Positively Deviant Leadership

I have studied leadership for many years, and can’t count how many books I have collected on the topic. I keep learning new things about how to be an effective, impactful, and influential leader.

You may be familiar with some of the models: transformational leadership, situational leadership, behavioral leadership, servant leadership, and so on.

The term “leadership” is becoming a lot like the word love! You know, we love chocolate and we love our mothers. But one we have affection for, and the other we crave. Big difference, right!?

Similarly, Leadership has lost its meaning because everyone can be a leader, either by having the title or by assuming the role. Studies show that 8 out of 10 Americans consider themselves leaders, or at least aspire to be. It makes me wonder who is following all of those leaders!

We all know from personal experience that some leaders are better than others. We also know that Leadership is something that can fall to neglect. Without a commitment to continue to improve and grow, leadership can lose its impact and influence.

While we may retain the title of leader, we may lose relevance and the power to change things if we put our leadership into autopilot. When we aren’t intentional about our leadership, we can actually cause a lot of damage.

It’s important to focus on who you are as a leader.

Leadership is a stewardship, a responsibility bestowed on us by followers, and we’d better take it seriously.

A challenge that we have in our organizations and our communities is that we tend to focus on problems. We look for where things are broken and we work to fix things. We also tend to be reactive, putting out fires and placing band aids on the symptoms. Oftentimes we have a deficit mindset, which leads to pessimistic and negative thinking.

The word proactive is well-used in our workplaces. It’s a good word, meaning that we act before things go awry, before its too late. The opposite, of course, is reactive, which means that we have already experienced a downturn, an opportunity has been missed, or we are off target. So we try to become proactive, hopefully avoiding the need to react to a crisis.

But there is something even more powerful than being proactive – it’s called positive deviance.

The word deviance comes from two Latin words: de, meaning out of; and via, meaning the way. So you have this idea that the deviant has ventured away from the normal path, most likely to pursue something sinister. But the positive deviant has gone off the beaten path to create a new way, a positive path.

The positive deviant is unorthodox, driven by a passion to make a difference, a compulsion to improve things, to grow and develop. What I want to leave you with tonight is three principles of positively deviant leadership.

The first principle is this: positively deviant leaders imagine better.

They see where things are and they envision something better. They look around them and they aren’t satisfied with what they see. They know it doesn’t have to stay like this, and they believe they have the ability to venture in a new direction.

Do you remember Popeye the Sailor Man? I know he’s in the wrong branch of the armed forces for some of you!

Do you remember when Olive Oyl was being bullied by Brutus and Popeye came along? He got steaming mad, and said “That’s all I can stands, I can’t stands it no more!” He gobbled down his spinach and kicked Brutus’s butt!

Positive deviants are the same way! It may be an injustice, it may be a missed opportunity, it may be a better, more life-giving, more enriching way to do something. But they can no longer follow the status quo. They have to do something. And they are willing to step off the path to make it happen. This first principle has to do with attitude and seeing what could be if they stepped up and did something about it.

Positive deviants are all around us. They are the ones who choose to make a way where there seems to be no way. They take the same resources as everyone else has and they use them differently, and they find a way to thrive right next to the fire-fighters, right beside the maintainers of the status quo.

The second principle of positive deviance is this: positive deviants enlist co-conspirators. They Inspire through partnership.

Positive Deviants may initially venture out alone- they may start out as the rock in the middle of the stream around which the current is swirling. They do the research or covertly initiate their plan, but they know that change happens in community, in the social context. Positive leaders begin building a coalition.

They begin looking for others who are looking for a new path, those who see the need to change but may need a little prompting-they need to see some proof that change is possible. That’s where the positive deviants’ pre-work comes in handy. They have something to show that persuades others to come along.

Jerry and Monique Sternin worked for Save the Children. After the war in Vietnam, they were deployed to address the issue of malnutrition that was pervasive throughout Vietnam. It was great while the NGOs were there to distribute rice and nutrition packets, but when a particular program ended, meaning that there was no more food to distribute, malnutrition returned as before. The challenge before the Sternin’s was whether a sustainable nutrition program could be put into place.

It’s a fascinating story, which you can read for yourself in their book, but I want to focus on how they built a coalition to eradicate malnutrition in post-war Vietnam. With a mandate to fix a huge problem in a very short amount of time, the Sternin’s went on a hunt for positive deviants and discovered that among the poorest of the poor families, some children were nourished even though they had the same resource as their neighbors.

