The upshot of my last post here on Some Bosses Live in a Fool’s Paradise is that the best bosses stay in tune with how their words and deeds are construed by their followers, but there is a lot about being a human being and wielding power over others that makes such perspective-taking difficult.
One area where self-awareness is particularly hard to gain has to do with one’s level of assertiveness. Bosses often can’t tell when they’re pushing people too hard versus not challenging them sufficiently. But as research conducted at Columbia University by Daniel Ames and Frank Flynn suggests (see this pdf), striking the right balance between being too assertive and not assertive enough is immensely important to being (and being perceived as) a great boss.
Does kindness have a proper place at the office? Or is it found mostly on a stool in the corner with a small but definite dunce cap?
On the one hand, employees might be inspired by the likes of the Dalai Lama, who said, “This is my simple religion—Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness.” On the other hand, the Dalai Lama never had to make his numbers.
Kindness, it turns out, is controversial.
“Kindness is not a word I would use in my trainings,” one executive development coach insists. “The leaders at the level on which I work don’t relate to it, because it describes a social value. The closest we come is an emphasis on creating a respectful workplace, avoiding sexual harassment, racial intolerance, or gender bias.”
Good, of course, but not exactly the tender offer of kindness. Perhaps it’s that very sense of tenderness that gives kindness its image problem. One female litigator described her own wariness regarding warm civility: “If a male is pleasant and easy to work with, he’s regarded as a nice guy. But if I extend opposing counsel a common courtesy, say, on a scheduling matter where he has a legitimate conflict, I am often seen as a pushover, and that works against my client’s interests. I can’t afford to be seen as a pleaser.”
They verbally abuse you, humiliate you in front of others. Maybe it’s because power hovers in the air, but offices tend to bring out the bully in people. We offer strategies for handling such bad bosses.
If the schoolyard is the stomping ground of bully boys and bully girls, then the office is the playground of adult bullies. Perhaps because power is the chief perk in most companies, especially those with tight hierarchies, offices can bring out the bully in people.
Everyone has a war story. There’s the boss who calls at 2 A.M. from Paris–just because he’s there. The boss who asks for your evaluation of a problem and then proceeds to denigrate you and your opinion in front of the whole staff as you seethe with hopefully hidden rage. “It’s a demonstration of power. It’s demeaning,” contends Harry Levinson, Ph.D., the dean of organizational psychologists and head of the Levinson Institute in Waltham, Massachusetts.
Positive failure: Isn’t this an oxymoron? What good can come from failing? The answer, it seems, is “a lot.”
I recently moderated a panel of nonprofit leaders titled, “So You Want To Be a Nonprofit Executive?” At one point, I asked each panelist to share a failure from which they had learned a valuable lesson. Believe it or not, they did so eagerly.
In our culture, we’ve been taught that stress is bad and we need to combat it like an enemy. We hear about all kinds of ways to “decrease our stress” as if it’s something to fear. Personally, I never wish for less stress. I aim for a greater capacity to handle stress.
The art and science of persuasion is often discussed as though changing people’s minds is about using the right arguments, the right tone of voice or the right negotiation tactic. But effective influence and persuasion isn’t just about patter, body language or other techniques, it’s also about understanding people’s motivations.
In the scrabble to explain technique, it’s easy to forget that there are certain universal goals of which, at least some of the time, we are barely aware. Influence and persuasion attempts must tap into these to really gain traction.
If you stick me in a room with at least one other person, there is a small chance that I will start talking about my latest ‘favorite’ book (or two). Earlier this week, I played golf with an old friend when I started talking about several books that I had recently read. I like sharing what I learn. After hearing me talk myself blue in the face, my buddy innocently asked, “Doug, how many books do you read in a month?” (I think the question was more of a statement, actually – “Please stop talking about books and just play golf!”)
In any event, it made me think about the time that I invest in learning and what makes me recommend a book. I want to be able to put the concepts from a book to good use in my work and/or personal life. If I take the time to read something (and scribble a set of unintelligible notes in the margins), I would like it to have a lasting, positive effect for me. The trouble, however, is that most personal and professional development books are long on theory but short on practical application. The Strengths Book, written by Alex Linley, Janet Willars, and Robert Biswas-Diener, does a masterful job of combining the latest research in positive psychology with straightforward tips that are easy to implement.