Leadership: Decisive or Divisive?

February 15, 2024

Among the many important traits of the best leaders include motivating people toward achieving a common goal, continually delivering results, and making tough decisions with incomplete information. Being decisive rather than divisive.

The decisive leader is one who can determine the best course of action when no perfect solution is readily available. They decide what to do when complete information is unavailable. They accept that a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous) environment is difficult to navigate yet courageously lean in and move forward.

A decisive leader demonstrates confidence in their ability to make a choice while acknowledging it may prove to be wrong with the passage of time and/or more information. It means accepting that not making a decision can be worse than making the wrong decision.

Divisive leaders, on the other hand, are those who often create chaos, which can lead to polarization and instability. They may build silos, withhold resources or information, and generally compete with coworkers in order to consolidate power or influence. These are leaders in name only.

The divisive leader is one who can easily point out the problems and assign blame but fail to offer help formulate solutions. They move people away rather than bring them together.

Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, called Level 5 Leaders are those who look out the window when things are going well and into the mirror when things are going wrong: Looking out the window to give credit to others and looking in the mirror to take responsibility for what’s gone wrong. Divisive leaders may very well do the opposite.

Clearly, there are many examples of divisive leaders in both our businesses and our politics. Why they are successful could be that they’re personality, bravado, or deceit is able to mask their true nature. Narcissism can show up as confidence. Boisterous can be perceived as bold. Denials may be seen as persistence or never backing down.

Though it may be difficult to determine which leaders are divisive, once you know, it’s important to get away from them. They might be successful in the short term, but divisive leaders won’t be for long if we refuse to follow or support them. This takes courage to accept that perhaps you made a mistake in working for or voting for them in the first place.  

We live at a very divisive time and this is causing real harm to our workplaces and our country. Perhaps the best way to reduce the divisions is to ensure our own behavior doesn’t contribute to this divisiveness.

Think twice before you tweet, retweet, like, or share something on social media and determine whether it’s contributing to the problem or not. Before you speak ill of someone, ask yourself if this is going to be helpful. When others make a disparaging comment about another person, defend that person if you think the comment is unfair.

Choose to be a decisive leader who is able to make hard decisions with incomplete information. Be courageous in accepting that VUCA is the new normal and therefore you often don’t have the luxury of delaying exactly how to best move forward. And refrain from following divisive leadership, wherever you find it.

Best Friend at Work

January 31, 2024

Numerous studies have found that effective engagement in the workplace has to do with a number of factors, which include recognition, communication, culture, leadership, autonomy, and career progression. Another item especially important after the pandemic and with the hybrid work environment is having a best friend at work.

According to a Gallup Workplace article titled “The Increasing Importance of a Best Friend at Work,” employees who have a best friend at work are more likely to engage customers and colleagues, get more done more quickly, support a safe place to work, innovate and share ideas and have fun while working.

“Our latest findings show that since the pandemic started, there has been an even stronger relationship between having a best friend at work and important outcomes such as employees’ likelihood to recommend their workplace, their intent to leave and their overall satisfaction with their workplace,” writes Gallup’s Alok Patel and Stephanie Plowman.

Many complain that making friends after becoming an adult is difficult. There is certainly some truth to this and that’s why it’s important to do the necessary work to cultivate friends. It’s not only important in the workplace, but in your personal life as well.

A report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine claims that more than a third of adults over 45 feel lonely, and nearly a quarter of those over 65 are considered to be socially isolated.

Social isolation and loneliness are directly associated with poor health and shorter lifespans. Loneliness is also associated with higher rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide.

Arthur C. Brooks, co-author of the book Build the Life You Want, includes friends as one of the four important pillars of a happier life. In the book, he provides five lessons regarding the blissful work of friendship:

  1. Don’t let an introverted personality or a fear of rejection block your ability to make friends, and don’t let extroversion prevent you from going deep.

  2. Friendship is ruined when we look for people who are useful to us for reasons other than friendship itself. Build links that are based on love and enjoyment of another’s company, not what she or he can do for you professionally or socially.

  3. Too many deep friendships today are spoiled by differences of opinion. Love for others can be enhanced, not harmed, by differences, if we elect to show humility instead of pride—and the happiness benefits are enormous.

  4. The goal for long-term romance is a special kind of friendship, not undying passion. Companionate love is based on trust and mutual affection. It’s what old people who still love each other talk about.

  5. Real friendship requires real contact. Technology can complement your deepest relationships, but it is a terrible substitute. Look for more ways to be together in person with the people you love must.

While these lessons are not specific to finding and making a friend at work, they can certainly be applied there. Regardless of where you make a friend, keep these lessons in mind to help make it easier.

Seeking to make a best friend—whether at work or outside of work—means investing in your happiness that will pay dividends throughout your life. And if you’re able to make a best friend at work, you will most likely be more engaged and satisfied with where you work.

Civility at Work & Beyond

December 6, 2023

The workplace continues to evolve as hybrid models enable working from home while maintaining optimal productivity. Yet there is definitely a cost to remote communication and collaboration—no matter how effective are the tools we can use.

This cost to communication and collaboration may be due to an overall lower level of trust or respect. It could also be because there is now an alarming lack of civility throughout our lives.

Look no further than our representatives in congress to see how dysfunctional our so-called leaders have become. Cable news programs are less about conveying news and information so viewers can draw their own conclusions than partisan battles that are all about dramatic one-upmanship to keep viewers tuned in. Social media is rampant with vitriol that clearly fails to deliver Mark Zuckerberg’s mission to “give people the capacity to form communities and bring the globe closer together.”

We are actually moving further apart because we are talking over each other, failing to fully listen, seeking only confirming data that supports our perspective, and generally choosing to stay within the confines of our own tribes.

Civility is the deliberate practice of treating others with courtesy and politeness, yet many people are choosing not to do so. A Harvard Business Review study found that 98% of employees have experienced incivility at work. Half of the participants reported that they were treaded badly at least once a week.

This lack of civility can show up in the workplace in various forms:

  • Passive-aggressive communication
  • Failing to assume positive intent with email messages
  • Not giving others the benefit of the doubt
  • Keeping the camera off in a Teams meeting
  • Miserable performance feedback meetings

These things can all contribute to a lack of engagement, poor performance, lower productivity, and greater turnover.

Our behavior in the workplace may be a reflection in how we behave in our personal lives, and I suggest this needs to change. Showing general kindness and compassion to others—regardless of whether we know them—can make both you and others feel better.

When I reflect on random acts of kindness and compassion in my own life, there were so many times where I received a helping hand, generosity, and comfort. But two acts I performed continue to stick with me as I felt so much joy in initiating these actions:

  • Many years ago, while visiting a sick loved one in the hospital, I was unable to leave the parking garage as the woman in front of me didn’t have cash to pay for her parking. I gave her $5 and, although she asked for my address with the promise of paying me back, I held no assurances. I simply felt good about my ability to help someone, who very likely was also visiting a sick loved one. A thoughtful card with the money arrived a few days later.
  • While walking across a bridge near my home, I witnessed a young woman lift a leg across the railing with the intent to jump off. I quickly crossed the street, put my hand on her shoulder and engaged her in a conversation to prevent her from jumping. Several other people assisted in helping this troubled woman, and before long the police arrived who I’d like to believe provided greater assistance. It was a powerful moment that lifted my spirits on how I as well as several other strangers all engaged to be helpful.

In the workplace, communication and collaboration can improve via greater kindness and compassion by practicing giving others the benefit of the doubt, assuming positive intent, listening with our full attention, and delivering critical feedback while demonstrating care.

Make it a point to behave with kindness and compassion throughout your life. Practice and encourage more of this in your workplace. Both you and others will feel better and you will help make your workplace and our world a more civil and peaceful place.  

The Value of Values

June 22, 2023

My teenage daughter recently spoke to me about an ethical dilemma she was facing—reconciling the fact that a musical artist, whose songs she greatly enjoys has been accused of sexual misconduct. Can she still listen to his music (although not purchasing “merch” and attending concerts) while still holding true to her values?

This is increasingly becoming a concern for all consumers as we can often choose products and services from companies that align with our values and avoid those that don’t. But where do we draw the line, and can we count on what companies reveal to us?

Companies throughout the country are attempting to demonstrate their ability to maintain profitability while aligning their values with those of their customers and employees. Many companies have taken on DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) initiatives yet find it challenging to make this more than simply checking a box and adding new words to their website.

As I wrote about in a previous blog post, organizational values need to be consistent between what is outward facing to customers and what is practiced internally by employees. These are the core values an organization currently holds as opposed to aspirational values that it is seeking to reach.

Just shy of 90 years after the USA declared independence with the promise that all men are created equal, the last enslaved Black Americans were informed that they are free. It would be another 156 years before Juneteenth officially became a federal holiday as this recent development coincided with nationwide protests following the police killings of Black Americans, including George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.