Once the Sternin’s and the local leaders that they had partnered with discovered what the positively deviant families were doing differently, which turned out to be adding a few bits of shrimp & crab, and a handful of greens to the regular serving of broth, they had to take what these few were doing to transform the community through collaboration. The point is this: the Sternin’s could not do it alone.

Consider how your network can move your community or your organization toward something that no single person is capable of. What path is awaiting you as a group of positively deviant leaders?

So the second characteristic has to do with relationships and building critical mass that leads to positive change.

The third and final characteristic I want to leave with you is this: positively deviant leaders are forward thinking.

The reality is that what is emerging for the next 20 years doesn’t look like the last 20 years. It’s already become a cliche that the only thing that doesn’t change is change itself! We know that the pace of society, the pace of business, is getting Faster and faster.

But our communitIes are becoming more global. Our competition is not just the business down the street, but the business in Bangalore, the organization in Bogota. So as positive deviants we must anticipate and be able to maneuver at a fast pace.

I heard recently that at least 20 percent of the jobs that will be needed in the next fifteen years don’t even exist today. Between a flattening world and rapid advances in technology, we’re in for an upheaval in how work gets done and who does it, and also the types of products and services that are required. This reality requires a different way of thinking if our communities are going to thrive into the future.

Positive deviants are watchers of the horizon. And they become prophets of future trends and seers of what is to be. Positive deviants energize innovative thinking. They build a strategy to forge a new path…a positive path for the future.

There is so much more to positive deviance. The interesting thing is that it has worked as a mindset and approach at the community development level and healthcare, but the marketplace has been slow to embrace it because we are committed to problem solving and a deficit mindset.

It’s not a panacea – you still have to address problems and evaluate gaps.

To me, the important thing about positively deviant leadership is that it can help us think about our communities and workplaces differently. Positively deviant leadership shifts the frame through which we view challenges and opportunities.

The questions we ask about what is happening around us shapes the kinds of answers we will hear. Positively deviant leaders look for signs of life and hope and fan the flames of possibility instead of looking for systems and programs on life support in an effort to keep them artificially alive.

Consider a positive deviance approach. Think about how you can imagine better and challenge the status quo, build a coalition that moves the group toward life-giving initiatives, and see into the future to create a community, an organization, and a life that builds on strengths and assets.

    

Right Management: Only Half of Firms Regard Talent Management as Top Priority



Right Management Survey Reveals Only Half of Major Firms Regard Talent Management as a Top Priority (via PR Newswire)

PHILADELPHIA, Dec. 4, 2012 /PRNewswire/ — Only half of major organizations regard talent management as a top priority, according to a survey of 537 U.S. companies by Right Management, the talent and career management expert within ManpowerGroup. For 13% of organizations talent management is a secondary…

Continue reading

The Joy of Positive Deviance

I first heard the term positive deviance when I read Kim Cameron’s thin volume, Positive Leadership. I immediately loved the term for its irony, its spin on what we normally think of as deviant behavior. The idea that we can become positively deviant by breaking the norm and surpassing expectations appeals to the dreamer in me.

Deviant comes from the Latin “de” – from, and “via” – road. So deviance refers to being off the beaten path. It is out of the norm, forging a new path where none exists. While some who live off the main road are robbers and malcontents, others are trail-blazers, dreamers…positive deviants.

Gretchen Spreitzer of the University of Michigan and Scott Sonenshein from Rice University clarify what is meant by positive: “By positive we mean honorable behaviors that improve the human condition.” Honorable is a carefully chosen term that reflects the above-and-beyond nature of the deviant behavior that others would label honorable.

Shawn Achor, a trail-blazer in the emerging study of positive psychology, is intrigued by the positive outliers- those who are out of the norm because they chose to push through when the odds were against them, went a little further than what was considered safe, and changed the lens through which they viewed the world.

Achor says to focus “on your own lens and how you can ripple that positivity out through your work, your personality and your habits to create a more positive work environment.” we can cultivate our positive deviance by becoming more aware of possibilities and opening our eyes to limiting mindsets.

The University of Michigan’s Center for Positive Organizational Scholarship is the hub for research in how to apply positive psychology in our organizations. Researchers like Kim Cameron, Robert Quinn, and Jane Dutton are involved in the application of POS in the real world.

