7 questions for figuring out your tolerance for risk taking

While discussing the push/pull polarities of influence styles at a workshop on Power, Persuasion and Influence I facilitated for a group of Fortune 100 executive women, one woman shared a moving observation with the group:  while knowing which style of influence is best to use depending upon the situation is important, the real issue is one’s willingness to take the risk to influence, especially if the status quo is in question.

Her courageous workshop action item was to take that risk.  She said she owed doing so to her colleagues, the organization and herself.

What a powerful moment.

The person who risks nothing, does nothing, has nothing, is nothing, and becomes nothing. He may avoid suffering and sorrow, but he simply cannot learn and feel and change and grow and love and live. ~Leo F. Buscaglia

Sometimes the risk is being the square peg in the round hole, wearing kelly green when your colleagues are wearing charcoal grey, daring — albeit politely — to be the corporate contrarian, and/or dancing with the elephant in the room.  Risking your secure place in the corporate food chain by questioning new practices that run contrary to stated values is a high stake gamble.  Will you be rewarded, take a small hit or lose it all?

According to Julie J. McGowan, professor at Indiana University, “Risk taking is hard to adopt among leaders, because recognized leaders have the most to lose and aspiring leaders may be discounted as lacking in knowledge or common sense.”  Risk-taking can yield great rewards and possibilities for learning provided you’ve done your homework ahead of time.

7 questions for assessing your leadership readiness for risk taking

You must have high EQ, PQ (political quotient) and a thorough knowledge of your work culture to assess your tolerance for workplace risk-taking.  Consider:

  • Historically, how has your corporate culture reacted to those who challenged the status quo?  Are you prepared to accept possible negative outcomes?  Are you willing to see your credibility erode? Are you equipped to lose your job?
  • Is this an issue that’s important to you alone, or do others share similar concerns? Will others who think/feel/believe the same speak up after you’ve led the charge, or will your voice be the only one that’s speaking? Are you ready to forge ahead regardless?
  • Are you able to be the center of attention if your topic goes viral within the company?  Are you primed to be a role model and/or attacked?
  • Do you have solid solutions already in mind?  Are you disposed to collaborate with others and devise a solution that integrates the views of many?
  • Have you brainstormed possible unintended consequences, both positive and negative, of the stand you’re championing?
  • Are you OK, mentally and emotionally, with the possibility of failure?  Will your self-esteem survive the hit?  Can your ego resist the adulation of success?
  • Do you have the will to see it through? Do you have a support system that will nurture you throughout, regardless of the outcome?

Risk tolerance is extremely personal.  Only you can decide if high risk/high reward is your métier or if low risk/low reward represents the boundaries of your comfort zone.  Either way, be prepared, be thoughtful and do what’s right for you.




Is Your Workplace Hijacking Your Values?

Today’s guest post is by David Gebler, founder and president of the Skout Group, which fixes ailing organizations and improves corporate productivity, reputation, and success by focusing on value-based ethics and culture risk management. A sought-after speaker and panelist, he is author of The 3 Power Values: How Commitment, Integrity, and Transparency Clear the Roadblocks to Performance (Jossey-Bass, May 2012). You can contact David Gebler at : [email protected].

The majority of managers and employees are good people who believe they are balancing their values — such as honesty and responsibility — with what’s needed to get the job done. But this belief is often far from the truth.

While we would like to think that we control our decisions and actions, social norms and expectations significantly influence our behavior. Research shows that a person’s behavior isn’t a result of personality and character alone — our environment plays a big role, and this includes the workplace.

At work, we shape our reality to feel good about ourselves, even if our actions are less than honest. Most people engage in small dishonesty up to the point when they can no longer delude themselves. For example, we might not steal from the petty cash drawer, but we take some pens home. Managers may claim that a tough (and questionable) action was simply a “business” decision, not an “ethical” one. Or, to reach insurmountable sales goals, managers and employees may come up with the “perfect” solution: raising prices instead of production.

In a toxic corporate environment, your values can be hijacked one of three ways:

1. Self-deception: “I think it’s okay to do this.” Sometimes, we look at the world through rose-colored glasses: we see things as more positive or less risky than they actually are. When this rosy view helps us to avoid a sure loss, it can seem like a win‐win for everyone. In this context, actions and behavior that are less than savory seem okay, even when they truly are not.

2. Rationalization: “I know it’s wrong, but I have a good reason for doing it.” Under the pressure to meet short-term goals, bad decisions may look like great decisions — especially when people feel they don’t have a choice. For example, many people say “family” is their number-one value, and they will do whatever it takes to keep their families financially secure. If this means performing an unethical act, so be it. And if speaking up increases the chance that a person might lose their job, they’ll remain silent.

3. Disengagement: “I know there’s something wrong here, but it’s not my problem.” Disengaged employees can “fly under the radar” for a long time if they’re not involved in outright misconduct or overtly destructive behavior. Instead of taking ownership of problems and situations, they are leaving critical issues unresolved because they no longer care. As one manager once said: “Success and failure feel the same here. Why should I care?”

