footstools, arm rests, etc. so you could increase your hiring pool and still be sure that they were able to do their best work.
Now consider that most of today’s employees are not on an assembly line. We ask them to bring their whole selves to work, to provide excellent customer service, to use critical thinking skills, to solve problems, and to represent our organizations well.
These requirements ask us as leaders and managers to consider what our employees need to be their most effective…and what our customers want in order to be satisfied with our products. Inclusiveness is the tool to address these considerations.
Inclusiveness is the organizational practice that recognizes and values the knowledge, skills, experience and perspectives that employees (and customers) bring to the workplace. It is created through effective relationships and communication. It requires leaders to be learners; to recognize that they need the perspectives of other people to have the full picture of what is possible.
In fact, current research indicates that the most effective, successful businesses are those that are also the most inclusive. Optimizing the diverse perspectives, skills and experiences of their people allows for the greatest innovation, productivity and risk-control. Yes, leaders NEED to pay attention to diversity and inclusiveness.
A culture change takes intentional and strategic action. Contact Rory Gilbert for more information on how your organization could benefit from a partnering relationship to make such a change work for you.

Employee Wellbeing and the Bottom Line

While it’s clear that happy, healthy employees are more effective and productive at work, it’s not always clear to employers what they can do to help set the stage for employee happiness and wellbeing. However, because people spend so much of their time at work, employers are in the ideal position to invest in their employees’ wellbeing.