Monday, November 27, 2017

Accidental Diminisher: Always-On Guy

Whereas the Idea Guy as an Accidental Diminisher discourages a lot of innovative, creative thinking...and independent or thorough thinking in general...the Always-On Guy burns out the staff. It happens more in this hyper-connected technology world than ever before. Jobs used to be 9-to-5; in other words, there was a finite timeframe required to get the work done. Now we're 24/7. We can get emails, texts, direct messages at all hours of the night. We've become so connected that we demean the person who has not responded in 10-15 minutes after sending the message.

Recently, Black Friday shopping phenomenon occurred. Through retail peer pressure, stores are opening, not only on the Thanksgiving holiday, earlier and earlier on Thursday to capture the early deal-shoppers. Some--like REI--are fighting back the trend by staying closed on Friday.

Daimler Benz, the parent of Mercedes, has had a voluntary email policy in place for a few years. When you go on vacation, you can turn on a setting that automatically replies to the sender a message regarding your status, who else to contact...and deletes the email. Early in my career I rejected a smart phone because I didn't need to be accessing (or be tempted to access) emails until I was back in the office, hotel or other designated work 'site'. It was bad enough that I could access emails from the company server at home whenever I wanted and that sometimes took valuable time from the family.

However, I was known as the guy who would send emails in the middle of the night...sometimes after inspiration hit at 2 am. I made it clear that I did not expect a response until sometime in the work morning...after a thoughtful reply could be drafted. I did not expect replies at night or on the weekends and sometimes chastised my staff if they did. I also sent an engineer out of the office to see his son get an award from the school board even though a customer had just asked for a quick response to an issue. "They can wait," I orderd, "until the morning when you get back."

One company I know--and no longer in business--didn't have a vacation policy and expected 6 days/week of work. Another company that's highly successful but possibly has the lowest levels of employee engagement ever requires managers to be in the office on Saturdays whether they have work to do or not. Many read the newspaper during that time.

If you're the Always-On leader, how do you take breaks to recharge and re-create new levels of performance in yourself? If you can't find ways to do it, your staff won't either. At some point, burnout will happen to all of you. In the meantime, you're not getting the most productivity out of your team that's possible. According to Liz Wiseman and her fellow researchers, Multipliers get twice the productivity and effort as Diminishers. Accidental Diminishers--like the Always-On Guy--may not see productivity drop in half, but you're not getting the best. Everyone needs to find 'white space' according to Juliet Funt because our days are filled with '100% exertion and 0% thoughtfulness'. Covey of 7 Habits fame encouraged us to move into quadrant 2 as leaders working on the Important and Non-Urgent work: the strategic work, the improvement work. You can't have your best creative thoughts unless you're slowing down and making 'white space'.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Accidental Diminisher: Idea Guy

Recently I listened again to a talk by one of the authors of Multipliers, Liz Wiseman. [Author's note: much of this was posted earlier.] She and her partner had studied what distinguishes the leaders in organizations to which people are giving nearly all of their intellectual effort from those leaders where people are barely putting forth half of their effort. Most managerial and leadership characteristics are similar in both sets, but they found 5 distinguishing areas. Those distinctions created twice the level of effort in their teams! In the high-performing organizations, they were led by Multipliers--those that surround themselves with great people and try to make them greater. Multipliers have flavors like talent magnet, liberator, challenger, debate maker (in the sense of making ideas better) and investor.

On the other side are the Diminishers--empire builder, tyrant, know-it-all, decision maker, micro-manager. They found lots of evidence that people's performance actually decreases when they work for a diminisher, by 50%. They seem to lose capabilities and know-how that they once had and exhibited. Their apathy also increases around a Diminisher.

I know the phenomenon because I've done great work for a Multiplier and struggled through a Diminisher's tenure. What was most surprising and caused some reflection on my own leadership style is that there are "accidental diminishers". They don't cause as much harm, but they're still not getting the best from everyone. I've been one or more kinds of Accidental Diminishers: the idea guy (so many ideas people can't keep up and figure out which are the priorities), the always-on guy (never a break), rescuer (his people are 'just not good enough'), pacesetter (creating quitters and spectators because the standard is too high or the leader is too far in front), rapid responder (first to speak, first to determine the direction) and the optimist ('how hard can this be' is condescending).

Can leaders change the culture? Maybe, maybe not. They definitely can change the level of engagement and the feeling that doing your best is worth it, recognizable and means something to the others. A healthy and functional culture might survive a Diminisher if the others feel strongly about maintaining what they have had. If not, the tyrant or micro-manager will win, and everyone else loses.

But one leadership change can change the culture: when the leader changes his/her own behavior. As an Idea Guy, if I change the way I interact with my team, I can get more out of them. Instead of telling them the ideas, what if I followed Wiseman's advice and went into a mode of asking questions all the time? Instead of saying, "We need to get the project done by doing...." I could ask, "What will help us regain progress on our project in order to meet the deadline?" "What will you need to help make that happen?" "Who else can you collaborate with?" "What decisions need to be made and by whom?" One thing I've learned as I got certified as a coach is that often people already have the answers they need. They just need to give themselves permission to move forward, to make progress, to contribute significantly...and we as managers often need to get out of the way. (By the way, if you can track down the audio or video to her talk, she gives an excellent example to switching to extreme questioning with her young children around the bedtime routine.)