The Costs of Being a Caring Manager

Imagine that you recently started a role as a new manager. After a few months on the job, one of your direct reports stops by for a chat. You’re not sure what he needs at first but as the conversation progresses you quickly realize that this is about a personal issue. He shares that he’s the primary caretaker of his elderly parents, he finds the responsibility overwhelming, and he’s saddened to see their health deteriorate. He wishes he knew how to manage the situation better and how to be more present in their lives. “Do you have any advice for me?” he asks, visibly upset.

How do you think this encounter would make you feel? Our study suggests that you would likely feel a mixture of distress, sadness, and nervousness — and be less engaged at work that day.

Leaders help with personal problems on a regular basis at work. In fact, some studies have suggested that leaders in certain industries spend as much as 2.5 hours each week responding to such requests from people they manage. These issues run the gamut from problems with marriages to mental health to child care.

Given how much time most of us spend at work, it’s not surprising that employees occasionally disclose personal issues to their leaders. And people tend to approach their leaders more often than they approach their other coworkers because many believe that it is the leader’s responsibility to assist with emotional issues at work. What is surprising, however, is how little we know about how responding to these requests affects leaders’ mood and performance at work.

To investigate this, we conducted a longitudinal study of leaders and what we call their “followers,” also known as direct reports. We recently published our findings in the Journal of Applied Psychology. We surveyed 43 middle and senior leaders and up to five of their followers each day for three consecutive work weeks. We asked the leaders to report on their mood (positive and negative affect) at the beginning and end of each workday. Leaders also reported how often they responded to requests for support from their direct reports that day at work. We focused on two types of requests: work-related and personal. At the end of each workday, we also asked up to five employees to rate their leaders’ work engagement — how devoted and immersed their leader was that day at work.

We found that leaders’ negative mood increased on days when they helped direct reports with personal problems. This is likely because personal issues, such as the hypothetical one described above, are often uncomfortable, sensitive, and even distressing. They create an emotional burden: when employees share personal hardships, leaders pick up on their negative emotions through emotional contagion. Because personal issues are non-work related, leaders may also find these help requests to be disruptive or inappropriate and therefore further upsetting.

We also found that helping employees with personal issues was particularly detrimental to a leader’s mood on days when they were also helping employees with work-related issues. On busy days, it can be particularly frustrating for leaders to have additional, and often unanticipated, demands on their time, and they reported more negative emotions on these days. But there was a silver lining. On days when leaders felt that their support with personal issues had a positive impact on the lives of their employees, their negative mood was less impacted. Feelings of prosocial impact, in fact, enhanced leaders’ positive mood.

Interestingly, leaders with many years of managerial experience were not as distressed by the time they spent helping employees with personal problems compared to inexperienced leaders. This may be because seasoned managers are likely to have dealt with many of these kinds of requests and, as a result, may have developed the skills and confidence to manage them properly.

A more in-depth look at our data revealed that employees didn’t seem to value their leader’s support on personal issues as much as on work-related issues. Whereas work-related helping improved employees’ ratings of their leaders’ work engagement that day at work, personal helping did not. In fact, on days when a leader helped with personal issues, their employees rated their level of work engagement lower despite the leader’s help with work-related issues. This surprising effect may be because most personal helping happens behind closed doors, leaving less time and capacity for leaders to also provide high-quality, work-related help to other people.

What does this mean for managers who want to help — and for employees who are looking for support?

For managers: Recognize that helping employees with personal issues may put you in a bad mood. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t help, of course, but you need to be aware of the potential impact on your performance and emotions. And because negative emotions are sticky, the impact may not be limited to work but could bleed into your personal life as well. If you’re an inexperienced leader, you need to be particularly careful about agreeing to help with personal issues, especially if you haven’t yet developed the skills required to handle a variety of uncomfortable issues at work.

One way to possibly lessen that impact is to ask if your help was beneficial. The knowledge that you helped may protect and even improve your mood. For particularly distressing personal issues, and if your employees are open to this, it may also be wise to refer struggling employees to professional counselors in the company or outside, especially if you don’t feel qualified to help. Both you and your employees may be better off in the long run.

For employees seeking personal help: You also need to be aware of the potential consequences and the impact your request may have on your manager’s mood and performance. And be mindful of making these requests of an inexperienced leader. Again, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ask but try to approach leaders with personal help requests on days when they aren’t particularly busy because, as we found in this study, their mood and performance are less likely to be harmed on those days. Be sure to express gratitude when receiving help from leaders because doing so may protect their mood. Unfortunately, many of us undervalue the benefits of saying thank you but research has shown that expressions of gratitude are likely beneficial for the wellbeing of everyone involved.

Being a leader can be challenging and stressful, and it’s emotionally taxing to assist people with personal issues especially when you are barely keeping up with your work responsibilities. Our research shows that you can help but it’s important to strategically choose when and how you do.

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Is succession planning an outdated concept?

Succession planning often focuses on key leaders in the organisation. But in a changing business environment, planning for the future needs to be far more strategic and widespread, argues Miecha Ranea Forbes.

In a perfect world, your executive director or CEO would give plenty of notice about their planned departure, helping to select and train their successor. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case.

Every organisation experiences leadership change. Leaders may leave due to planned circumstances, such as retirement, or their departure could be sudden and surprising, due to an illness, family emergency, or even their death.

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Sometimes, several directors resign simultaneously and unexpectedly, leaving multiple departments without leaders at the helm.

Non-profits, in particular, are experiencing a big demographic shift and the internal shifts are more common around periods of political uncertainty. Therefore, all organisations should plan for smooth, thoughtful leadership transitions for numerous positions, across a variety of scenarios.

Plan strategically
Historically, businesses have focused on succession planning, but this concept is outdated. It refers to the process of replacing a specific leader, typically someone at the top such as the CEO.

But the organisation’s top spot isn’t the only essential position requiring a transition plan. If and when other leaders leave, which could include the chief financial officer or chief marketing officer, or a key department director, there needs to be a strategic plan in place to seamlessly replace them, as well.

Organisations would be well-served to think more holistically about leadership transitions.

Their goal should be ensuring stability, sustainability, and continuity if (and when) any leaders leave the organisation. Additionally, they should be constantly developing talent within the organisation, ensuring a robust leadership pipeline for the future.

I’d argue that “intentional pathway planning” is the new succession planning. This updated term and concept refer to the effort of preparing for and managing leadership change – for multiple leadership positions, not just the top spot.

Intentional pathway planning is more than just figuring out how to replace a single role or person. It’s a holistic approach that considers every step of hiring and growing effective leaders.

Every organisation’s circumstances are different – whether that’s their structure, skills gaps or goals – but all should proactively build strong leadership pipelines, train internal talent for higher level roles, and resolve any knowledge and/or diversity gaps.

