Category Archives: Business Success and the Common Good

What Prevents Taking Work Stress Home With You?

February 14, 2017

I think this new study is useful, per se, but it contains a glaring, most significant omission. And that’s often typical of academic research that ignores the reality of everyday experience. To explain, researchers at the University of Central Florida found that exercise and sleep are keys to keeping employees from bringing work stress and frustrations home.

The study, reported in this summary from the University, looked in particular at abusive behavior at home. They found that those who engaged in more walking at work, and had more sleep, were less likely to behave abusively at home. That is, according to researcher Shannon Taylor, “…employees who are mistreated at work are likely to engage in similar behaviors at home. If they’ve been belittled or insulted by a supervisor, they tend to vent their frustration on members of their household. Our study shows that happens because they’re too tired to regulate their behavior.”

Well, yes. Exercise and sleep help everyone.

But as a solution, that finding deals with a symptom, not the source. It ignores the primary sources of most employee distress and dissatisfaction to begin with: A management culture that’s outright abusive, psychologically unhealthy, unsupportive of career development, too limiting of opportunities for continued learning, and a host of other management and organizational issues. I’ve written a great deal about the impact of an unhealthy management and leadership culture upon people’s workplace experience; and their role in a range of emotional and physical ailments that people experience as a consequence.

Moreover, the current study was conducted with MBA students – a population whose work experiences are not the same as entry level, mid-level or senior career workers. So the researchers’ conclusions — “burning an additional 587 calories can reduce the harmful effects of mistreatment and help prevent it from carrying into the home…(by,for example) with an hour of swimming or a brisk 90-minute walk” — are healthy practices, certainly. But they don’t address the fact that healthy organizations will help people experience a more positive, supportive, and meaningful career and work experience to begin with.

The research was published in the Journal of Applied Psychology.

Credit: NIU Newsroom

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Music While You Work Increases Teamwork

Screen Shot 2016-09-03 at 11.51.39 AMAugust 30, 2016

So turn up the volume! A new study finds that playing music while people are working actually increases cooperation and teamwork. A series of experiments conducted by Cornell University found that music has an impact on the cooperative attitudes among workers.

According to a summary of the research, the question arose from the observation that “From casual acoustic melodies at the coffee shop to throbbing electronic beats at teen clothing outlets, music is used to mold customer experience and behavior.” The researchers wondered what impact it might have on employees? So they conducted two studies to test the effect of different types of music on the cooperative behavior of individuals working as a team.

The researchers, Kevin Kniffin, Jubo Yan, Brian Wansink and William Schulzer, published their findings in the Journal of Organizational Behaviordescribed in this summary from Cornell:

For each study, participants were grouped into teams of three. Each team member was given multiple opportunities to either contribute to the team’s value using tokens or keep the tokens for personal use.

When happy, upbeat music was played – researchers chose the “Happy Days” theme song, “Brown Eyed Girl” by Van Morrison, “Yellow Submarine” by the Beatles and “Walking on Sunshine” by Katrina and the Waves – team members were more likely to contribute to the group’s value. When music deemed unpleasant was played – in this case, heavy metal songs by less than well-known bands – participants were more likely to keep tokens for themselves. The researchers found contribution levels to the public good when happy, upbeat songs were played were approximately one-third higher compared to the less pleasant music. Continue reading

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Covert Sexism in the Workplace: As Harmful as Overt Behavior?

Screen Shot 2016-03-19 at 4.55.27 PMMarch 15, 2016

It’s pretty clear that our workplaces are steadily evolving towards environments of greater equality. That is, organizations in which men and women are valued, recognized and rewarded for the capacities most crucial to an organization’s success. For example, the ability to work collaboratively, particularly with others who differ from oneself — whether because of gender, cultural and ethnic backgrounds; or sexual orientation.

This is an ongoing, gradual transformation, however, with many subtle obstacles rooted in personal and institutional prejudices and barriers. So it’s important to document and raise awareness about attitudes and behavior that continue to undermine individuals and teams in organizations. One current example is revealed in this study that examined hidden sexism in the workplace. It found that that frequent sexist comments as well as a management culture that covertly demeans women are just as damaging to women as overt acts of sexual coercion, sexually-tinged conduct or sexist behavior towards them.

Such hidden, embedded sexism, according to the research published in The Psychology of Women Quarterly, may go unnoticed. That is, “Norms, leadership, or policies that reduce intense harmful experiences may lead managers to believe that they have solved the problem of maltreatment of women in the workplace,”according to the authors. Continue reading

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To Get More Creative, Become Less Productive

Screen Shot 2016-02-05 at 2.42.57 PMFebruary 2, 2016

A recent Harvard Business Review article by Art Markman highlights the value of subverting your usual way of thinking and doing, in order to enhance creativity at work. I’ve seen this borne out in the experiences of those who’ve tried stepping out of their comfort zone, outside of their usual “box;” and become more of an “outlier” in their approach to solving problems or dealing with new challenges,

Markman writes:

There is a fundamental tension between productivity and creativity, and managers won’t get more of the latter until they recognize it. Productive people move through the tasks they have to accomplish in a systematic way. They make steady and measurable progress toward their goals. They make effective and efficient use of their time.

Creativity… doesn’t. Creativity needs time and space to grow. Although we can systematically engage in activities that are related to creativity, it is hard to systematize creativity itself. In particular, creativity is fundamentally about knowledge. Nearly all creative ideas involve people finding new uses for existing knowledge – some novel configuration of old insights. James Dyson developed his vacuum by drawing a parallel to sawmills. Fiona Fairhurst designed a faster swimsuit by understanding shark skin. George de Mestral invented Velcro by understanding cockleburs.

That means people need to have the time to learn things that are not obviously relevant to their jobs, so that they will have a broad and deep knowledge base to draw from when they need to be creative. Moreover, creative enterprises rarely involve steady and measurable progress. Instead, being creative involves trying lots of different possibilities, struggling down several blind alleys before finding the right solution. Continue reading

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Behind the Climate Victory; a Human Victory?

Screen Shot 2016-01-05 at 10.37.39 AMJanuary 5, 2016

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A guest post from John Friedman, who heads corporate responsibility communications worldwide for Sodexo Group. John blogs on sustainability for The Huffington Post, and is a leading writer on corporate responsibility and sustainable business. He’s the author of PR 2.0: How Digital Media Can Help You Build A Sustainable Brand.

Now that the fireworks have faded along with some of the afterglow from the very successful COP21 meeting in Paris we must begin in earnest in deciding what 2016 will bring. With guarded optimism I read articles summarizing the year and for the most part they reflect a renewed hope and optimism that comes from the global agreement not only on efforts to cap global temperatures to increasing no more than 2 degrees Celsius, but also the ‘stretch target’ of 1.5 degrees.

The 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals are an excellent framework. They recognize that we must continue to improve quality of life and social justice for more and more (ideally all) people within the constraints of our very resilient planet’s ability to replenish and restore (some) natural resources.

They bear repeating here:

  • Goal 1. End poverty in all its forms everywhere
  • Goal 2. End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture
  • Goal 3. Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages
  • Goal 4. Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all
  • Goal 5. Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls
  • Goal 6. Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all
  • Goal 7. Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all
  • Goal 8. Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all
  • Goal 9. Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation
  • Goal 10. Reduce inequality within and among countries
  • Goal 11. Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
  • Goal 12. Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns
  • Goal 13. Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts
  • Goal 14. Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development
  • Goal 15. Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss
  • Goal 16. Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels
  • Goal 17. Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development

What happened in Paris at the COP21 was a watershed meeting because it demonstrated our ability to agree on the big important issues and come together to set universal goals. And we can and should take notice of the importance not just for the global climate, but for all the issues, including those impacted by climate change and the need to address it (such as health, well-being, sustainable economic development, equality, justice, fighting corruption, etc.) Continue reading

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Are You Emotionally Connected With Your Work? Does It Matter?

Screen Shot 2015-12-27 at 9.42.36 PMDecember 15, 2015

Some new research about workplace behavior caught my attention recently. It highlights — by omission — the important link between an organization’s management culture and the psychological experience of working within it. That’s a link that needs to be examined, but often isn’t; and this study illustrates that gap. It found that people who report feeling emotionally engaged and connected with their work and their organizations also experience greater psychological well-being.

