Get Your Career Mojo On!

How is your career mojo?

Navigating a return to work after a long absence can be daunting, especially if it requires securing a new position. Typically, most people rely on networking as a common strategy. However, with so many workers, managers, and leaders furloughed or laid off, the competition can be fierce. Add to that bias about long-term unemployment, and even great mojo can take a hit.

There remains in our culture a stigma about long-term unemployment. This is especially true for the more mature knowledge workers who internalize self-blame or stigmas. Left unchecked, long-term unemployment can suck the air out of our spirit. When this happens our mojo becomes a no go, or as Marshall Goldsmith coined it, “nojo.”

According to Goldsmith, nojo occurs when we become dispirited and confused. This is happening right now with two common mistakes: waiting for the facts to change, and looking for logic in all the wrong places. As a result, we get stuck, and stay stuck.

Fortunately, there is action we can take to navigate a successful return to work.

Avoid Mojo Traps

Waiting for the facts to change. When we experience a setback, such as a loss of a job, it’s not uncommon to wait for the facts to change into something more to our liking. Similarly, when we are given the choice between two undesirable options, we’ll often choose neither. But, in a rapidly changing world, such inaction can be akin to moving backward.

Instead, consider what action you would take if you knew the situation would not change. Ask yourself, “Which path do I choose?”

Looking for logic in all the wrong places. Have you noticed how much time and energy you spend on finding logic in situations where none exists? It’s easy to do; after all, we’re trained to value logic. However, sometimes decisions that affect us are unreasonable, unfair, or unjust.  

Instead, we can recognize and accept that human beings are profoundly illogical. We can accept the things we absolutely can not change, find the courage to change the things we can, and develop the wisdom to know the difference.

How Is Your Career Mojo?

While many workers, managers, and leaders are excited about the future of work, not everyone shares their enthusiasm.

However, according to a recent article published by Harvard Business Review, there is an estimated 1.5 million white-collar workers furloughed or laid off for six months or more. Many are asking the question, “Where do I go from here?”

When this topic comes up in my coaching conversations, we explore four key components of career mojo:

  • Knowing yourself well. For example, what are your strengths? How do you perform best? How do you learn best?
  • Identifying your core values.
  • Determining how your values fit with who you are today.
  • Taking action with purpose, power, and increasing ease.

Reclaim Your Career Mojo

Thinking about the person you are—what makes you “you”—in a realistic, positive light, can help you reclaim your career mojo. Ask yourself:

  • How have I grown in the last decade? The last year?
  • To what extent would I want to trade places with who I was 10 years ago? What about two years ago?
  • How much do I romanticize my earlier years?
  • Who do I think I want to become—and how close am I to becoming my ideal self?

Because the work we do is central to who we think are, it’s important to explore and identify our ideals. This is a purposeful step in becoming and evolving. When we tap into what motivates us in the here and now, we find passion, energy, and direction.

Optimum Career Mojo

A successful return to work requires a certain amount of mojo: those moments when we do something with purpose, power, and increasing sense of ease. When we take action in a positive direction, we reclaim our mojo.

We can begin by reflecting on the past to identify how we have grown. Reflection allows us to identify our current values and how our identity shifts over time.

Because we often operate from a template formed by past experiences, we may be unnecessarily limiting our options. Instead, we can challenge the assumptions we make about ourselves.

Your Ideal Self

Picture yourself a year from now, with your hopes and plans fulfilled.

  • What does that look like?
  • How would you describe yourself?
  • What assumptions are you making about yourself?
  • Where are you placing limits? For example, are you curtailing thoughts based on outdated perceptions about your strengths and weaknesses?
  • How can you leverage your experiences, skills, values, and passion?

A common approach for a return to work is to identify the position you’d like to have and acquire the required skills. But considering the statistics, trends, and analysis on the future of work published by McKinsey & Company, a better approach is to identify and acquire skills for your ideal self, and then find a position.

Reclaiming your mojo begins with small steps that you can take toward your ideal you. If you have trouble with that first step, start with an action that will be helpful regardless of what happens tomorrow, or next week.

For example, review and update your resume and your social media profiles. Update your contact lists and references, and review recommendations. And if you haven’t already, identify a trusted mentor, coach, or other professional who can support you through the process with objective, helpful feedback.

The Power of Cognitive Flexibility and Persuasion

“In a turbulent world, success depends not just on cognitive horsepower but also on cognitive flexibility. When leaders lack the wisdom to question their convictions, followers need the courage to persuade them to change their minds.” – Organizational psychologist, Adam Grant, PhD

As a coach, I work with some really incredible people who have an amazing depth of wisdom. They rely on their knowledge, skills, experience, and intuition, and it serves them well. However, they will also be the first to tell you that there have been times when they regret rejecting the opinions and ideas of others in favor of their own, let’s just say, unwise ideas.

When asked what led up to this, some will point to blind spots, or hidden bias. But others confess to simple over confidence: they wouldn’t listen to others and held fast to what they believed to be true.

It’s not uncommon for leaders. After all, their expertise often catapults them to where they are today. But, have you noticed how truly great leaders have the wisdom and courage to question their own convictions?

They do this with three key tactics:

  1. Accept that everyone has limits, including you.
  2. Surround yourself with a diversity of experts and empower them to ethically and courageously persuade you.
  3. Practice flexibility, collaboration, and compromise.

Sounds simple enough, but…why don’t we “just do it?”

Why We Believe Everything We Think

First, it’s easy to forget that we don’t know what we don’t know. Add to that how facts quickly change, either through new data, discoveries, or perspectives, and what was once right may be outdated.

Second, as leaders it’s our job to persuade others to follow us—our vision, our strategy, and our plans, even if there is a better way (or we are wrong!) Changing how we see ourselves can feel threatening.

Third, we are hard-wired to conserve mental energy. We learn something, and move on. In today’s highly competitive and fast-paced world, there is no time for second-guessing ourselves. As Adam Grant, PhD, writes in Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know(Viking, 2021), “questioning ourselves makes the world more unpredictable.”

Finally (or for now), we—including those around us—often don’t know how to use persuasion effectively. One solution to believing everything we think is to practice ethical persuasion. I’ll dive in to this in another post.

The Power of Persuasion

“A hallmark of wisdom is knowing when it’s time to abandon some of your most treasured tools, and some of the most cherished parts of your identity.” – Adam Grant

Even highly intelligent people are prone to bias that prevent them from changing their mind about a strongly held conviction. This stems, in part, from the way our brains categorize new information so that it can store and retrieve it later. When we do retrieve that information, we must re-examine it, which can be especially challenging for highly intelligent people. You see, we must search for reasons why we might be wrong, rather than being right, and adjust our understanding and convictions accordingly.