Here are some tips for successful “intentional pathway planning”:

Think holistically: Understand your organisation’s leadership needs and business goals. What are you trying to accomplish? What type of talent, skills and personality traits do you need to get there? What are your organisation’s knowledge and diversity gaps, and how can you resolve them?

Prioritise this initiative: Other projects, tasks, and initiatives will always beckon, but consider this a priority. Ensure that someone on the leadership team is championing this effort, embedding it in the budget and strategic goals, and staying accountable.

Plan for any contingency: Unlike succession planning, intentional pathway planning addresses future departures across multiple roles, including executive director, high-level staff positions (such as development director, public affairs director), and board roles. Since each of these positions requires different experience and skills, develop plans to address all possible vacancy scenarios.

Respond to generational trends: Millions of baby boomers are retiring (and preparing to retire). This could mean a drain not just on top-level positions, but also other senior leaders. Prepare to transition multiple leadership roles while also maintaining functionality, stability, and sustainability.

Meanwhile, the next generation of emerging leaders are vocal about wanting more professional development opportunities and expect their employers to invest in their training. Many see professional development and training as a key ingredient in the employee value proposition.

Develop emerging leaders: Proactively prepare emerging leaders to ensure a robust pipeline for the future. Provide employees with consistent, meaningful training and development opportunities. Mentor and coach them. Create individual development plans based on each employee’s goals.

Provide additional responsibilities and opportunities to help foster a deep bench of future leaders. Investing in mid-manager/emerging leader groups makes them more loyal and more likely to stay with the organisation for the long-term (or boomerang back if they leave for any reason).

Promote internal talent: There are significant benefits to promoting from within, including capturing institutional knowledge, improving team morale, and increasing retention and engagement. Having consistent teams serves customers and clients better. Additionally, it’s less costly and time-consuming to promote from within than it is to conduct an external search.

Know when to look externally: Sometimes, it’s necessary to expand beyond your current team. Recognise that you might not have the skill sets, experience, diversity, and other criteria for the role(s) you need to fill. There may be valid reasons to conduct an external search, and bring in outside perspectives and skills, especially if there are gaps among your internal team. Additionally, external hires can help increase diversity within your organisation.

Anticipate your organisation’s biggest challenges: Identify current—and potential—challenges that your organisation faces (or may face in the future). Consider the types of leaders that will help you overcome these challenges, navigate obstacles, and meet or exceed goals. What skills, qualities, and personality traits will be most effective and inspire positive change?

Communicate clearly and effectively: Promptly communicate any leadership change to internal and external audiences, including staff, donors, media, board members, customers, members, and other key stakeholders. Regardless of the circumstances, emphasise that the transition will be seamless, the new leader(s) were thoughtfully selected, and you’re committed to ensuring stability, sustainability, and continuity for the organisation and its key constituents.

Leadership transitions can leave an organisation vulnerable, so it’s tremendously important to be prepared for a variety of scenarios, with strategic plans in place to manage any change in leadership. That way, regardless of the circumstance, your transitions will, hopefully, be smooth, seamless, and successful.

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Why conflict is ruining your workplace – and how to fix it

When staff fall out, everyone in your business suffers. Here’s how HR can begin the fightback

On paper, they don’t seem like much. A colleague is excluded from work conversations and not invited to a meeting when a new project is introduced. Another is cut off in the middle of answering a question or pulled up for an easily remedied mistake. Or perhaps the boss overrides reasonable decisions or embarrasses someone in front of their workmates, or forces them to take on more work with the ‘incentive’ of holding on to their contract.

These were all experiences shared by employees in a recent survey by CV-writing service TopCV. On their own, they just make work unpleasant. Combined and accumulated on a daily basis, they can make coming to work feel like a friction-filled, living nightmare.

Unfortunately, this is the day-to-day experience of more UK employees than you might think. The CIPD’s latest research on conflict found that just over a third (35 per cent) of employees experienced some form of conflict over the past year, whether that was an isolated incident or an ongoing difficult relationship.

Instances of sexual harassment and bullying, such as those coming to light within the entertainment and tech sectors, politics and beyond over the last few years, inevitably factor here. The report found 15 per cent of employees have suffered bullying at work over the past three years, with 8 per cent experiencing harassment of a non-sexual nature and 4 per cent sexual harassment.

But much more widespread are, according to the CIPD’s senior adviser on employee relations, Rachel Suff, instances of “lower-level conflict that can create a breeding ground for the serious incidents or bullying”.

“The media attention tends to focus on the sharp, serious end of conflict, such as sexual harassment,” explains Suff. “But that only accounted for 4 per cent of incidents in our report.”

Nonetheless, undoubtedly the rise of movements such as #MeToo, coupled with the explosion of social media, means employees are shouting louder than ever – and that’s not always easy for HR to handle. “I think people are getting more confident at speaking up, as though they finally have a voice,” says Natasha Wallace, chief consciousness officer at Clear Review. “But as soon as you have a more honest environment where people historically felt they had to keep things to themselves, you need to have more robust conversations and give honest feedback.”

A tinderbox environment can often be linked to incongruence – where leaders say one thing and do another, she adds: “It could be a case of ‘we support wellbeing’ but then they expect teams to work long hours, or expect people to work as a team but set them individual objectives so people can’t integrate.”

What’s happening outside the workplace isn’t helping. Pressure on wages, teams feeling like they have to achieve more with less, not to mention political instability and differences of opinion among colleagues on Brexit – these are all factors that can lead to a sense of more friction at work.

Psychologist Kisane Prutton calls this ‘asymmetrical unhappiness’ – instances of accumulating conflict that may not end up in a formal grievance or mediation, but chip away at an organisation’s culture. “The real level of this conflict is difficult to measure because the number of labour disputes doesn’t tell you the backstory,” she explains. “I think it’s a systemic issue – the volatility outside is magnified at work. There’s an expectation that people can find space for more human output; everyone is rushing around in a hyper-vigilant state so if someone comes into their path they just crash into each other. The environment is ripe for hostility.”

All this leaves HR in the unenviable position of deciding whether to manage escalating conflict through policy so they’re being seen to deal with poor behaviour, or to equip managers and their teams with the tools to handle difficult issues, which takes longer and won’t be as visible.

This latter approach is challenging to pull off, says mediation consultancy Consensio’s Anna Shields, with selecting and developing line managers with the right skills to tackle workplace conflict a notoriously tough nut to crack. “Managers are scared so they get HR involved too quickly and things get formal. Or their lack of confidence means undercurrents are allowed to fester, and aren’t nipped in the bud,” she says.

Andy Cook, founding director of employee relations consultancy Marshall-James and expert industrial relations adviser at CMP, says a shift to shared services a decade or so ago pushed responsibility on to line managers without providing them with sufficient training to handle team conflict. “Managers don’t like to admit they’re not good at it so they go into avoidance mode,” he says. “Also, it’s hard to demonstrate a return on investment in mediation training because it’s a subliminal cost.”