Companies today are attempting to deal with many social concerns very differently. Oil companies find they can no longer stand on the sidelines denying our climate crisis. But many are simply  “greenwashing” to appear like they are acting in the best interests of the planet when it’s clear that they are not. Greenwashing is not new as it started in the 1960s when hotels asked their guests to reuse towels to help save the environment. Clearly these hotels were saving money on laundry costs yet never passed this savings on to their guests.

Both Target and Bud Light have faced boycotts over their marketing efforts toward the LGBTQ community. Last month Bud Light’s sales were down 23% and Target’s share price dropped 20%, although this may be partially due to concerns over inflation. Other companies such as Kohl’s, Southwest Airlines and Lego are also facing heat for their advertising and promotions of Pride events. Clearly, customers have an impact.

To what extent should we as consumers, employees and shareholders hold corporations responsible for matching our core values? That is, of course, an individual’s decision, but our decisions can collectively have a huge influence on how corporations conduct themselves.

If these organizational values are important to where you shop, work, and invest, then it’s important to determine whether the values they publish are core values versus merely aspirational ones. It’s also important to understand whether what they preach squares with what they practice.

While it’s difficult for companies to thread the needle regarding maximizing profits with societal concerns, I believe it is exactly what we should demand from them.

Even Nobel Prize winning economist Milton Friedman wrote that “. . . there is one and only one social responsibility of business to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits so long as it stays in the rules of the game, which is to say, engage in open and free competition, without deception or fraud.”

It is our responsibility to hold companies accountable when in their efforts to increase profits they break rules, build a monopoly, or seek to deceive us. If we choose not to hold them accountable for this and our government does not regulate them, it is our collective peril.

Best Practices in a Return to the Workplace

February 28, 2023

The pandemic made it necessary for many of us to work from home and various technologies made that possible. For a number of tasks, our productivity increased. Now that it seems safe to work side-by-side again, many are resisting and it’s time to install best practices in returning to the workplace.

Many businesses are offering a hybrid model to bring forward lessons learned while working from home. These include flexibility in when the work gets done, recognizing the advantage of reduced commuting time, acknowledging the value of more focus time. Of course, this last one depended on who else was in the home and whether Zoom meetings dominated one’s schedule.

Benefits for our returning to the office at least part of the week can include maintaining connections with others, building a solid reputation founded on who we are and how we show up, and strengthening relationships to help foster greater collaboration now and networking throughout our careers. Finally, our overall health and well-being. Social media and the pandemic have led to further isolation. Don’t dismiss the value in real-time interactions.

If a hybrid model of working partly in the office and partly at home are likely to become the new normal, it would make sense to derive best practices for such a model. For example, a hybrid model can be effective if it addresses proximity bias, maximizes social opportunities, and capitalizes on remote innovation opportunities.

Proximity Bias

During the pandemic none of us were more proximal to the boss. When we return to the office in a hybrid model, we should ensure that those physically closer to those in power are not given an unfair advantage for promotions. Both the worker and the boss need to recognize that proximity bias may not be intentional but can certainly play a role in who gets promoted. Workers need to show up more fully when in the office and engaging as fully as possible when working from home. Bosses need to recognize those who produce results and not merely those who are physically present.

Social Opportunities

The last thing you want when seeking to bring an employee back into the workplace is to have her spend all day on Zoom with colleagues working from home. This was the case for someone told to do an internship in the office because of the opportunities to learn and grow from co-workers. But those co-workers never came into the office. It’s important to organize days when team members will all be in the office and prioritize opportunities to collaborate in the same physical space rather than stare at a computer screen. Be intentional in spending meaningful time with co-workers so that you can optimize your time in the office for collaborating, building trust and rapport, and generally working effectively together.


Remote Innovation

Let’s face it: companies want and need to innovate to stay competitive. The trouble is that innovation is hard to come by under the best of circumstances, but don’t rule out this coming when working remotely. Insight and inspiration can come from anywhere and at any time and very often this happens outside of the office. If companies encourage the flexibility in taking mid-day walks and endorse daydreaming during breaks from tasks, this could very well provide the spark needed for new ideas and opportunities that lead to vital innovation. Workers should optimize focus time for getting things accomplished when working remotely. They should also allow for divergent thinking and allow for creative inspiration.

People returning to the office at least part of the time can result in higher engagement, increased trust, better communication, and a feeling of belonging. These qualitative results are difficult to measure but shouldn’t be minimized as they are vital to higher productivity. It’s important to take what we’ve learned from working remotely and bring the best practices into a hybrid model that benefits both employees and employers.

All About Managers

January 6, 2023

The CEO is where we typically focus when we evaluate a particular company, which makes sense given that this is the leader with the biggest impact on the organization’s success or failure—at least in terms of profitability. However, when it comes to getting work done and employees being engaged, it’s all about managers.

Managers are the ones who execute the strategy, deliver products or services, and ensure that the overall objectives are carried out. Managers are also the ones with the biggest impact on employees and greatly determine whether they are fully engaged or not.

According to a 2017 Gallop report titled “State of the Global Workplace,” companies in the top quartile in employee engagement deliver 17 percent better productivity and 21 percent more profitability than those in the bottom. To improve employee engagement, look no further than the manager.

Former managing director for Gallup’s Global Leadership Advisory, Larry Emond, said “the manager explains 70 percent of engagement.” Better engagement is a function of better management, and worse engagement is a function of worse management.

“People need clear expectations, the autonomy to craft and pursue their agendas, support to achieve success, and help thinking about their careers,” writes Russ Laraway in his book When They Win, You Win: Being a great manager is simpler than you think. “Three important words managers use that demonstrate they care about the people: time, help, success. Take time to help people be more successful.”

According to Laraway, managers must provide three things: direction, coaching and career. By focusing on helping their people win, managers win too.

Direction – Setting the direction anchors the team to an aligned result through a combination of purpose and vision (long-term), and OKRs and ruthless prioritization (short-term). Setting direction ensures people know both the what and the why things need to get done, provides clear measures for what results look like, and a shared understanding of the most important tasks of the day, week, or quarter.

Coaching – Coaching is about encouraging people to change what’s not working and continue doing what is working. The first involves giving feedback in a way that is supportive; the second involves helping people explicitly understand what they have done well so they can do more of it. Neither of these should be considered micro-managing but instead are about keeping a close eye on what is happening to immediately correct when things go off-track and to encourage and praise when things are going well.

Career – Managers should do more than help employees succeed in the job at hand. They must also assist people in discovering a long-term vision for their careers and show them what actions they can take right now that enables tangible progress toward it. In doing so, managers can show employees that they care for them above and beyond the immediate work and current organization. Managers can demonstrate that they value their people more than simply as employees.

Laraway, a former executive at Google and Twitter as well as co-founder and COO at Radical Candor, says managers whose teams are most engaged, and whose organizations produce the best results, are able to systematically:

  • Create a culture of candor
  • Actively prioritize
  • Respond to ideas and concerns
  • Establish explicit expectations
  • Support growth and development

All of these are likely to increase engagement because they extend beyond typical company perks or benefits. They are about the behavior of managers leading the work.

To improve any company, look no further than the managers within it. Hiring and retaining the best managers makes business sense because good managers are those who develop engaged employees resulting in measurably superior results.

Success in Motivation

July 29, 2022

Maintaining motivation is challenged because we are so often focused on the wrong incentives. This is true whether it’s about our physical health or our effectiveness in the workplace. Seeking some far-off desired outcome is doomed without the right incentives to maintain motivation and succeed in reaching your goals.

Using intrinsic rewards rather than extrinsic ones is helpful whether you’re trying to keep a healthy body or mind.

Self-Determination Theory (SDT) posits that all humans have three psychological needs—autonomy, competence, and relatedness—that underlie our growth. This 50-year-old theory challenged the once dominant belief that the best way to get people to perform tasks is to reinforce behavior with extrinsic rewards.

However, half a century later, all too often organizations continue to incentivize employees primarily with external rewards rather than focus on these psychological needs.

Autonomy is feeling you have the choice to willingly behave in a certain way. In the workplace, this means you have agency for how to approach the task and complete your work.

Competence is the experience of mastery and being effective in your activity. This means making gradual progress, learning along the way, and feeling like you’re capable.

Relatedness is the need to feel connected and belonging to others. It’s about feeling valued by the people around you. This social aspect is often overlooked, but vitally important in maintaining motivation.

According to Richard Ryan and Edward Deci, authors of the book Intrinsic Motivation and Self-Determination in Human Behavior, the human psyche needs these three elements to flourish just as the human body requires protein, carbohydrates, and fat to run properly.  