Fortunately, as Grant writes in the Harvard Business Review (March-April 2021) article, “Persuading the Unpersuadable,” it is possible for know-it-alls to learn something new (or unlearn something), for the most stubborn to change course, the narcissistic to demonstrate empathy, and the contrarian to accept and support new or different information.

Persuading the Arrogant

Depending on your knowledge, understanding, and skill level, it can be a real lesson in humility. There’s nothing like walking someone through a process to help us identify our own gaps. And it’s a great technique to overcome arrogance. Rather than point out ignorance directly, ask the know-it-all to walk you through the explanation step-by-step.

Persuading the Narcissist

While narcissism involves arrogance, it can go beyond attitude to action, including hostility and aggression. (We’ve all seen examples of narcissists pulling down others in order to stand above them.) However, one of the myths of narcissism is low self-esteem.

According to researchers, narcissism involves high, but unstable, self-esteem. So, when you appeal to their need to be admired with praise and respect, they feel more secure and open-minded. But as Grant suggests, what and how you make your appeal are critical.

“Don’t bury criticism between two compliments… narcissists are especially likely to ignore the criticism altogether,” advises Grant. Instead, offer praise for something unrelated to the topic.

For example, don’t pair a decision change request with a decision making skill compliment, rather, pair the request with genuine praise for other skills or attributes, like creativity or athleticism.

Another myth about narcissism is an inability to experience and demonstrate humility. However, narcissists can, and do. Draw on this understanding. When we feel more secure, selfishness and aggression are reduced, and we can become persuadable.  

Effective Persuasion is a Process

We are living with a great deal of uncertainty and change, and yet we expect people to act consistently from one situation to the next. The reality is that we respond to different scenarios with different personality traits and strengths.

Fortunately, even the most stubborn can be flexible, and the most disagreeable can be open-minded. Great managers and leaders pay attention to these instances. They notice when and how people change their minds. Grant describes this as “predictable if…then responses.”

Persuading the Stubborn

In the 1970’s, researchers surveyed college students on their locus of control—the degree to which they believe that outcomes can be subject to their will, from internal (choice and effort) to external (luck or fate) and their successes (and failures.) Predictably, those who scored higher on external control were more open to external persuasion, including light and forceful arguments. Those who scored higher on internal control were not persuaded by light argument, and moved in the opposite direction by forceful argument.

To harness this predictably, ask open-ended questions to spark creativity, such as “What if…?” This can plant a seed or generate new ideas. Then, take a cue from Improvisation, and “Yes, and.”

Persuading the Disagreeable

Disagreeableness, or argumentativeness, is common among the driven and competitive. They are energized by conflict, and enjoy a good fight. Smart leaders seek out the disagreeable to ensure they aren’t surrounded by “yes-people.”

However, if you need to persuade them, be prepared to battle. If you urge them to back down, they’ll double down. They want you to fight for your ideas and persuade them, often by refining your ideas with updated SWOT analysis, proofs of concept, and supporters.

A rapidly changing world requires a certain amount of thinking, and rethinking. This requires cognitive flexibility and effective persuasion; the mindsets, and skillsets.

Manage Burnout for Peak Performance

Peak performance is not what it used to be, according to leaders, managers, and employees who report teetering on the brink of burnout. And it’s not just individuals: entire organizations are at risk.

Within the first seven weeks of 2021, Harvard Business Review published six articles on the topic, including how the pandemic contributes to burnout, how to recognize burnout, and how to fight burnout. But instead, what if we could avoid burnout and maintain peak performance?

Although burnout is not classified as a medical condition or mental disorder (DSM-5), in 2019—pre-pandemic—the World Health Organization (WHO) re-defined the occupational phenomenon of burnout in the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11). According to the WHO, “burnout is a syndrome…resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed,” and includes three dimensions:

  • Feeling of energy depletion
  • Feeling of negativity/cynicism related to personal occupation or increasing mental distancing from occupation
  • Reduced professional/occupational efficacy

Typically, we avoid burnout by taking breaks: we enjoy several weeks of vacation, spend time away, and de-stress with a change of scenery and energizing activities. But for many, this has not been an option during the past year. Add to that virtual offices and work from home (WFH) practices, and stay-cations don’t recharge us like we need. Reaching and maintaining peak performance, for individuals and organizations, requires ongoing daily energy management.

Four Dimensions

Energy has four dimensions: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual (or ritual). We draw energy from each dimension, which we must replenish. To build our strength and expand our energy capacity (stamina/resilience) we must stretch ourselves beyond our usual limits and allow for rest. This cycle is referred to as stress and recovery.

Manage Your Physical Energy

We know that too much stress without recuperation can deplete our energy, and wreak havoc on our health. Left unchecked, our body’s natural cortisol response can actually weaken our immune system. Add to that overeating, and we block energy production.

To jump start your motivation and boost your physical energy:

  • Move your body. Even if it’s only a minute of stretching, jumping up and down, or a turn about a room, corridor, or neighborhood, it can generate good feelings and elevate your mood.
  • Identify SMART Stretch Goals. Your physical SMART goals can (and should) be related to activities and exercise, food and drink consumption, rest and relaxation, and wellness checkups with your medical care provider.
  • Create healthy habits and routines that support your goals. Making a decision and taking action depletes our mental and physical energy. To conserve precious brain energy, automate or eliminate decision-making.  

Physical Energy for Organizations

As a leader or manager, help your employees boost their physical energy:

  • Ensure work environments are safe.
  • Invest in building, equipment, and systems maintenance and needed upgrades.
  • Learn to recognize the warning signs of burnout, before it happens. Are your direct reports easily annoyed? Are they expressing impatience or discontent? Now is not the time to ignore it. Explore with empathy and curiosity.

Manage Your Mental Energy

Replenish your mental energy with frequent breaks from the actual thinking: complete an unrelated task, play a simple game, daydream, or meditate. Varying activities to stimulate different parts of your brain creates more mental energy. Studies also find a strong correlation between productivity and positive thinking. To boost mental energy, use these techniques:

  • Mental preparation: Willingness and optimism are key for mental toughness. Identify, control, and manage emotions. Be aware, and curious.
  • Visualization: See yourself succeed. Rehearse all the preparation and steps you will need to take to succeed. Visualize obstacles, and how you overcome them.
  • Meditation: Develop a practice of mindfulness or meditation. Begin with short sessions that focus on your breath, and grow your practice.
  • Introspection: What are you strengths? Where are your blind spots and bias? What is holding you back?
  • Reflection: Make time to feel feelings, process new experiences and information, and reflect on lessons learned. Ask for help when you need it.

Mental Energy for Organizations

If you aren’t already, consider providing spaces where employees can disengage for brief periods of time (5 – 60 minutes) to recharge their mental energy. To support a meditative atmosphere, create quiet zones with comfortable seating, floor cushions, and soft lighting. Discourage food and beverages, electronic devices, conversation, and other distractions.