The CIPD’s research bears this out, highlighting a chasm between managers’ perception of how well they handle difficult issues and the reality of what staff think. Fewer than half (44 per cent) of those who had experienced conflict felt the situation had been satisfactorily resolved, and almost a third (31 per cent) said the person they reported it to did not take it seriously. A quarter of employees felt challenging issues like bullying and harassment were often swept under the carpet.

The answer, if organisations are to prevent conflict from festering, the report argues, is for this to become part of the ‘strategic language’ of HR. “People professionals have a vital part to play in ensuring conflict is understood in all its nuanced complexity, and that organisations give it the strategic attention it deserves,” it states. “It means understanding that situations and decisions involving people are not always clear-cut, there are lots of shades of grey and a strict adherence to procedure is unlikely to produce the best outcome.”

More value needs to be attached to employment relations as an HR discipline, the report adds, and it needs to regain its status as an integral part of the HR professional’s role, rather than a ‘nice to have’ skillset they deploy when circumstances require.

So to understand more about how conflict can present itself in the workplace, here are some breeds of dissent you might just recognise, and some suggestions on how to deal with them.

The one that bubbles underground
This type of conflict starts off small, often without managers registering it is even there, according to Wallace. “Perhaps someone gets a promotion and someone else doesn’t. That person starts rallying for support because they feel wronged. It all happens underground but all the manager sees is hacked off employees,” she says. “This is one of the hardest types of conflict to get in the middle of, and unless you have a culture where these sorts of issues can be raised, it will impact on performance.”

Carrie Birmingham, former HR director at News UK and now consultant, believes the existence of conflict at work is often trying to tell us something, and that HR’s role is to find out what that might be – from a simple process issue to something more sinister embedded in the culture of the organisation. “It’s telling you something needs attention,” she says. “Maybe two teams have been set up in a way that encourages conflict – let’s look below the surface and see what’s really going on.”

The one that’s left to fester
“If managers lack confidence and they don’t have the skills, this is a recipe for conflict going on longer than it should,” says Shields. And if something that could have been solved with an open conversation escalates and becomes more formal, introducing mediators or holding a resolution meeting may be too late, she adds: “Factions have been drawn already, so conflict sets in.”

Shields says managers should be coached in listening skills and resilience to prevent them from rushing to formal procedures. “The formal process sits at the top, with mediation underneath, but there are a lot of stages before you get there,” she says. “You can have facilitated or supported conversations [where HR or a mediator is present] and the manager can initiate a difficult conversation with those involved before that.”

The misunderstanding
If an employee feels they’re not being heard, this can be a breeding ground for conflict. “It can be worse for people with high demands on them but low levels of control,” says Prutton. “We often see this in low-paid roles where people have little autonomy.” But while managers need to be mindful of how employees feel about their role and whether they have a voice, sometimes the ‘noise’ of a busy workplace can obscure the real reasons for unrest.

“The hidden gem for a mediator is if it’s a misunderstanding,” adds Prutton. “Sometimes it might be a notion of bullying when it’s a case of them not being heard, rather than being bullied. Perhaps the manager has strict goals placed on them and is not treating the employee in a human way. We need to give people the time and space to listen properly.”

Suff notes that often conflict masquerades as one thing when its root is something else entirely. “The conflict may be expressed as a performance issue, but there could be other tensions underneath such as a relationship breakdown or resentment over not being promoted,” she says.

The one where the manager made things worse
Almost a third of employee respondents to the CIPD’s conflict survey said that, when they reported an incident to a superior, their manager actually ended up making things worse. There’s a consensus that managers need more skills in dealing with difficult conversations, but these must be embedded into day-to-day interactions rather than ‘switched on’ when bad things happen. “Often if a manager has come to HR about a situation it’s because they can’t stand it any longer – it has got so bad something has to be done about it,” says Birmingham.

In cultures where conflict is dealt with before things boil over, there tends to be regular dialogue between managers and HR, so managers feel they can have a 10-minute pep talk with an HR professional before dealing with an awkward situation, rather than saying the wrong thing or avoiding the issue altogether. “I don’t mind a manager running to HR if they want us to help them to help themselves,” says Birmingham. “If we’re coaching managers, giving them the understanding of dealing with difficult situations and the opportunity to apply it, they’ll do better.”

The one where the culture is the problem
The CIPD’s research revealed that one in five employees felt ‘people in my team sometimes reject each other for being different’. “Attitudes and behaviours don’t have to come in the form of overt prejudice for someone to feel excluded,” says Suff. “Organisations need to be aware of any hint of a culture that doesn’t embrace diversity and acceptance.

“You need to promote a culture that is transparent, healthy and open, but where the slightest sign of inappropriate behaviour is challenged.” This means taking complaints seriously and encouraging individuals to call out bad behaviour when they see it. Policies that deal with harassment or speaking up should be visible and brought to life, with senior leaders taking the lead. Third-party helplines can be useful here but, without an inclusive culture, employees may not feel comfortable using them.

The one where conflict comes from the top
Leaders have a huge influence on how conflict is managed within an organisation. Under pressure to deliver on ever-more ambitious targets, they often focus on the technical aspects of performance rather than on what motivates people as humans. Left unchecked, this can filter throughout the business and create an environment of stress and disengagement.

“When it comes to dealing with undercurrents of conflict, managers are in a privileged position,” says Teresa Boughey, founder of Jungle HR and a seasoned change management leader. “They need to be authentic in their interaction rather than transactional.” This often comes down to gaining a true understanding of how the other party thinks, she adds, citing an example of competing leaders with conflicting styles who underwent a mediation session: “We looked at what was driving their behaviour on a ‘bad day’ and how that affected how they dealt with each other. They realise now that they come from opposite perspectives, but actively work around that rather than letting it get in the way.”

Regardless of who is experiencing this sort of two-way conflict, empathy is crucial. For HR, encouraging managers to ask the right questions can help. “Rather than focusing on someone’s to-do list, ask them what’s the one thing that’s keeping them awake? If someone’s feeling vulnerable, how can you change your approach?” advises Boughey.

More important than the right questions, she concludes, is truly listening to the responses – wise advice for anyone who’s experienced conflict at work.

