Thursday, March 28, 2013

A Culture of Nice

I was meeting with the HR team at a public agency this week and they mentioned that they have a “culture of nice” and how much difficulty their managers have being able to set firm expectations and in giving honest feedback. They described it as a “circle of friends” management style. It reminded me of our article, EQ Does Not Equal Pushover ( because it is very possible to be polite, friendly and kind but also provide straight talk style feedback and still be liked!
Leading with Emotional Intelligence means you have the courage to step outside of your own discomfort about a performance conversation and put the best interest of the other person first. It means you have the other person's needs at heart and can read their communication style and emotional needs to cater your message in a way they can hear it and do something with it. After all, it is the ultimate gift of friendship to help someone help themselves, isn't it?

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Thanks for Listening

As a professional coach and consultant, I sometimes feel like a fraud. In many ways, all I am is a good listener. Thanks to Stephen Covey and his wonderful teaching, I have learned to listen well, with empathy and hopefully to make the person feel understood, not judged. Many people, friends, colleagues, current and past clients call me just to talk. And I love it, hearing their stories, learning about their challenges and helping them find a solid solution to whatever relationship dynamics are challenging them at the time. But there are times that I need someone to do that for me; the coach needing a coach. It is unusual when I get to do more of the talking than the listening, a rare luxury. I was lucky this week, got the chance to lean on a friend and spill it.

If you have someone in your life that does all the listening to you, don’t ever forget to repay the favor. It will mean the world to them.  

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Is this a victim of Trap 4 – Not Letting Go of Control?

One of the more extreme examples of a leader falling into Trap 4 may be the case of Robert Nardelli, CEO of Home Depot from 2000 to 2007. The following story of Nardelli’s controlling conduct at a 2006 shareholders’ meeting, highlighted in Forbes’ “10 All-Time Great CEO Outbursts, tells the tale. During 37 brief minutes, Nardelli stood onstage with men who “looked like bouncers,” while the very board members who were up for re-election were nowhere in sight. As the meeting unfolded, Nardelli restricted shareholders from speaking for more than a minute at a time and literally had microphones cut off to ensure the time limit. With each and every proposal that was put forth by shareholders, Nardelli, standing alone on stage, responded “The board recommends you reject this proposal.” Finally, when taken to task by a shareholder who described the meeting as “really disturbing” to which a round of roaring applause ensued, Nardelli simply responded, “Thank you, the board recommends you reject this proposal.” Shortly thereafter the meeting was called to a close.

            To be fair, I have never met Bob Nardelli and I don’t know any of the extenuating circumstances that may have been involved in this particular situation. Yet on the surface this story represents the ultimate in the elusive and risky nature of keeping control; it can always backfire on you. A shareholder’s meeting, meant to give those who had invested in the company the freedom to inform themselves on its financial health and the strategy the senior executives are using to lead the organization, was transformed into a farce, in which the CEO automatically shot down proposal after proposal. If that is how Nardelli carried himself in public, can you imagine what it might be like to work for Bob Nardelli?

As an outsider looking in, it’s hard to speculate as to whether Trap 4—not letting go of control—hampered Nardelli’s overall effectiveness as a leader. However, the results during his tenure may give some insight. As Forbes points out, competitor Lowe’s stock almost tripled during Nardelli’s tenure while that of Home Depot only remained steady. Chrysler, which Nardelli then went on to run, filed for bankruptcy in 2009. I can imagine that the reason for these unheroic endings are multi-faceted, but the extreme degree of control that Nardelli exercised at that 2006 shareholder’s meeting causes me to pause and wonder whether he may have stepped into Trap 4 a few too many times during his tenure at Home Depot and Chrysler. Certainly his Home Depot shareholders were not happy with his controlling approach.  Eventually the casualties and contagious negativity of this approach often ensures that we lose the very thing we want to hold onto the most. 

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

In Summary

Whether it is employee disengagement, lowered morale, increased turnover, or decreased motivation, the effects of falling into the Ego Traps are real and costly. At best, leaders who chronically fall into them irritate their people, eat away at their own credibility, and make life difficult for followers. At worst, they may sabotage their odds of success and whittle down the performance potential of their people. Corporate scandals and PR issues are also common symptoms of ego run amuck, whether due to the kind of poor judgment that says skinny dipping at a company event is okay (Ego Trap 6) or the release of a harmful product to consumers when there aren’t enough people on the team to challenge corporate practices (Ego Trap 3).