In the same way managing overall physical health is greatly influenced by our habits and the lifestyle choices we make, so too are our behaviors and mindset in the workplace.

When it comes to physical health, this means ensuring that you focus on the proper fuel necessary to feel good and maintain proper health. Your physical health can thrive if you are motivated to consume the nourishment your body requires and limit the empty calories, sugary products and junk food that gets you into trouble.

Similarly, your psyche needs the right fuel to operate best by having a choice in how you approach the work (autonomy), experience mastery at being effective and making progress (competence), and feeling connected and belonging with others (relatedness).

Relatedness is likely compromised as we do more remote work and struggle to connect with others without being in their actual physical presence. As valuable as video conferencing technologies are in enabling remote work, not being in the physical presence of others limits our ability to fully connect. Motivation may be undermined because this social interaction is really crucial to feeling connected and belonging to something larger than oneself.  

As we continue to strive for a healthy hybrid workplace, keep this relatedness factor in mind when deciding how to make the most of your days in the office. Whenever possible, choose to have face-to-face interactions, impromptu casual conversations, team lunches, and other social engagements to build further connection and the feeling of belonging. This will help sustain motivation and keep you engaged.

Imagine a Four-Day Workweek

July 13, 2022

The pandemic has forever changed how we think about what it means to go to work. And though the hybrid approach is rapidly becoming the predominant model in many white-collar workplaces, perhaps we should consider a more radical change to the 40-hour, five-day workweek. Is it now time for the four-day workweek?

Instead of simply providing more flexibility on when employees get in their 40+ hours of work, why not give them the opportunity to trim the fat by cutting out wasted time, push back on non-essential meetings, and find ways to do the work more quickly and efficiently to achieve the same results so they can spend more time away from work?

This is ultimately about giving workers more autonomy and agency for getting work completed.

In 2018 the New Zealand company Perpetual Guardian introduced a four-day, 32-hour workweek as a pilot program and told employees that if productivity didn’t suffer, they would make it permanent. After eight weeks, they discovered not only did job performance not suffer, but there was an increase in employee engagement and work-life balance.

As a result of the pilot program, Perpetual Guardian found that:

  • Levels of engagement, teamwork, and stimulation went up between 30% to 40%   
  • Time spent on social media fell by 35%
  • Stress levels were down by 15%
  • People stated they slept more, rested more, read more, and relaxed more
  • After the two-month trial, the four-day workweek became permanent

“It’s not just having a day off a week,” says Perpetual Guardian founder and author Andrew Barnes. “It’s about delivering productivity, meeting customer service standards, meeting personal and team business goals and objectives.”

4 Day Week Global is a not-for-profit established by Barnes and Charlotte Lockhart that provides a platform for like-minded people interested in supporting the idea of the four-day workweek.

Research suggests that alternative work arrangements such as the four-day workweek are particularly beneficial for working mothers and low-income employees because these they tend to be marginalized from high-paying jobs or promotions and are often labelled as “failed” employees because household and caretaking responsibilities prevent them from working long hours or unexpected business travel. The four-day workweek could help level the playing field for marginalized workers.

Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE), which I wrote about back in 2010, seems especially relevant today. ROWE gives workers the freedom to do their jobs how and when they see fit, so long as they produce the stated results on specified deadlines.

While ROWE may not be suitable in every work environment, it can work well with workers who are experienced, conscientious, and professional. That’s why workplaces such as IBM, JL Buchanan, WATT Global Media, GitHub, Trello, Toggl, DataStax and many others see the benefits to both their employees and the bottom line.

While ROWE can result in happier, more engaged, and productive employees, communication can be compromised if regular meetings or check-ins are not established and held firm. Not all employees are capable of being successful with such autonomy, and, of course, many workplaces simply don’t provide that much flexibility where established hours are required.

Nevertheless, where ROWE can be implemented, it can result in attracting and retaining top talent, lower real estate costs, and a company culture that values work-life balance.

I’ve learned that while employees love the hybrid work model, managers are not so enamored with the idea. Many claim it is too hard to successfully monitor and manage others. But perhaps this points to the problem. We need a new way to measure productivity that doesn’t involve watching over someone’s shoulder. This means providing greater autonomy for how the work gets done.

Whether the four-day workweek becomes a reality anytime soon, perhaps implementing the ROWE model is a step in that direction. Trust employees and give them the agency and autonomy to get the work done. Don’t simply fill five days with tasks, but provide the goals and objectives then get out of the way as employees deliver results. And be open to this being accomplished in just four days.

Say Yes to Office Politics

February 14, 2022

Early in my career I worked for a rapidly growing mid-size company and experienced negative aspects of office politics firsthand. I saw men and women who regularly interrupted others, elbowed their way into interactions with senior leaders, pushed themselves into important discussions, and generally got promoted more quickly than the rest of us.

I convinced myself that I’d rather let my work speak for itself and while these people were playing office politics to get promoted more quickly, I’m better than that. I assumed there could be no integrity in office politics and therefore I wanted nothing to do with it.

Eventually I came to understand that being politically savvy is essential to rising into leadership positions and integrity is what separates those who are truly politically skilled. While those who are disingenuous may fool some people in the workplace, the art of being politically or organizationally savvy requires the authentic use of political skills.   

According to the Center for Creative Leadership, politically skilled leaders are masters at:

  • Social astuteness
  • Interpersonal influence
  • Networking ability
  • Thinking before speaking
  • Managing up
  • Apparent sincerity

Being politically savvy means you can maintain a positive image while driving your individual, team, and organization’s performance.

In a white paper titled Using Political Skill to Maximize and Leverage Work Relationships, the Center for Creative Leadership identified four distinct practices leaders can use to demonstrate political skill:

  • Social Awareness – This has to do with an ability to observe others well enough to understand their behaviors and motives.
  • Interpersonal Influence – The ability to influence and engage with others is paramount to successful leadership.  
  • Networking – Building one’s own team is merely a beginning as reaching across the organization is required to strengthen one’s political skillset.
  • Sincerity – This where integrity comes in and the ability to be open, honest, and genuine with others is the difference in those who are sincere and those who are not.

Navigating office politics is about being authentic and understanding that there will be ambiguity in work relationships. Both are required to build alliances, which is what provides you with political skills you need to succeed.

It’s vital to manage up well. This is not only about your boss but also other senior leaders who are gatekeepers for your career growth. These are the people who need to see you demonstrating all your political savvy skills.

Rejecting office politics means you won’t rise into senior leadership. Make peace with office politics and recognize that although it may in fact be a game, it’s a game you need to learn to play it well.

Don’t reject office politics because some people don’t play fair. While any game can include unfair players, engaging in office politics and playing with integrity, enables you to grow your leadership and advance your career. Say yes to office politics.

Personal Accountability & Social Responsibility

January 10, 2022

Do you feel your life and career are within your control? Do you accept accountability for your actions and your inactions? Are you doing your part to better your workplace and community in which you work and live? Or do you feel that you’re a victim without agency, and complain about how bad things are while failing to take responsibility?

It’s all too easy to make snarky comments on social media then stand back and complain about how the world is going to hell. Harder is when you take responsibility for yourself, and actively get involved to be part of a solution. This is when you are more likely to bring about change and feel better about your life.

Many people refuse to take responsibility for their own situation and/or take part in helping to improve our communities. Both are important and necessary and it’s not about which side of the political spectrum you’re on.

Personal Accountability

In the workplace, this means doing your job. Say what you will do and do what you say you will do. Assume positive intent. Respond rather than react. Remember that you are entitled to your feelings, and you are responsible for your behavior.  

To be personally accountable means to get your vaccines and booster shot. It means wearing a mask and practice social distancing to protect yourself. This is not a political decision. It’s a health decision and it can be one with life-or-death consequences. Choose to read and listen to factual information from reliable sources rather than mere opinions from unreliable ones.

Social Responsibility

In the workplace, social responsibility is about encouraging trust, respect, and collaboration. Innovation and efficiency will not happen without these, and you can’t operate independently from others.

Like it or not, your freedom is not about doing whatever you want wherever you want. You can’t shout “fire” in a crowded theatre when there’s no valid reason to do so. Wear a mask to protect your family, friends, neighbors, and the surrounding community. Public health is about all of us, and it requires each of us doing our part. This doesn’t diminish your freedom. In fact, it helps ensure it.

Tufts political science professor, Eitan Hersh, in his 2020 book Politics is for Power, wrote that many Americans participate in “political hobbyism” as a national pastime.  

“A third of Americans say they spend two hours or more each day on politics,” Hersh writes. “Of these people, four out of five say that not one minute of that time is spent on any kind of real political work. It’s all TV news and podcasts and radio shows and social media and cheering and booing and complaining to friends and family.”

For Hersh, real political work is the intentional, strategic accumulation of power in service of a defined end. It is action in service of change, not information in service of outrage.