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The ‘Culture 500’ uses AI to define and compare company cultures

Dive Brief:
MIT Sloan Management Review and Glassdoor introduced what they call a “groundbreaking and first-ever online interactive tool” for comparing and ranking company cultures in some of the most high-profile U.S. companies. The tool, dubbed the Culture 500, applies artificial intelligence (AI) and insights from current research to Glassdoor’s data to rank companies on nine “culture dimensions,” including “collaboration, integrity, agility, diversity, customer orientation, execution, innovation, performance, and respect.”
Culture 500’s creator, Donald Sull, an MIT Sloan School of Management senior lecturer, and his team evaluated text responses from 1.2 million online Glassdoor reviews from current and former employees. The team used a natural language processing methodology that categorizes text into more than 90 culture-related subjects, combining experts’ insight with machine learning tools to build a library of 20,000 culture-related terms. Companies are given a numeric value based on a percentile and ranked on the nine dimensions. In a four-company comparison on “customer centricity” between Amazon, Disney, Four Seasons and Nordstrom, Disney scored the highest at the 92th percentile, followed closely by Nordstrom at the 91st percentile.
According to MIT, culture had been difficult to measure and define until now and a growing amount of research is showing a correlation between a positive corporate culture and greater financial performance, innovation and customer satisfaction. Sull also said the Culture 500 has the capability of comparing corporate cultures from different industries.

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Dive Insight:
The push toward data analytics to assess the effectiveness and efficiency of HR initiatives has wrought a number of innovations, now including the Culture 500. While culture remains individual to each company, various experts have defined culture as how a company enables its people to do their best work — meaning patterns beyond perks likely apply, as noted in this new tool.

That the data came from Glassdoor is notable, as well. Job seekers routinely visit company rating sites like Glassdoor and kununu, ruling out employers with subpar rankings. These assessments come from current and former employees, which often makes them seem reliable to job seekers. Employers can’t underestimate the power of such sites; a poor rating, even if the employer feels it is wrong, could damage the brand. Experts have recommended reviewing these sites periodically and making the cultural changes that are necessary to attract and retain talent and protect their brand.

The Culture 500 is also another reminder of the importance of data analytics and machine learning in all parts of the business. Data analytics and machine learning should be a focus of staff training and development, as organizations make a digital transformation into the future.

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Moneyball Changed Baseball, Is Data Science Changing HR?

Data analytics changed major league baseball in 2002 when the Oakland A’s experienced their “Moneyball” season, achieving unprecedented success for the franchise as a result of analytical, evidence-based recruiting decisions. Now, HR leaders are turning to employee survey data to guide employee engagement initiatives, integrating analytics into their professional tool belts, writes Craig Tanner Senior Product Manager Reward Gateway.

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Over a decade ago, the 2002 Oakland A’s challenged traditional baseball methodology by using statistical analysis to build their roster instead of relying solely on outdated recruiter instincts. By using science to guide their decisions, they sold off many of their overvalued, overpriced players and acquired undervalued players with significant potential that ultimately brought the team success. Shifting away from traditional recruitment practices and embracing a more analytical approach helped the Oakland A’s create one of their most successful teams to date, forever ingrained in baseball history.

Now, a similar sea change is happening inside businesses as employers begin to use science and data to better understand and implement employee engagement initiatives. In fact, according to a recent report, more than 70 percent of HR leaders are in the midst of analyzing and integrating data into their decision-making. Heading into 2020, a science-driven approach to employee engagement is taking hold as businesses across the country strive to put their money where their mouth is, and make their businesses better places to work.

Over the past two decades, the rate of employee engagement amongst U.S. workers has ranged from 26 percent in 2000 to a high of 34 percent in 2018. Those numbers highlight the issue at hand – the majority of employees do not feel engaged at work. The data within a report recently released by Josh Bersin and Reward Gateway speaks volumes – employees want to be engaged in conversations and projects that have value, and want to be regularly recognized and thanked for their hard work. Employee engagement initiatives that are designed along these lines are 12 times more likely to generate business results and are not “nice to have,” but are integral to the well-being and health of employees.

Why Traditional Recognition Doesn’t Work
Traditional HR engagement practices are often rooted in past beliefs about employee motivation and often amount to little more than holiday parties, bonuses, and spontaneous gifts. While these moments may be enjoyable, they are inconsistent, and thus unlikely to increase an employee’s feelings of value or engagement within their organization. It can often be challenging to measure the impact of initiatives like these, and without such measurement, there’s no way to tell if the strategy is working. Employers should be able to measure engagement with a recognition platform and monitor an initiative’s effectiveness in moving the needle on employee engagement.

What Science Says
Motivators are classified into two groups – intrinsic and extrinsic. While both can spark action, ultimately intrinsic motivation is more valuable, as it relates to tasks and behaviors that are the rewards in and of themselves, like playing an enjoyable sport, doing something nice for another individual, or reading a book because it interests you. Through either reward or punishment, extrinsic motivators are external forces inspiring action, which may get a simple task done, but often do not translate to long term motivation. In fact, according to the Harvard Business Review, goals tied to external incentives have been shown to actually reduce motivation and performance when employees are already intrinsically motivated to accomplish the task.

The Hawthorne Effect, first described by Henry Landsberger in 1950, highlights the tendency of humans to work harder when they are being observed. A similar theory, known as Expectancy Theory, purports that individuals choose how to behave based on the outcome they expect as a result. At work, both theories point to the value of paying attention to employees and offering consistent recognition to promote positive behavior and hard work.

Learn More: Digitization of Rewards Leads To Better Business Outcomes

What Employers Can Do
To implement strategic employee recognition practices, employers must connect well-defined company values to desired behavior in the workplace, making the impacts of such behavior clear and visible to all employees. By highlighting these actions, their connection to company values and their ultimate impact on company culture, employees will likely feel a sense of accomplishment, and others will understand what they, too, need to do to be recognized. Continually reinforcing values by promoting positive behavior in a social, public way, will encourage all employees to do great work that will advance the organization’s core objectives.

Ultimately, the Oakland A’s strategically put their resources toward a more scientific approach that would have an enormous impact on the success of their organization. It is time for companies to do the same with their HR efforts. Research proves that successful, strategic employee engagement initiatives are based on the science of human motivation and desire for meaning. At the end of the day, an engaged workforce is a successful one, and employers must respond effectively to employee’s wants and needs to get a valuable return on their investment.

Human resources executives now have the opportunity to invest in the science of human motivation and employee engagement data, cutting out subjective, outdated and ineffective practices.

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Gartner: HR is struggling to develop future leaders

Dive Brief:
HR leaders are struggling to develop solid leadership talent, which may derail an organizer’s larger strategies, according to a new report from Gartner, Inc. Based on a survey of 2,800 HR practitioners, Gartner found that a third surveyed struggled with developing future senior leaders and 45% struggled with filling mid-level management positions — situations that Gartner said create “leadership bench instability.”
Only half of surveyed CHROs felt “well-equipped” to lead their organizations into the future, problematic for companies that face a quick-changing business climate. Gartner pointed out a few issues with current succession planning, including that current planning is often based on already-existing roles, which could miss the mark for future needs. The leadership pipeline is often “homogeneous,” too, Gartner noted, especially as evidence continues to show that businesses with more diverse workforces rank better in performance.
Gartner said that the average organization experiences five company-wide changes in three years, and that 73% can expect even more changes in the future. “HR leaders need to ensure that their succession pipeline prepares candidates to execute against current as well as future business needs. Organizations can use scenario planning to identify likely future experiences that executives will need to address as the company evolves,” Gartner said.