            No one ever said executive leadership would be easy.  Because of the nature of executives’ work, they are actually set up to fall into one or more of the eight Ego Traps, whether because the burden of power that comes with the executive territory  or the natural push and pull dynamics between leader and followers.

Perhaps it’s the fact that there are very few individuals above to provide complete honesty compared to the hoards below whose primary desire is to please those above them. Or perhaps it’s the fact that you have so much power it’s easy to stop worrying about what other people think. Either way, there will often be a sort of power bubble around you, which makes it easy to slip into “ego mode” and lose touch with how others view you. This is not a matter of being good or bad—it just seems to be inherent in the position.

The higher you go, the more likely you are to face the need to up your professional game to meet ever stiffer leadership challenges along the way. Frankly, if the climb was easy, everyone would take a shot at the C-Suite or at starting their own business. But, the herd naturally thins as the terrain becomes tougher to navigate: the Ego Traps doing their evolutionary work. 

Interestingly, as people grow in their careers, they are likely to shift along an ego continuum. Usually it starts with the confidently high ego of a strong individual contributor. That, and some skill, helps get a talented person promoted. Then, by the time an individual graduates to middle management, ego goes way down in favor of EQ. In fact, research by TalentSmart has revealed that, in most organizations, those with the highest EQ are middle managers. Then by the time individuals reach the top, the ego bounces back up again to challenge your leadership effectiveness for all the reasons I have stated in these articles. Fortunately, by becoming conscious of your particular Ego Traps and then practicing recognizing, reading, and responding, you can overcome these challenges and bring your EQ back into full play.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Double the Trouble: When the Traps Interrelate

Which Ego Traps are most relevant for you? Do you have one, two, or three that nip at your heel? Some of these traps tend to go together, while others simply cause more intense issues when they’re paired up. Here’s a look at some of the most prevalent combinations:

·       not letting go of control and losing touch with the front line experience

·       ignoring feedback and underestimating how much you are being watched

·       surrounding yourself with more of you and sliding back to old behaviors.

Let’s start with the first. If you are disconnected from the frontline experience (Trap 7) but at the same time holding tightly to control (Trap 4), there is a good chance you will end up micromanaging things that you have no knowledge about.

Ignoring feedback (Trap 1) and underestimating how much you’re being watched (Trap 6) is also a potent combination. Imagine the following. You behave in certain not so desirable ways, thinking that no one is really watching you anyway, but they are and it has a negative impact on an employee, your team, or the whole organization. Later, you are given feedback on this behavior, but you choose to ignore it and go on to repeat the behavior. It is incredibly demoralizing to others who see a leader receive feedback and ignore it because it sends the message that the leader just doesn’t care. And if the leader doesn’t care, why should the employees?

As for the last combination, if you should find that your common pitfall is to surround yourself with more of you (Trap 5), beware too of Ego Trap 8—ego relapse. If you are surrounded by people who don’t challenge you, it will be far easier to slide back into high-ego behaviors because no one’s calling you out on it. It may be easy to become complacent and stop making the effort needed to ask for contrary opinions. Before you’ve made any real progress or a few months into your efforts to awaken your EQ, you could be right back to where you started.

Fortunately, you will always have the three R’s of recognizing, reading, and responding at your disposal. Being sure to tune into yourself (self-awareness), observe and consider others (empathy), and then respond with discipline and consideration (self-control) will help you avoid whichever Ego Trap or Traps are most common for you.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Learning Lessons from Walt

“Have you learned lessons only of those who admired you, and were tender with you, and stood aside for you? Have you not learned great lessons from those who rejected you, and braced themselves against you, or disputed the passage with you?”

                                                                                    -Walt Whitman

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Trap #8 – Sliding Back to Your Old Ways (BTW, I am open to feedback on just calling this “Relapse”? )

Unfortunately, there is only one “sin” greater than falling into any of the Ego Traps described so far —and that is making positive changes to your behavior, avoiding a trap, and then falling back into old behaviors again. It’s called an ego relapse—the damaging descent from newfound emotional intelligence skills, right back into whatever ego pitfall has traditionally been your Achilles heel. Unfortunately, as we will discuss in a moment, this relapse creates more damage than not avoiding the trap in the first place.