Manage Your Emotional Energy

We know we are running critically low in our emotional energy when negative emotions become predominant. Fortunately, there are ways to manage negativity and build positive emotions:

  • Give yourself permission to play, even at work. Step-back, find the humor, and allow openness.
  • Phone a friend. Sometimes, picking up the phone can be the last thing we want to do, but it can be the most beneficial. If you haven’t already, hone this skill.
  • Find a way to be of service to someone else. When we spend too much time in our own heads it’s easy to lose perspective and forget that we’re not alone. Find a way to offer help or practice a random act of kindness.  

Emotional Energy for Organizations

  • Provide resources through which people can express anger, disappointment, helplessness, hopelessness, defeat, and depression.
  • Establish networks for executive peer support. Historically, these have been based on non-competing industries, but I wouldn’t rule them out entirely. When confidentiality is respected, such networks can foster coopetition. A qualified coach can also offer emotional support for executives, leaders, and managers.
  • Ensure you are recognizing and celebrating small victories at work. Frustration, anger, or fear are toxic and can block peak performance. Good feelings are contagious and can replenish our emotional energy.

Manage Your Spiritual Energy

Spiritual energy is your personal connection to your true values and deep sense of purpose. It relies on self-care and depends on taking care of others with profound respect. Spiritual energy draws upon rituals and a connection with a greater purpose.

Peak performance means deep involvement with purpose, values, self-examination, and the establishment of effective energy replenishing habits. There are three critical steps in this process:

  • Defining true values and what is most important to you, fostering a positive mind-set, and being unselfish.
  • Being honest about where you are now and recognizing, understanding, and overcoming obstacles, including excuses.
  • Developing a plan and taking action on three positive rituals that will replenish your spiritual energy level.

Spiritual Energy for Organizations

In organizations, spiritual energy is gained from the leadership vision, the mission of the organization, and how each and every action supports the mission. It is renewed when we remind each other that we matter.

Calm, Cool, and Collected: Communication in Conflict

How do you remain calm, cool, and collected when conflicts escalate?

We’ve all been there: encountering someone in a fit of road rage; a neighbor upset about another neighbor’s transgression; dealing with a beloved toddler in the middle of a melt-down. Typically, we ignore such bad behavior, waiting for it to resolve itself. But, these may be prime opportunities to practice de-escalation techniques and communication skills.

Generally speaking, we trust that our co-workers are capable of resolving conflicts and able to avoid crisis in the workplace. If a situation does escalate, equipped and available managers step in. But consider this: according to the most recent report by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), over 20,000 workers experienced trauma from workplace violence in 2018.

How does this happen?

Conflict Escalation

Multiple factors can escalate a situation, including:

  • Physical: Pain/illness, sleep deprivation, low blood sugar/dehydration, prescription changes
  • Mental or cognitive: Unhelpful thoughts/thinking patterns, negative perceptions, critical inner voice
  • Emotional: Pre-existing mood disorders, past trauma, etc.
  • Social: Lack of healthy support network, isolation
  • Environmental: Visual or auditory triggers, audience
  • Spiritual: Sense of connection to higher power or that which offers hope, faith, purpose

While a crisis is not typically caused by one event, there is often a tipping point. Most common is the death of a significant other, loss of a relationship, loss of work, homelessness, or cabin fever. A crisis occurs when people perceive that they have encountered insurmountable obstacles to their goals, their life cycle or routine is significantly disrupted, and they have no appropriate method to manage their situation. In other words, they believe they have no way through, around, or out of their perceived situation.

Communication in Conflict: Shift Your Goals

Whenever emotions are involved, communication can get tricky. It happens often: at home, in public, and at work. When people disagree, feel un-heard, or feel invalidated, a conversation can go off track.

The goals of the communication shift to de-escalation can be summarized into three objectives: 

  • Gain equilibrium/stabilization
    • This may involve identifying and removing anything that reinforces aggressive behavior.
    • Help the other party(s) identify reasons to calm down.
  • Cognitive
    • Help the other party gain control of their thoughts (and behavior).
    • Help the other party gain a sense of control.
  • Psychosocial
    • Assess internal and external exacerbating and mitigating factors.
    • Identify and choose workable alternatives.

It’s important to remember that not everyone responds the same way to threats or a crisis. For example, they might be in a flight, fight, or freeze mode, or a combination in a wide variety of degrees. There is no one “normal” range of behaviors.

De-escalation requires self-awareness of our own perceptions and assumptions, and a curious, non-judgmental mindset. Here are a few techniques that can help.

8 De-escalation Techniques

  • Be professional, and respect personal space. This can vary from person-to-person, so be sensitive to physical, confidential, and social-distance space.
  • Use non-threatening body language: stand-to -side, rather than square to other. Speak in a calm, quiet, and low(er) tone.
  • Focus on feelings. Listen, watch, and reflect. “It sounds like you are feeling…”
  • Set limits. Help identify options, choices, and consequences.
  • Ignore challenging questions. Avoid taking the bait.
  • Choose wisely in stretching rules, boundaries, and battles.
  • Allow for time.
  • Be empathetic and non-judgmental.

Communication in Conflict: Trust the Process

While there are no quick fixes when communicating during conflict, you can trust a proven process.

In Walking Through Anger: A New Design for Confronting Conflict in an Emotionally Charged World (Sounds True, October 2019), Christian Conte, PhD, shares his philosophy and evidence-based model for change called Yield Theory. This framework is designed to help anyone see the world from the perspective of another with empathy, compassion, and non-attachment, replacing any ego-driven perception of a situation (or person in a heightened emotional state).

As Conte describes it, Yield Theory Compassion is the “cornerstone of communication.” It allows leaders, managers, and colleagues to de-escalate and work through conflict without aggression or submission.

According to Conte, practicing Yield Theory involves a “constant navigation toward the position of the other” through three steps:

  • Listen: hear what is being said, verbally and non-verbally.
  • Validate: validate the feelings of the person in a heightened emotional state. Validation is only effective (and has occurred) if the subject feels validated.
  • Explore Options: explore all options and consequences of each option. Persons in a heightened emotional state often have a narrow focus, a type of tunnel vision. This is the time to introduce a macro-vision, a wider range of options, and allow for choice in behavior or actions. In essence, you are creating a safe-space that de-escalates a situation.

7 Communication Skills

This process relies on seven key communication skills to build trust:

  • Acceptance: be accepting of others and yourself (strengths, limits, and emotional/cognitive states).
  • Authenticity: be true to yourself in order to be truly available to others.
  • Compassion: be aware and understand how others are feeling.
  • Conscious education: check-in and monitor your physical being to prevent transferring internal stress into external accusation.
  • Creativity: be open, curious, and of a growth mindset.
  • Mindfulness: be mindfully and totally present. Avoid the five errors of communication:
    • Approach: be self-aware of tone, non-verbal cues, space, etc.
    • Interpretation: be aware of cultural differences, opportunities to project, blind-spots/bias, etc.
    • Judgment
    • Language
    • Omnipotence
  • Nonattachment: let go of any pre-determined outcomes to achieve the de-escalation goals. Be responsible and accountable for self and don’t take statements personally.