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Senior staff vacancies can create gaps in necessary leadership function that organizations can’t afford — and the issue may be more widespread than business leaders first assume. A Robert Half survey found that nearly 50% of chief financial officers had not chosen someone to replace them. Their reasons for not having a successor were that they had no plans to leave the company, couldn’t find a qualified successor, had other priorities or didn’t worry about the transition because they were leaving the company. Because of the disruption a lack of leadership can cause, HR leaders must be prepared in advance for staff changes before they occur.

Planning is especially crucial since sudden CEO departures aren’t unusual these days; a number of high-profile CEO departures made headlines in the back half of 2019, many of them due to corporate rule-breaking. Tarah Cook, strategic HR Inc.’s senior HR consultant, told HR Dive in a December interview that well-prepared organizations have employees who are ready to fill a position, or at least know where to find talent in case a vacancy occurs. In fact, succession plans are “more comprehensive than ever,” she noted, further putting the onus on HR to be ready for change.

In fact, preparing for C-suite shake-ups is among the top 2020 trends for HR. Challenger, Gray & Christmas noted that January to November 2019 had the highest number of CEO exits since the firm first started tracking the stat in 2002. And while many were planned departures, Andrew Challenger, vice president of the firm, noted that many “were due to Boards and Shareholders holding their CEOs accountable for personal or professional lapses” due in part to broader cultural expectations.

To get started, employers can start thinking about skill sets that translate across multiple departments and allow employees the opportunity to laterally move or work to learn skills that interest them. Not only does it create a more agile workforce, but such a strategy can encourage employees to stick around longer.

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How HR Managers Can Play a Role in Preventing Employee Burnout Before It Happens

You can tell when workers are burnt out by the looks on their faces and the way they carry themselves. They show signs of exhaustion and have trouble performing at their optimal levels, losing some of that spark they had when they were enthusiastic new hires.

Not only does burnout have a massive impact on employees’ well-being, but it also hurts organizations’ productivity and ultimately leads to expensive turnover. Culturally, the American office is beginning to shift as companies realize that their best people need to be given time and space to care for themselves.

The importance of self-care as it relates to mental health is become more and more important, and companies are starting to incorporate mental health days into their employee benefits plans. As the job market is opening doors to millennials and Gen Z workers, generations that have grown up with the idea that mental health is something to be taken seriously, employers who want any chance of attracting and retaining talent must adapt for those needs.

You can help by taking part in this important shift and moving it forward within your organization. How can you help prevent employee burnout? Try these tips.

Start With Promoting Restfulness

Just as you would take steps to prevent your children from missing out on vital rest, you must do the same for your staff members. Obviously, you can’t check up on them and force them to make good choices, but you can set them up for success and encourage them to get the sleep they need to perform well so they can come to work refreshed and alert.

One of the most important steps to take is to ensure that no work-related communications interfere with employees’ sleep. Even though our constant connectivity technically allows people to do work at 11 PM after a long day in the office, that doesn’t mean they should. It’s important to create a culture with boundaries that allow people to unplug at the end of the day and get some sleep.

Share tools with employees to help them compartmentalize their work and personal lives. Encourage employees to turn off notifications after work hours and stress to them that the office culture supports that.

You might also consider being more flexible with scheduling. Not everyone functions optimally on the same sleep schedule! Allowing people to come to work when they’re at their best can really make life happier for everyone while potentially boosting performance.

Obviously, it’s important for people to fulfill their work duties. But do they really need to be at the office by 8:30 AM to do so? Remember: you don’t have to go as far as creating nap rooms to help promote restfulness! Simple, mindful steps will do the trick for way cheaper.

When It’s Time to Give Rest to the Weary

It may be counterintuitive to get people to work harder by sending them home for a day or week, but as most HR professionals know, vacations and personal days are essential for employees’ well-being, attitude, and work ethic. Sometimes, you just have to give some rest to the weary and realize when it’s time to take a step back to prevent burnout.

Allowing and even encouraging people to take personal or mental health days during busy times can have an enormous positive impact on their mood and ability to focus. So can encouraging employees to take advantage of the vacation they’re entitled to. During the summer months and around the holidays are great opportunities for longer vacations that help to refresh employees’ mental wellness and enthusiasm.

It’s important to lay a distinction to employees between sick days and mental health days, as they are not the same and offer employees different benefits. A mental health day is for mental rest and relaxation and can be spent in a lot of different ways. A traditional sick day is for physical illnesses. Some companies go a step further by offering specific mental health days.

According to Amy Quarton, associate instructor for the online organizational leadership program at Maryville University, “if used strategically, encouraging the use of mental health days can help employees prevent and cope with job stress. It works by empowering them to make decisions about how they manage stress and the demands of multiple roles. This strategy can also influence people’s perceptions of the organization and its managers by symbolizing care and concern for the employee.”

On a smaller scale, you can create mini-breaks at the office. Organize some in-office activities that get people away from their desks and having a little fun. Around holidays such as Halloween or Christmas, it’s easy to come up with simple and not time-consuming activities that can boost employee morale and encourage employees to take a break from their screens.

Busting stress as much as you can will help prevent burnout among your employees and build goodwill in the office.

Nurture a Corporate Culture of Wellness

The truth is that 69 percent of people don’t feel that the organizations they work for take enough steps to address stress and burnout. Clearly, most companies either don’t value a culture of wellness or simply don’t understand how powerful it can be in helping employees to stay happy and healthy.

Stress reduction programs can help you move toward a supportive environment in the office that promotes wellness and health. While some programs do involve a significant investment, like subsidizing gym memberships (or even adding a gym on-site!) or employees’ sessions with a mental health professional, others are much easier to implement.

Simple gestures like offering a yoga class a couple of times a week, creating an office fitness challenge, or providing mental health days to all employees can make a difference. Not sure what will be the most helpful for your team? Ask them for their feedback!

Sometimes a simple conversation between a manager and employee can bridge the communication gap and make an employee’s wellness feel like a priority. If you’re a manager, sit down with your employees and ask them to speak up if they ever feel like their workload is becoming overwhelming. Share examples in your life and career when you had to ask for help. By showing that you too have suffered from burn out and mental stress, it makes it safer and more comfortable for your employees to speak up if they need it.

Burnout Looks Different For Different People

When most people think of employee burnout, they think of an employee who is overworked with their day to day tasks. But burnout can also involve feelings of anxiety when thinking about your goals and future at the company.

It’s essential and a positive flag for a company to set their employees on a path of growth with frequent goal setting objectives. However, some employees might feel overwhelmed with constant reminders of ways they need to grow and change their work patterns.

