The blame game

You’ve probably seen the diagram of a small circle, labelled ‘Things you can control’ with a larger circle around it, labelled ‘Things you can affect’ and a much larger circle around that, labelled ‘Things you can neither control nor affect’. That huge outer circle includes things like the weather and the economy. In the ‘Things you can affect’ circle are matters like your family’s happiness and the results you get at work. In the ‘Things you can control’ circle is basically yourself: your behaviour and your attitude.

That diagram of three circles leads us to Denial, Blame, Excuses and Responsibility. So imagine this: You’ve had a hard day and you’ve finally made it home and are sitting comfortably with your feet up, trying to chill out. The kids are in the kitchen and you hear a crash, tinkle, tinkle. ‘What happened?’ you ask. And what’s the response? ‘Nothing!’ That’s Denial; something has clearly happened.

So you say, ‘Don’t tell me nothing! I heard something break!’ And you hear ‘It wasn’t my fault, it was his fault.’ That’s Blame.

So you say, ‘I don’t care whose fault it is–what happened?’ And you hear, ‘The bottle was slippery and it fell out of my hand.’ That’s an Excuse.

Wouldn’t it be nice to hear, ‘I dropped a bottle. I’m just getting a mop to clean it up.’ That’s taking Responsibility.

Quite a few adults have turned Denial, Blame and Excuse into something of an art form, which means they focus not on the little inner circle of Control, but on the big outer circle of No Control. So nothing changes.

Let’s take a look at the first refuge or the irresponsible: Blame. Someone slips on the pavement. Do they blame the council for not sweeping up fallen leaves or do they take responsibility for not taking care how they’re walking? Blame is a great defence mechanism. It preserves your sense of self-esteem by avoiding admitting to your own shortcomings. But you’ll keep slipping on leaves.

Someone leaves the sausages in the frying pan too long and they burn. Do they take responsibility for being distracted or do they blame their partner for not doing their share of the housework so they have to multitask. Blaming others is great when you’re in attack mode. And it’s great when it’s easier to blame someone else rather than accept responsibility. But you’ll just start an argument and keep burning the sausages.

Blame is also handy when you think you can lie and get away with it. ‘I didn’t drop the bottle and leave the mess behind.’ Then you cross your fingers and hope no one saw you drop the bottle.

Of course, not everything is our responsibility. But when it is, we need to step up to it. The more we play the blame game, the more we lose. And the less we learn.

Managers, team leaders and parents take note: Step up when you need to. And teach your team members and your children to step up, too.

Three views of workplace relations

What is your attitude to workplace relations? What is it based on? Whatever it is and whatever it’s based on, it colours how you think about the workplace and even how you approach your own job.

There are three ways to think about workplace relations and most of your attitudes towards the workplace and your work stem from one of them. The three ways are called the unitarist, the radical and the pluralist views.

The unitarist view says employers and employees share the same basic goals – working together to create wealth, or value. This means that the workplace is essentially a harmonious place and any conflict that occasionally pops up will be short-lived and easily dealt with because employers and employees pretty much want the same thing.

The radical view is pretty much the opposite. It sees conflict between employers and employees as inevitable because they have, will always have, different needs and goals. That’s the way the system is set up: employers always want to contain costs, including wages costs, while employees always want higher wages.

The pluralist view also sees conflict as natural because management and workers have different needs and goals. But the good news is that these differences can be managed and contained by rules and regulations and we can all get along pretty well together when we put in a bit of effort and good will.

The particular view that rings most true for you directs your whole approach to the workplace and to your own job, whether you’re an employer or an employee. So which is it for you? Does it match the reality of your current workplace? Is it in accord with its culture and values? Is it helping you be the best manager you can be?

Which kind of boss are you?

Here I sit, typing awkwardly, nursing a smashed up collarbone held together by a steel bar and 11 pins. (Broken bones hurt a lot, by the way.) Even so, here I sit, doing my work thing.

How many people who work for you carry on, doing their work thing, when they’re uncomfortable, physically or psychologically? Maybe one has a kid at home who is a source of concern, another’s relationship is faltering, one has a cold or ‘flu coming on, another is irritated by colleague but is too polite to confront the problem and one has painful arthritis.