That finding may sound obvious, though it’s always good to have empirical data confirm the obvious. In this case, it shows that if you’re among the fortunate ones who feel engaged and positive about your work and management, you’re likely to experience a greater sense of wellbeing. The problem is, most people aren’t so fortunate, as surveys repeatedly show. But this study does expose important questions, raised by its own findings:

What, exactly, promotes a sense of emotional connection with your work to begin with? And how might that increase your overall sense of well-being?

First, let’s look at the study, conducted in Denmark and published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. It examined the well-being and other health-related outcomes in 5,000 Danish workers. Among employees in various workgroups the study found significantly higher well-being concerning “the employee’s emotional attachment to, identification with, and involvement in the organization.” Those employees also had lower sickness absence rates and fewer sleep disturbances.

The lead author, Thomas Clausen, suggests that efforts to increase emotional connection with work may lead to a happier, healthier workforce. Of course. That makes good sense, and most companies would likely agree. The problem is that a positive sense of connection with work requires several conditions and factors that organizational leadership often fails to recognize or address. Among the most important are, in my view:

  • Does senior leadership promote a positive work culture, in which workers are valued and provided opportunities for continued learning and development?
  • Is diversity encouraged and valued in practice, not just in company mission statements?
  • Is there a workaholic and/or sexist management culture permeating the organization?
  • Perhaps most importantly, do employees experience a sense of impact their work has upon the product or service the company provides? The latter appears increasingly important to younger workers, as surveys show.

I’ve written about these issues previously, and they are crucial for long-term, sustainable success within today’s environment – one of increasing interconnection, transparency and constant flux; of rapid technology change and generational shift regarding values, life goals; and how people are redefining personal and career success.

Credit: Lionbridge

A version of this article previously appeared in The Huffington Post.

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Actions That Benefit Others — Not Just Oneself — Lead to More Effective Work Teams

Screen Shot 2015-12-03 at 11.56.25 AMDecember 1, 2015

Although we’re seeing political and cultural calls for policies that advocate self-interest; and social-political positions that ignore or deny evidence of continuing global interdependence, the reality on the ground tells a different story: There, we find data that positive benefits for individuals, business and society accrue from serving the common good; actions that support the benefit of others enhance all, including oneself.

A recent study from Notre Dame and the University of Illinois is a good example. The research, published in the Academy of Management Journal, found that when members of a work team are supported and motivated to benefit others, those teams are higher performing. Moreover, its members remain in their teams for longer periods.

The study examined 67 work teams from both the U.S. and China, as well as 124 student teams at Notre Dame. According to lead researcher Jasmine Hu, “Findings from both the field study and lab research showed that the greater motivation to benefit others, the higher the levels of cooperation and viability and the higher the subsequent team performance.”

She added, “These types of teams were also less likely to have members voluntarily leave their teams. Furthermore, we discovered that these positive effects of team motivation to benefit others were stronger the more the tasks required close interaction and higher interdependence among its members.”

The researchers concluded that the research provided evidence for the importance of management practices that enhance motivation to benefit others. That, in turn, increases the collaboration and cooperation necessary for high-performing teams. It produces “…higher performance, more organizational citizenship behavior, and (members) stay in their teams for a longer period,” Hu said. Moreover, “The highest level of team effectiveness was achieved when team motivation to benefit others and the interdependence of tasks among team members were both high.”

In my view, this study’s findings emphasize the key management role of building and supporting positive relationships among team members. The latter is interwoven with and dependent upon positive management and leadership behavior. That is, by demonstrating belief in and commitment to collaboration and support for individual growth and development at the same time.

Credit: jps, inc

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Feeling Emotionally Connected To Work Is Linked With Greater Psychological Wellbeing…But Why?

Screen Shot 2015-11-05 at 10.47.20 AMNovember 3, 2015

I came across this new research finding that people who feel emotionally engaged and connected with their work experience greater psychological wellbeing. That may sound obvious, though it’s good whenever empirical data confirms the obvious. But I think the missing piece in the research is what, exactly, promotes that sense of emotional connection with your work to begin with?

This study from Denmark, published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, examined the well-being and other health-related outcomes in 5,000 Danish workers. It found significantly higher well-being for employees in workgroups with “the employee’s emotional attachment to, identification with, and involvement in the organization.” They also had lower sickness absence rates and fewer sleep disturbances.

The lead author, Thomas Clausen, suggests that efforts to increase emotional connection with work may lead to a happier, healthier workforce. This makes sense, of course. Most companies would likely agree. The problem is that sense of connection with work reflects many factors that organizational leadership often fails to recognize or address. For example:

  • Does senior leadership promote a positive work culture, in which workers are valued and provided opportunities for continued learning and development?
  • Is diversity encouraged and valued in practice, not just in company mission statements? 
  • Is there a workaholic and/or sexist management culture permeating the organization?
  • Perhaps most importantly, do employees experience a sense of impact their work has upon the product or service the company provides? The latter appears increasingly important to younger workers, as surveys show. 

I’ve written about these issues previously, and they are crucial for long-term, sustainable success within our culture of increasing interconnection, transparency and constant flux; of rapid technology change and generational shift regarding values, life goals, and how people re-define personal and career success. 

Credit: Forbes

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How Can You Deal With An Abusive Boss?

Screen Shot 2015-10-23 at 10.26.57 AMOctober 20, 2015

I’ve written previously about abusive bosses and psychologically unhealthy management in general, and I’m revisiting it a bit here, because of a new study that highlights the difficulty people have when dealing with this kine of management environment. And not just employees: sometimes researchers themselves have a naive understanding of the problem.

That is, some recent research about employees who deal with abusive bosses shows that a well-intentioned study of workplace behavior can produce findings that confound the researchers’ predictions. This research found one unsurprising result; but another part of the findings – which puzzled the researchers — is what caught my eye.

To explain, the research surveyed the ways in which employees behave when working for abusive bosses. Those are often people who are narcissistic, denigrating, arrogant and unsupportive — or outright undermining — of employee’s learning and development.

The unsurprising part of the findings was that just trying to avoid the abusive boss or plotting ways to retaliate didn’t work. That made things worse for the employee, according to the study, published in the Journal of Applied Psychology and summarized by Jena McGregor in the Washington Post.

Rather, the other set of findings is what got my attention. Here, the researchers predicted that “acts of compassion and empathy — employees who assist bad bosses by going above and beyond, helping bosses with heavy workloads even when they’re not asked” would lead to diminished abuse by those bosses. And, that “acts of kindness might help lessen future rude or abusive behavior.”

The researchers were surprised to discover that it didn’t happen. Instead, according to the study’s co-author Charlice Hurst, “Abusive supervisors didn’t respond to followers being positive and compassionate, and doing things to be supportive and helpful.” The researchers concluded that their findings seemed to “clash with common sense.”

Really? I think most anyone who’s ever worked for abusive bosses would laugh at such “common sense” assumptions. No, trying to be “nice” or empathic towards the narcissistic, arrogant boss who often makes conflicting demands on employees isn’t going to produce positive change. Continue reading

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Covert Sexism In The Workplace Is As Harmful As Overt Behavior

Screen Shot 2015-10-10 at 2.44.35 PMOctober 6, 2015

Our workplaces are steadily evolving towards environments in which men and women are valued, recognized and rewarded for their ability to work collaboratively with others who differ from them – whether gender, cultural and ethnic backgrounds, or sexual orientation. It’s a gradual process, however, and it’s important to document and raise awareness of the attitudes and behavior that continue to undermine individuals and teams in organizations. A current example is this study: It found that that frequent sexist comments and management cultures that are covertly demeaning to women are just as damaging to women as acts of sexual coercion or overtly sexual conduct and behavior towards them.