Communication in Conflict: If, When, and How

Attempting to intervene in a situation of road rage is never a good idea. It’s best to contact the authorities when it is safe to do so. Any situation involving a weapon (be it a car or any deadly object) should be managed by a trained specialist.

Then there are the situations when our emotions have exceeded our rationality. It happens with people we don’t know and people we know well: colleagues, friends, neighbors, and family. This is when a conflict can quickly escalate; we get hooked by our natural mimic reflex making it more difficult to disengage. In that case, walking away or postponing the conversation may be the best option.

Do’s

Here are a few tips to use this method of de-escalation and strengthen the relationship:

  • Take a physical step aside. Visualize insults passing by, missing you.
  • Talk about the process, not about the message. “I hear you are angry. I feel angry. I don’t want to raise my voice with you as it won’t be productive. I need to take a break. Can we talk about this at ___ (time).”  If you need more time to gain your equilibrium, ask for it.
  • Meet as agreed. Focus on common goals or interests.

Don’ts

  • Don’t ignore anger (yours or others), rather acknowledge it.
  • Don’t take someone else’s anger personally. Even if it is about you, recognize your own feelings about the issue, and remain calm (non-attached.)
  • Don’t feed someone’s anger by trying to stop it, rather, create a safe place to properly voice feelings.

Workplace Conflicts and Crisis

Every employer should have a Workplace Violence Prevention Plan tailored for their organization. A robust plan reflects their type of business/service and the clients they serve, resources, physical layout, organizational culture, and communication and training expectations. While it may be uncomfortable or unpleasant, all employees should participate in periodic violence prevention training to strengthen their knowledge and confidence.

The Matter of Business Ethics

We are making great strides in corporate social responsibility. Many reflect changes in business policies and practices. But when it comes to business ethics, are we really improving?

Consider this: almost 120 years ago, German socialist, economist, and politician Max Weber published his book, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, emphasizing that personal integrity and reputation matters: they form the basis of good business relationships. A person’s words are their bond and business can be counted on with a handshake.

Jump to the turn of the century. For six consecutive years, Fortune magazine deemed Enron one of the most innovative organizations and two months after being publicized, Enron filed for bankruptcy, bringing down companies and 1,000’s of individuals with it.

Not long after, new regulations and legislation were enacted including penalties regarding records and the accountability of auditing firms.

Then came the financial crisis of 2007-08, where organizations were deemed “too big to fail,” generating other hazards, risks, and an uneven playing field.

Headlines, book lists, and social media are filled with other examples, several from the most recent past. How did we get here? And more importantly, where do we go from here?

What We Don’t See

In Moral Mazes (Oxford University Press, 2009), Robert Jackall suggests that modern bureaucracy has created a “society within a society” in which there is a set of ethical standards that may not be consistent with those of the larger society. Our current capitalistic society goes along with these sub-societies, as long as they are successful.

Generally, the larger the organization, the more complex the strategy and operations. It might seem easier to stretch standards and change numbers to reflect what is desired, rather than what is.

Morality and Ethics in the Workplace

Research and empirical studies on moral standards and business ethics is sparse. But if we look at self-reporting surveys we can see some trends. For example:

  • 86% of managers claim moral standards at work are set by the expectations perceived in the work environment.
  • A corporation’s culture is a strong determinant of individual thought, behavior, and organizational norms.
  • Corporate or organizational culture is recognized as a key contextual influence in establishing and maintaining norms.

The Influence of Leadership

When the behaviors of leaders are seen to serve shareholders and themselves, rather than the employees, the community, the environment, or even the customers, there is an increasing sense of distrust of leaders’ motives.

Such erosion of trust may be pandemic. But as Dr. Marc J. Epstein and Kirk O. Hanson write in Rotten: Why Corporate Misconduct Continues and What to Do about It (Lanark Press, 2020), “While we don’t argue here that corporate behavior has necessarily gotten worse in recent years, we certainly don’t believe it has gotten better.”

Institutional Integrity: The Privilege of Pressure

Today’s great leaders understand and embrace the profound privilege and responsibility to create purpose and meaning that drives employee contributions, including innovation and productivity.

In most organizations, stated goals are consistent with the higher values of the organization: the vision of the leader, the organization’s mission, and a value statement. This allows all employees to operate in a coherent and consistent manner to achieve stated goals.

Addressing Injustice

Aside from the ongoing unemployment and underemployment in the midst of pandemic, we still have unresolved matters in the American workplace. One of the most pervasive is salary and pay inequities.

According to a recent Harvard Business Review article (November 2020), a recent self-reported survey of U.S. companies found that only 22% of the 922 largest public companies performed a pay equity audit (PEA) between 2016 and 2020. Until this issue is addressed and adjustments made, leaders will have an ongoing issue with building trust and credibility in organizational cultures.

Discussing Ethics at Work

Questioning moral or ethical viewpoints can trigger defensiveness, outrage, and even aggression toward those who think differently. However, leaders can set clear and consistent standards and expectations through:

  1. Leadership development practices. These must include programs on ethical reasoning and decision making. This must be an ongoing process, not a one-shot affair at fulfilling a requirement. The most effective include coaching and/or mentoring where issues of personal ethics and moral responsibility are explored and aligned with organizational values.
  2. Leadership programs. These must include selection, development, evaluation and rewards policies that are aligned in such a way as to reflect their support of the values of the organization. When a person is selected for promotion or is rewarded, the organization is making a statement: this person represents our values and standards.

Moral Rebels at Work

Morality and ethics are a daily challenge for managers and leaders. Most, if not all, have made a promise to “not knowingly do harm.” Of course, this is not always an easy promise to keep. But as Peter Drucker wrote in The Essential Drucker, “Its very modesty and self-constraint make it the right rule for the ethics that managers need, the ethics of responsibility.”

Powerful forces may lead us to feel powerless to oppose. Each person must weigh alternatives and make choices in light of personal values and goals, but also with consideration to organizational and professional success. Clearly, there are times when we must speak out.

A Framework for Ethical Dilemmas

There are two major approaches philosophers use to address an ethical dilemma:

  1. Focus on the practical consequences of what we do. This argues “no harm, no foul.”
  2. Focus on the actions themselves, and the “rightness” of the action alone. This argues that some actions are simply wrong in and of themselves.

An effective process includes a solid analysis:

  1. Analyze the consequences. Explore all aspects by answering the following questions:
  2. Who will be helped by what I do?

    Who will be harmed by what I do?

    What is the benefit, and how beneficial? (i.e. minimal, incremental, extremely; short-term and/or long-term)

    What is the harm, and how harmful?