Enter Ego Trap 8, which happens when leaders go back to their old, low-EQ ways and ruins their credibility among the team in the process. Here are a few examples:

·       Isabela, who was long disliked by her team because of the last-minute work demands she’d place on them on Friday afternoons (Ego Trap 5 – being blind to downstream impact), began to delegate work earlier in the week after receiving 360 feedback that her last-minute approach was problematic for her team. Six months later, however, when her organization did not pass inspection by a national certifying agency, Isabela resumed overloading employees with work on Friday afternoons to ensure that they stopped “slacking off.”

·       Cliff was known for not letting go of operational control but finally started delegating and letting his team take some risks after realizing his blind spot was stymying his company’s growth. A year after this change, one of his employees made a bad decision, which sent Cliff into a relapse.  He overreacted by once again getting involved in every decision.

·       After working with a coach, Don discovered that he was known for crushing opposing viewpoints during meetings. In response, he began making a conscious effort to listen and ask questions when someone raised perspectives counter to his own. Unfortunately, when Don suffered a back injury, his irritability ratcheted up and patience dwindled. The result? He resumed steamrolling team members who did not immediately go along with his viewpoint during conversations and meetings.

 Ego Trap 8 is triggered when a leader shifts from high-ego to high-EQ behavior—demonstrating the potential to be self-aware, empathic, and self-disciplined—only to slip back into the same high-ego behavior exhibited in the past. Others see that the leader is capable of change when they are focused and motivated to do so; the leader proves him or herself capable of acting sensitively and using self-control and situational awareness. Until they don’t. This sends a message to others that the leader is choosing to act with low EQ. This in turn leads to a credibility breech so deep that team members no longer trust and believe in the leader. If perception and loyalty were on the line before changing, there are even more important things at stake for sustaining it.

According to Merriam Webster’s online dictionary, credibility is “the quality or power of inspiring belief.”[i] Wikipedia describes credibility as “believability of a source or message” including “trustworthiness.”[ii] Within the leadership realm, I see credibility as the bank of trust leaders build up between themselves and their teams, which gives the followers confidence as to whether or not what the leaders say and do is reliable, dependable, and authentic. With credibility, leaders can motivate others to do their work—because the team trusts the leaders’ ability to work hard, to demonstrate the very behaviors that are expected of them, and to deliver on promises.[iii] With credibility, leaders demonstrate “the integrity, intent, capabilities, and results” that make them believable to themselves and others.[iv] Without credibility, however, teams lose respect for their leaders’ authority and question leaders’ ability to do the job. What’s more, individuals’ motivation to give their best to their leaders wanes.

Ego Trap 8
[iii] Harvard Business Review. (2012, Aug. 10).  Demonstrate your credibility as a leader [Management Tip, adapted from the Harvard ManageMentor Online Module: Leading and Motivating]. Retrieved from
[iv] Covey, Stephen M. R. (2008). The Speed of Trust: The One Thing that Changes Everything Free Press, p. 45.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Trap #7 - Losing Touch with the Frontline Experience

What might you learn by reengaging and considering your front line? As a senior executive, it is all too easy to become disconnected from the troops. The contrast between the frontline environment and the physical surroundings of the average executive—mahogany offices, dining-room-sized conference tables, and private gyms or private jets—is one reason. Then consider the contrast in the nature, complexity, and seriousness of the work, such as conversations with peer executives, and, if you are part of a publicly traded company, shareholder meetings and appointments with analysts—and it makes it easy to forget what’s going on beneath you. It is only by making a conscious effort to stay connected to the frontline experience that you can avoid Ego Trap 7. Otherwise, the trappings of your position will likely throw up blinders along the way that can disconnect you from your core business.

            Whether it’s the bank teller, factory worker, window washer, driller in the oil field, or the employee packaging products in the distribution center, there are frontline workers powering businesses around the globe. These individuals are touching your product or delivering your service every day, often interacting with your customers, shaping their opinions about your brand and securing their future buying choices. Yet, the demands on you as a senior executive to be focused on investors, analysts, the Board, or quarterly profits makes it easy to take your eyes off the organizational culture and lose empathy for those who have to execute your plans.  Ego Trap 7 gets triggered when leaders get disconnected from what it’s really like to work and be on the front line or floor, day after day. Leaders may also be disconnected from how their decisions and what they pay attention to impact the people on the front line. For example, what might seem like a simple decision to reduce costs by eliminating the perk of company cell phones for certain employees could have a big impact on operations and morale.