The research, published in The Psychology of Women Quarterly, found that “Norms, leadership, or policies, that reduce intense harmful experiences may lead managers to believe that they have solved the problem of maltreatment of women in the workplace,” according to the authors. “However, the more frequent, less intense, and often unchallenged gender harassment, sexist discrimination, sexist organizational climate and organizational tolerance for sexual harassment appeared at least as detrimental for women’s wellbeing. They should not be considered lesser forms of sexism.” The research team analyzed 88 independent studies of a combined 73,877 working women, and found following associations:

  • Sexism and gender harassment were just as harmful to working women’s individual health and work attitudes as common job stressors such as work overload and poor working conditions.
  • When women are the targets of sexism and harassment in the workplace, they are more dissatisfied with supervisors than co-workers.
  • There was a trend of a more negative effect of sexism and harassment in male-dominated workplaces, such as the armed forces and financial and legal services firms. However, the authors suggested this required further research.

The authors added, “Our results suggest that organizations should have zero tolerance for low intensity sexism, the same way they do for overt harassment. This will require teaching workers about the harmful nature of low intensity sexist events, not only for women, but also for the overall organizational climate.”

Credit: Aiste Miseviciute/Alamy

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What Matters More — Your Character, Or What You Can Do For Me?

Screen Shot 2015-09-24 at 11.57.30 AMSeptember 22, 2015

This is one of those experiments that give credence to an intuitive feeling, one that’s consistent with a philosophical/spiritual perspective but we often ignore when we want to extract value from others, for our material benefit. The study, conducted by NYU researchers, found that people’s impressions of others’ character is a more important factor than what they might be able to do for us, when making decisions about them.

The study, published in Nature Neuroscience, contradicts the conventional thinking that when we learn from positive or negative feedback in our interactions with people, we make conclusions based on the benefits they bring us – their “reward value.”

As so often the case, “conventional” thinking,” is often based more on assumptions than on evidence. As this study’s lead author Leor Hackel explains, “When we learn and make decisions about people, we don’t simply look at the positive or negative outcomes they bring to us—such as whether they gave us a loan or helped us move. Instead, we often… form trait impressions, such as how generous a person seems to be, and these impressions carry more weight in our future social decisions.”

In the experiment, participants made a series of “reward-based” decisions while their neural activity was monitored using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Participants learned about other people in a series of interactions in an economic game played over the computer. Part of the study examined whether participants learned the relatively generosity of a player—a “trait impression”—in addition to learning the monetary worth of the player. The researchers’ statistical tests showed that participants learned generosity information more strongly than reward value.

After the experiment, described in detail here, participants were asked to choose which players they would prefer to interact with in a future cooperative task. The researchers found that their preferences were strongly guided by their trait impressions of players, relative to a player’s reward value. According to David Amodio, one of the researchers, “In other words, our results show that people naturally see others and even objects in terms of more general characteristics—and not just in terms of mere reward value.”

Credit: CPD Archive

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The Most Energized, Productive Workers: Not Who You Might Think!

Screen Shot 2015-09-15 at 5.34.51 PMSeptember 15, 2015

What fuels the energy and excitement that’s visible among people who are highly engaged and productive at work? Is it something about what they bring to their careers to begin with? The management culture they experience? Or, are those qualities found mostly among the young, because of youthful energy, as some surveys indicate?

Some new research sheds some light on this. It finds that the most energized and creative workers are not only the young, age-wise. They are best described as “young at heart.” The secret ingredient is their emotional attitude about life in general; and the way they typically respond and deal with negative, stressful experiences. That’s what differentiates them from others. But these interesting findings also raise this question: Why so many work cultures actively undermine the positive energy and vitality that such people bring into their workplaces? And which – one would think – companies would value and support in every way possible.

First, let’s look what at the evidence from two unrelated but complementary studies tell us about this. In brief, the first found that your overall attitude about life – independent of age -influences your performance and creativity at work. The other study found that positive emotions and your outlook on life — especially how you deal with stressful circumstances or conflict — is linked with greater long-term health. And many sources of stress are found in the workplace, needless to say. Continue reading

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How Good Leaders Help People Change And Grow

Screen Shot 2015-08-14 at 9.49.07 AMAugust 11, 2015

This Harvard Business Review article by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman suggests ways in which good leaders enable people to change. I think it captures some of the best attitudes and behavior of those leaders who value the growth and development of their employees.

However, there’s one missing element that I would like to have seen the authors include and emphasize. They defined effectiveness at leading change as “…the managers’ ability to influence others to move in the direction the organization wanted to go.” True, per se – but only if that direction promotes collaboration, creative innovation, learning and development; occurs within a positive, healthy leadership culture; is committed to sustainable practices; and in which leadership conveys – as recent studies find is essential to a productive workplace — a sense of humbleness and empathy in one’s leadership role. 

With that caveat, I think the authors describe eight leadership practices that do support positive change among employees. They are based on their analysis of a large dataset of direct reports and leaders. Following is their description of them, excerpted from their HBR article.

They write: Continue reading

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You’re An Expert At Something? You’re More Likely To Make Things Up!

Screen Shot 2015-07-28 at 11.56.49 AMJuly 28, 2015

A new study finds that the more you think you know about a topic, the more likely you are to assert knowledge of completely made-up information and false facts. 

According to Stav Atir of Cornell University, lead of author of the study published in Psychological Science, “Our work suggests that the seemingly straightforward task of judging one’s knowledge may not be so simple, particularly for individuals who believe they have a relatively high level of knowledge to begin with.” In other words, such people are prone to lie, and believe their own lies – made-up “facts” and other “knowledge.”

In one of the studies, described in Science Daily, one hundred participants were asked to rate their general knowledge of personal finance, as well as their knowledge of 15 specific finance terms. Most of the terms on the list were real (for example, Roth IRA, inflation, home equity), but the researchers also included three made-up terms (pre-rated stocks, fixed-rate deduction, annualized credit). As expected, people who saw themselves as financial wizards were most likely to claim expertise of the bogus finance terms.

“The more people believed they knew about finances in general, the more likely they were to overclaim knowledge of the fictitious financial terms,” Atir says. “The same pattern emerged for other domains, including biology, literature, philosophy, and geography. For instance,” Atir explains, “people’s assessment of how much they know about a particular biological term will depend in part on how much they think they know about biology in general.”

Then, In another experiment, the researchers warned one set of 49 participants that some of the terms in a list would be made up. Even after receiving the warning, the self-proclaimed experts were more likely to confidently claim familiarity with fake terms, such as “meta-toxins” and “bio-sexual.” Some additional experiments that found the same results are described here.

The research team warns that a tendency to overclaim, especially in self-perceived experts, may actually discourage individuals from educating themselves in precisely those areas in which they consider themselves knowledgeable–leading to potentially disastrous outcomes. For example, failure to recognize or admit one’s knowledge gaps in the realm of finance or medicine could easily lead to uninformed decisions with devastating consequences for individuals.

That’s for sure, and I think we’ve seen evidence of it in the political as well as financial realms, in recent years.

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Men Are More Threatened By Female Bosses

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July 21, 2015

As the French saying goes, the more things change…

New research finds that men may feel threatened by female supervisors and act more assertively toward them than male bosses, which could disrupt the workplace with struggles over power dynamics. According to the study’s lead author, Ekaterina Netchaeva, of Bocconi University in Milan, Italy, “The concept of masculinity is becoming more elusive in society as gender roles blur, with more women taking management positions and becoming the major breadwinners for their families. “Even men who support gender equality may see these advances as a threat to their masculinity, whether they consciously acknowledge it or not.”

The study, conducted with participants at U.S. universities, found, in essence, that men feel more threatened when they answer to female bosses.

Published by the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, the study pointed out that — while women are underrepresented in senior management positions in the United States — they are almost on par with men at middle and lower management levels, according to Labor Department statistics. Self-assertive behavior by men toward female bosses could disrupt the workplace dynamics, stifle team cohesiveness and negatively affect team performance, Netchaeva said. “In an ideal world, men and organizations would be concerned by these findings and adjust their behavior accordingly. But if they don’t, where does that leave women?” she said. “Given the strong societal norms surrounding masculinity, it may be difficult for men to recognize or change their behavior.”

For a description of how the studies were conducted, click here.

Credit: CPD Archive

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Bosses Who Serve Their Employees Have Better Business Outcomes

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July 7, 2015

A recent study has found that when bosses put employees’ needs over their own, measurable improvements result: in customer satisfaction, higher job performance by employees, and lower turnover are the result. According to the researchers, this type of leadership suggests that if businesses lead by caring for their people, the profits will take care of themselves.