  3. Analyze the actions. Without thinking about the consequences, consider all of the options from a different perspective. Explore all options by answering these questions:
  4. How do the actions measure up against moral principles like honesty, fairness, equality, respecting the dignity of others, and people’s rights?

    Do any of the actions “cross the line?”

    If there’s a conflict between principles or between the rights of different people involved, is there a way to see one principle as more important than the others?

    Which option offers actions that are least problematic?

  5. Make a decision. Consider the answers from steps one and two, and make a decision.

Moral and ethical leadership today require great courage, wisdom, and the right framework to make decisions. And there is always room for improvement.

A Better Manager for 2021

How are you preparing to be a better manager in 2021?

Employees look to their managers and business leaders to help them make sense of complexities within their own organization, as well as the external world. They seek reassurance that their own experiences and perspective is accurate, and that there exists an adequate framework to create and maintain stability and move forward.

More than ever before, employees need to be able to trust their leaders.

According to a recent article published by Harvard Business Review, trust is comprised of four components:  

  • Competence: the ability to get the job done
  • Motives: our reasons (or reasoning) 
  • Fair means: consistency in applying the same rules to offer rewards or assign punishments
  • Impact: the consequences of all actions

In a chaotic world, business leaders cultivate trust and help their employees when they clarify their values, develop their communication abilities, and connect in meaningful ways.

Clarify Your Values

Your values are the underlying foundation in how you make decisions and take action (or non-action.) They are at the core of your motives, how you prioritize, and the sacrifices you make to reach your goals. Your values have a great impact in how you reconcile conflict.

Consider your attitude in relation to other people. What are your obligations to your family, friends, and community? What will you leave as a legacy to the next generation? As a mentor, what values or core beliefs would you want to pass on?

Below is a sample of values. If you were to rank each from 1 – 10 (with one being the most important to you), what would be your top five? What might you add to the list?

Now, consider these important questions:

  • What percentage of your focus (your time and energy) is actually spent on these values?
  • Is there congruency between your words and actions?
  • Would your family, friends, and employees agree?

When there’s a question of right vs. wrong or between degrees of right vs. right, clearly defined values will help you make wise decisions and build trust.

Develop Your Communication and Story-telling Abilities

Stories have power. It’s how we make meaning of life, explain how things work, make (and justify) decisions, define and teach social values, and persuade others.

Great managers and leaders harness the power of story-telling when they communicate facts— based on relevant scientific data—through truthful stories. They make their stories compelling with five elements.

Elements of Great Story-telling

  • A finely tuned beginning, middle, and end, practiced and told with the right tempo, energy, and conviction.
  • A protagonist: a relatable hero. They draw your audience in from their point of view.
  • A challenge: an obstacle to overcome or problem to be solved. Sometimes, this takes the form of a person, or antagonist.
  • A pivotal moment: a confrontation and solution that results in real change for the hero.
  • An awakening: the hero’s transformation and how it benefits the hero, and hopefully, others.

Great managers and leaders use stories to help their employees find meaning amid chaos. They organize facts and provide context, differentiating between data and opinion, causation and correlation.

We tell our stories constantly, even when we’re unaware of doing so. Not only do our stories have the power to influence and/or inspire others, they also reflect and have the power to influence our own internal narrative. That’s why it’s so important that managers and leaders share constructive stories that have purpose, truth, and hope-filled action.

Connect in Meaningful Ways

According to the January 2021 article in the Harvard Business Review, “41% of workers feel burned out.” They attribute this to factors including longer work hours, adjustment to remote work, pressure to balance this with family demands, feelings of job insecurity, and fear of unsafe work environments. (Note that this survey and article were published prior to the events of January 6, 2021.) That aside, feelings of sadness and anxiety, an inability to concentrate, and a decrease of motivation were reported. Worse, 37% of those surveyed report “having done nothing to cope with these feelings.”

Take Action

Managers can take action in five key areas:

  • Connect with each team member. This may require that managers reach out more frequently to their direct reports, and in some cases, daily. When calling, be clear that it is to keep the lines of communication open and let them know you are there if they need anything.
  • Manage stress (yours and that of your direct reports). While flexibility allows us to adapt in times of uncertainty and stress, routine and predictability provide stability.  Block an hour a day to answer questions from your direct reports. Limit the calls, or video meetings, to 10-minutes each, allowing others to connect with you one-on-one.
  •  Maintain team morale and motivation. Consider a 15-minute team meeting check-in for each morning. Encourage participants to share one word to describe their status, state of being, or intention for the day. Follow-up individually as needed.
  • Track and communicate progress. Provide feedback, and coaching: help your direct reports identify what worked, their contributions, and celebrate their strengths.
  • Identify, redirect and/or eliminate non-essential work. Encourage your direct reports to share challenges, problems, and early indicators of issues. Frame your invitation that the plus one—a solution—is not required.

Sharing feelings or personal challenges with a manager or leader may feel uncomfortable, or too risky, for some. Respect boundaries. Encourage team members to identify someone they can trust with whom they can connect: a colleague, mentor, or qualified coach.

Demonstrate your own vulnerability. As Dr. Brene Brown writes:

“We are open to uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure because that is the path to courage, trust, innovation, and many other daring leadership skills.”

Expectation Management

What are your plans to bring in the new year? Will you celebrate?

Maybe this is the year to try a new custom from a different culture. For example, in many Latin cultures it is customary to eat 12 grapes at midnight for good luck in the coming 12 months. Some carry an empty suitcase around the block in hopes of a travel-filled new year. Others hang an onion on the door as a symbol of rebirth; a chance to start anew.

Of course, hope, optimism, and positivity are important. They help us set and achieve goals, another common tradition for the new year. However, optimism can be dangerous when planning and forecasting. Realism is key when making decisions, committing large sums of money, and setting certain expectations.

Research has found that almost everyone who has a propensity to be optimistic in their world view tends to have greater success, better health, and longer life. However, beliefs and expectations must be based on achievable reality. You see, expectations have a profound effect on our energy, drive, and happiness.

In the recent Harvard Business Review article, “How to Lead When Your Team is Exhausted,” Dr. Merete Wedell-Wedellsborg writes:

“It feels like the whole world is tired. Even though the vaccine shines a light at the end of the tunnel, the home stretch will be long and perhaps take a greater toll on our professional and personal lives than we expect it to.”

This is an ominous warning, and an opportunity for expectation management.

Expectation Variables

There are two variables to consider in the management of our expectations: our expectations of other, and our expectations of self.

What was the last expectation you set for someone else?  Chances are, it was the completion of a task which was clearly understood. Or was it?

Many of our expectations are often implicit; we don’t actually verbalize or negotiate our expected outcome. This sets us up for resentment. Instead, we need to manage our expectations with clear communication.