Action in service of change, not information in service of outrage. I encounter so many who complain about their lives: at work, at home, with politicians, and with the state of our government. They so often complain via social media where “likes,” memes, snarky comments, and trolling is all too easy and has become all too socially acceptable.  

In the past two months alone, I’ve encountered several people who complained to me about different situations that I am directly helping to resolve and asked for their commitment to join me to help fix. In every case they either declined or simply went silent on me.

Be the Change You Want to See

I know it’s not easy for people to find the time and energy to devote to a cause outside of paying rent and putting food on the table, but I suspect just about all of us could make time and put forth effort towards improving something in our communities. Whether it’s simply volunteering at your children’s school, a local foodbank, or any number of other valuable organizations, you can make a difference and gain a more optimism in your own life.

Personally, when I reflect on my adult years, I feel my time and energy as a community volunteer, PTSA president, Big Brother, adult literacy tutor, and Braver Angels workshop facilitator, have improved my perspective on life. I feel that I am part of something bigger than myself and this has had a positive impact on both me and on my community.

Just this month I joined an advisory board to help steward a nearby community forest. For too long I found myself complaining about things related to this. After attending a virtual board meeting and found they were looking for new members, I put my name forward and will soon begin helping to balance various constituencies to help solve big and challenging issues.

The fact is you do have enough time. Just become aware of the time you spend on activities that don’t bring you joy or can make you feel worse. By reducing the amount of time spent staring at a screen can free up time. This doesn’t mean working less, but reducing the time spent on social media, streaming movies and series, and especially doom scrolling. Continual rumination is a cause for deep concern and should be a wakeup call.

To feel better about yourself and your community requires that you take control of your time and your energy. It means taking accountability for yourself and responsibility for our shared community. The sooner we all do this, the sooner we will reach the change we wish to see.

Civility in the Workplace

December 7, 2021

Blame it on social media, politicians, cable news or our collective desire for confirmation bias rather than truth and understanding, but incivility seems rampant in our lives.

Civility is about getting along with other people and treating others the way you would want to be treated. It’s about respecting and finding common ground with others despite our differences. So obvious and yet all too rare.

If you’re like me and think incivility and rudeness are on the rise, you would be correct. In fact, in a 2019 poll run by Weber Shandwick and KRC Research, 93 percent of people across America stated that uncivil behavior was increasing, and 68 percent said this was a major problem. That was before the pandemic and the January 6 insurrection, so things have likely worsened.

The one bright spot is that this has not necessarily been true in the workplace. In fact, over the past decade, people reported fewer rude incidents in the workplace—from 43 percent in 2011 to just 29 percent in 2019. Perhaps we should look forward to going back to the office if only to find some civility in our lives.

Another finding is that Americans continue to identify their place of work as a civility safe zone, with 89% of those who work with others describing their place of employment as very or somewhat civil.

Could it be that it’s too risky to be rude at work as it may cause us to lose opportunities for promotion or even cause for dismissal? Or is it due to a positive shift in attitudes signaling a move from divisive silo mentality to one of cooperation and collaboration?

Regardless, if we’re more likely to practice courteous behavior while at work, maybe returning to the office would be good not only for the organization, but beneficial to our society as well.

From the same research poll, when Americans were asked what actions could be taken to improve civility in our society, 55% said parents should be teaching civility to their children, followed by many workplace actions, including:

  • Warning or taking disciplinary action against people who are uncivil in the workplace (42%)
  • Civility training in the workplace (37%)
  • Employers’ training people how to intervene when others are being treated uncivilly (35%)
  • Employers encouraging employees to report incivility at work (35%)
  • Firing people who are uncivil in the workplace (32%)
  • Employers ensuring they hire civil people (21%)
  • Employers should discourage employees from discussing controversial subjects that could turn uncivil (21%)
  • A coalition of companies that promotes civility in society (18%)

Clearly, the workplace is not only viewed as a safe zone for civility, but also perhaps a template for how to encourage more of it throughout society.

While politicians, social media companies, cable news networks all have a role to play in making our society more civil again, business leaders can encourage civility in the workplace. This will make their workplaces safer, more collegial, collaborative and productive. And that’s good for the company’s bottom line and ultimately good for our society as a whole.

Workplace Flexibility in Flux

August 15, 2021

As organizations determine the best way to bring employees back into the workplace, it’s clear no one size fits all. Workers have found the virtues and drawbacks of working from home, and many prefer flexibility. Company leaders suspect something has been lost by not being in the office but haven’t been able to fully quantify it.

Many organizations are choosing to follow CDC guidelines on when to bring employees back, and due to the dramatic rise in the highly contagious Delta variant, timeframes have been pushed out to January 2022 and beyond.

Zoom Fatigue

Some organizations found workers to be more productive at least initially due to fewer interruptions and meetings. Yet our technology (Zoom, Teams, Slack, text messaging and email) found a way to overcome the physical distance and disrupt our re-found ability to focus. Staring at a computer screen is one thing, but using it to effectively communicate, collaborate, or manage others via camera is exhausting and often futile.

As an aside, I find it especially troubling during a video conference, our eyes are not looking into each other’s eyes, but instead looking down because the camera is located not in the middle of the screen but above it. Perhaps it would be great if we were all trained to look at the tiny green light like newscasters, but, of course, we would ultimately miss the reaction of our audience and that would also diminish real connection and effective communication.

While many workers have been able to reallocate the time saved by not commuting, others struggle with a lack of a clear definition between work and personal time. No longer is there a period of transition afforded by the commute. Further, we are challenged with the competing demands of home life (kids, pets, chores, etc.) while remaining focused on our work life.

Full Return

Companies that recently announced post-pandemic policies for a full return to the workplace include Abbott Labs, Archer Daniels Midland, Bank of America, Bristol-Meyers Squibb, Comcast, Johnson & Johnson, Kraft Heinz, Tesla, and Wells Fargo. This suggests they are expecting things to go back to relatively normal again. Most companies, however, plan to offer a hybrid or more work from home opportunities.

Fully Vaxed

Those requiring all employees returning to the workplace to be fully vaccinated include Amtrak, Cisco, CitiGroup, Delta Airlines, Facebook, Ford, Goldman Sachs, Google, Microsoft, Morgan Stanley, Netflix, Salesforce, Twitter, Tyson Foods, Uber, United Airlines, Walgreens, Walt Disney and Walmart. This is a list that will likely continue to grow, especially since many state and federal offices are now making full vaccination a requirement as well.

And those who refuse to be vaccinated may have to provide proof of a valid health or religious reason and, in many cases, subject themselves to weekly or twice-weekly COVID-19 tests.  

What can we learn from the past 16 months that can help us improve how productive and engaged we are in our careers? It seems that the pandemic has redefined the workplace and what it means to be “at work.”

In my work as an executive coach, I find I really miss meeting face-to-face with clients. There is no substitution for establishing trust, building rapport, and communicating in the most complete manner than by meeting in the same physical location. But I also know that once we’ve established this trust, rapport and understanding on how we communicate, we can often meet via phone or video conference and make it nearly as effective.

This kind of flexibility will be important going forward. While some jobs won’t allow for any remote work, many should enable some form of a hybrid approach. Giving workers and their managers the flexibility for how and when to work from home can raise productivity and engagement, but it should be done intentionally with measures in place for accountability.

The workplace we return to—physically or virtually—will likely be forever changed, and it’s important to recognize that this crisis can lead to a great opportunity for improving the way we work together.

Is Your DE&I Training Really Effective?

May 26, 2021

Though companies across the country recently created or increased diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) programs, to what degree have they been successful? Turns out, without significant investment in time and behavior-based training, much of this may have little long lasting value.

Most DE&I programs focus on half-day or one day sessions where the content is about increasing knowledge (what we know) and attempting to alter attitudes (what we believe). But with regard to our long-held beliefs and perspectives, failing to take the time to incorporate true behavioral change, such new knowledge may be quickly forgotten and beliefs will tend to revert back to where they were before the training.

Organizational psychologist and author Adam Grant says research shows programs are most effective when they focus on behavior—not just raising awareness and changing attitudes but emphasizing what you can do. Sustainable behavior change means treating bias as a bad habit and one to break.

Grant says one of the strongest predictors of moving towards a more inclusive organization is appointing a chief diversity officer. Fighting systemic bias then requires creating a management structure for diversity and inclusion, which ultimately changes its composition leading to a change in the organizational culture.

BAE Systems, an aerospace and defense company with a workforce of 90,000 employees across 40 countries, created a series of initiatives to make anti-bias work an ongoing experience. For example, they have a Courageous Conversations program where alums from the bias training discuss race and racial equity with employees from underrepresented groups. They provide a Mentoring Program where they pair a white person with an employee of color. And BAE plans to make leaders accountable by building diversity and inclusion objectives into performance reviews.

