Thursday, August 30, 2018

The Risks of Not Letting Go of Control

Micromanager. It's a term we've all heard before, and not without at least a little disdain. As Harvard Business Review blogger Ron Ashkenas reminds us, many people complain about a micromanager, but none of us will ever actually admit to being one. Why would we? The micromanager is seen as meddling, untrusting, and counterproductive. The micromanager may even be thought of -ahem, as a control freak. This week's blog provides some strategies for staying informed without staying too involved.

The Risks of Not Letting Go of Control

At the heart of micromanagement is an ego-based failure to let go of control. Ironically, in some cases, micromanaging leaders may see themselves as low-ego, ultimate "servant leaders." They may think: "Look at me, I am rolling up my sleeves and working side-by-side with the troops." In reality, what may look like helping, though, isn't helping at all since the group doesn't often need another operator. They need a leader. In most cases, the leader's need to be involved often slows down the work of the group, as other things sit and wait for the leader to review or approve them. This is the most common complaint I hear from employees who work for leaders caught in this trap.

Inc. magazine makes an interesting distinction between control and leadership that may help highlight the differences:

"Control is about making sure orders and work requirements are carried out by following management's plans and directions. Leadership, on the other hand, is based on setting clear objectives, delegating authority, relinquishing control, and trusting staff."

Only with the self-awareness, empathy, and self-control that comes with EQ can leaders have the understanding and discipline needed to cede control to the team so they can meet organizational objectives by exercising their own power and agency. The bottom line is it doesn't matter whether a leader refuses to give up control due to a strong personality or a passion for operations, the leader makes decisions and behaves in ways that make them feel comfortable at the expense of others' comfort.

The Battle of Ego vs. EQ

If you should discover that staying out of operations and letting go of control is a challenge for you, begin by looking within. Ask yourself questions like,
  • "Is this something I should be this involved with?"
  • "Have I delegated this to someone else but am I still too far in?"
  • "Is my involvement slowing everything down?"
  • "Am I just gathering information, or am I now in the middle of something, telling people what to do?"
  • "What would happen if I took my hands off the wheel? What does that tell me about how well I have prepared my next-tier leaders for running the business?"

Then, exercise your self-awareness and work to recognize when you're stepping too far into the weeds. You may feel that the visibility on the assignment is too high, you may realize that you distrust the team's competence, or you may recognize an excitement or overzealousness to be involved yourself in a given project. Rather than let these emotions dictate how you proceed-by jumping into operations-step back and consider what the environment needs from you. That's where empathy and reading come in.

With a good read on your team and insight into your own temptations, you'll have the information you need to respond appropriately and consciously.  If you feel uncertain of a team member's competence, take the leap of faith to let the person try and run with a starter project on his or her own. A major part of any leader's job is to develop a bench of capable talent. You'll only know how the person operates if you let her try. Lastly, don't be afraid of mistakes; they are sure to happen. They happened to you in the past and probably serve today as some of your best learning experiences.  The same goes for your team.

In most cases, there is a certain sense of serenity that comes with surrendering and accepting that unintended consequences aren't always terrible. If not, the worst that will happen is that some of your fears will come true but that you will have a new lens with which to view the situation.  You will see the gaps, learning needs, job misfits, and assumptions that you failed to see before from your controlling mindset.  These are invaluable tools you can now use to target where you want to improve the organization, focusing your passions and energy on something with much greater significance and impact.

In the end, you as a leader have to define for yourself when it is appropriate to get involved in a situation. Along these lines, it can be helpful to come up with some clear thresholds to guide you on when to get involved in projects and decisions and when it's better to stay out of the fray. By developing clearer guidelines for when to let go of control, inviting others to hold you accountable, and accepting that it may always feel uncomfortable to trust, you will develop a strong toolset to avoid the urge to micromanage.

This article is a summary excerpt from Ego vs EQ: How Top Leaders Beat 8 Ego Traps Using Emotional Intelligence. Click here to order a copy of the book, or here for companion webinar.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Don't Let Employees Get Too Comfortable

It's a constant challenge to know how to be the right kind of leader each employee needs us to be to keep them at their best. And although it may be tempting to allow employees to find their groove and just coast, it eventually leads to trouble. Read on to find out why.