When you’re aware of the ‘whole person’, you can establish a strong and effective working relationship and help them be as productive as they can be. When people are just so many ‘pairs of hands’, it’s a different story.

Ah, but is getting to know the whole person worth the effort, when many employees readily move from one job to another and when others are contract and part-time employees?  Common sense says so, since the way you treat people day-to-day establishes the culture, which sets the pace for productivity.

And it goes deeper than that. How you treat people after they leave is important, too. Some organisations act as if departed employees never existed at all. That sends a strong message.

And then there are the organisations that make sure people leave on good terms. Some even treat former employees like alumni, staying in touch and even inviting them back for part-time or contract work or to mentor current employees. Former employees of organisations like these become ambassadors. They speak highly of their old organisation, building its reputation in the marketplace and strengthening its customer base.

Even when your organisation isn’t that sort of organisation, you can be that sort of boss. The organisation may reap some undeserved benefit, but you’ll reap a lot of deserved benefit: a happier, more productive work team and a strong professional network to stand you in good stead when you need it, to name but two.

Which kind of boss are you?

How to breed loyalty

Did you read my post How to Earn Your Team’s Devotion? I’d like to follow up on that today. It’s simple but not simplistic.

  • Be loyal.
  • Think of others as well as yourself.
  • Show you care about people.
  • Be considerate.
  • Tell the truth.
  • Keep your promises.
  • Be discreet.
  • Build people’s self-esteem, self-worth and dignity.
  • Tell people you appreciate them.

That’s all to do with trustworthiness, really, isn’t it. Trust is an absolute; you either trust someone or you don’t. Trust is fragile; it takes time to develop but seconds to destroy and once lost, it’s difficult to earn back.

I had a boss once who talked about trust like money in the bank. When you keep drawing on it without replenishing it, your account quickly empties. You make deposits with generosity, empathy, integrity and so on. When you don’t deposit enough, you can’t draw on it. (Unfortunately, it was just talk. I soon learned he didn’t keep his word and quickly lost trust in him. But that’s a different story and anyway, it’s a good analogy, that trust is like money in the bank.)

And then there’s competence. Can you deliver? You need be both trustworthy and competent to be an effective leader-manager.

 

The private, public and not-for-profit sectors are having a tough time of it, with layoffs, outsourcing, relentless change — in short, breaking the psychological contract, which looks a lot like not being loyal to employees. Not making enough deposits. Much of that can’t be helped. But the result is a trust account that’s in the red.

Except, that is, when the organisation has enough trustworthy and competent leader-managers. Then its trust account is likely to be in the black.

 

How to earn your team’s devotion

I’ve just read a great post by S Alexander Haslam (University of Queensland) and Stephen D Reicher (University of St Andrews in Scotland). They wrote the best sentence I’ve ever read about leadership:

A leader is not ‘the special one’, but ‘the one who makes us special.

True words. Who were your best leaders, the ones you would have walked over hot coals for? The ones who made you feel special. The ones who ‘polished your gold’ and brought out the best in you.

Here’s another great line from that post:

The task of leaders, then, is not to impose what they want on their followers,
but to shape what followers want to do for themselves.

To me, that’s about having a clear vision that people can buy into.

Haslam’s and Reicher’s research into leadership concludes that when you’re a leader, you need to communicate three things:

  • That you are one of us — you share our concerns and our values, and you understand us.
  • That you are doing it for us — your efforts are to advance us as a group.
  • That you are making us matter.

Back to servant leadership, eh?

Leadership isn’t about ego. We all know that. But sometimes, when you’ve been a leader for a while and your group is doing well, you start to believe ‘your own PR’. Bad move.

Instead, concentrate on showing that you are one with your team, that you’re advancing your team and that you make them matter.

Changes in the business environment and how they affect you

I was asked the other day how trends in the business environment are affecting managers. Where to start …

Business complexity is increasing exponentially, so understanding the big picture and using systems thinking are becoming more important. Risks are increasing, too, so you need to know how to build a sound risk culture to protect your organisation and its assets. And the pace of change is quickening.