“We’ve seen a 15% increase in those leaders, hiring women and people of color,” says Tyece Wilkins, a diversity and inclusion senior advisor at BAE. “We also see an 11% increase in their inclusive leadership skills. So, it’s not them saying, Hey, I’m a more inclusive leader. it’s their direct reports. The people who work with them every day saying this person is more inclusive.”

Glassdoor lists the 20 Best Companies for Diversity and Inclusion and includes Visa, Medtronic, Gap, HP, Nestlé, Merck, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Proctor & Gamble, and Microsoft. Such diverse companies as these demonstrates what is possible.  

It seems that the best DE&I training programs are those that are able to increase knowledge, influence beliefs and change behavior. To do this, it can come down to a combination of awareness, acceptance and action.

  1. Awareness – Provide ample time and opportunity to interact with those throughout the organization that includes diversity in race, gender and job title; actively listen to others’ perspective and experience; keep a beginner’s mind and learn to unlearn as necessary.
  2. Acceptance – Realize and accept without becoming overly defensive that you may have privilege simply because you are white, because you are male, because you are educated, because you were born not having to worry about where your next meal was coming from, or any number of factors that you probably couldn’t control. No need to apologize for this, but simply acknowledge it and learn from others.
  3. Action – Call out behaviors that are inappropriate in a manner that doesn’t embarrass or shame people; ensure that new desired behaviors are measured and rewarded; provide consistency throughout the organization so everyone is held accountable.

Training to unlearn a behavior (such as unconscious bias) means rewiring the way you think about and categorize that action. The challenge in rewiring those connections is that behaviors like bias are learned over a lifetime, and it simply takes time to unlearn them.

Effective DE&I training programs should be long enough to make a difference. They absolutely need to include all leadership from the very beginning. They need to provide not only increasing our knowledge and our attitudes, but also our behavior. Only then will we see a more equitable workplace.

Renovating Corporate Culture

May 14, 2021

The influence of corporate culture on an organization’s ability to effectively execute on strategic objectives is well recognized. Yet all too often when culture is misaligned with strategy, leaders are unable to alter their organization’s culture and then fail to reach their objectives.

One of the most important thinkers on management theory and practice, management consultant and author Peter Drucker expressed the view that company culture constrains strategy and can even defeat it. This has often been summarized as “culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

Culture plays a huge role in the success of a business as it governs people’s organizational behavior and ultimately the execution of strategy. And culture increasingly plays a vital role in attracting and retaining talent. According to a recent Glassdoor study, 77 percent of people would evaluate a company’s culture before applying for an open position. Fifty-six percent stated an organization’s culture was more important than compensation.

When your company’s culture is unable to fully support your strategy, it’s time to renovate your culture.

“Successful companies recognized that certain elements of their organization, just as in any home renovation, are the core—the foundation of what made them great to begin with,” writes Kevin Oakes, CEO of i4cp and author of Culture Renovation. “Similar to a house where you want to improve the value, companies recognize that to better compete in the future, to continuously improve shareholder return, and to attract top talent, they need to renovate.”

However, Oakes found only 15 percent of companies that embark on culture change were able to succeed. After extensive research and executive interviews, his company defined 18 steps as a blueprint in order to initiate and maintain culture change. Referencing stories from well-known companies such as Microsoft, T-Mobile, Ford and Starbucks, Oakes outlines these steps in three phases: plan, build and maintain.

In the planning phase are things like figuring out what to keep, defining desired behaviors, and determining how progress will be measured, monitored and reported. The building phase includes clearly communicating that change is coming, ferreting out skeptics and nonbelievers early, and establishing a co-creation mindset. In the maintaining phase Oakes prescribes making onboarding about relationships rather than red tape, changing performance management practices and leveraging employee affinity groups.

And similar to any change initiative, success is directly tied to the level of active and engaged executive sponsorship.

Renovating is an apt word for this work with regard to corporate culture. It is about preserving the unique elements while updating or adopting “next practices” to better meet current conditions. Similar to renovating a house, renovating an organization’s culture means determining what is essential and building upon that.

“For a renovator, a house is not an artifact locked in time, but a distinct being with a character and history that should be upheld even as the owner’s needs are taken into account,” writes Erica Bauermeister, author of House Lessons: Renovating a Life. Unlike remodeling, Bauermeister says renovating requires a certain respect for what is there and what should remain in order to successfully transform.

So too with renovating corporate culture. Listen and learn what is to be kept. Gather a team of effective influencers. Clearly communicate early and often. Create a compelling vision. Provide training on desired behaviors. Promote those who best represent the new culture.

“Culture is critical, and changing it is difficult,” writes Oakes. “Whether renovating a house or overhauling the culture of a century-old organization, it never goes as planned. The process demands optimism, patience, and perseverance.”

Renovate your culture to align with your strategy and your company will become unshakeable.

Thriving in the Decade Ahead

September 17, 2020

In just 10 short years our world will be radically changed in both positive and negative ways. How we adapt to these changes will determine whether we thrive or merely hang on to survive. Developing and further honing creativity and social skills may be key.

In Mauro F. Guillén’s new book, 2030: How Today’s Biggest Trends Will Collide and Reshape the Future of Everything, the author lays out an astonishing list of things to expect and how these will impact all of us in very dramatic ways. Among them:

  • Percentage of the world’s wealth owned by women in 2000: 15%; 2030: 55%
  • Percentage of Americans projected to be obese in 2030: 50%
  • Number of people entering the middle class in emerging markets in 2030: 1 billion
  • Percentage of world’s urban population exposed to rising sea levels in 2030: 80%
  • Percentage of American workers considered part of the “creative class” in 2030: 50%

The huge influx of people migrating to urban areas will further increase inequality as those in the “creative class” will thrive. This creative class, defined by author and University of Toronto professor Richard Florida, are those in knowledge professions, such as scientists, engineers, architects, artists, designers as well as those in healthcare, business, finance, legal and education.

Florida says what it takes for a city to develop a dynamic creative class with the concept of “the three T’s”: talent, tolerance and technology. While talent and technology may be obvious, it is tolerance that has attracted a lot of attention. This tolerance is defined as a melting pot of diverse people, including members of the LGBTQ community, artists, musicians and others.

“Tolerance and openness to diversity is part and parcel of the broad cultural shift toward post-materialist values,” writes Florida. He says this tolerance provides an added source of economic advantage working alongside technology and talent.

An increasing number of jobs also require non-routine analytical skills, according to David J. Deming, an economist at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Social skills involving coordination, negotiation, persuasion, and social perceptiveness are and will continue to be in high demand. By 2030, Deming’s research suggests a majority of jobs will require the use of social skills and creativity.

The coming decade will likely bring self-driving cars and an ever-increasing amount of automation throughout our lives. It is therefore vital to maintain our (dare I say) human advantage.

[By 2030,] “. . . there will be more computers than human brains, more sensors than eyes, and more robotic arms than human labor in manufacturing,” according to Mauro. In fact, a single robot will displace an average of five to six workers in the manufacturing sector.

Rather than resist or deny the rapid innovation inevitably coming our way, I believe we should embrace the opportunities that will accompany it. In the same way we previously adapted to massive revolutionary technology change in existing industries, markets and occupations, I think we can again. We need to acknowledge and embrace the unique skills we humans (at least currently) have over artificial intelligence.  

This creativity and social skills should continue to remain our competitive advantage. This means learning to regularly think “outside the box,” do more lateral thinking and develop strong social skills. The ability to grow our emotional intelligence to navigate workplace relationships effectively will also be increasingly important in the future.

No matter your profession, the ability to stay relevant and thrive in your career over the next decade will require more than simply staying up to date on your domain expertise and general business knowledge. You will also need to expand your ability to think creatively and strengthen your overall social skills.  

Gray Market Opportunity

August 30, 2020

Marketers target the youngest generation in order to capture spending by those early in their careers, starting families, buying their first home and generally seen as having the most disposable income. With a focus largely on the millennial generation, marketers are missing a huge opportunity with older consumers.

In addition, employers should recognize the value older employees provide in the workplace in helping to best serve the wants and needs of people over the age of 60.

In a new book 2030: How Today’s Biggest Trends Will Collide and Reshape the Future of Everything, author Mauro F. Guillén presents a compelling case for thinking differently about older consumers both today and ten years from now. Consider the following:

  • Currently, 12,000 Americans turning 60 every day; in 2030, those 60 or older will represent more than a quarter of the US population.
  • According to the Economist magazine the “older consumer will reshape the business landscape,” and Boston Consulting Group estimates that only one in seven companies are currently prepared for the growing spending power of this gray market.
  • Durable consumer goods such as appliances, tools and cars should assure older consumers that these products are geared to their needs, including that they are easy to use, provide legible instructions and controls, and offer leasing options.
  • According to AARP, a majority of seniors are optimistic about their overall quality of life, including financial well-being, mental and physical health, recreation and leisure time, and family life. When people feel optimistic, they tend to spend more.
  • Today’s expenditures on healthcare, home care, assisted living and similar service industries will accelerate over the next decade.