What about your personal expectations? Did you achieve the goals you set for yourself this year? Why, or why not? How do you feel about that?

Our perception of our experiences is critical to the way we pursue our goals and achieve success. At the end of the day, our happiness level can be measured by the number of expectations that were met. That’s why setting conscious, realistic goals and expectations is so important.

Unrealistic Expectations

The adage, “hope for the best, expect the worst,” might seem like a way to protect us from disappointment, but the truth is, it doesn’t.

Researchers have found that:

  • If we expect to get xand succeed, there’s a slight rise in dopamine.
  • When we expect to get x and get 2x, there’s a greater rise.
  • But, if we expect to get x and get .9x, then we experience a much greater drop.

The real solution is to be adaptive, rapidly flexible, and understand what is in your control.

For example, we have certain expectations about the rollout of the new vaccine and a return to “normal.” But, the truth of the matter is that for many of us, when we will receive it is yet to be seen. And, in order to reach true global herd immunity, 70% of the world must be vaccinated. While we can encourage others to get vaccinated when they are eligible, we have no real control over these variables.

Realistic Expectations

A more realistic expectation is that we may need to continue our habits of wearing a face mask, frequent and proper hand-washing, and even social distancing for quite some time. We can remain flexible, adaptive, and maintain these habits through-out the next year.

When we have doubts, or when we fall into the gap of unrealistic expectations, we can focus on the Serenity Prayer:

“Grant me the serenity to accept the things I can not change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” – Reinhold Niebuhr

Remember: things are. People are. You are. What you expect of them—and yourself—makes all the difference in your personal level of happiness. You can’t change people, things, or event. You can, however, adjust your expectations.

Strategies to Exceed Expectations

Having accurate expectations gives you peace of mind. It can also propel you to take on more challenges, and achieve greater goals.

Consider this: what was your last experience with something, or someone, exceeding expectations?

Chances are, you clearly recall the feelings you had. When expectations are exceeded, we actually experience a hit of dopamine, making us feel good.

We can harness the power of this physiological response to manage our expectations, and, if we combine it with a few key strategies, exceed our own personal goals.

6 Key Strategies

  • Adopt an optimistic mindset, and expect progress, not perfection.
  • Be specific. Outline what you must do on a daily basis to realize your desired results.
  • Create contingencies. Predetermine when and where you’ll take action to avoid the traps of distractions and other competing commitments. The best tactic is “if/then” planning: If X happens, I will do Y.
  • Determine how you’ll evaluate progress.
  • Exercise your grit. Grit is the willingness to commit to long-term goals and endure in spite of difficulties.
  • Fuel your willpower muscle. Rest helps you recover quickly and remain positive. Reinforce your willpower muscle by completing small tasks.

When facing disappointments, you may be tempted to dwell on unmet expectations, and even use them as an excuse to lower your expectations. But this will prevent you from reaching your goal. Instead, take control of negative emotions. Recognize the emotion, and allow yourself to experience it. Then, shift your focus to what you can control.

We have goals and we have excuses, some of which are true and valid. This is the hard part. It’s always helpful to work with an executive coach who can help you navigate your blind spots and develop greater self-awareness. Be sure to give yourself a pat on the back for being courageous enough to turn weaknesses into opportunities for growth.

Also recognize that putting your best foot forward means you’ll occasionally step in some mud. It’s up to you to decide which is more perilous: the risk of disappointment or the prospect of never reaching your potential.

The Need for Kind Leaders

Is your organization led by kind leaders?

This year has been like no other. Most leaders and managers are eager to put it behind them. Yet, we’re not out of the woods. A culture of kindness will make it easier.

Researchers have found that kindness is associated with better and stronger physical and mental health; relationships, teams, and communities; life satisfaction, and even economics. According to researcher and psychologist Dacher Keltner, PhD, “The science of human emotion, kindness and goodness are not to be taken lightly, they are actually good for our bodies and minds.”

Unfortunately, uncertainty, increased stress, and frustration have challenged and tested many organizational cultures: the way we collectively perceive, think, and feel at work. Add to that tribalism, polarity, and over exposure to vitriol, and incivility is easily sparked. Organizational culture is damaged, and left unchecked over prolonged periods, altered.

The Importance of Kind Leaders

Over the past two decades, thousands of employees have been polled about their treatment at work. According to research referenced in the recent Harvard Business Review article, 98% report experiencing uncivil behavior, often prompted by thoughtlessness, rather than malice. Common forms include:

  • Interrupting others
  • Discussing other employees
  • Acting in a condescending manner; belittling someone and/or their contributions
  • Arriving late; responding late (or not at all)
  • Ignoring others
  • Negative eye contact—giving the side eye, dirty looks, rolling eyes, or staring
  • Yelling, shouting, and/or verbally assaulting others (insults, harassment)

While subtle forms (and microaggressions) are often easier to overlook, they erode engagement, morale, and ultimately, organizational culture. Managers, and leaders, must intervene, not in kind, but in kindness. Being kind can boost oxytocin, dopamine, and serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps regulate mood. In turn, our outlook, creativity, efficiency, and productivity improve.

The Leadership Skill of Kindness

Kindness is an interpersonal skill that requires a certain amount of strength and courage. Even though sympathy and caring for others is instinctual, consideration, empathy, and compassion are often required to lead and support others with kindness.

Kind managers understand that there is no kindness in allowing problematic behavior to continue. They have the difficult conversations with their employees to prevent ongoing failure. They work to improve the lives of others. How? First, they cultivate feelings of kindness.

Put Kindness on Your Radar

To be sure, it’s easy to focus on the negative. But when we intentionally look for acts of kindness, our bodies are rewarded in a very positive way.

Research from 88 studies involving over 25,000 participants found that those who witness an act of kindness—from cooperative action to comforting someone in distress—increase their own kindness at work.

When people witness others being praised for their kindness, motivation to act kindly also increases. However, the more time that passes after bearing witness to a kindness, the less inspired people feel.

If you’re not already, keep a journal. Make a note about acts of kindness at work. It could be a simple list with name, place, date, and action; a folder of emails; a collection screen shots; whatever works for you. Also consider the social conditions that prevent kindness at work.

Practice Self-Kindness

First, recognize the hard stuff. Here are two important questions to consider:

  • In what ways has life become more challenging?
  • What is the current state of your social ties?

Think of times when you felt a strong connection with someone—a meaningful conversation; a shared success or loss—and journal about the experience.

Then, recognize ways life has gotten a bit better. Have you been able to spend more time with family? Have you explored or developed different interests? What about greater understanding of different perspectives, beliefs, or opinions?

Reinforce your self-worth. Honor who you are, and act with authenticity. Exercise your power to choose, especially when it comes to attitude.

Finally, tackle the hard stuff. Prioritize ways you can strengthen your social ties.