Although this study focused on a service-oriented business, I think its implications highlight something broader: The findings mirror growing recognition by organizations, by individuals in relationships and throughout society in general that positive, supportive engagement with others — in which you serve something of value and importance to all of you, and not just your own narrow self-interest – creates positive benefits for everyone. And that’s really a core feature of a healthy society – one in which people’s attitudes, values and behavior adapt positively to continuous change; to the growing diversity and interconnection among people. Such adaptation promotes positive outcomes for all. Business leadership, as this and many other studies show, increasingly recognizes that reality. But it also applies to intimate and family relationships; and has implications for public policy, as well.

This particular study adds another bit of evidence in the business realm. For example, it found that when bosses act as servants to their employees, it’s good for business. The research found measurable increases in key business metrics like job performance, customer service and employee retention. That is, employees feel the most valued and give back to the company and its customers when their bosses create a culture of trust, caring, cooperation, fairness and empathy. According to Sandy Wayne, one of the authors of the research, “The best business leadership style is far from, ‘Do this. Don’t do that.’ A servant leader looks and sounds a lot more like, ‘Is there anything I can do to help you?’ Or, ‘Let me help you….’ Or, ‘What do you need to…?’ This approach helps employees reach their full potential.”

The corresponding admiration employees have for bosses who care about them manifests itself in teamwork, loyalty and dedication to the business and its customers. The leadership style trickles down. Wayne said, “It’s contagious. The employees see their leaders as role models and often mimic those qualities, creating a culture of servant leadership. This serving culture drives the effectiveness of the business as a whole.”

The need for management cultures that recognize and support this kind of leadership is highlighted when you consider the frequent surveys that show ongoing work-related stress, often associated with negative or unsupportive leadership. One current example is a survey of over 2000 people. It found that the majority of workers feel overworked, and that burnout appears to have become the new normal.

And that’s a prescription for an unhealthy workforce and society.

Credit: ASTD

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Workers With a “Spirit of Life” Are More Productive – At Any Age

Screen Shot 2015-06-11 at 4.45.50 PMJune 9, 2015

Are the most energized and creative workers young, per se; or are they “young at heart?” A new study sheds some light on this: It found that your own sense of yourself; your overall attitude about life influences your work. I describe the findings below, but the study brings to mind that we often speak of the “spirit of youth” when describing an older person who conveys vitality, passion and engagement. However, I think it’s more accurate to think of that spirit as a spirit about life itself. It may be more embodied within or visible among younger people, but I attribute that to this: Many people in our culture enter a long descent into emotional, creative and spiritual stagnation — via the values of a self-centered, overly materialistic society. That’s what I see in so many of the people who have come to me for help – either for personal issues or career-related conflicts.

The study, published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, was described in The British Psychological Society’s publication, Research Digest, and it concludes that If you want a dynamic workforce, seek not the young, but the young at heart. The study surveyed over 15,000 employees from 107 companies to determine how subjective age influences workplace performance. It found that employees who felt substantially younger than their chronological age were more successful in meeting the goals they’d promised their managers they would achieve. Companies with more of these “young at heart” employees also tended to perform better overall, in terms of financial performance, efficiency and a longer tenured workforce. The survey also showed that organizations tended to have more young at heart workers when they offered both age-inclusive policies and, on average, their employees felt that their work was more important and meaningful.

This raises questions about what’s needed to counter that long descent that I described above. Among the possibilities are more meaningful, engaging work, which can enable people feel more vibrant and experience some impact upon the consequences of their contribution. When workers can feel young, energized by their work — and not judged and stereotyped — that facilitates the kind of dynamic performance thought to be limited to younger workers…until they begin that slow descent into stagnation.

Credit: Pharic Crawford 

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Women Leaders Have Greater Workplace Stress

Screen Shot 2015-05-29 at 11.27.22 AMMay 26, 2015

This isn’t surprising, for two reasons: One is that men are socially conditioned to internalize stress. They deny it consciously while expressing it via physical illness and/or psychiatric symptoms that they don’t recognize; or, they seek relief through alcohol, drugs or other kinds of escapism. The other reason is that women are conditioned more towards experiencing and expressing emotional experience, in general. So their stressful workplace experiences — which are often related to men’s denigration of their leadership roles — tend to be more visible.

A recent conference on women’s leadership, reported in Financial Times by Charles Wallace, describes several examples of the ways in which women leaders face workplace stress in organizations today. He writes, “An increasing amount of attention is being paid to the troubling fact that women in the workplace, especially in management or leadership roles, report being stressed out more often than men,” and “… despite recent strides in equality in the office, women experience a lot more stress than men.”

One reason, frequently cited, is what I referred to above. For example, Errica Moustaki, executive coach at Careers in Depth, a London executive development firm, explained that  “women may express stress in psychological or behavioral ways, while men bottle up feelings and have more heart attacks and strokes.” And, that many women executives “experience stressful work situations because of a constant sense of having their confidence undermined by men. Women have to continuously prove themselves in the workplace.”

Despite strides towards more inclusiveness and integration of women into leadership roles, the context of the organization’s culture, especially as it’s shaped by men’s view of women in these roles, is key. It continues to generate stress for women as they rise up in senior level positions.

For the full Financial Times report on the conference and some of its other presentations, click here.
Credit: Highwaymail

 

 

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Is Your Sexism Showing? It’s All in Your Smile!

Screen shot 2015-04-17 at 4.05.32 PMApril 14, 2015

Well, this is interesting: A new study finds that sexist men reveal their degree of sexist attitudes — from more hostile and malignant to benign and patronizing — by the way they smile towards women in social interactions; and how they speak to them in those situations.

That is, the study, conducted by Jin Goh and Judith Hall of Northeastern University, and published in the journal Sex Roles, found that if you want to uncover a man’s true attitude about women, you need to watch how he smiles and talks to her. 

In this study the researchers examined how men’s word choice, attitudes and smiles show their version of sexism in different ways when they interact with women they’ve just met. The researchers carefully examined the interactions of 27 pairs of American undergraduate men and women. They were filmed while they played a trivia game together and then chatted afterwards. Researchers analyzed the men’s behavior, including nonverbal behavior and choice of words used during the interactions, as explained in the journal article.

They found that the more “hostile sexists” were viewed as less approachable, less friendly, in their speech. They also smiled less during the interaction. However, the men who were more of the “benevolent sexist” variety were rated as more approachable, warmer, friendlier and more likely to smile. Moreover, the benevolent sexists used more positive emotional words and were overall more patient while waiting for a woman to answer trivia questions.

The authors argue that sexism can range from hostile to benevolent; either form reflects negative or discriminatory attitudes towards women. They describe hostile sexism as an Continue reading

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Look Over Your Shoulder: Generation Z is Rising!

Screen shot 2015-04-01 at 2.54.40 PMMarch 31, 2015

“These children are so mature and they learn so fast, they might just be ready to take over by the time they’re 22.”

Generation X and the aging baby boomers often have trouble understanding and dealing with the millennials. But now, Alexandra Levit’s article in the New York Times calls attention to the rise of Generation Z. Take note, in case you forgot: Everyone grows up and everyone becomes older. Levit writes, “While executives have been fretting over the millennials, though, a new generation is growing up behind the scenes — Generation Z (born starting in the mid-90s to the early ’00s depending on whom you ask). Within the next three years, Gen Zers will be the college grads in my audiences, and they are poised to be somewhat different from the millennials.” Moreover, “These children are so mature and they learn so fast, they might just be ready to take over by the time they’re 22.”

Levit describes her own encounter with them and, more seriously, points out some of their attitudes, values and behavior regarding work, diversity, and activism on issues that concern them. They are the future, and the older generations would do well to pay attention to them — and maybe even learn something from them. She writes:

I recall the exact moment the temperature changed in the workplace. It was 2005, and I was speaking to an audience of 100 young professionals. I was relating my experiences building a career as a Gen Xer (born 1964-79) in a world of traditionalists (born before 1945) and baby boomers (born 1946-63).