Technology certainly plays a part when it comes to aging as the breakthroughs in medicine, nutrition, biotechnology and other fields that help more people enjoy longer and happier lives. “By 2030,” according to Guillén, “the average seventy-year-old will live like today’s average fifty-year-old.”

If companies want to capitalize on this rapidly growing gray market, it’s important they recognize that those over 60—employees as well as customers—cannot be ignored. In fact, organizations should recognize the value employees can bring to serving similar aged consumers. Because they are of the same generation, older employees may be better able to define the feature set, user interface and overall value proposition.

As people live longer lives, the idea of early retirement becomes less attractive—either due to it not being financially viable or because people like working and want to continue being productive as long as it is enjoyable.

Older employees can bring experience and wisdom to complement the expected new ideas and tech savvy of younger people. And employees in their sixties and beyond can often provide stability, predictability and reliability other generations cannot. This is something HR departments should take into account when looking for job candidates.

These older workers are not going to be the best fit for every position. Recognizing those individuals who are will be vital in order to take advantage of this growing gray market. Similar aged employees will best be able to understand and meet the needs of such older customers. That makes good business sense now and in the coming decade.

Playing the Infinite Game

January 3, 2020

Running a business over the long-term requires looking beyond what’s good for shareholders to see what’s best for all the stakeholders. This requires seeing business not as a finite game of winners and losers, but as an infinite game where you get to choose how to play.

In the past 50 years it seems corporations have become the center of our capitalist society. Many have lobbyists to steer governmental policy decisions and some organizations even take part in helping to write many of the bills in Congress. Large businesses are often viewed as a barometer of our economic health, with their financial returns considered more important than the employees who work for them and the very customers they serve.

And while fewer than 20 percent of Americans invest in stocks, it seems strange to associate the Dow Jones industrial average with the overall health of our economy.

The Economic Policy Institute reported that in 1978 average CEO pay was 30 times the average worker, and by 2016 it had increased to 271 times the average worker’s pay. In fact, average CEO pay has increased at a rate 70 percent faster than the stock market!

Perhaps our over-reliance on the health of our corporations, including quarterly earnings focused on meeting Wall Street expectations and on over-compensating our CEOs, is not the best way to judge the economy or the state of workers in our society.  

“In a free-enterprise, private-property system, a corporate executive is an employee of the owners of the business,” wrote Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman in 1970. “He has direct responsibility to his employers. That responsibility is to conduct the business in accordance with their desires, which generally will be to make as much money as possible while conforming to the basic rules of the society, both those embodied in law and those embodied in ethical custom.”

One wonders if maybe we’ve focused too much on Friedman’s notion of “make as much money as possible” and not nearly enough on the rules “embodied in law and those embodied in ethical custom.” Too often there seems to be more emphasis on skirting the laws or finding ways to circumvent them—not to mention little if any focus on ethical considerations.

In Simon Sinek’s latest book, The Infinite Game, he suggests we need to replace Friedman’s definition with one that goes beyond profit and considers the dynamism and additional facets that make business work.

“The responsibility of business is to use its will and resources to advance a cause greater than itself, protect the people and places in which it operates and generate more resources so that it can continue doing all those things for as long as possible,” writes Sinek. “An organization can do whatever it likes to build its business so long as it is responsible for the consequences of its actions.”

He suggests that to increase the infinite value to our nation, economy and all companies, the responsibility of businesses must be to: 1) advance a purpose, 2) protect people, and 3) generate a profit. Sinek’s order of these is deliberate and important.

Advancing a purpose is about offering people a sense of belonging and the feeling that their lives and work have value beyond the work itself. In protecting people, companies should operate in a way that protects the people who work for it and buy from it, as well as the environment in which they live and work. And though money is the fuel for a business to remain viable, it should be used to continue to advance the first two priorities.

In this infinite mindset, Sinek sees a longer-term focus beyond merely making money. It is a perspective that enables companies to remain viable because it focuses on its employees and customers—the result of which is making a profit. The object of the infinite game is not to win, but to continue playing. When you run a business, you don’t win; you continue to play.  

“Where a finite-minded player makes products they think they can sell to people, the infinite-minded player makes product that people want to buy,” writes Sinek. “The former is primarily focused on how the sale of those products benefits the company; the latter is primarily focused on how the products benefit those who buy them.”

Sinek points to companies like Apple, Patagonia and Four Seasons as examples of companies that have embraced this infinite game mindset. So are other companies once they brought in a new leadership perspective, e.g., Ford under Alan Mulally and Microsoft under Satya Nadella.

This longer-term infinite game focus provides an environment beyond profit, and actually extends closer to Friedman’s notion of capitalism. A renewed focus on conforming to basic rules of society—both laws and ethical customs—may ultimately yield an economic model that serves not only CEOs and shareholders, but also workers, customers and the environment.

Perhaps this would be capitalism at its finest and make it more viable in the long term. And if capitalism truly benefited all stakeholders, maybe socialism wouldn’t be gaining traction by so many younger people as a viable alternative in this country.

Meetings Rule our World

October 28, 2019

As a coach and consultant, I regularly meet with clients challenged to find time due to other meetings crowding their calendars. Meetings rule many of our working lives and this requires we push back to make the best use of our time and to make meetings better.

If you find most of your workday is simply moving from one meeting to the next, you are not alone. Collectively, we attend some 11 million meetings each business day in America. Many of these meetings have no clear agenda, may not require our attendance, and some may not be necessary in the first place.

There’s no doubt some meetings are very important and need to take place with you in attendance. Your challenge is to ensure you participate only in those and find ways to avoid meetings that don’t make the best use of your time.

The higher you rise in an organization, the more your day will be filled with meetings. Therefore, you need to be selective by understanding the meeting’s purpose, determining whether you are the right person to attend, and ultimately whether this meeting is a priority for you right now given your role.

You may find it difficult to push back when you’re invited to attend a meeting, but it’s important that you do this.

When to Decline a Meeting:

  • You should decline when the purpose for the meeting isn’t clear well in advance. The meaning should make it clear why your attendance is necessary. That’s not to imply that what is discussed or decided is not important, but this information can be communicated back to you in the minutes after the meeting.  
  • You should decline when an agenda is not available ahead of time and it’s clear that one will not be used. An agenda helps you best prepare for what will be discussed. It also demonstrates that the meeting organizer has a plan and respects your time and attention.
  • You should decline if you’ve attended a similar meeting in the past from this organizer and found that your participation was not the best use of your time. This may require that you find or appoint someone to attend in your place.
  • You should decline if the meeting is likely to serve as primarily a data dump of information rather than a discussion. Insist that meetings be used for discussion and decision-making, so that you and other attendees stay engaged and feel valued.
  • You should decline when your attendance is not a priority for you in your role. This means you decline due to conflicting priorities. This is not saying the meeting is not important, only that it is not as important as your other priorities.

It should go without saying that how you decline a meeting will influence the reputation you’ll leave with the organizer. There’s obviously a polite way to say “no” and it is important to learn how to politely decline.

Ultimately, if you are able to decline effectively, you may help influence organizers to ensure that future meetings are conducted more thoughtfully. These meetings would include providing agendas in advance, carefully selecting the right people, using the time most effectively, and providing minutes following the meeting. Your ability to decline effectively may then lead to helping to improve meetings organization-wide.  

Corporations Responsibility to Society

August 21, 2019

For more than 50 years American corporations have prioritized profits for its shareholders above serving customers, employees and communities. This may be changing as a significant number of Fortune 500 companies indicated a shift to also focus on customers, employees, suppliers and protecting the environment.

Milton Friedman, the celebrated University of Chicago economist, proclaimed in 1962 that a corporation is a morally neutral legal construct and its single purpose should be maximizing returns for shareholders. This profits-as-purpose grew ever since. Friedman wrote in 1970:

“There is one and only one social responsibility of business—to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits so long as it stays within the rules of the game, which is to say, engages in open and free competition without deception or fraud.”

I suspect that Friedman might have concerns with the many examples of corporations who have stretched the meaning of and violated those “rules of the game.”

Beginning in 1978 Business Roundtable periodically issued a “Principles of Corporate Governance” and since 1997 each version of the document endorsed principles that corporations exist principally to serve shareholders. That changed with this new statement.