In the organizational context the positive deviant challenges the status quo. Fired by a vision of what could be…what ought to be…the positive deviant swims upstream. What I learned (the hard way) is that the successful positive deviant builds coalitions whenever possible. We swim alone if we have to, compelled by a vision of what could be. But creating ripples of influence within our informal and formal networks creates energy and critical mass.

As I considered how positive deviance applied to my own field of performance Improvment, I discovered that much performance intervention is based on ambition and individual power. To introduce positive deviance requires a shift in the philosophical starting point to performance analysis from ambition to investment.

As a performance investor I become a steward of a higher purpose within the organization. I see the positive core that each individual brings to the team as well as the collective positive core. My focus shifts from problems to possibilities and I invest my time and talent to raise the success quotient so that everyone wins.

I know positivity can come across as a “peace, love and harmony” approach that has no place in the rough and tumble world of organizational politics and a driving sense of urgency. It does require a shift in ones mindset to replace the ambition-based push with an investment-based influencing conviction.

Becoming a positive deviant in any organization requires a commitment to long-term influence as it takes time to build coalitions and work the social networks. It requires determination to continue making the investment of time, energy, and personal gain for the future success of individuals and the organization.

Investment-Based Performance Improvement

I am a certified performance technologist (CPT). What in the world does that mean? According to the International Society for Performance Improvement, a CPT has proven the ability to apply the ten competencies of human performance improvement in a way that makes a positive performance difference to an organization. Don’t worry, this post is not going to be a shameless self-promotion. I want to focus on my approach to performance improvement and how I’ve shifted my focus from ambition to investment.

First, an overview of the competencies of human performance improvement (HPI):

The 10 Standards of Performance Technology, which are based on four principles and following a systematic process to improve performance, ensure that the Certified Performance Technologist has conducted his or her work in a manner that includes the following:

  • Focus on results and help clients focus on results.
  • Look at situations systemically taking into consideration the larger context including competing pressures, resource constraints, and anticipated change.
  • Add value in how you do the work and through the work itself.
  • Utilize partnerships or collaborate with clients and other experts as required.
  • Systematic assessment of the need or opportunity.
  • Systematic analysis of the work and workplace to identify the cause or factors that      limit performance.
  • Systematic design of the solution or specification of the requirements of the      solution.
  • Systematic development of all or some of the solution and its elements.
  • Systematic implementation of the solution.
  • Systematic evaluation of the process and the results.

Performance improvement, when done with these standards in mind, can be a powerful tool in any organization.  Any time an individual or work group applies a systematic, intentional process to making things better, the results can be like compounding interest in a savings account, leading to great gains over time. The practice of performance technology is a focused effort to innovate solutions to systemic challenges.

Why Your Approach to Performance Improvement Matters

I want to contrast ambition-based performance improvement and investment-based performance improvement.

The Merriam-Webster online dictionary gives three definitions for Ambition:

  1. an ardent desire for rank, fame, or power b: desire to achieve a particular end
  2. the object of ambition <her ambition is to start her own business>
  3. a desire for activity or exertion <felt sick and had no ambition>

All of these uses of the word ambition center around an individual trying to get his or her way. Ambition is self-promoting. The original usage applied to those going around town to solicit votes for election. So if I initiate a performance improvement effort from an ambitious mindset, I am first looking at my own rank, power, and ability to influence others to my way of thinking.

Investing, on the other hand, focuses on what I can give to another, making them the center of attention rather than myself. Here’s what Merriam-Webster provides as definitions for Invest:

  1. [Medieval Latin investire, from Latin, to clothe] a: to array in the symbols of office or honor b: to furnish with power or authority c: to grant someone control or authority over : vest
  2. to cover completely : envelop
  3. clothe, adorn
  4. [Middle French investir, from Old Italian investire, from Latin, to surround]: to surround with troops or ships so as to prevent escape or entry
  5. to endow with a quality : infuse

I like the picture that we get from the first usage above: to array in the symbols of office or honor. It ties to the idea of empowerment and equipping people with the tools and structures to succeed in their work. I am a strong believer in servant leadership, which fits perfectly with an investment-based performance improvement methodology.

