July 27, 2011
Why do we still sometimes try to pretend that we don’t bring all of ourselves to work? We have emotions because we are human. Indeed, evolution has left us with a brain that is driven by our emotional responses to our environment. As much as we pride ourselves on our intelligence and logic, they sit in the passenger seat when we we live through situations with high emotional content. I once saw a quote that read, “Heaven preserve me from people who pretend they are not vulgar.” I would adapt that to say, “Heaven preserve me from people who pretend they are not emotional.”
For leaders, one of the emotions that there seems to be most sanction over is workplace anger. It strikes me that this could be one of the most useful emotions for a leader. While we don’t want leaders having tantrums all over the place, anger can be a useful indication of something that is not quite right. Self-actualised leaders will be aware of their anger and be able to give it appropriate expression without damaging reputation or relationships. After all, it is not the emotion of anger, but the expression of it, which should be moderated at work.
So what use can you make of your anger at work? At Quantum Shift, when we work with clients, we are most often assisting them to deal with emotionally charged situations and relationships. Anger is often present. Working experientially, we ask people to recall a real-life working moment and we explore it in depth with them. You can try this yourself. First, recall a recent work situation in which you felt angry. Now ask yourself these questions:
What needs changing in my system? Anger can be an sign that all is not right in the world. It seems completely justified to feel angry about your Senior Management Team demanding better communication from you and your team while keeping you in the dark around matters that directly affect you. Your anger can mean that the situation needs changing. Anger can be a catalyst to get us off our behinds and do something about it. It can indicate something about the relationship with the person needs brought out into the open and rectifying, rather than simmering below the surface.
What does that situation remind me of from my past? Anger can be telling us that there is something about ourselves that needs healing. If you have been stirred to anger, ask: “Who was I angry with?”…..then “Who was I REALLY angry with?” or “What was I angry about?”….then “What was I REALLY angry about?” As we grow in self-awareness, we learn that there are some things from our past that have been left undone. These may be painful, scary or toxic but as Socrates is quoted as saying, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Looking at some of these past hurts is the first step to clearing them out so they no longer infect us with the same amount of toxicity. It is vital that we turn these events and relationships from things which still push our buttons to things that are just stories we tell. Having a good old clear out will assist us to release our spontaneity, creativity and vitality.
What was the danger or threat? Anger is part of our evolutionary hard-wiring which fires off when we are under threat. Were you being undermined in some way? Was your team or wider organisation being compromised somehow? Was the CEO blaming members of your team for his or her own failings? Just as excellent leaders are ambitious for their organisations, excellent leaders also feel on behalf of their organisations or teams.
Left unattended, anger can simmer and become destructive–to ourselves, to our relationships with others or to our wider system. Whether we like it or not, it will find a way out. Do we keep such a tight lid on it that it oozes out via a passive-aggressive communication style? Do we expend so much energy on it to the point that we poison ourselves with chronic stress?
So let’s not misconstrue the notion of ‘controlling our emotions at work’ to mean that we can’t show them at all or that we must behave like emotion-less automotons at work. With greater self-awareness, we develop emotional regulation, which means we are able to express them in a mature and appropriate fashion. Authenticity at work is all about being who you are–ALL of you. We need to embrace all of our emotions, including anger, and become aware of what messages they are trying to send us. Left ignored, the triggers to those emotions may very well lead to our undoing.
July 11, 2011
I’m currently in the process of working with a bunch of Leader-Managers who struggle to engage with each other in conversations which some call ‘difficult’ or ‘challenging’. It has been useful for me to remember that there are two strands to this phenomenon: the cultural and the personal. Just as a ladder has two main rails connected by steps or rungs, if one rail is missing or faulty, the ladder fails to serve its purpose. Similarly, if either the cultural or the personal strands of ‘challenging conversations’ is absent or underdeveloped, the organisation may well find that there are a whole bunch of conversations that are just not being had.
When crafting a learning programme to address this phenomenon, it is therefore essential to address both the cultural and the personal. Send someone off to a workshop to develop the skills within themselves and put them back into an organisational system that does not support these conversations or acts to undermine Managers who try to have them, and what you may see is a Manager who grows increasingly frustrated with the ‘system’. These Managers may decide that it’s not worth trying to have performance conversations because they only end up looking like the office ogre; and nothing much changes. The conversations don’t get had; performance issues remain unaddressed and eventually snowball until they become personal; and HR (or the CEO) who sent the Manager on the workshop wonders why they bother to invest in training because “nothing ever really changes”, amplifying the cynicism that exists in some quarters about Learning and Development.