Establish friendships at work. Clear boundaries and a willingness to make difficult decisions are necessary. This requires emotional courage and specific skills to avoid the formation (or reputation) of an exclusive clique. Wise leaders and managers practice mindful kindness.

Practice Mindful Kindness

There are two components of mindful kindness:

  • Consideration and action regarding the social conditions, practices, and policies that prevent employees from finding the good in human nature.
  • Random acts of kindness conducted in mindful ways that are sensitive, inclusive, and equitable.

Both of these components focus on treating everyone with mutual care and respect:

  • Practice honesty with consideration. Brutal feedback is not kind. Be clear, direct, and compassionate.
  • Show you care with unconditional acceptance. While you might not like or accept certain behavior, separate the action from the person.
  • Step through fear to do what is right, right now. Be courageous, and practice justice and compassion for all.
  • Welcome others into your circle. Extend kindness to everyone; grow your circle of friends.

Even the smallest acts of mindful kindness can go a long way, especially under the microscopic gaze of others. While the biochemical boost is powerful, research has found it only lasts three to four minutes. That’s why it’s so important to make kindness an ongoing daily practice.

Expanding Kindness to Community

A new analysis of studies reveals that witnessing goodness inspires us to be kind. When we see or hear about people acting kindly or helpful, we are inspired to do the same. Even the smallest gesture can have a meaningful ripple and go a long way.

In Working Knowledge, published by Harvard Business School, researcher, professor, and author Boris Groysberg and journalist Susan Seligson identified seven simple phrases we can use to communicate kindness.

Words of Kindness to Use Everyday

  • “I hear you.”
  • “Are you okay?”
  • “What can we/I do to help?”
  • “How are you managing these days?”
  • “I’m here for you.”
  • “I know you’re doing the best you can.”
  • “Thank you.”

Incorporating these phrases into our daily conversations expand kind communities. They help to satisfy our need for love and belonging, and create unity.

Daily Kindness Practices

Kindness in community sustains our capacity to thrive. When given freely, it moves beyond our immediate circle (family, co-workers, organization) to our greater community, through:

  • Service: reach out to those around you.
  • Responsibility: take positive action wherever you are.
  • Integrity: do the right thing.
  • Tolerance: Honor the strength in diversity.

Tara Cousineau, PhD, author of The Kindness Cure (New Harbinger Publications, 2018), writes that “how we learn from our past and envision our future depend on how we choose to live in the present moment.” When kindness is our north star, compassion, generosity, and forgiveness become natural, and spread exponentially.

On Managing Loss and Grief

For many, this is the time of year when we pause, reflect, and express our gratitude. But this year, we are experiencing significant loss and grief. For some, this grief is complicated.

According to the Mayo Clinic, complicated grief is “an ongoing, heightened state of mourning that keeps you from healing.” Stressors, including social isolation, financial hardships, and myths about the grieving process increase our risk for complicated grief.

And, it’s not necessarily a response to the loss of a loved one. Loss of income, status, or identity; loss of what we considered normalcy; unmet expectations; any significant change or loss can trigger a grief response.

Getting stuck in grief is a very real problem. It can affect you physically, mentally, socially, and professionally. Fortunately, it can be corrected, and even prevented. We need a better understanding about the process of grief, techniques to manage our experience, and the time required for healing.

A Brief Review of Grief

In the late 1960’s, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross identified the stages of dying which she published in On Death and Dying. In 2005, David Kessler expanded on her hypothesis in their collaborative work, On Grief and Grieving, identifying five stages of grief:

  • Denial: shock and disbelief that the loss has occurred
  • Anger: that someone we love is no longer here
  • Bargaining: all the what-ifs and regrets
  • Depression: sadness from the loss
  • Acceptance: acknowledging the reality of the loss

According to Kessler, the stages “were never meant to tuck messy emotions into neat packages. They are responses to loss that many people have, but there is not a typical response to loss, as there is no typical loss. Our grief is as individual as our lives.”  In other words, these five stages “don’t prescribe, they describe.” Have you found this to be true for you?

Although we grieve in our own unique way, we may experience these responses in the process. None of the stages are easy, including the acceptance stage, and we may move through each one more than once throughout our grieving process.

In his newest book, Finding Meaning: the Sixth Stage of Grief (Scribner, 2019), Kessler points to a crucial sixth stage to the healing process: meaning. This is the stage that allows us to transform our grief and find a path forward. Although the grief may never end, it does lessen, and through meaning we can make sense of our grief. We can stay hopeful, strong, resilient, and resistant.

A New Model for Loss and Grief

At some point in our life, we will experience a process of grieving. It may be individual, collective, or even anticipatory. Our grief may lead us to ask, “What’s it really all about, anyway?” Debunking the myths of grief can help us manage the process, for ourselves, and others.

Critics argue that there is no sound scientific basis for Kübler-Ross’s stage theory. Placing expectations on yourself or others about needing to experience stages of grief can be harmful. Grieving is not a sequential, orderly, predictable process across time. It is not a set pattern of specific reactions. Most bereaved people adjust to their loss in their own manner (i.e. not through stages) over the course of time, while others experience some of the described stages.

One thing we do know with certainty is that while there are different patterns of “normal” grieving, experiencing loss can involve complex, fluctuating, emotions. Researchers have found that patterns vary greatly in terms of specific reactions, time-related changes, and duration of acute grieving period.

The Course of Grieving

The aim of theoretical models is to understand (and try to explain) the grieving process, not to be prescriptive about what people have to go through.

There are alternative scientific perspectives that better represent the course of grief and grieving. Chronologically, these include:

  • Trajectories approach (Bonanno, 2004)
  • Cognitive stress theory (Folkman, 2001)
  • Meaning making approach (Neimeyer, 2001)
  • Dual process model (Schut & Stroebe, 1999)
  • New model of grief (Walter, 1996)
  • Task model (Worden, 1982)
  • Two-track model (Rubin, 1981)
  • Psychosocial transition model (Parkes, 1971)

The search for meaning (meaning making approach) is a common response when we encounter loss, face challenges, and work through our grief. For many, it is the best model to understand their grief.

Acceptance: Where the Power Lies

Grief is extremely powerful…there is even more power in acceptance.” – David Kessler

2020 has been a year of change. Sure, we know that life is about impermanence. But the changes many of us have experienced this year have been a real loss, and we are truly grieving. How do we keep moving forward?

While there is no one-size-fits all prescription for the grieving process, we know it takes energy, time, and reflection. Finding meaning in the process fuels our focus, direction, passion and perseverance. Meaning becomes more powerful as it moves from being negative to positive, external to intrinsic, and from self to others. How?