Investment-based performance improvement has four distinct characteristics:

  1. Humility
  2. Humor
  3. Harmony
  4. Honor

These 4 H’s, when used in conjunction with the competencies of performance technology, create an environment where individuals work collectively for the good of the organization while building one another up.

Let’s take a look at each of the characteristics.

Humility.

We don’t talk much about humility in the workplace. Our western culture views humility as a weakness, something that gets in the way of ambition. Many view humility as unrealistic in the cut-throat world of the marketplace where it’s “eat or be eaten.” But humility is making a resurgence in the marketplace. Good guys (and gals) really can finish first.

Humility breaks down barriers of communication, disarms individuals from protecting their territory, and allows us to listen. When we are driven by ambition, we cannot hear what is being said because we are always looking to promote ourselves and our solutions. But with humility I can truly listen, truly desire to hear, and see where the insight emerges, even if it doesn’t originate with me.

Humor.

It may seem odd to make humor a characteristic of investing, but it makes such a big difference that it warrants an honored place as an essential element in working with others toward common goals. When I say humor, I am not talking about sarcasm, jokes, or laughing at the mistakes or shortcomings of others. Instead, humor as an investment gives us perspective. It is the ability to look at a ridiculous situation and see it as it is – a case of human reality at its finest and most sublime.

Many of us have lost our sense of humor in the workplace. We have become cynics or comics, but have no good humor that allows things to slide. We are quickly offended, proud of our fast retorts, and use humor to tear others down to make ourselves look better. But humor as an investment intentionally laughs at challenges, sees the irony and chooses to smile instead of lash out, and promotes light-heartedness over criticism or caustic remarks.

Harmony.

Harmony embraces diversity, especially cognitive diversity where we bring together different perspectives, unique insights, and approaches to situations that may be foreign to our own experience or preference. Harmony as a performance investment looks to blend ideas from multiple sources into one beautiful arrangement that is infinitely more than anyone single individual could accomplish.

To create a harmonious workplace requires that we look at each individual and learn to appreciate what they bring to the party. We have a tendency within our human nature to look for homogeneity – we immediately seek out those who are like us. It makes us feel comfortable, part of the group. But diversity is all around us, and we must promote harmony through building rapport with those who see things differently, looking for areas of agreement, but mostly striving to appreciate their point of view and working to integrate the best from all sources.

Honor.

The final characteristic of investment-based performance improvement is honor. Honor and harmony are kindred spirits, since honoring someone can lead to harmony. But I keep honor as a distinct characteristic because of its importance as a mindset toward other people. Honor has to do with “a showing of usually merited respect.” When we honor someone, we hold them in high regard. We see them as a person of value, worthy of investment.

In another sense of the word, we consider it an honor to work with certain people, or to be recognized by them. When it comes to investing in someone else, to make their ability to perform at their peak level, we should consider it an honor. That person may be on a different level in a corporate hierarchy, but if we choose to see it as a privilege to assist them in their success, our ambition takes a back seat.

Investment-based performance improvement, using the 4 H’s as the philosophical starting point, sparks a positive change in the workplace. Whether a certified performance technologist, a supervisor working with a team of customer service reps, or vice president of national sales, you are making an investment in the lives of others. Ambition has its place, but when our ambition centers on our own power, glory, and advancement we quickly become blind to how investing in the performance of others raises all of us to a higher level. When you raise others up, you go a little higher yourself, but then you realize that isn’t really what it’s all about after all.

For more about Human Performance Technology and the Certified Performance Technologist designation, visit the International Society for Performance Improvement (ISPI). If you decide to join, make sure you list me as the one who referred you!

Project Management Skills Should be Required for Everyone!

Project Management Lifecycle

An organization I work with recently switched to a new email server. The plan was that at the flick of a switch everything would migrate to the new server and in less than five minutes everyone would be up and running. A week later the mess is still being cleaned up.

Very few IT projects that I’ve participated in have been implemented without some unexpected glitch. In fact, I think the mantra of many in IT is “expect the unexpected.” The point being, as optimistic as one might be, it’s a good idea to think about what could go wrong and plan accordingly. And just as importantly, communicate accordingly.

In the scenario I described above, even if the switch would have worked and the system was up within minutes, there was additional set-up that every user needed to complete to activate the system. No one anticipated this. No email message with self-service instructions was provided, so the IT staff has had to work individually with everyone in the organization to get them set up.