Leadership and managers should make sure to set reasonable and achievable goals that don’t overwhelm the employee. And it’s important to give employees time to develop their own work routine and schedule. Give employees time to master the skills they’re currently working on and feel ready to take on new ones before throwing new tasks and goals at them.

Think Long-Term When It Comes to Employee Wellness

If you really want to reduce employee burnout, it’s important to realize that change doesn’t happen overnight. Cultures are built slowly. But by focusing your efforts on wellness, stress reduction, and recognition, you can help your employees take control and feel calmer and more focused at work.

“Long-term steps should focus on stress prevention by teaching employees how to proactively manage their mental, physical, and emotional health. Give employees options by implementing a combination of strategies and then encouraging people to use them. Don’t punish employees for using the resources that are available to them,” Quarton says.

In 2020, set your company on a mindset of long-term company wellness and growth. Prioritize employee happiness and retention as goals for the year. Employees are what make a company great, and you can’t expect to grow without employee satisfaction.

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Speak softly, make tough decisions

While visionary founder Jack Ma has provided Alibaba Group’s most public presence during the company’s journey from apartment start-up to global e-commerce powerhouse, current chairman and CEO Daniel Zhang can be credited with many of the company’s game-changing successes. Nonetheless, the pair present as opposites—Zhang, with calm and collected cogitation, in the face of Ma’s restless dynamism—a duality that drew attention when Ma nominated Zhang last year to succeed him as company chairman in September 2019.

Zhang, known on Alibaba’s Hangzhou campus by a nickname that translates to “the free and unfettered one,” had hitherto eschewed the spotlight, but his instinct for innovation proved instrumental in Alibaba’s rise to become the world’s most valuable e-commerce company in 2017. Among Zhang’s initiatives is Alibaba’s annual 24-hour sales promotion, known as the “11.11 Global Shopping Festival,” or “Double 11” for short, which notched gross merchandizing volume of $30.8 billion in just 24 hours in 2018. Zhang was also at the forefront of Alibaba’s drive to become a mobile-first business: more than 90 percent of sales on Alibaba’s China e-commerce sites are now made via mobile device. More recently, the Shanghai native spearheaded the launch of Freshippo (known as “Hema” in Chinese) grocery stores, which combine a high-end, in-store experience centered on fresh foods with rapid e-commerce home delivery and a robot-staffed restaurant option.1
In this interview, Zhang talks with McKinsey’s Daniel Zipser about Alibaba’s approach to innovation, the power of purpose at Alibaba, and how Zhang balances analytics and instinct to guide his own decision making and push himself to spot hidden opportunities. The following is an edited version of their conversation.

Reaching China’s diverse consumers
The Quarterly: What strikes you as notable about Chinese consumers, and how are they evolving?

Daniel Zhang: What we see from our digital platforms is that they are very diverse. Because of the internet, they know what’s popular—not only in China but all around the world. They also have strong beliefs. Generation Z, for example, doesn’t believe only in so-called big brands; they prefer unique things and new brands from their own generation. That’s [a big part of] their lifestyle. The other important thing is that they tend to spend more. China is famous for being a high-savings-rate society, but the younger generation are more willing to improve their lifestyle through spending, and that presents huge opportunities.

The Quarterly: Speaking of consumer spending, Double 11, the online shopping festival that happens on November 11 each year, generated more than $30 billion in gross merchandise volume in 2018. What was your vision when you launched the event back in 2009?

Daniel Zhang: Tmall [] is now the largest online B2C business in the world, but at the time, it was tiny compared with Taobao [Taobao Marketplace]. So we wanted people to remember us. The idea was to bring together all the merchants on Tmall and create a common event where we could work together to serve our mutual customers with the best service, the best products. We never dreamed it would become such a fantastic event ten years later, and that really reflects the power of ecosystems.

But if you ask me about the idea on day one, I have to say it came from a sense of, “How can we make people remember us?” and “How can we survive?” From there, it came from trying new things. Going forward, it will continue to be about innovation. We will look to promote not only online sales but also brick-and-mortar stores. Double 11 is a day focused on consumers, and they seek online as well as offline experiences. That’s a very obvious trend we see and will pursue as we continue to make Double 11 the best day of the year for consumers.

The Quarterly: Say more about innovation and technology at Alibaba—and, in particular, the role of artificial intelligence [AI].

Daniel Zhang: We are always trying new things—always innovating services and using technology to give consumers new experiences. For example, people in China are now largely used to the convenience of mobile wallets, so we have pushed to promote facial recognition as confirmation for digital payments. Feedback tells us young Chinese consumers love the convenience of this; it’s a fantastic consumer experience.

Building a technology-empowered company
We had been working on AI for many years, but, to be honest, we didn’t even realize what we were doing was AI. We are a data-driven company. We create value from the data generated by real activity of users and merchants; we use data as fuel for our marketplaces to help merchants better serve their customers. That is our logic, and we have been working on this for many years.

Technology and data empower our whole business—not only on the sales side and marketplace side but also in the back-end office, in customer service, in every single area. This is how we work. So when people say “AI,” we laugh and say that, to us, it’s “Alibaba intelligence” because data and technology power everything we do.

The Quarterly: How would you describe Alibaba’s purpose, and how does your business model support it?

Daniel Zhang: Alibaba has been a mission- and vision-driven company from day one. Jack Ma, along with 17 other early cofounders, set a great mission: to make it easy to do business anywhere. Our mission drives our business strategy, which is empowering our business partners.

Even though our business is always evolving, the mission remains unchanged. For example, we are not only helping big brands and retailers—we also help small and medium businesses grow. We believe small is beautiful; we want to help new businesses and entrepreneurs be more successful. That’s always been our philosophy. In this digital era, when we talk about Alibaba’s future, we focus on helping our business partners win through successful digital transformation, rather than about how we can make ourselves even stronger. When small businesses can grow faster and grow healthier, it will benefit the whole society.

As the Chinese economy transforms into a consumption-driven economy, Alibaba has a huge opportunity to understand consumers’ changing needs. We help connect the whole world with China to facilitate easy trading and access to the world’s largest consumer market.

The Quarterly: You are often described as reserved, soft spoken, and detail oriented. How do you see yourself as a leader, and how has your leadership style evolved?

Daniel Zhang: I don’t think I’m a reserved guy, actually. People may tag me based on my background as an auditor, and I always say that maybe I picked the wrong first job. Obviously, though, that first job gave me a lot of opportunities to learn the basic skills and have access to many clients in different industries. I consider myself very lucky to be engaged in the digital landscape and to be part of such a fantastic company in Alibaba.

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In terms of my leadership style, I’m very nice to people. I tend to give people opportunities to try their own ideas, but I’m very tough once a decision has been made. Once I make up my mind, I want my teams to go ahead and get concrete results. That’s why people at Alibaba always say it’s very difficult to deal with me in business meetings, because [in that context] I am always trying to get to the substance of the matter and drive people to make progress.