“The American dream is alive, but fraying,” says Jamie Dimon, Chairman and CEO of JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Chairman of Business Roundtable. “Major employers are investing in their workers and communities because they know it is the only way to be successful over the long term. These modernized principles reflect the business community’s unwavering commitment to continue to push for an economy that serves all Americans.”

Purpose of a Corporation

Earlier this week the Business Roundtable issued a “Statement on the Purpose of a Corporation” stating that corporations—in addition to maximizing shareholder return—should also deliver value to customers, invest in employees, deal fairly and ethically with suppliers, and support communities by protecting the environment. In fact, the bulleted list of commitments now places customers, employees, suppliers and communities all before shareholders.

“Americans deserve an economy that allows each person to succeed through hard work and creativity and to lead a life of meaning and dignity,” the statement begins. “We believe the free-market system is the best means of generating good jobs, a strong and sustainable economy, innovation, a healthy environment and economic opportunity for all.

“Each of our stakeholders is essential,” the statement concludes. “We commit to deliver value to all of them, for the future success of our companies, our communities and our country.”

This new focus shouldn’t seem so radical yet only 181 of the CEOs from the 500 corporations signed the document. Some of the well-known companies represented include Apple, Amazon, Salesforce, Oracle, JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, Walmart, Boeing, Ford, General Motors, IBM, Pfizer and Procter & Gamble.

The companies who chose not to sign the new document include such giants as Alphabet, Microsoft, Facebook, Alcoa and General Electric.

Now signing a document doesn’t necessarily mean it results in change to actual corporate behavior, but I think it’s a good sign that there is interest in moving in the direction of corporate social responsibility. The real strength of this statement is if and when specific proposals are offered up and corporations actually carry through on the them.

How We Can Act

As customers we can often choose whether to purchase their products and services; as employees we can hopefully choose whether to work for them; as suppliers we may be able to choose whether we provide to them; and as citizens of the communities impacted by corporations, we can choose to take action against them if we don’t respect how they impact our environment.

Investors will have to decide whether their return-on-investment trumps all else.  

The long-term result of this new “Statement on the Purpose of a Corporation” has yet to be written. However, all of us have the option on whether to support or associate with powerful corporations. And in this way, we have the power to hold them accountable.

Building Self-Awareness in Teams

August 9, 2019

Qualities critical for workplace success include emotional intelligence, empathy, influence, persuasion, communication and collaboration. All of which stem from self-awareness. And self-awareness in teams can make them more efficient, effective, innovative and rewarding to be a part of.

As I’ve written previously, this highly developable skill is perhaps the most important element for leadership. Research has shown that knowing who we are and how others see us is foundational to strong leadership, smart decisions and lasting relationships. However, it seems the higher one rises in leadership, the less likely they are to be self-aware.

And becoming self-aware yourself is essential before you can build self-awareness in your team.

“If being individually self-aware means understanding who you are and how others see you, a self-aware team commits to that same understanding at a collective level,” says Tasha Eurich, organizational psychologist and author of the excellent book Insight: the surprising truth about how others see us, how we see ourselves, and why the answers matter more than we think.

“With the right approach and a true ongoing commitment, you can foster a culture that encourages communication and feedback at all levels,” says Eurich. “One where honesty trumps hierarchy and even the lowest-ranking member feels safe putting problems on the table.”

To build self-awareness in your team, Eurich points to what she calls the three building blocks a leader must put in place. Prior to this, the team must already have a clear and compelling direction. “If a team doesn’t know where it’s headed, they are missing the ‘because’ of self-awareness,” explains Eurich.

The three building blocks are:

A Leader Who Models the Way

  • Make a commitment to your team’s self-awareness by starting with your own. When you as a leader demonstrate authenticity, team members learn to follow along in their interactions as well.
  • Engage in a leader feedback process to provide insight into your leadership, communication and well-being. This vulnerable exercise truly demonstrates to the team your commitment to transparency and own growth.

The Safety and Expectation to Tell the Truth

  • Provide the psychological safety to enable everyone the acceptance to ask one another for help, admit mistakes and raise tough issues. This requires not only trust, but also vulnerability.
  • Create clear set of norms. For example: What behaviors will help you achieve your strategy? What do you need to do to make this a safe and supportive team?

An Ongoing Commitment and Process to Stay Self-Aware

  • Candor challenge. Begin with team feedback exchange where every member gives and gets peer feedback. This is done by providing strictly behavioral feedback based on what they said, how they said it, or what they did. The kicker is that it is done publicly in front of the entire group.
  • Accountability conversations. This process assists the team in remaining self-aware by deliberately re-evaluating and regular intervals to ensure team members remain accountable for their commitments.

Teams are capable of doing great things. In fact, the most important developments throughout history have been accomplished not by individuals by people in groups. People working together effectively can be truly greater than those of individuals working independently.

In the same way self-aware leaders are more effective, so too are self-aware teams. Using the three building blocks as a model for how to strengthen the self-awareness of your team can lead to a stronger, more effective and more fulfilling group to be a part of.  

Astronomical Compensation at the Top

June 21, 2019

What happens when one person in a company or on a team is significantly compensated far beyond everyone else? Perhaps a superstar athlete or outstanding CEO should be paid a lot because of what they deliver. But what level of compensation inequality is appropriate?

While the pay for athletes is very public, corporations try to shield the total compensation given to senior executives for good reason. But as you’ll see, that is changing.

In the NFL the more a team pays an elite quarterback, the less is available for the other 52 players due to the salary cap. Russell Wilson, quarterback of the Seattle Seahawks and now the highest compensated player in the league, will command just under 14% of the Seahawks’ salary cap. (No team has won the Super Bowl with more than 13.1% of the cap dedicated to one player.)  At $35 million, Wilson makes about 17 times as much as the average NFL player.

Research conducted in the United States and around the world indicates that people are generally unaware of just how unequal CEO pay is in most corporations.

In the US, for example, people say they estimate CEOs earn about 30 times the average worker. In reality, as of 2012, the average CEO earned $12.3 million. That’s about 350 times the average worker’s income of $35,000. Is the top executive at any company worth 350 times more than its average worker?

How much do CEOs contribute to the bottom line?

Management professor Markus Fitza sought to find out. In a comprehensive analysis of thousands of corporations over nearly two decades, he found that only about 5 percent of the performance differences between companies could be attributed to the CEO. Fitza estimated that in addition to uncontrollable elements, such as fluctuations in the economy, about 70 percent of a company’s performance—which the CEO normally gets credit or blame—is a matter of random chance.

Others analyzed the same data using different statistical methods and found that the CEO effect might be as high as 22 percent. Regardless of whether the number is 5 percent or 22 percent, it may be hard to accept that the CEO is really worth his or her salary.

What about the larger impact of income inequality?

According to Keith Payne, author of The Broken Ladder: How Inequality Affects the Way We Think, Live and Die, those states and countries with greater levels of income inequality have much higher rates of the social and health maladies we associate with poverty, including lower than average life expectancies, serious health problems, mental illness and crime.

States like Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama have the highest levels of income inequality and rate weakest on the index of health and social problems. In contrast, New Hampshire, Utah and Iowa are the opposite.

On a global scale the United Kingdom, Portugal and United States have the highest level of income inequality and rate weakest on the index of health and social problems, while countries like Japan, Norway and Sweden have the lowest income inequality and rate best on the index of health and social problems.

“The inequality reflected in statistics like the Gini coefficient is driven almost entirely by how wealthy the rich are,” writes Payne. “If some economic genius were to come up with an innovation that doubled everyone’s income overnight, it would make the problems of inequality worse, not better as multiplying the income of millionaires would increase their wealth by a greater amount than doubling the income of someone earning $15,000 a year. Everyone would be wealthier, but inequality would grow that much more pronounced.”

About three-fourths of Americans believe CEO pay is too high, and nearly two-thirds believe it should be capped. And this is based on people believing CEOs were compensated 30 times as much as the average worker, not 350 times as much!

Beginning in 2015 corporations are required to publicly disclose the ratio of CEO pay to that of the average employee. Perhaps it’s too early to tell how much this more transparent dissemination of information will have on workers’ morale.

Research led by Bhavya Mohan found that when customers learn that a corporation has high inequality between the compensation for the CEO and average workers, they are willing to penalize the company by buying from a competitor with lower inequality.

Time will tell how this plays out and whether it results in average salaries rising to better offset CEO pay. Whether CEO salaries are capped, or corporations find a way to get astronomical pay more in-line with average workers, something needs to shift in order to reduce compensation inequality in the workplace.

Successful Givers are Otherish Givers

April 8, 2019

In every workplace there are givers, takers and matchers. Most of us are matchers, looking for something equal in return for what we provide to others. This reciprocity style is predominant because it is about overall fairness.