Every time I threw out phrases like “paying your dues” and “playing the game,” the audience stared at me blankly. This was not the reaction I had come to expect from early twentysomethings. Usually they took notes on how they could get ahead in corporate America as quickly as possible. Continue reading

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Become More Productive at Work by Giving it Less Attention?

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February 17, 2015

I often suggest to business clients — as well as to some of my psychotherapy patients — that they create a “life project” in which they commit to personal development within these six interrelated dimensions of life: intellectual, emotional, relational, creative, spiritual and physical. Note that none of these relate explicitly to work and career. But when you do this — creating new goals or aspirations for each dimension, and taking steps that pull you towards them, you find that it also enhances your effectiveness and productivity at work. You realize how interrelated the different “parts” of your life is.

In an interesting Harvard Business Review article, Stew Friedman of the Wharton School describes research confirming that building an integrated life will, in fact, increase work effectiveness and productivity. This is important, because I think we’re seeing increasing evidence that when you seek to develop and “grow” more fully, in all dimensions, it enhances your overall life — your inner wellbeing and your outer success.

Friedman’s study has a somewhat different take on the dimensions of life from those I described above, but it confirms the value of bringing “parts” of your life into greater integration and harmony. That leads to a seeming paradox: By giving less focus to your work, you perform better at it.

He writes, “…what if the secret to performing better at work, and feeling more satisfied, isn’t to put more effort and energy into work but less? Instead of working harder and longer, what if you better integrated the four domains of your life – work, home, community, and self? My research has shown just that: By focusing more on the areas of life you care most about, even if those aren’t work, you’ll perform better at your job.”

In the research, Friedman asked participants to experiment with small changes “to see how those tweaks affected all four domains over a short period of time.” He pointed out that there are, of course, barriers to integrating the dimensions of one’s life, such as fear of change. But learning to minimize them can make it more likely to try, “thereby getting more done and creating greater harmony in your life.”

He suggested these three ways of minimizing the barriers: Continue reading

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How a Leader’s Power Can Undermine the Company’s Success

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January 27, 2015

The role and impact of power in an organization is complex. It’s highly interwoven with the attitudes and personality of people who have achieved power and status within their organizations, and how they express it. Recent studies show that some bosses use the power of their positions in ways that damage their teams and the organization. They may be driven by socially conditioned, conventional attitudes about power and ego; or by more outright psychopathology.

On the more benign end of the spectrum are the findings from a study lead by researchers at Columbia University’s Business School. It found that the more power-lusting, power-fixated leader tends to listen to his or her own views, but neglects to take into account the perspectives of subordinates. And that has consequences for business strategy and decisions. Published in Social Psychological and Personality Science, the research found that when leaders fail to take into account or utilize the perspectives of their people, they are more likely to “bungle the issue and conversation.” That, in turn, results in less effective solutions to complex business problems that the team is facing. In short, less wise decision-making.

According to the study’s lead author, Adam Galinsky, leaders who are able to see the world from others’ points of view produce better outcomes. “Effective leadership is like a successful car ride. To go places, you need gas and acceleration — power is a psychological accelerator. But you also need a good steering wheel so you don’t crash as you speed down the highway — perspective-taking is that psychological steering wheel. When you anchor too heavily onto your own perspective, and don’t take into account the viewpoints of others you are bound to crash.”

Galinsky’s findings are especially visible among leaders who Continue reading

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Both Too Much And Too Little Power Are Linked With Mental Illness

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December 16, 2014

Too often, the mental health field overlooks the significant role that social conditioning plays in the development of emotional disturbance…or psychological health. Social status, perceived or real power and how they are valued by society can accentuate existing pathology or stimulate pathological attitudes and behavior. A new study by the University of California at Berkeley found new evidence of how that happens.

This study of 600 young men and women concluded that one’s perceived social status — or lack thereof — is at the heart of a wide range of mental illnesses. And, that the findings make a strong case for assessing such traits as “ruthless ambition,” “discomfort with leadership” and “hubristic pride” to understand psychopathologies. “People prone to depression or anxiety reported feeling little sense of pride in their accomplishments and little sense of power,” said senior author Sheri Johnson said. “In contrast, people at risk for mania tended to report high levels of pride and an emphasis on the pursuit of power despite interpersonal costs.” The study was published in the journal Psychology and Psychotherapy:Theory, Research and Practice.

Studies have long established that feelings of powerlessness and helplessness weaken the immune system, making one more vulnerable to physical and mental ailments. Conversely, an inflated sense of power is among the behaviors associated with bipolar disorder and narcissistic personality disorder, which can be both personally and socially corrosive.

The summary provided by Berkeley pointed out that Donald Trump’s ego may be the size of his financial empire, but that doesn’t mean he’s the picture of mental health. The same can be said about the self-esteem of people who are living from paycheck to paycheck, or unemployed. Continue reading

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Abusive Leadership Continues to Harm Employees and Organizations

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November 11, 2014

As if this needed more confirmation, there’s increasing evidence that an unhealthy management culture harms efforts to create a well-functioning team. For example, a new study from Michigan State University finds that abusive managers create tremendous conflict for work teams and damage productivity, not to mention morale and commitment.

I’ve often written about the need to understand unhealthy leadership within the larger context of a company’s management culture — not just as an issue of individual leaders’ personalities or pathologies. For example, I’ve described how unhealthy management and an unhealthy leadership culture are intertwined; and ways that subordinates can deal with them.

This new study, conducted in China and the United States, suggests the toxic effect of nonphysical abuse by a supervisor is much broader than believed. Lead investigator Crystal Farh said supervisors who belittle and ridicule workers not only negatively affect those workers’ attitudes and behaviors, but also cause team members to act in a similar hostile manner toward one another. “That’s the most disturbing finding,” Farh said, “because it’s not just about individual victims now, it’s about creating a context where everybody suffers, regardless of whether you were individually abused or not.”

Published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, the study pointed out that companies have tended to focus on abused employees and efforts restore self-esteem. That matches my own observations, and underscores the need to address how and why abusive and otherwise unhealthy leaders and leadership cultures arise and thrive to begin with.

The study looked at nonphysical abuse such as verbal mistreatment and demeaning emails. Employees who directly experienced such abuse felt devalued and contributed less to the team. At the same time, the entire team “descended into conflicts,” Farh said, which also reduced worker contributions. “Teams characterized by relationship conflict,” Farh said, “are hostile toward other members, mistreat them, speak to them rudely and experience negative emotions toward them.”

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Why Insecure Managers Avoid Input From Employees

 

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November 4, 2014

I find it amazing that new research emerges from time to time that “discovers” that ineffective, personally conflicted, psychologically limited managers and leaders have a negative impact on their employees and the organization. This latest is a good example: A study of an international corporation finds that emotionally insecure managers avoid feedback and input from their employees.

Of course, this is no news to employees who often struggle with such managers. Or to those of us who have worked with leaders and managers whose psychological issues negatively affect their impact in the organization. Nevertheless, it’s good to see such research and surveys. They highlight the need to deal with the impact of unhealthy management in general – whether insecurity, poor communication skills, arrogance, narcissism, bullying, and/or generally creating a non-collaborative, unhealthy or destructive management culture.

The current study was reported in the Academy of Management Journal and described in the British Psychological Society’s Research Digestwhich pointed out that organizations do better when there are clear communication channels that allow staff to point out ways the company can improve. And that teams who freely share ideas and concerns are more tight-knit and motivated. Managers then get enhanced awareness share in the praise for any improvements that pay off. So, the Research Digest explains, encouraging employee voice should be a no-brainer, especially for any manager feeling unsure of their ability to deliver solo. Yet according to new research, these insecure managers are the ones least likely to listen and act on staff input. Continue reading

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Why Humble Leaders Are More Successful

Screen shot 2014-10-24 at 11.10.41 AMOctober 28, 2014

It’s increasingly evident that business leaders who are capable of experiencing and demonstrating such qualities as empathy, compassion, and humility have greater success. Research as well as direct business experience confirms this. One recent example is a study of 1500 leaders and their employees. It found that humble leaders, who have increased self-awareness and insight, receive greater commitment and performance from their employees.