Don't Let Employees Get Too Comfortable
As leaders, we are working hard to keep our employees productive and engaged in their work and organization. Followers of the strengths-based philosophy focus on delegating work that is only in an employee's sweet spot. Leaders of millennials may find themselves forced to bias the workload to the tasks the employee finds interesting and motivating because it makes giving positive feedback easier. Although this arrangement may make the leader popular and the employee happier, it comes with some sinister risks.

Active Disservice
This is a tricky trap because many leaders feel quite accomplished if they possess an intimate knowledge of what their people are good at and then provide those opportunities accordingly. Others may also feel a sense of loyalty or protectiveness when assigning work to their people, purposely avoiding things they've sensed makes the person feel uncomfortable or unqualified.

But by allowing employees to become too comfortable and reliant on their signature strengths, keeping themselves safely tucked away in their pockets of expertise, leaders are not actually rewarding them. They are in fact delivering to them an active disservice - enabling them to stay in the comfort zone nest, never stretching beyond their own (often self-imposed) limitations.

80% Strength / 20% Stretch
Although rewarding employees with specific projects that will draw from their strengths and involve duties they enjoy doing is still a smart idea, it should not become the norm all of the time. There is an ideal ratio of 80% strength/20% stretch. Employees who are left 100% comfortable may later face their own set of unpleasant eventualities, often struggling when circumstances change, limiting their own opportunities for advancement, slowly fall behind in meeting the minimum job requirements, and may risk burnout or disengagement as monotony sets in.

Start with a Conversation
Leaders can break the comfort zone handicap by looking more closely at any patterns of avoidance and assess what performance areas bring out signs of resistance or insecurity in their people. They then need to start an open dialogue with the person to find out what resources, training, understanding, or big picture may the person be missing that would help make a challenging assignment easier to complete. This also gives the leader an opportunity to clarify or reset any incorrect or exaggerated perceptions this employee may have had about what they deem as "success" in the particular task or job facet. Odds are you already know what they enjoy doing, this conversation can help you better understand what they avoid doing and why. Leaders must be careful to listen closely for the barriers employees face and actively work to remove them.

Delegate for Development

Acknowledge the discomfort, empathize with the anxiety it may create and don't give in. Helping employees see that a stretch assignment's only purpose is not to stress them out, but actually help them achieve their own goals is a good place to start. Then keep these three tips in mind when delegating:
  • Development activities should come with added levels of support. As the employee learns, they will have questions. Pre-plan whom they should go to first and what sources are available to them. You may also suggest some "hands off" sources if you know there is a risk of them learning bad habits first. You will need to make yourself available on a predictable schedule so the employee has access to you as they learn.
  • Development activities must allow room for failure. Don't assign a super-sensitive, high visibility project to your employee as a stretch assignment. Pick something that has a long deadline that you may have time to review and finalize before it goes public or something with a minor risk if it isn't "perfect." Think about how to paint a picture of success so they know what to strive for. And then be ready to accept less than perfect.
  • Development activities need a post-mortem. In today's rush-around world we complete projects, check them off the list and move on to the next thing. After a development activity is assigned, schedule a formal meeting to discuss process, roadblocks, successes and key learnings. It can be as simple as "what worked/what didn't work". Use it as an opportunity to springboard to the next assignment. Assess your employee to see if they are continuously incorporating new skills into their daily work; this is a way to measure their learning agility.

Get Out of Your Comfort Zone Too
One of the most important questions a leader should continually ask themselves is - are my people growing? And are my people growing because of me, in spite of me, or without me?

To gain the necessary credibility required to create a climate of safety where employees feel safe to open up to their boss about tough topics like insecurities, deficiencies, shortcomings, fear, failure, and confusion a leader must have first demonstrated that they too are seeking out growth opportunities that stretch them in unfamiliar areas. Being a leader who doesn't allow comfort zone handicaps to hurt their team requires that they first (or at the same time) make intentional efforts to get uncomfortable too. Maintaining a healthy level of challenge and struggle is what makes the most powerful teams. This is how a leader builds a team who is qualified and prepared to meet the demands of a thriving enterprise.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Five Ways to Build Trust Using Emotional Expression

This week’s blog focuses on the connection between emotional expression and trust. I know sometimes it's difficult to express emotion, and there are certainly some emotions that shouldn't be shared. But, I'm also talking about the nonverbal expression of emotion in the workplace. Actively expressing emotion will actually increase trust with others and make it easier for them to use their EQ when they are interacting with you. Therefore, I am inviting you to work harder this month on expressing a little more than you might today.