So my leadership style is that, yes, while I speak softly, I always make the tough decisions. I think the most important thing [for a leader] is to lead the whole team forward. They need direction, and they need clear guidance. Leaders have to make the tough decisions, even if it may not be the perfect decision. At the same time, I also try to learn from our young people—the people born after 1990, 1995. Learning about their lifestyle and preferences helps give me a lot of new ideas and inspires innovation.

The Quarterly: How much of your process for making tough decisions is intuition compared with data analysis?

Solving the customer’s pain points
Daniel Zhang: It’s a combination. Our advantage is having huge amounts of data, and my team does a fantastic job in providing me with daily analysis. But as a leader, you have to see something which others cannot, and often that comes down to focusing on customer pain points.

Four years ago, I had the idea for the Freshippo retail stores, which have since become very popular. My original thinking was that traditional e-commerce’s hub-and-spoke model could not deliver fresh products on time and on demand. It’s not like you can deliver fresh fish to a customer’s home while she is still in the office. We had to rearchitect the business model and address that particular pain point, and that process led to the origin of Freshippo.

Pain points mean opportunity. And that’s why, every year, I do a self-evaluation process during Chinese New Year. I ask myself, “How many new ideas, how many new businesses did I initiate last year?” I don’t focus my self-evaluation on the performance of the existing businesses: this is about the new opportunities. Today they may be new ideas—very tiny, very small—but they may become much bigger in the future. Maybe they will become a main business for Alibaba.

The Quarterly: Among those ideas, there will inevitably be failures as well. How do you handle failure as a leader, and how does Alibaba approach the topic as an institution?

Speak softly, make tough decisions
Daniel Zhang: We give our people a lot of space to try new things. It means you have to accept mistakes. The vast majority of innovations will result in failure; you have to acknowledge that. But the key is, can we learn from the failures?

For example, five or six years ago, we tried a new thing. It was a digital social-messaging platform called Laiwang. We started the business, invested heavily, sent some of our best people, but it failed. We didn’t create a new experience for consumers that differentiated from what they could already get in the market.

That experience served as a critical lesson that informed our thinking when we created DingTalk, a cloud-based, SaaS [software-as-a-service]-based work-collaboration platform. The tool is a direct result of Laiwang’s failure because the team realized that people have too many contacts on their social networks. Users wanted an alternative messaging platform dedicated to work relationships and communication. DingTalk’s success is another example of a pain point inspiring a new service. It’s an example of valuable lessons we can harvest from failure.

The Quarterly: What motivates you, personally, as a leader? What drives you when you get up in the morning?

Daniel Zhang: First, it’s about having fun. That’s the most important thing. I work with many young people in our line of business—the digital landscape is a brand-new frontier for society—and the experience of new things is not only fun, but it also makes you feel younger. I always say to my friends, to my team, that the key thing to ask yourself is, “Do you still have curiosity about the world?” If you are curious about the world, then you will find something different, then you will find new opportunities, and you will move ahead.

Working with Jack
The Quarterly: Finally, you’ve worked alongside Alibaba founder Jack Ma for several years now. What’s it like working with him, and what have you learned as a result?

Daniel Zhang: We work very well together. Since joining Alibaba 12 years ago, I’ve worked very closely with him. While we have totally different personalities, we complement each other well. Jack is a visionary. He thinks about not only today and tomorrow but five and ten years from now, and that is what makes Alibaba different. I learned from him the importance of looking at the big picture. You need to have your feet planted on the ground and move forward solidly, but you also need to be forward looking. We look at opportunities not only for today but, more importantly, opportunities for the next generation and the coming decades.

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Giving Feedback to Someone Who Hasn’t Had It in Years

Over the course of my career in organizational consulting, I’ve encountered a number of leaders who’ve gone for years, even decades, without feedback. This is partly due to the extent people will go to avoid difficult conversations. Study after study shows that more than 69% of us try to sidestep communicating negative information, and 37% won’t give critical feedback at all. As a result, many leaders remain clueless about how others experience them.

Further research suggests that while most people believe they are self-aware, only about 10-15% of us actually are. Such a fundamental lack of self-knowledge can create a disconnect between who we intend to be, and who we really are. Patient and thoughtful feedback is perhaps one of the best ways to close that gap, but it requires a caring and willing colleague to offer it. When you are encountering someone who has gone uncalibrated for a significant amount of time more traditional approaches — such as 360 reviews or scorecards — are less likely to drive behavioral change. In my experience, a strategic and genuine one-on-one approach tends to be the most effective.

If you work with someone who’s gone too long without feedback and want to help them grow, consider taking these steps to get started:

1) Approach the conversation with empathy. Recently, I conducted a series of executive assessment interviews for a client. One executive I worked with, let’s call him Jake, had joined the organization about a year prior. Though 360 feedback was routine at the organization, Jake’s former employer, where he worked for 20 years, had given him no formal feedback. After one interview, his team member said to me, “I feel horrible about the things I’ve said about Jake. He has no idea we can’t stand working with him.” When I asked her why no one had given Jake feedback earlier, her reluctance was telling. All of Jake’s colleagues had negative things to say about how difficult he was to work with, but had never told him directly.

As a result, Jake was shocked when he learned how others experienced him. He thought that people appreciated his “no nonsense” approach. But in reality, they found him overbearing and offensive.

Delivering feedback that exposes a wide gap in self-knowledge demands an extra measure of sensitivity. Like ripping off a scab, the sting of discovering such a profound gap often elicits strong emotions that can easily be confused as defensiveness. If you’re someone who’s born the brunt of your colleague’s difficult behavior, be sure you can set those frustrations aside in favor of the empathy you’ll need for this conversation. Before you even approach your colleague, be prepared to give them the space they’ll need to feel shocked upon receiving your feedback. Remember not to interpret it as intensified resistance to your message.

2) Test for understanding of the gap. When someone is unaware of the consequences of their actions, it is a sign that there is a gap between their intentions and the outcomes those intentions yield. The best way to begin the conversation, then, is to ask questions to clarify their motives. If a leader is constantly forcing their ideas on others, as Jake did, you might start with questions like, “What did you intend to have happen during the meeting? How were you hoping the team would respond to your idea?”

Pinpointing the disparity between the person’s objective and the outcome of their actions will help you calculate how large their self-knowledge gap is. The further from themselves they attribute unwanted outcomes, the larger the gap.

Social psychologists sometimes refer to this situation as the actor-observer bias, one in which the person in question is inclined to attribute their actions to the situation rather than to themselves. For example, a leader who is trying to convince others to adopt their idea, like Jake, might respond to other’s pushback with aggression. Their explanation to the above questions might be, “I wanted the team to see what a great opportunity this was. People didn’t get it until I expressed my idea passionately. Then they finally realized that I was right.” Whereas the team might describe the same experience as, “He was shouting at us and wouldn’t let anyone else talk. We finally just shut down and gave in.”