Unfortunately, situations like this happen all the time.  We get focused on the core task and forget what is happening up and down stream. As a college professor I believe a critical skill that every college graduate must learn is basic project management. The project management body of knowledge (PMBOK) focuses on five key processes:

  1. Initiating
  2. Planning
  3. Executing
  4. Monitoring and Controlling
  5. Closing

There are also nine areas of knowledge that are central to managing any type of project:

PMBOK

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not everyone who leads a project will need to be concerned with every aspect of these nine areas of knowledge. However, a basic education in project management will promote the acquisition of a project management mindset that identifies areas of risk, possible derailments, and contingency plans. When employees are taught to anticipate what might happen, whether in customer interactions or technology implementations, communication can help control the process and curtail the need for inefficient crisis management if things go wrong.

The key to managing any project is asking the right questions before the project moves an inch. Here are a few that apply to almost all projects, and should be asked by everyone whether they are managing the project or not.

  1. What, exactly, is changing? What will be different when we’re done?
  2. What might go wrong? What will happen if things go awry? What makes for a good project implementation?
  3. What is my role? Do I need to communicate information down the line?
  4. Do I have critical information or concerns that I need to share with someone in charge?
  5. What assumptions am I making about the project?
  6. Are there others who may be affected by the project who don’t know as much as I do? What might I need to share with them?
  7. What could be done to make the project as smooth as possible?
  8. Would it help to create a FAQ document? A job aid or quick reference guide? What would help me do my job easier – that’s usually important to everyone.
  9. What has been communicated about the project? Is it sufficient? If someone walked in off the street could they make sense of what was happening?
  10. What are my co-workers most likely to ask questions (or grumble) about?

Failure to effectively manage projects results in inefficiency, including re-work or additional work, and causes hours of grumbling among staff. A little pre-planning and an extra communication effort can make a huge difference in the execution of a project. Going back to my original example, if the questions above were given any consideration, a whole week of stress, confusion, and reduced productivity could have been avoided.

The One-Page Project Manager: Communicate and Manage Any Project With a Single Sheet of Paper

Order The One-Page Project Manager from Minding the Gap Bookstore!

Absolute Beginner's Guide to Project Management (2nd Edition)
Order The Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Project Management from Minding the Gap Bookstore!

Why Would You Want to Be the Devil’s Advocate?

Imagine you’ve just pitched a great idea to your colleagues and boss. You’ve made great points, showed data to back up your recommendations, and are sure you’ve wowed the group with your amazing solution to the problem du jour. Then inevitably the colleague you knew would oppose whatever you present raises his hand and says, “I just want to be the devil’s advocate here. What about…?” You let out a controlled sigh and concentrate to hold your eyeballs in place so no one will see the eye roll you’re imagining in your mind.

So what’s the deal with this guy? Why always the devil’s advocate role for him? Does the devil really need an advocate? Maybe a more honest statement would be, “Now I’m going to criticize your idea because I don’t like it.” The devil’s advocate isn’t looking for ways to implement your idea; they’re looking for ways to prove why it doesn’t work.

When we take on this role, and we’ve all worn the badge in some meeting along the way, we shut down any meaningful dialogue and create sides. What motivates us to squash someone else’s idea? Fear of change? Envy and resentment because it wasn’t your idea?

Those who are naturally critical may think they’re doing the group a favor by challenging every suggestion, no matter how well thought out and viable. This cat-and-mouse game is seen as sport, but in reality more harm is done than good. The mouse rarely survives the claws of the cat.

What would happen if the devil’s advocate role was banned from our conference rooms? What if instead we started saying “yes, and…” when we hear a new idea.  With an attitude that says, “how can we make this work?” we can change the dialogue to something more productive and affirming. Instead of people being put on the defensive, fighting against the devil, we would encourage idea generation and look for ways to perfect the proposal or clarify points.

Does this sound too altruistic? Too soft? Are you wondering who is going to challenge all of the half-baked ideas pitched in meetings? Maybe your worry and need to challenge others’ ideas is an opportunity to evaluate your own motives.

Throwing away ideas too soon is like opening a package of flower seeds and then throwing them away because they’re not pretty.

Use the same energy you put into being the devil’s advocate into advocating the ideas of your colleagues. The positive transformation will empower you and others to make things possible, to uncover potential, and to co-create the future.