Adam Grant, organizational psychologist and author of the book Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success, says that your reciprocity style can directly impact your ability to succeed. In his research, he found that givers are often found at the bottom of the success ladder, and also at the very top. 

It turns out the giver reciprocity style can be either detrimental or beneficial to one’s career.

This is because givers at the bottom may be so selfless that they are “too trusting and too willing to sacrifice their own interests for the benefit of others.” Givers at the top have found a way to be successful by becoming what Grant terms otherish.

While being a selfless giver is admirable, you may run the risk of burning out and developing resentment towards others. This can deprive you of emotional energy, which is vital to well-being. Selfless giving can ultimately become overwhelming without self-preservation instincts.

An otherish giver is someone who maintains concern for themselves as well as others. They genuinely care about helping people, and they want to achieve their own ambitions and interests. They don’t see these two perspectives in conflict with each other.

Being otherish means you’re willing to give more than you receive, but still keep your own interests in sight and using them as a guide for choosing when, where, how, and to whom you give. And there are times when you choose not to give because that time, place, method or person is in some way detrimental to you and your interests.

Empathy is the persuasive force behind giving behaviors, but it’s also a major source of vulnerability. According to Columbia psychologist Adam Galinsky, when you focus only on the emotions and feelings of another you can risk giving away too much. It is therefore important that you also take into account the other’s thoughts and interests in order to satisfy the other person without sacrificing your own interests.

In group settings, the best way to ensure givers aren’t being exploited is to get everyone in the group to act like givers.

Reciprocity Rings

One unique way to encourage all members of a group to act more like givers is the use of Reciprocity Rings, which is a face-to-face exercise where every individual of a group asks for and offers help. Because everyone is making a request, there’s little reason to be embarrassed or feel overly vulnerable. And when requests are specific and explicit, each participant provides potential givers with clear direction about how they can contribute most effectively.

In Reciprocity Rings people present meaningful requests and matchers are often drawn in by empathy. Takers are also likely to act like givers because they know that in such a public setting, they’ll gain reputational benefits for being generous in sharing their expertise, resources and connections. And if they don’t contribute, they risk looking stingy and selfish.

This random, pay-it-forward mentality may seem counter-intuitive to the way many organizations are currently run. But companies like Bristol-Myers Squibb, IBM, Boeing, Citigroup, Estee Lauder, UPS, Novartis and GM all use Reciprocity Rings to save time and money as well strengthen the community of participants, which increase overall engagement.

Using Reciprocity Rings will encourage more giver mentality in organizations, and this is beneficial to everyone. And givers acting more otherish enables them to be more successful.

Lonely in the Workplace

December 7, 2018

Loneliness is on the rise in America. This is a huge health concern and has ramifications in the workplace. The solution is complex yet maybe we can learn something from magpies.

First some facts regarding the impending epidemic. A recent Cigna survey of 20,000 U.S. adults 18 years or older found that:

  • Nearly half of Americans report sometimes or always feeling alone (46 percent) or left out (47 percent).
  • Two in five Americans sometimes or always feel that their relationships are not meaningful (43 percent) and that they are isolated from others (43 percent).
  • One in five people report they rarely or never feel close to people (20 percent) or feel like there are people they can talk to (18 percent).
  • Only about half of Americans (53 percent) have meaningful in-person social interactions, such as having an extended conversation with a friend or spending quality time with family, on a daily basis.
  • Generation Z (adults ages 18-22) is the loneliest generation and claims to be in worse health than older generations.
  • Social media use alone is not a predictor of loneliness; respondents defined as very heavy users of social media have a loneliness score (43.5) that is not markedly different from the score of those who never use social media (41.7).

Turns out loneliness can be as big a health risk as obesity. The American Psychological Association released a study concluding lonely people are at a greater risk for premature death. And according to John Cacioppo and William Patrick in their book Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection, studies suggest that one lonely day can exact roughly the same toll on the body as smoking an entire pack of cigarettes!

Many of us are not sleeping enough, and sleep deprivation can increase loneliness because it takes a lot of energy to engage with others. Despite the fact that the “open office” environment was designed to bring about more interaction, this has yet to be proven effective.

Using Slack, social media and your company’s intranet are no substitute for face-to-face water cooler—err, espresso bar—conversations. Interacting with co-workers in real time and in person enables connection unlike any other method.

Now about those magpies: Research by Ben Ashton from the University of Western Australia found that cooperatively breeding Australian magpies living in large groups showed increased cognitive performance. Repeated cognitive testing of juveniles at different ages showed that the correlation between group size and cognition emerged in early life, suggesting that living in larger groups promotes cognitive development.

“Our results suggest that the social environment plays a key role in the development of cognition,” says Ashton, though the findings are considered contentious.

Nevertheless, if magpies can benefit cognitively from social interaction, shouldn’t humans—considered the most social animals—find ways to interact face-to-face more often?

Bright spots in the Cigna survey found:

  • People who engage in frequent meaningful in-person interactions have much lower loneliness scores and report better health than those who rarely interact with others face-to-face.
  • Getting the right balance of sleep, work, socializing with friends, family and “me time” is connected to lower loneliness scores. However, balance is critical, as those who get too little or too much of these activities have higher loneliness scores.

“There is an inherent link between loneliness and the workplace, with employers in a unique position to be a critical part of the solution,” said Douglas Nemecek, M.D., chief medical officer for Behavioral Health at Cigna. “Fortunately, these results clearly point to the benefits meaningful in-person connections can have on loneliness, including those in the workplace and the one that takes place in your doctor’s office as a part of the annual checkup.”

We shouldn’t look to our workplace to keep us from being lonely, of course, but we could all benefit by choosing to meet with our colleagues and discuss things face-to-face more often. To enable time for this will require getting out of those many meetings we currently attend. But that’s a topic for another post.

Demanding Jobs with Little Agency

November 8, 2018

The World Health Organization reports that the United States is among the most anxious nations on the planet. Our current political climate certainly contributes to this distinction, but much of our stress stems from feeling a lack of agency on the job.

Agency is the capacity to act independently and make our own free choices. This sense of agency is tightly connected to a sense of ownership. If we feel a lack of agency on the job, it can show up as not being fully engaged, holding back on challenging assumptions, and withholding the important creativity and problem-solving abilities we were hired to demonstrate.

Increased anxiety and stress are huge problems for businesses and the government. According to the American Institute of Stress, U.S. industries lose nearly $300 billion a year—or $7,500 per worker—in employee absenteeism, diminished productivity, employee turnover and direct medical, legal and insurance fees related to workplace stress.

“While it may seem obvious that hard-charging white-collar workers are under stress, studies show that blue-collar workers—line cooks, factory workers, practical nurses—are even more vulnerable,” according to Ellen Ruppel Shell, author of The Job: Work and its Future in a Time of Radical Change. “This is because of what Ofer Sharone describes as the toxic confluence of high demand for their efforts and low control over their working lives.”

This high demand for ever-increasing productivity in a 24/7 always-on workplace combined with little control and freedom over the tasks makes for an unhealthy environment.

“Demanding jobs do not necessarily make us sick, but demanding jobs that give us no agency over what we do or the way we do it are quite likely to,” says Shell. “For growing numbers of Americans—no matter how successful—these pressures have transformed work from a source of satisfaction and pride to an anxiety-ridden bout of shadowboxing.”

So how much of this lack of agency should be blamed on the employer and how much on the employee? This is not easy to answer, but clearly there is responsibility in both.

Leaders and managers in organizations need to consider how much freedom and control they actually provide individual employees. For example, is the task well-defined with a clear understanding of what the deliverable should look like and when it should be completed? Yes. But are the steps regarding how it should be completed and delivered also predetermined yet perhaps not clearly communicated? This can undermine agency.

And how much overall tolerance is there for risk taking and trying things in a different way? If you find yourself hearing (or saying) “That’s not how we do things here,” you may find little tolerance in your organization, and this lack of tolerance also undermines agency.

Employees also have a role and they need to consider when and how to step into agency—even when they may not feel they have the right to do so. Obviously, when you’re new to the job, it’s important to first understand the established rules, norms, values and organizational culture before you can fully express agency. Many of these may actually be the culprit.

Demonstrating agency means taking responsibility and ownership when it’s clear no one else has and yet needs to happen. It means pushing back on standard operating procedures when you see the faults, have a better solution and know how to communicate and implement it. And it means requesting more control or freedom over the work when you can provide clear and compelling benefits. These not only demonstrate agency, but also leadership potential.

It often takes courage to demonstrate agency. When unsuccessful, challenging assumptions or making mistakes can sometimes damage your reputation. Tread carefully but proceed boldly.

By carefully choosing when and how to use agency, you may find you can have more success than failure. You will have more freedom and control on your job. You will reduce your overall anxiety and stress. And you will likely feel more fully engaged. All of this is good for you and your organization.