In a Harvard Business Review article (March 2020), Kessler offered four practical tips: 

  • Find balance in the things you’re thinking. Recognize catastrophizing, rumination, denial, anesthetizing, etc.
  • Come into the present. If you haven’t already, practice mindfulness and/or meditation. State a feeling, identify an object, but don’t attach yourself to either. For example, rather than say, “I am angry”, say, “there is anger.”
  • Let go of what you can’t control. Focus on what you can.
  • Stock up on compassion. If you find yourself judging the behavior of someone else, add the word “yet” to the story you are telling yourself about their behavior. For example, “They are taking a huge risk by ___. I have never ___, yet.”

Ask for help when you need it. You’ll know you’ve moved into a state of acceptance when you can acknowledge what has/is happening and take steps to move forward.

Regenerate Your Power

Only you can make meaning for yourself. When you are ready:

  • Practice compassion for self and others: your loss is not a test/lesson, or a gift/blessing, rather, it is a loss. Making meaning is your response to a loss.
  • Allow your meaning to be personal and relative to your unique experience; understanding “why” is not necessary.
  • Give yourself plenty of time to make meaning: months, or even years.
  • Understand that making meaning is not the same as obtaining justice; there will still be loss after meaning is found. But meaningful connections can heal painful memories.

Strengthen Your Workplace Teams

As a leader, what is your strategy to strengthen your workplace teams?

The way we live and work has changed tremendously over the past nine months. In many organizations, this shift occurred in a matter of weeks, if not days. As leaders offered greater flexibility, employees quickly adapted to new demands and learned and improved their skills.

Organizations that have proven to be most resilient moved to or expanded their online capacities and reconfigured their supply chain and delivery options. Simultaneously, they improved their diversity, equity, and inclusion outcomes. Their ability to respond quickly has ensured continuity, and in some cases, increased productivity.

But we’re not out of the woods. All leaders and employees will need to continue to strengthen their organization. As McKinsey & Company reported in October 2020, “corporate stress is now at the same point as it was in the 2009 trough, arriving in only months versus two years.”

Employees will look to their leaders to help them adapt, and while some are well-prepared with knowledge, experience, and a leadership style that inspires others to achieve real solutions, many lack what it takes to overcome the challenges ahead. Why?

Sustainability In Times of Crisis

Traditionally, in times of crisis organizations have relied on a conservative, by-the-book leadership style, and as McKinsey writes, three specific attributes of resilience: margin improvement, revenue growth, and optionality (retained additional optional investment opportunities).

But the divisions and polarization that exist today require a vision, strategy, and the social/emotional intelligence to engage all employees and improve workers’ job satisfaction.

According to a September 2020 report by McKinsey, “Because of the connection between happiness at work and overall life satisfaction, improving employee happiness could make a material difference to the world’s 2.1 billion workers. It could also boost profitability and enhance organizational health.”

The Importance of Job Satisfaction Today

According to McKinsey, “When it comes to employee happiness, bosses and supervisors play a bigger role than one might guess.” The relationship between employee and management is the top factor in the employee’s job satisfaction. Furthermore, their research finds that second only to an employee’s own mental health, the relationship with their boss is the “the most determinant of employee’s overall life satisfaction.”

Unfortunately, research also reveals that many people find their boss to be far from ideal. And to be sure, they’ve got a lot on their plate during this time. But for those who describe a very bad/quite bad relationship with their boss, they also reported substantially lower job satisfaction.

When employees are asked, “What would improve your relationship with your boss?” most want their boss to:

  • Listen better
  • Communicate clearly and with transparency
  • Offer encouragement (rather than doubt)
  • Engage with humor
  • Show courage/vulnerability
  • Demonstrate empathy and compassion
  • Be decisive
  • Take responsibility
  • Act humbly
  • Share authority

Unite Your Team  

A manager’s first step to unite a team is to assess and arrest dysfunctional behaviors and patterns. Dysfunction can take the form of selfishness, arrogance, bullying, manipulation, callousness and/or control. Savvy managers are careful not to overlook their star player’s transgressions.

Sure, they may achieve spectacular results, but when they are disrespectful and harsh with others, they create enemies. Those who bend the rules and push the limits of ethics and relationships actually promote destructiveness. This is a recipe for a toxic team.

Toxic Team Prevention

To prevent team toxicity, try this treatment:

  • Set an expectation that change is possible. Set realistic goals.
  • Model personal accountability.
  • Establish codes of conduct that discourage the use of negative language.
  • Offer training, coaching, and performance reviews weighted for positive leadership and emotional/social intelligence.
  • Recognize small wins.
  • Establish an early detection and intervention process for dysfunctional patterns of behavior.
  • Set expectations, goals, and rewards for collaborative efforts.

Change is possible, but it requires a shift in assumptions and engagement. 

Ubuntu at Work

In times of uncertainty, people search for refuge, and often, a group identity. Groups allow us to connect and share in a meaningful, positive purpose. Great leaders understand this, and foster the conditions essential for group effectiveness:

  • Trust among members
  • A sense of group identity
  • A sense of group efficacy

Some of our greatest leaders have embraced Ubuntu to foster trust, unify those they lead, and achieve great efficacy. At its core, Ubuntu is the acknowledgement of our connection to others, our need for community, and our mutual caring for all.

Bill Taylor, cofounder of Fast Company, once shared a quote in from Archbishop Desmond Tutu in a Harvard Business Reviewarticle that captures the philosophy of Ubuntu:

“A person with Ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, for he or she has a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished…”

Leaders who practice these principles in attitude and action, and support those they lead to do the same, can foster a strong team and a clear path forward.

Narcissism at Work

Of all personality types, narcissists run the greatest risk of isolating themselves, especially during moments of success. Because of their independence and aggressiveness, they are constantly looking out for enemies and sometimes become paranoid when stressed.

As a narcissist becomes increasingly self-assured, they act more spontaneously. They feel free of constraints, and ideas flow. A narcissist believes that they’re invincible, which further inspires enthusiasm from their admirer’s and feeds into feelings of grandiosity and overconfidence.

But the adoration narcissists crave can have a corrosive effect. As their personalities expand, they tune out cautionary words and advice.

Motivate a Correction

Not all narcissistic employees, however, are so entrapped by their personalities that they can’t be open to change and willing to learn. Here are a few tips for leaders and managers.

  • Share the principles of Ubuntu or a similar philosophy with all members of your team. Privately talk to your narcissistic employee about narcissism, and the patterns of behavior you are seeing. Document your discussions, and follow-up as indicated. Hold every member of your team accountable for their actions.
  • Assign a trusted mentor. Many narcissists can develop a close relationship with one person, who can act as an anchor and keep them grounded. But this person must be knowledgeable and sensitive enough to manage the relationship (and not be manipulated.) Narcissistic employees rarely trust other insights and views of reality.
  • Offer counseling or executive coaching. Narcissistic employees who become self-reflective are likely to be more open, likable, and better team players. If they can be persuaded to undergo counseling or coaching, they can work through their rage, alienation, and grandiosity. They can keep their strengths and diminish their weaknesses to overcome vital character flaws.