Bouncing Back (and Beyond): The Emotional Side of Economic Recovery for Employees

Cover of "Psychological Capital: Developi...

Cover via Amazon

As the economy begins its slow climb out of the pit of recession, workplaces have a lot of messes to clean up, especially the emotional debris caused by the economic tsunami the washed over the global marketplace these past 2-3 years. Companies slashed workforces and raised performance expectations in an attempt to ride out the storm, some barely keeping their heads above water. But what was the emotional toll and what do organizations need to do to help employees bounce back to pre-crisis levels of wellbeing?

Even before the recession was in full swing, when the pundits were still debating what title to put on the economic crisis that was beginning to raise its ugly head, a study by Towers Watson showed that “nearly half of U.S. employers say stress caused by working long hours is affecting business performance.”  Yet only about 5% were trying to do anything about it. And as the economic crisis became a beast of recession, one can only imagine that things didn’t improve!

It’s important for employers to consider what their employees have been through these past three years.  Did they face foreclosure? Did a spouse lose a job? Did they have to take on a second job just to make ends meet? Were there constant threats of layoffs and spending freezes and drastic cost-cutting measures that made it difficult for them to do their jobs? And did you keep giving them more work to do because you were feeling the stress of trying to keep the business afloat as you faced your own financial tsunami?

The good news is that we are resilient.

There are some practical steps employers can take to help employees bounce back, and hopefully go beyond where they were prior to the crisis.

Empathize. Put yourself in their shoes and gain some understanding of the stress they’ve faced. Very few individuals have come through the recession without being impacted in some way. Talk to your employees about what they’ve experienced and what their level of optimism is for the future. Find some common ground and let them see you as “real.”

Re-establish Trust. Employees may distrust employers, especially if they feel they have been treated unfairly. If you had to make drastic cuts and reduce hours, expenditures and support, talk with employees about priorities as you can begin loosening up the purse strings. Ask them for input on what essential resources are needed and how they might be funded. Collaborate with them and empower them to have some control over their work.

Give them Hope. Share with them how they fit into the organization’s future. Consider courses or conferences that may build their skills. Share your dreams for the future of the enterprise and how you see them being a part of the future success of the organization. Give them insight into exciting developments or plans. Don’t give false hope, however, or you’ll erode trust quickly.

Sustain their Wellbeing. Employee engagement grows as employers focus on initiatives that help employees find meaning in their work, balance all aspects of their lives, and minimize their stress. Gallup identifies “Five Essential Elements” of Wellbeing as Career, Social, Financial, Physical, and Community. What can you do as an employer to contribute to these areas of wellbeing so that your staff is energized, engaged and ready to help you succeed?

If you really want to make the most of the economic recovery, the key as an employer is to consider the emotional recovery of your employees. According to professor Fred Luthans & his colleagues (Psychological Capital, 2007),

“Today’s organizational participants need to not only survive, cope, and recover, but also to thrive and flourish through the inevitable difficulties and uncertainties that they face and to do so faster than their competition.”

They describe a process of “proactive resiliency” that helps individuals and organizations “overcome, steer through, bounce back, and reach out to pursue new knowledge and experiences, deeper relationships with others, and finding meaning in life.”

Employers are encouraged to reflect on adversities and setbacks and use them as a springboard for growth and development. Celebrate together that you’ve gotten through the difficulties and are now ready to take on the future together. This process can ultimately improve performance and lead to net gains for your business. Employees will gain job satisfaction and increase engagement as hope, trust and confidence create a positive spiral of increased resiliency.

Managing Your Crazy Employees

If you’ve been a manager for any length of time, you probably have your share of crazy employee stories– the employees you probably inherited and didn’t hire yourself, although I’ve been fooled a few times and created my own nightmare! Several faces and experiences come to mind, raising my heart rate just to think about them! Crazy may not be a politically correct term, but there’s really no better way to describe that employee that’s like the static-charged shrink wrap that you can’t get off your hand.