Each of these three factors mean that you won’t–you can’t–always know the answer. Many problems you face and will face are new and many are unpredictable. You probably can’t do what you’ve always done, or even what you did before in a similar situation that worked, because so much will have changed in the meantime.

This means you need to be good at problem solving and coming up with unique and unexpected solutions to problems and situations, ways to meet customer demands, and ways to respond to a changing marketplace. This has three implications:

  1. You need to know how to ask the right questions, questions that help you explore and analyse situations.
  2. You need to know how to apply the scientific method and use data so you can get a good grip on situations.
  3. Learning to think in scenarios is probably a good idea.

New and disruptive business models, share price volatility and diminishing corporate profits may all put your organisation at risk. Therefore, you want to protect your career and see yourself as ‘Me Inc’:

  1. Develop solid, wide and deep networks.
  2. Build a professional image (on social media, with your professional bodies and networks, in your organisation, with suppliers and customers, etc.).
  3. Keep your skill base up-to-date.
  4. Broaden your experience base.

Organisations are likely to increasingly move to capabilities-based competition: creating value and competitive advantage through capabilities in processes rather than through capable functions. We’re likely to see more strategic alliances, too: collaborating with non-competitor organisations to combine strengths to produce a better product or service. And the supply chain is becoming more important.

These three factors mean:

  1. Big picture and systems thinking is important. Get in the habit of considering the upstream and downstream implications of every your action and decision.
  2. You’re likely to find yourself working in cross-functional teams, so hone your people and team-working skills.

Cheap wages are moving from China to Cambodia, Eastern Europe and South America. This means you can benefit from polishing your cultural intelligence, learning about other cultures and learning to work, virtually and actually, with people from other cultures.

Employees and the way they work are changing. Baby Boomers are moving out, Generations X and Y are taking over and Generation Z is entering the workforce, making it age-diverse as well as culturally-diverse and life-style diverse. People’s motivations for working, what they want from work and how they work are vastly more diverse than was the case even 10 or 15 years ago.

The changing workforce means we’re seeing more team-working, more flexible working and more virtual working. Jobs themselves are changing: we’re seeing more cross-functional team work, as mentioned above, more projects and more fixed-term contracts. We’re seeing roles, more than jobs–roles are looser and more open, not as prescribed and rigid as jobs.

This means the way you lead and manage people is changing. Here’s what I think is really important:

  • skilful leadership
  • skilful communication
  • engaging with team members in terms of motivating and coaching
  • flexibility in your management and leadership style
  • clear, logical thinking informed by an understanding of the big picture issues of the environment you’re operating in externally and internally.

Since industry isn’t spending a lot of time and money on learning and development, you’re probably left to your own devices to keep upgrading your skills and knowledge. All while being, no doubt, mind-bogglingly busy in your day-to-day role. A big ask.

This means applying the learning cycle is a good idea, lest you get caught up on the treadmill and fail to improve yourself, your performance or your work procedures.

How to build trust

Continuing on with the theme of the last couple of weeks–walking your talk and living and leading according to your values, let’s look at some specific behaviours that signal trustworthiness. Here are four general behaviours that you can make part of your repertoire if they aren’t already:

  1. Engage in cheery banter.
  2. Make and maintain eye contact with people.
  3. Smile.
  4. Tell people you are committed to being open and honest.

Naturally, you don’t want to over-do any of these, just as you don’t want to under-do them. Think of Goldilocks and aim for ‘just right’.

Here are some other, more specific, tips:

  • Behave consistently lest your changing priorities, rules and standards lead people to label you a hypocrite.
  • Consider the impact of your actions on others lest you behave inconsiderately or thoughtlessly.
  • Deal with the tough stuff like a helpful coach, not a confrontational critic.
  • Keep confidences.
  • Honour your commitments.
  • Look after your team member’s as well as your organisation’s interests (not just your own).
  • When changes are needed, carefully explain why change is needed, what it is intended to achieve and what you expect from people.
  • When you get something wrong, say so and say what you’ve learned from your mistakes.