According to the research findings, “Leaders with a strong self-insight demonstrate a good understanding of their own needs, emotions, abilities and behavior. On top of that, they are proactive in the face of challenges.” The study found that when employees experience this type of leadership, it has a positive effect, and that’s especially true when the leader is humble.

More broadly, other research in recent years indicates that the capacity for compassion and empathy are innate, and it can be strengthened through conscious effort and focus. These capacities reflect letting go of ego-driven attitudes and behavior; and they enhance positive, effective relationships. We are now seeing evidence that they are linked with greater business success, especially in the form of increased competitive advantage. For example, founder/CEO of Virgin Group, Richard Branson has pointed out that “In business… companies that want to survive…are smart enough to know that caring and cooperation are key.”

Today’s organizations require what the New York Times columnist Adam Bryant has described as a “quick and nimble” management culture. This, in turn, requires leaders to let go of focusing so much on themselves; to let go of the “alpha male” role, as Georg Vielmetter of the Hay Group has called it. Then, they are more able to engage with diverse employees, and from a more humble perspective. Vielmetter pointed out that “The time of the alpha male — of the dominant, typically male leader who knows everything, who Continue reading

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Can Distancing Yourself From A Conflict Help A Relationship?

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September 30, 2014

By “leaving” a conflict you can gain the expanded perspective needed to solve it. That means stepping out of your limited ego, and some new research shows how that can help.

It’s easy to become rigidly fixed and sclerosed within a view of who you are (“This is just the way I am”) — unable to envision possibilities for expanding your personal capacities, your thinking or emotions — outside of that fixed view. Unfortunately, that disables you from enlarging your perspective, which can be essential for solving conflicts or problems that you feel stuck inside of, unable to change or alter. That’s especially true for solving relationship difficulties.

President Eisenhower once said that if you’re having difficulty understanding a problem and how to solve it, “enlarge” the problem. Certainly that applies to life beyond the battlefield. That is, “enlarging” how you envision the problem or situation you’re stuck within can free yourself from the limitations of the perspective that imprisons you to begin with.

How can you do that? Some new empirical research shows that, in effect, distancing yourself from a problem or conflict enhances your reasoning; it helps you find new solutions through a broadened perspective. And that provides greater wisdom to bring to bear on the conflict. Researchers from the University of Waterloo and the University of Michigan, as reported in Psychological Science, examined “the ability to recognize the limits of one’s own knowledge, search for a compromise, consider the perspectives of others, and recognize the possible ways in which the scenario could unfold. The research found that you may think about a conflict more wisely if you consider it as an outside observer would.” Continue reading

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Less Stress Among Managers With Positive Employee Relationships

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September 10, 2014

Many studies in recent years show the connections between positive, collaborative relationships at work; a positive, supportive management culture; and higher levels of creative, productive work. I think the findings of this recent study from Norway of 3000 managers, conducted by researchers at BI Norwegian Business School, add to this knowledge, and are relevant both to managers and those being managed here in the U.S.

The study examined stress among mangers, and found, In essence, that managers who enjoy a good relationship with their employees suffer less dangerous stress at work. “The best thing a manager can do to prevent work stress is to develop good relationships with the employees at work,” concluded lead researcher Astrid M. Richardsen in a summary of the findings.

The research found that more than six out of ten Norwegian managers (61.8 per cent) indicate that they often or all the time experience time pressure or a heavy workload. Fewer than five per cent say they rarely or never have time pressure at work. Most relevant to U.S. organizations is the finding that managers experience significantly less stress when they feel they have a good relationship to their employees, and the employees show a positive conduct and confidence in their managers. That is, according to the research summary, when the employees are happy with what the manager does, understand his or her challenges and participate actively in solving the problems, the manager will have less stress. This will probably be because the manager trusts the employees more and delegates more tasks to them. Hence the work pressure will decrease, Richardsen believes.

Although differences exist between managers and workers in Norway and the U.S. culture regarding work-life stress and organizational pressures, one commonality is the Norwegian finding that managers who feel they have control of their work situation and great freedom to make decisions experience less work pressure and emotional strain. They also suffer considerably less role stress than managers who do not have such control. Most U.S. managers would resonate with that, as well as the finding that Continue reading

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So Much Work, And No Time for Vacation? Here’s Why!

Screen shot 2014-02-25 at 10.34.49 AMAugust 12, 2014

Do you work increasingly long hours, maybe even pride yourself on taking little, if any, vacation time? If so, you’re in pretty good company. Some recent surveys confirm – again — that U.S. workers tend to take relatively little vacation time, and they work increasingly longer hours. With more heightened awareness of the damaging effects of work-life “imbalance,” physically and emotionally, one wonders, what maintains this unhealthy way of life for so many?

It’s easy to cite the fact that U.S. companies provide very little paid vacation time as a matter of policy compared with other industrialized nations. We’re the only advanced economy in the world that doesn’t guarantee its workers paid vacation days and paid holidays, says John Schmitt, co-author of a report by the Center for Economic and Policy Research. And the Bureau of Labor Statistics finds that, even after 10 years of employment, about 65 percent of workers have less than 2.5 weeks of paid vacation.

But the lack of vacation time provided by employers is both a cause and effect: It reflects something about our social values to begin with. For example, how we define success and personal worth can include taking little time away from work. And that, in turn, is reinforced by company policies. But beneath the surface, psychologically, is often a sense of being trapped in a way of life that one can’t break free from. Or, as one person told me, “I don’t like who I’ve become.”

According to one survey, the median vacation time is 12 days. And 40 percent take a week or less. Yet, the impact of overwork is well-known: Higher levels of stress, which can create both physical illness and emotional conflicts. It fuels marital and family conflicts. In fact, a Gallup survey found that nearly 70 percent who take no vacations at all report that they struggle to balance work and life. And, while another survey found that about 50 percent claim to be satisfied with their work-life balance, 81 percent also said that work-life balance would be a critical factor in deciding whether to accept a new position. Ironically, overwork and little time off leads to less productivity and less effective decision-making, as well as diminished focus and clarity. That’s become worse in today’s world, as recent research shows the cost of being online and available 24/7, thanks to digital technology.

As the saying goes, no one on their deathbed says they wished they had spent more time at the office. So, what propels people to diminish time away from work — even short breaks to recharge and reboot their energy and life balance? We need to look at some of the social and psychological motives that give rise to this paradoxical picture. Here are some that Continue reading

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Why Compassion Gives You a Competitive Advantage In Business

Screen shot 2014-07-29 at 9.04.47 PMJuly 29, 2014

Accumulating research and observational evidence show that the capacity for compassion and empathy are innate, and can be strengthened through conscious effort and focus. That these capacities enhance positive, effective relationships as well as greater internal wellbeing. It’s also becoming evident that these emotional attitudes and corresponding behavior are linked with greater business success, especially in the form of increased competitive advantage.

It’s good to see examples cited by successful business leaders, such as billionaire founder/CEO of Virgin Group, Richard Branson: “In business, as in nature, companies that want to survive aren’t mindlessly pursuing profits at the expense of people and the planet; they are smart enough to know that caring and cooperation are key.”

Branson was writing in Entrepreneur, in response to a question by a business owner about the reluctance of business leaders to consider anything but profit. According to Branson, “Business used to be a cutthroat world where the only thing that mattered was profit — but that’s changing quickly. It has become easier for people to learn which companies pursue profits at all costs and which behave ethically, and to make purchases based on those decisions.”

He emphasizes, “Don’t spend time worrying about organizations that don’t welcome or accept change — they’re not going to be around for long. Just keep looking for people who are willing to listen to your message and who genuinely care about something greater than themselves — those are the investors and partners you’ll be working with in the years ahead.”

And, “…recent research demonstrates the strategy’s benefits. Continue reading

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Can Business Leaders Activate These Dormant Capacities?

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In a business environment where surveys find 70% of employees saying they hate their work; and in which the demographics of leaders and employees are rapidly changing, it’s no surprise to hear — as a senior executive asked me, recently — “How can I prepare for what I can’t prepare for?”

Some recent research points the way. Several studies find that most people can arouse and apply seemingly contradictory capacities for different leadership purposes, as needed. They are latent or dormant capacities, dimensions of oneself that are both emotional and cognitive. They include the more linear, data-based, and structured; and those that are more improvised, non-linear and creative.