I’ve classified crazy employees into four categories:

  • The Manipulator
  • The Clueless
  • The Paranoid
  • The Drama Queen/King

Maybe you can come up with some additional categories based on your experience! Does the uber-creative type, the outstandingly nerdy, or the socially awkward employees require their own classification? What about the ones who are a combination of several categories? You can draw your own conclusions, but here’s a look at the four I identify:

The Manipulator is smart. He knows what he’s doing and approaches every interaction as a game of cat and mouse. Some manipulators have no ill motives, they just enjoy seeing what they can get away with and how far they can push you until you snap. They play everyone and are hard to catch because they’ve spun a web that is hard to untangle. ‘Terry’ was an expert storyteller and could weasel his way out of any situation. But when I tried to verify his story it quickly unraveled.

Solution: Resist making on-the-spot decisions or judgments. Check the facts, get different perspectives. Most importantly, make sure the Manipulator understands the expectations and consequences. Avoid getting into emotional arguments, which is the genius with manipulators. If possible, pair them up with someone you trust and who is manipulation-resistant. Stick to your guns and repeat your expectations in a matter-of-fact manner. Put the burden on them – often they want to make you the ‘bad guy’- involve them in solving their own problem and the issue may quickly disappear. 

The Clueless employee is simple. She’s the one you wonder about how she got hired in the first place, and even how she gets from her house to the office every day. You pull out all of your tricks to explain things in a way she can understand, but still there are mistakes in the books, or miscommunications to customers. It’s hard not to be sympathetic, but it’s exasperating to put so much effort into someone who clearly is out of their element. ‘Shirley’ had a great heart, really wanted to succeed, and made me want to help her with her sincerity, but the business was suffering because of her inability to perform at the lowest requirements of her job.

Solution: Spend some time trying to figure them out. If it’s a matter of learning style, then be creative. Ask them how they like to learn things. Ask them what their perspective is to see if they ‘get’ that they have a problem in learning & retaining knowledge/directions. For some it may be a simple solution, like allowing them to make step-by-step drawings of the process they’re supposed to follow. If all of your creative solutions don’t work and you don’t have another position to move them to for which they might be better suited, you may have to let them go. Always document the steps you’ve taken!

The Paranoid staff member thinks everyone is out to get them. He is the conspiracy theorist that sees hidden motives behind every action and looks for trouble under every rock. You spend a lot of time trying to convince him that the new computer software is not a means to get rid of him. You can almost bet that any announcement of a change in policy or procedure will result in a visit to your office by the paranoid employee. ‘Daniel’ was a trainer that would share his paranoid thoughts with new hire trainees about how he was sure we were trying to fire him. Well…he may have been right!

Solution: First, you need to determine if the paranoid behavior is getting in the way of their performance, or negatively impacting their coworkers. If it is, then you have to clearly communicate your expectations. Do what you can to assure them that you’re not out to get them and ask them what would help them feel more secure. They have to understand that you will hold them accountable, but that it isn’t personal and you don’t expect perfection. Consider a simple ‘contract’ to spell out what can be expected on both sides – just make sure there is no language that sounds like you’re guaranteeing them a job. This is a ‘rules of engagement’ document, not a job contract.

The Drama Queen/King seems to have crisis follow them day in and day out. Whether it’s a personal crisis (boyfriend/girlfriend troubles, financial setbacks, and transportation breakdowns are the top three), or work related challenges, this type of crazy employee can wear out a manager between tear-filled counseling sessions, documenting performance and attendance problems, and trying to find someone to cover their shift at the last minute. ‘Debbie’ had an eventful life, and sometimes the drama wasn’t created by her so it was hard to administer discipline without seeming heartless.

Solution: Separate work issues from personal issues. Offer sympathy and general advice, but don’t get roped into solving all of their problems for them. Do what makes sense for the business without enabling them to rely on you every time they get into a bind. Address the work issues and show them the impact to the business when they are absent, late, or disengaged because of outside drama. If they’re making drama in the workplace amongst co-worker or customers, clearly communicate your expectations and spell out the consequences if they can’t keep things under control. Let them know of benefits or resources that may help (employee assistance program, leave of absence, etc.).

You may have picked up on the common thread in the solutions for each type:

  • Clearly communicated expectations
  • Reasonable solutions, empathy & concern for the individual
  • Accountability, with burden on the employee
  • Documentation of what you’ve done and the results
  • Ultimately do what’s right for your business AND the employee

Not My Problem – Leading Teams to Self-Solving Dynamics

As leaders we often have team members come to us because of a relational or strategic logger jam that is impacting the workgroup. And more often than not they are looking to you, the leader, to fix it for them. So being the good leaders that we are we jump in and start problem-solving. After all, we have the insight, experience and position to push the team to resolution, right?