Alternatively, you could invest in some sort of ‘culture change process’ that highlights the need for the organisation to shift its thinking around performance conversations. This may result in people becoming excited about new possibilities. They now see that being ‘people friendly’ and ‘performance oriented’ are not mutually exclusive. They become hopeful that things will finally change around the place as all those poor performers will FINALLY get a good talking-to. Without attending to the ‘personal’ strand, however, you may find that there are a number of Managers who lack the capability to challenge their staff, their peers or their own bosses without damaging working relationships. Growing a culture that affirms performance conversations is not, after all, a green light for a no-holds-barred free-for-all 1970s style encounter group where you just tell everyone what you think without being aware of the consequences. Without addressing the personal, you may also find that there are still some Managers who beat around the bush so much because of their own internal ‘stuff’ that people are left wondering what point they are trying to make.
An effective programme is one where both the cultural and the personal are addressed. It can be easier to start with the cultural, simply because the things that influence someone’s ability to have these conversations inevitably involves emotions such as fear or disappointment, and starting with the bigger picture can defuse any hijacking of what should be a constructive analysis of the phenomenon. Get a group of Manager-Leaders to discuss questions such as:
- How often do we all challenge others in this organisation?
- What determines how often we do this?
- What are some barriers to this happening?
- What makes it easy for this to happen?
- What would need to change in our organisational culture in order for these conversations to happen more frequently and effectively?
Starting off with the big picture depersonalises the issue from any one Manager or group of Managers and also can uncover the fact that many folks struggle with similar things. This can also warm people up to taking the next step, which is to look at the more personal aspects. These are the things which each person can develop in themselves. An effective programme, when focussing on this strand, will incorporate experiential techniques that coach Leader-Managers to practise new behaviours and to integrate them in such a way that they become part of their repertoire of responses to people.
Addressing the organisational culture as well as the personal capabilities of each Leader-Manager, therefore, is essential if your investment is to pay dividends. Taking such a systemic approach will also require time and patience in order for the shifts to embed and for the improvements in performance, staff retention and teamwork to filter through, but filter through they will.
August 3, 2010
>I liked this article in today’s harvard business review http://s.hbr.org/aw8ePX
It’s an area that is sometimes overlooked when leadership is talked about. I’m talking about conflict capability. The leader is responsible for overseeing the dynamics of the team or group they are leading and this doesn’t always mean making sure everything is hunky dory all the time. It includes ensuring that there can be conflict in the team.
Years ago, when I was co-working as a family therapist, one of my colleagues said something about assessing whether the family was ‘conflict capable’. I met with some families who really knew how to row, and as a newbie, I imagined that those would be the families who were doomed to years of misery or who would be the most challenging to work with. Not at all. They were the families who had an ability to get everything out on the table, to examine difference, to be with their passions and emotions. The quieter families, who never raised a cross word, who constantly smiled at each other (though on reflection, they were only smiling with their mouths, not their eyes) were the ones where you could feel the underlying frustrations they had with each other when you walked in the room, but nothing was ever said. We all know that feeling of walking into a group of people and you just sense some kind of irritation or discord, but nothing is ever spoken-that’s your limbic system picking that up. Things that really need to be said just don’t get said; they go underground.
One of the key bits of that HBR article is where it says that a big part of the job of the leader, the director of the film in this case, is to create enough trust where conflict can come out. Naturally, I’m not suggesting that we go around all day picking fights with each other. Neither would I suggest that we go out of our way, as leaders, to generate personal animosity amongst our teams. Far from it, in fact, there is far too much interpersonal violence in our lives as it is. The kind of conflict I’m suggesting is the kind where ‘what needs to get said, gets said’. It is important that we ensure that this does not become an excuse for bad behaviour, though. I’ve had someone say that to me as a justification for what I viewed as inexcusable rudeness and bullying of colleagues. But sure enough, there is plenty that needs to get said in our teams and groups that will forge stronger working relationships and allow us to really work collaboratively.