Research shows that activating them builds an important, broader mentality, not just a fixed set of actions. The challenge for leaders is learning how to activate and utilize these dormant capacities needed in today’s fluid, unpredictable environment.

Some examples:

The Capacity To Shift Focus At will, As Needed For The Task
Research finds that we can learn to activate and apply both linear and nonlinear capacities, as needed. One study examined this in terms of leadership orientation. Researchers at Case Western University examined a common assumption that one is fixed within either a “task” or “team-building” orientation: an analytic, linear focus on people completing tasks; or an empathic orientation, supportive of workers development and open to their ideas.

Based on brain research they published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, the research team found that those capacities actually co-exist. According to lead researcher Anthony Jack, “Every normal brain contains both modes, with the flexibility to go to the right mode at the right time.” The researchers indicated that this fluidity enables a leader to shift between a more operational, linear focus, and a nonlinear focus, supporting innovative ideas and actions that enhance team collaboration and performance.

The challenge, then, is to learn how to develop and strengthen both capacities. Moreover, Continue reading

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Why Having A Vision Is Important — In Business And Life

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Writing in Entrepreneur, Virgin founder/CEO Richard Branson cites the importance for a company to develop a vision. I find Branson’s views relevant not only to business, but to life itself.

In response to a reader’s question, he writes, “You do need to develop an overall vision for your company — one that is strongly supported by a more targeted strategy at each business that falls under your umbrella. The two things are not mutually exclusive, but complementary: One should not override the other.” And, “…we have started up more than 400 companies…and as the success of our group has proved, your vision for your company should not be so restrictive that it limits your team’s imagination.”

This applies to one’s personal development, as well, in my view. That is, we need an overarching vision of what we’re living for; a sense of meaning and purpose to our lives that provides overall integration and direction. And that requires flexibility and adaptability as we “evolve” along the way. Branson reflects this same perspective with respect to business, writing that “Starting up a business is always an adventure, and not everything comes together for every entrepreneur in the same way. As you face the challenges of keeping your business going, you may find that your vision for the company needs to be adjusted as you go.”

That’s a valuable perspective for your life development, as well — in your relationships, your career, your life goals. Branson adds, “Looking back, our goals certainly changed and expanded over time, but there was a key element that was common to all of those enterprises: They were created to enhance people’s lives.” I think that latter point is relevant to your personal and societal development as well, because in out interdependent world personal success is interwoven with support of and enhancement of others’ lives — the larger common good. It’s clear that this reality is stirring major turmoil in business, public policy and personal lives, today.

For Branson’s full article, click here.

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Humble Leaders Support Greater Employee Innovation and Engagement

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Google’s SVP of People Operations, Lazlo Bock, says humility is one of the traits he’s looking for in new hires. A new study by Catalyst supports this, finding it a critical leadership factor. Jeanine Prime and Elizabeth Salib’s Harvard Business Review Blog describes these new findings, which indicate that altruism makes employees more innovative and engaged – especially when working with employees from diverse backgrounds, which is increasingly common. The authors write:

In a global marketplace where problems are increasingly complex, no one person will ever have all the answers. That’s why Google’s SVP of People Operations, Lazlo Bock, says…“Your end goal is what can we do together to problem-solve. I’ve contributed my piece, and then I step back.” And it is not just humility in creating space for others to contribute, says Bock—it’s “intellectual humility. Without humility, you are unable to learn.”

recent Catalyst study backs this up, showing that humility is one of four critical leadership factors for creating an environment where employees from different demographic backgrounds feel included. In a survey of more than 1500 workers from Australia, China, Germany, India, Mexico, and the U.S., we found that when employees observed altruistic or selfless behavior in their managers — a style characterized by 1) acts of humility, such as learning from criticism and admitting mistakes); 2) empowering followers to learn and develop; 3) acts of courage, such as taking personal risks for the greater good; and 4) holding employees responsible for results — they were more likely to report feeling included in their work teams. This was true for both women and men.

Employees who perceived altruistic behavior from their managers also reported being more innovative, suggesting new product ideas and ways of doing work better. Moreover, they were more likely to report engaging in team citizenship behavior, going beyond the call of duty, picking up the slack for an absent colleague — all indirect effects of feeling more included in their workgroups.

For the full article, click here.

 

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Walking Increases Creative Thinking

Screen shot 2014-04-29 at 1.48.01 PMAnother bit of research adds to the continuing empirical evidence for the interconnections of mind/body/spirit/behavior. This study found that the act of walking increases one’s creative thinking. In this study, Stanford University researchers examined creativity levels when people walked versus sitting. They found that one’s creative output increased by 60% when they walked. The research was published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, and described by May Wong in a Stanford University release. She writes:

Steve Jobs, the late co-founder of Apple, was known for his walking meetings. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg has also been seen holding meetings on foot. And perhaps you’ve paced back and forth on occasion to drum up ideas. A new study by Stanford researchers provides an explanation for this. Creative thinking improves while a person is walking and shortly thereafter, according to a study co-authored by Marily Oppezzo, a Stanford doctoral graduate in educational psychology, andDaniel Schwartz, a professor at Stanford Graduate School of Education.

The study found Continue reading

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New Poll Reveals The Continuing Toll of Workplace Stress

Screen shot 2013-04-06 at 10.51.03 AMA version of this article also appeared in The Huffington Post.

It’s déjà vu time once again: A new poll of nearly 7000 people by the job-search site Monster found high levels of unrelenting stress among workers, which mirror findings form other, periodic surveys. There are many reasons for work-related stress, but I’m struck by the continued lack of focus on the management and workplace culture of too many organizations marked by a debilitating, emotionally damaging environment.

One finding is especially striking, in this respect: Asked “What does your office do to help alleviate stress in the workplace?” 66%, answered “nothing.”

The new poll was summarized by Kathryn Dill in Forbes. She quotes Monster’s Mary Ellen Slayter, who says that “People feel stressed out because there’s that continuing pressure to do more with less. Workers feel pressure to get more accomplished. People know they’re not happy, but they’re not clear on whether or not it would be better somewhere else.” However, nearly 50% report having changed jobs to escape the stress. In her Forbes article, Dill cites a separate survey of more than 900 workers that found an employee’s relationship with their boss as the most common cause of workplace stress, followed closely by workload, work-life balance, and relationships with coworkers. She adds:

Nearly half of employees surveyed report having missed time at work due to work-related stress, and an even greater number, 61%, say that workplace stress has caused them actual physical illness, with insomnia, depression, and family issues cited as results. Seven percent of employees report having been hospitalized as the result of work-related stress.

In another summary of the poll, Constantine von Hoffman writes in CBS Money Watch that

It’s not only workers who are affected. Nearly 85 percent said it had an impact on their personal lives, with 21 percent saying it had caused problems in their family or in other relationships. More than a third said they dealt with it by eating, according to the study, while a quarter resorted to drinking after work. By contrast, many workers also sought to defuse tension through exercise or by stepping away from work and taking a day off.

Nevertheless, there’s the fact that when asked “What does your office do to help alleviate stress in the workplace? 13% noted additional time off and 11% cited the opportunity to work from home. But — the majority, 66% — answered “nothing.”

In her Forbes article, Dill cites Slayter’s observation that people who find themselves regularly overwhelmed to a level that’s unbearable might want to contemplate a job–or career–switch, to something that makes better use of their talents or involves fewer tasks that cause distress. “Make sure that overall your career is a good fit,” says Slater. “If you find yourself thinking that every day is stressful, if everyday is unpleasant, if it feels like that chronically, its time to sit down and ask yourself, ‘Is this the right fit?

I think that’s good advice, per se. But easier said than done. Moreover, the sources of work-related stress are pervasive, across many companies. Failure to build more positive management cultures in our organizations will lead to yet more surveys that will cite similar findings.

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We Need To Wake Up To ‘The Next America’

Screen shot 2014-04-17 at 2.22.27 PMThe new report from the Pew Research Center describes significant shifts and ongoing evolution in American culture. This emerging face of “the next America” will have profound impact upon our lives, work and politics. I plan to write a longer piece about the implications of the Pew report as they relate to new challenges for personal relationships, careers and public policy. But among the basic findings are that America is becoming less white, more diverse and older.