Not so fast! In our good-intentioned efforts to take the lead and generate solutions, we might be perpetuating the problem. The real issue is not so much the particular scenario they’ve asked your assistance with, but the underlying dynamics that, in the words of pop-psychology, create co-dependence. You come in as the hero, or the enforcer, and the team relinquishes responsibility for handling their own interpersonal and operational conundrums.

A healthy social dynamic instead places the burden of solving these roadblocks on the whole team, not just the leader. The best leaders resist the temptation to be a fixer, instead helping the team process the issue by getting to the real motivations of individuals. The team is strengthened as the leader acts as facilitator, using emotional and social intelligence to read and work through the emotional positions that are causing the conundrum.

Here are three steps leaders can take to put the burden on the group to solve its own problems:

  1. Stop. Stop talking! Resist the urge to provide solutions. Slow down and get perspective. Expediency does not typically lead to lasting solutions. If you struggle to do this, you may want to evaluate your own motives – why do you feel you need to fix things for the group?
  2. Ask. Your first task should be to get group members to open up. Ask probing questions to uncover the meaning behind the meaning of the roadblock. Go below the surface to understand assumptions, biases and motivations. Avoid blame, foster respect, and look for the positive. Help build appreciation.
  3. Relinquish. Let go of your own solutions and allow the group to find their own way out. Keep asking questions to clarify the direction, and facilitate to keep dialogue focused, but remain silent about the direction you recommend. Why? Because you will perpetuate co-dependency and the group will continue to look to you and not themselves, which is inefficient and non-empowering.

One last note on turning over the responsibility and accountability to the group: it may take time. With our culture’s obsession with sense of urgency and expediency, this process may seem time-consuming and inefficient. But as the adage goes, “if you don’t have the time to do it right, when will you have time to do it again?” By creating a dependence on the leader, the group becomes a drain as it relies on the leader to step in any time a roadblock arises. But if the leader trains the group to process its own issues, it will eventually become independent and high-performing.

Why You Want Your CEO to be Happy

You’ve heard the adage a happy worker is a productive worker. Well take it to the highest level of the organization and the same is true. According to Shawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage, “Happy CEOs are more likely to lead teams of employees who are both happy and healthy, and who find their work climate conducive to high performance.” When the CEO or any other senior leader places happiness – the joy we feel striving after potential – before success, they create a culture where people are having fun, experience hope, pride, inspiration and camaraderie.

Contrary to popular opinion, happiness causes success, not the other way around. If you’re suffering through and foregoing happiness until you achieve some level of success, you will never arrive at happy. It will elude you, because happiness isn’t about things and achievements, it’s about finding contentment despite circumstances, latching onto hope and positivity even during difficulties.

“Every time employees experience a small burst of happiness, they get primed for creativity and innovation. They see solutions they might otherwise have missed.”  – Shawn Achor, The Happiness Advantage

CEOs and other leaders who cultivate happiness in the workplace will experience a more committed, healthy, and efficient workforce. And not only are happy CEOs (and workers) more productive, they’re smarter! According to Barbara Frederickson, a thought leader in positivity, “positive emotions expand cognition and behavioral tendencies,” making us more creative and quick on our feet.  

Happy leaders will find ways for followers to be happy. Whether energetic happiness, like joy and excitement, or subtle happiness like contentment and serenity, when these emotions are fostered in the workplace, research finds that “positive emotions transform individual employees and managers, making them more effective in the moment, and more successful in the long run. Frederickson and others in the emerging field of Positive Organizational Scholarship (POS) refer to this as upward spirals.” The idea is that as positive emotions build on one another over time in a cycle that increases resiliency, social integration, and capability.

You may not be able to influence the CEO to be happy, unless you are the CEO! But you do have the ability to develop positivity within yourself, creating the upward spirals that will lead to your own success.  Frederickson & her colleagues state,

“Positive meaning at work can be drawn from experiences of competence, achievement, involvement, significance, and social connection.”

Achor suggests that we can raise our happiness in our workplaces by

  • Finding something to look forward to
  • Committing conscious acts of kindness
  • Infusing positivity into our surroundings
  • Exercising
  • Using strengths & skills