If you understand the gap between your colleague’s intentions and impact you will have a much easier time helping them recognize it as well.

3) Talk about feelings, not attributions. Once you are aware of your colleague’s intentions, you need to separate them from their actions in order to have a productive discussion. One of the major mistakes I’ve seen people make with severely uncalibrated leaders is assuming they are more aware than they are. Conclusions like, “How could they not know?” only justify feelings of anger and defensiveness on both ends.

Sticking with the example of Jake above, you might continue the conversation by saying, “I appreciate how passionate you are about your ideas, and I admire you wanting to champion them.” In this way, you are acknowledging his good intentions instead of inferring that he purposefully railroads others. Follow up by stating how his actions impacted you, “While I now understand that it wasn’t your intention to do so, during the meeting, I felt you dismissed my input because of how often you interrupted me, and refuted my ideas by restating your own more adamantly.” Then, emphasize that this is a recurring problem to help him understand the weight of its impact, and affirm your intent in approaching him. “This isn’t the first time I’ve felt this way, and I thought it was important to raise it with you so that we can maintain a positive relationship.”

Be sure to not to invoke others into your feedback. Saying things like, “We’re all frustrated by your behavior,” may make the person feel paranoid or ganged up on by the group, and result in feelings of distrust. If you want your colleague to acknowledge, and ultimately, change their behavior, your goal should be to establish a safe environment in which they can be vulnerable.

4) Point out patterns. Offering three to four specific examples that reveal the pattern of behavior you want your colleague to change can help them recognize the source of the gap in their self-knowledge.

If you see a pattern in the types of situations that bring out the unwanted behavior, for example, point them out. This can be especially helpful if your colleague defaults to naming the situation, or the people in it, as the cause of the problem. When giving examples, you should be sure to keep your emotions in check. While talking about your feelings is instructive, displaying your frustrations may shut the other person down.

In the case of Jake, you might offer something like, “It seems like high-pressure situations that require you to be persuasive bring out this side of you, would you agree?” On one hand, using conjecture gives him the right to disagree. On the other hand, you are giving him an opportunity to recognize a destructive pattern. Doing so will make it easier for him to shift attributing the origin of the problem outside of himself to the result of his choices. Once this happens, someone like Jake can start to consider alternative ways to handle those situations in the future.

5) Help them stay focused on the future. Discovering an enormous gap between how you think you come across and how you actually do can be disorienting and disheartening. The abrupt awakening can trigger strong emotions, instantly reorganizing our perceptions of the past. Jake was moved to tears as he read the painful words his colleagues used to describe him. He inevitably asked me, “Why didn’t anyone tell me sooner?”

This loaded question is common in these situations, and it usually arises when someone is feeling a mix of self-contempt (Am I really that horrible?) and resentment towards their coworkers (I could have changed if they’d told me). It demands a delicate response to avoid inflaming those feelings. Resist the temptation to list failed attempts to offer feedback (Well, I tried, but you…). Doing so, is just your desire to self-sooth. Instead, offer an empathic response focused on the future, like, “I’m sorry this feedback feels new. I can only imagine how difficult this is to hear for the first time. I think your best option is to focus on what you can do now rather than what you did in the past.”

Working with someone who’s oblivious is never easy. Sadly, sometimes they must be exited from the organization. But drawing conclusions like, “they’re too far gone,” or, “they’re not my problem,” is using their bad behavior to justify withholding feedback, which is cruel in itself. You shouldn’t assume someone can’t change if they’ve never been given the chance. You may be able to offer that opportunity to a struggling colleague. If your actions were causing others pain, what would you want them to do?

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The Pillars Of Interpersonal Leadership – Structure, Leverage And Confidence

Interpersonal leadership is about inspiring and enabling others to do their absolute best together to realize a meaningful and rewarding shared purpose. While the most effective strategic leaders think outside-in, the best interpersonal leaders take an inside-out approach to people. They enable others by giving them a structure or framework to guide their own thinking and action. They give or get them leverage to accelerate progress. And they give them confidence in their own motivation and strengths to fuel the spark of inspiration that’s already inside of them.

As I’ve written here before, the world needs three types of leaders – artistic, scientific, and interpersonal. Artistic leaders inspire by influencing feelings. Scientific leaders guide and inspire by influencing knowledge with their thinking and ideas. Interpersonal leaders, the focus of this particular article, lead other people.

The definition of leadership in the first sentence of this article is rooted in happiness. Happiness is good – actually three goods: doing good for others, doing things you are good at and doing good for you. Here are the connections:

The challenge for interpersonal leaders is how to inspire and enable people to realize that together.

Take an inside-out approach to people. This is the opposite of the BRAVE approach which goes outside-in, moving from environment through values, attitudes and relationships to behaviors. Don’t get me wrong. Think outside-in. But lead interpersonally inside-out, starting with what really matters to the people you’re leading. They’re not going to be inspired by what matters to you. They’re going to be inspired by what matters to them. (Oh-by-the-way, the closer what matters to them matches what matters to you, the stronger your bond will be.)


People appreciate some structure. While too much structure is stifling, just enough structure actually frees them to act within boundaries. Frameworks are the basic conceptual structures that people use to flesh out their ideas. They help people know where to start, and they focus and guide thinking about how to achieve purpose.

For example, jury instructions give juries frameworks for their thinking. As US Legal explains, a trial judge gives the jury instructions to “apply the law to the facts as he gives it to them; they are not to substitute their own judgment as to whether a different law should be applied or whether the law as has been explained to them is unjust.”

Frameworks are swim lanes for thinking. Use them to focus people on what matters most and enable thinking within boundaries.


As an interpersonal leader, one of the best ways you can enable others is by giving or getting them leverage. Sometimes you are the leverage, helping them think or act. Other times you’re a conduit for leverage, helping them assemble the resources they need to get done what they need to get done.

In either case, the key is not disempowering them. Once you’ve given someone else accountability for something, they are in charge. You should act as their first, best assistant. You’re their leverage. They’re not yours anymore.


“They can because they think they can.” Virgil.

Interpersonal leadership is not about earning peoples’ confidence in you. It’s about helping them have confidence in themselves. True inspiration comes from within. The things that are going to inspire others are already there. You just have to help them cut away the distractions to find those things.

Then, enabling is all about helping people recognize, understand and believe in their own strengths while helping them bridge their gaps. Trying to fix their gaps is generally a losing proposition and always a blow to their confidence. On the other hand, finding ways to take those gaps off the table by compensating for them allows people to focus on their strengths. It works better and it builds confidence.

Now you can inspire and enable others to do their absolute best together to realize a meaningful and rewarding shared purpose with confidence.

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