The EQi 2.0 assessment measures emotional intelligence and 15 skills that make-up the EQ competency, click here to learn more. One component on the report is called Emotional Expression and is defined as “Openly expressing one’s feelings verbally and non-verbally.” As you can probably guess, some employees get low scores on this because expressing feelings makes many people uncomfortable. Some I have spoken with have actively defended the importance of not ever expressing feelings, especially at work because “everything should be about data and facts and not personal opinion.” I don’t agree with that viewpoint, but I certainly understand it especially in today’s super-touchy, easily-offended workplace.

Using emotional intelligence includes exercising a good judgment about when to express, what to express and who is appropriate to express emotions with. When I use my EQ, I am trying to recognize my feelings, read those of others and then choose a response that is best. Those with lower Emotional Expression are reserved and hard to read. They can appear to others as guarded or disinterested.

Some people have gotten feedback at one time that they were too loud, reactive, emotional or an over-sharer so they are trying to improve, but overcompensating. Some are very private and don’t like to reveal or discuss feelings with others. This is a problem because suppressing emotion could result in negative health consequences like high blood pressure, ulcers, and stress. It’s also a problem because it makes it very difficult for me to use my EQ with someone who isn’t giving me anything to work with. I don’t know how to best respond because I can’t get a reaction from you.

When this happens, thoughts swirl in my head about why they aren’t responding. Do they not understand what I am saying? Do they not care? Do they have such low self-awareness they don’t know how they feel about it? Do they not trust me to be honest with me?

None of these guessed reasons may be accurate or fair, but they create a less than positive perception. I was speaking with a Chief Diversity Officer at a large organization not long ago who struggled with this. When I asked her why she had difficulty sharing her feelings said she didn’t want to risk coming across as an "angry activist." While I agree and understand her fear, I also pointed out that being too inexpressive isn’t engaging anyone else in her cause. I wondered, "How do you expect me to get passionate about the importance of diversity if I never see it in you?"

If you think your Emotional Expression could use a boost, try these pointers:

  • Use your audience as your guide, match a similar level of expression even if it’s higher than you naturally would.

  • Remember that not all feelings are intimate. You can share feelings of frustration, worry, pride, concern, excitement, and confusion in a business-appropriate way.

  •  If you just can’t share some feelings, remember that others can track your likely emotion by sharing some thoughts or rationale for decisions instead. Most will have what they need if you give them some information about what’s going on behind the scenes for you.

  • You may struggle to share your feelings if you haven’t identified what they are. Spend time reflecting on your strongest emotions – why do you feel that way and what triggers them?

  • Start small. Pick a low-risk situation to practice sharing more. This could be a co-worker with whom you already have a high trust established or a low stakes discussion in which you can contribute an opinion.

The good news is all of the EQ skills can be learned so this is something we can all develop. Just a note of caution to not over-correct and use too much Emotional Expression either! The goal is to express emotions according to the situation and with common sense. Once you do, it will make a big difference in your interactions, and possibly your health as well.   

Monday, August 13, 2018

EQ&You: Emotional Expression and Trust

This week's EQ&You goes hand in hand with the August Performance Pointer which will be coming out on Thursday.  If you want to build trust, use a little more of this...

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Months in a Minute

Top Left: Me and Stephanie Moy at S.P. Richards, Top Right: WithIt Women's Conference in Charleston, Bottom Left: Speaking at SNHU's Adjunct Instructor Summit, Bottom Right: Me, Steve Friedlein and the fabulous folks at Otis College of Art and Design
This month’s post is a twofer. We missed the June Minute because we were just too dang busy. This week I have completed my 95th flight since Jan 1st, flying through 18 airports. Work has been very exciting with several new clients on board, personally has been challenging (see last week’s post). My daughter Annie is about to start back to high school next week, she is in 11th grade and starting at a new school in a new state so we are all interested to see what’s different between NH and AZ. I have also been in a more reflective mood lately too, with everything going on and a BIG birthday a few weeks away I am working hard to make everything I do meaningful. I have seen old friends for the first time in many years. I am working to make everyone I talk to feel better. I want to add value to anything I touch. I want to ensure that the people I am with know that I love and appreciate them. I don’t want to worry about silly things or stress out over something temporary. I am working hard to maintain a good perspective. I hope you have been able to have some business and personal experiences this summer that have enriched you as well.