The Washington Post‘s Chris Cillizza has summarized the key findings and their implications, writing, ” The America of today bears little resemblance to the country of 50 years ago. It is older. It is less white. And those two demographic trends will only accelerate over the next 50 years.” Cillizza quotes Paul Taylor of the Pew Research Center: “Each of these shifts would by itself be the defining demographic story of its era,” writes “The fact that both are unfolding simultaneously has generated big generation gaps that will put stress on our politics, families, pocketbooks, entitlement programs and social cohesion.”

For Cillizza’s full article, click here.

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The Rapid Transformation Of Business Leaders Is Underway

Screen shot 2014-03-29 at 5.48.05 PMA version of my article previously appeared in The Huffington Post
Some recent studies reveal a dramatically changing face of business leaders already underway; and, what the leadership needs of the future will look like. I see these and other related observations coinciding with a broader shift in our society, and perhaps worldwide. It’s towards heightened interconnection and interdependence, desire for diversity, collaboration as part of the DNA, and a major shift in attitudes about hierarchy and success.

One study of Fortune 100 executives, featured in the Harvard Business Review, found that the majority of senior executives today went to state universities, not the more elite schools. A Washington Post report of the study pointed out that “In 1980, just 32 percent of leaders went to a public university. By 2001 that had grown to 48 percent, and in 2011 the number reached a majority, with 55 percent of corporate leaders going to state colleges.”

Moreover, nearly 11 percent are foreign born. And while women still deal with the glass ceiling, they have a more rapid rise to the top ranks, today. Nevertheless, it’s significant to note that nearly 87 percent of corporate board seats are held by white workers. According to research by DiversityInc and the think tank Catalyst, six African Americans are Fortune 500 CEOs, and 7.4 percent hold corporate board seats; eight Hispanics are Fortune 500 CEOs, and 3.3 percent hold corporate board seats.

Even so, it’s clear that a shift is underway along many fronts. For example, Continue reading

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Emerging Leadership Needs Of The Future

Screen shot 2014-03-27 at 9.35.56 AMA fascinating study by the Hay Group and German futurists at Z-Punkt identifies six trends that their research indicates will shape leadership needs in the years ahead.

I think their findings about leadership needs are very consistent with an ongoing, significant evolution in all sectors of society and in individual lives today, towards heightened collaboration, connection, emotional attunement to others, interdependency and diversity.

The report, Leadership 2030, speaks of the rise of the “altorocentric” leader: In a Washington Post interview by Jena McGregor, Georg Vielmetter of the Hay Group, explains that “Altrocentric” means “…focusing on others. Such a leader doesn’t put himself at the very center. He knows he needs to listen to other people. He knows he needs to be intellectually curious and emotionally open. He knows that he needs empathy to do the job, not just in order to be a good person.” And, “…leaders in the future need to have a full understanding, and also an emotional understanding, of diversity.”

Vielmetter points out that “…positional power and hierarchical power will become smaller. Power will shift to stakeholders, reducing the authority of the people who are supposed to lead the organization.” Perhaps most significantly, “The time of the alpha male — of the dominant, typically male leader who knows everything, who gives direction to everybody and sets the pace, whom everybody follows because this person is so smart and intelligent and clever — this time is over. We need a new kind of leader who focuses much more on relationships and understands that leadership is not about himself.”

Regarding the younger generation, he adds that, “With the Baby Boomer generation, you understood you climb up the ladder and you’re the boss at the end. The new generation has less and less interest to do this….for them it’s just not so important to become the boss. That causes a big problem for organizations. They offer people big jobs, and they don’t want them. They value their private life more.”

For McGregor’s full interview with Vielmetter, click here.

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How The Younger Generations Can Leap Into The Future

Screen shot 2014-03-19 at 11.10.37 AMHere are some insightful perspectives — and suggestions — for the younger generations, from management strategist Umair Haque. Writing in his Harvard Business School Blog, Haque addresses the dilemma facing young people today:

Imagine a towering, sheer cliff. Imagine a deep canyon below, full of ruined cities. Now imagine, on the canyon’s other side, a bountiful plain, rippling in the breeze, stretching into the sunset. Welcome to the economy of the twenty-first century. For young people today, the economy basically feels something like the portrait above, and they’re the ones stuck at the bottom of the ravine.

After citing four conditions that young people face — a broken global economy; overwhelming debts; difficulty getting a job or career track; and the jobs available are not very good — Haque says welcome to “Generation F” — i.e. you’re getting screwed. He points out that

We are all here, in every moment, to make the most of our limitless potential—but your human potential is being squandered, wasted, thrown away.

But he then presents some positive directions that young people can take to deal productively and proactively with the reality they live in. They’re worth heeding. In his full article, “The Great Leap Generation F Needs to Make,” he writes: Continue reading

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The Value Of Not Going It Alone

Screen shot 2014-03-05 at 11.36.53 AMThe Virgin Group founder and business visionary Richard Branson provides some interesting and — in my view — valuable perspectives about the importance of building connections, both in business and in life. He highlights a theme that I think is part of a psychologically and socially healthy life in today’s fluid world. In EntrepreneurBranson writes, “To achieve your goals, you need to be on the lookout for the opportunity to make connections wherever you go. Welcome chance encounters and opportunities to dream up outlandish plans. The person with the skill set you need to get your new business idea off the ground may be sitting at the next table in the cafe. Go over and say hello.”

In his full article Branson writes:

I love bumping into people and finding out who they are and what they’re working on. You never know who you’re going to meet. Such encounters can be valuable: If you think about how your most important relationships began — with business partners, your spouse, with friends and mentors — the stories will almost all involve chance meetings. My curiosity about others and ability to connect with people have helped me to succeed — after all, if people don’t know who you are, they are not going to do business with you.

Many people think that an entrepreneur is someone who operates alone, overcoming challenges and bringing his idea to market through sheer force of personality. This is completely inaccurate. Few entrepreneurs — scratch that: almost no one — ever achieved anything worthwhile without help. To be successful in business, you need to connect and collaborate and delegate.

Finding ways to meet with people in the real world and build business relationships is becoming ever more important in the digital age. Continue reading

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The Fast-Changing Face of Corporate Leaders

Screen shot 2014-02-18 at 12.15.38 PMWho are the people in senior leadership roles today? An interesting report by Jena McGregor in the Washington Post sheds light on this. She summarizes the findings of a new study, published by the Harvard Business School, of Fortune 100 executives. It finds that the majority of senior executives were educated at state universities, not at the elite schools. Nearly 11 percent are foreign born. And while women still deal with the glass ceiling, they have a more rapid rise to the top ranks, today.

I think these findings have potentially significant implications for corporate cultures. For example, what will be the impact on outlook, vision, and management perspectives from ever-increasing numbers of ever-increasing diverse people? Moreover, what will emerge from this rising diversity of executive leaders in conjunction with a growing shift in worker’s orientations to the job, to what they look for from management, and to what they define as “success?” There are several moving parts.

The study was conducted by researchers from Penn’s Wharton School and from the IE Business School in Madrid. For McGregor’s article, click here. For the full report in the Harvard Business Review, click here.

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Why Companies Benefit From “Outlier” Employees

Screen shot 2014-01-21 at 2.19.59 PMA recent post on the Harvard Business School Blog by Robert D. Austin and Thorkil Sonne argues that seeking out “outlier” employees bring great benefit to companies. I think this is an important perspective. Companies and organizations need creative innovation to address challenging and changing conditions, whatever their service, product or mission. The authors write,

Most companies don’t perceive the value of people who think or behave differently. Managers are unaware that outliers can create enormous value if they’re placed into environments that maximize their ability to contribute. By bringing out the best in people who think differently, you position your company for greater advantage. That’s because innovation, which is a critical skill for businesses today, is driven by diversity of thought. When you can’t foresee the biggest opportunities and problems coming your way, then your people assets must provide your company with the ability to adapt. This ability arises from employees who see things from new perspectives—people from different backgrounds, and those with different cognitive, developmental, and neurological endowments.

They being with an example of a company that hired employees with autism, and why. The full essay follows: Continue reading

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