Do you see such signs of a toxic corporate culture at your company? If so, don’t dismiss them as normal employee behavior. When employee values erode, the results can be catastrophic for your business, ranging from lower productivity and profits, to ethical violations and workplace accidents.




Super-Charge Your Leadership with These Two Words

“What do I want most from my boss?” reflected Bill. “A simple thank you would make my day. When he hired me, my boss told me it would take at least two years to turn around the department. I’ve done it in a little more than a year. Would it hurt him to acknowledge what I’ve done?”

Many of us share the same yearning — for our boss to say thank you for a job well-done or to give us a pat on the back for going above and beyond. A recent study found that more than 50% of employees say their boss provides no recognition of any kind.

If you’re a boss, ask yourself when was the last time I told someone on my team thanks, you did a good job on the new product marketing campaign or I appreciate the thoughtful way you handled the Murphy account renewal. If it’s been more than a week, it’s time to get busy!

If your boss is stingy with recognition and saying thanks, there’s little that you can do to change your boss’s behavior. However, you are in complete control of what you do in providing recognition for your employees. You don’t have to be what’s happened to you or how you’ve been treated.

Become a recognition role model

  • If you dream of your boss telling you what a great job you did on the recent budget rework, make it a point to tell one of your employees how impressed you were with something they did. Mention a specific body of work she handled and what you liked the best and why.
  • If you’ve been waiting and waiting for your boss to acknowledge the extra long hours you put to complete a special project, step out of your office right now and thank an employee who has done the same on an assignment you gave him. Tell him what his dedication meant to you and how it helped the organization.
  • If you’re pretty sure hades will freeze over before your boss thanks you for that great money-saving idea you put into practice, start your next staff meeting by recognizing the contributions of several team members. Wouldn’t that be a great way to start every staff meeting - shining the recognition light on team members who deserve a special call-out for their efforts?

Informal recognition that’s sincere, authentic and from the heart doesn’t cost a dime and reaps super-size dividends in employee satisfaction, engagement and productivity.

  • The book 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave: How to Recognize the Subtle Signs and Act Before It’s Too Late based on Saratoga Institute studies of employee turnover reports that lack of recognition and inadequate communications were the top reasons employees gave for leaving their jobs.
  • A Towers Perrin Talent Report, Understanding What Drives Employee Engagement , reported that companies with employees who were highly engaged beat the average revenue growth in the business section by one percent, while companies with low engagement fell behind their business sector’s revenue growth by an average of 2 percent.

Drop the first “thank you recognition pebble” into your team’s “morale pool” and watch the positive ripples spread!

What say you?


5 Lessons for Leaders

Today’s guest post is from Mark Miller, co-author with Ken Blanchard of Great Leaders Grow: Becoming a Leader for Life.  Mark is vice president, training and development, for Chick-fil-A. During his career he has served in corporate communications, restaurant operations, quality and customer satisfaction, and numerous other leadership positions. For more information on the book please visit Great Leaders Grow.

Some of you are Tim Tebow fans and some of you are not – got it. Regardless of your feelings, let’s not miss the chance to learn something here about leadership. Here are a few things I’ve observed watching Tebow this season that may help you on your leadership journey.

Leadership matters.  Team sports require leadership. In the NFL, there is an expectation that the quarterback will provide that leadership. Business, ministry, government and academia are all team sports. If you are going to win, someone must lead. Tim provided leadership for the Broncos.

Passion matters. The intensity of the team is always a reflection of their leadership. If the leader is not passionate the team won’t be either. Tim gets this. This was a critical ingredient in six fourth quarter or overtime victories this season. How high is your passion for what you lead?

No style points on the scoreboard. Winning is the ultimate measuring stick in the NFL. Pretty or ugly, it doesn’t matter. Tim knew the goal was winning – not his QB rating. What does a win look like for your team? Is everyone on the same page?

Leadership is a platform for influence. When you and I lead well, our influence will grow. What we do with that influence matters. One of the things Tim does is host disabled young people to attend both home and away games. He says that it inspires him to see their courage and helps him keep the game in perspective. How will you steward your influence?

Skills still matter. Tim has a lot to learn as an NFL quarterback. His skills are not where they need to be. Heart, passion and drive are huge – but insufficient over the long haul without the skills. Tim knows that. That’s why he’s so excited about the off-season. He plans to grow before next year. What’s your plan to grow this year?

Tim Tebow is not perfect – as a football player or as a human being. However, I know he can teach me a lot about leadership. I look forward to learning from him for years to come.




3 Ways to Defuse the Slow Burn

There’s one in nearly every work group – that certain someone whose words and/or demeanor gets you all fired up…or puts you into a slow burn everytime you have to interact with them.

Perhaps their opinions and values are worlds apart from yours.  Maybe they’re openly hostile to you or your personalities clash. Yet whatever the reason for the conflict, you can’t avoid or ignore them because your job requires you to interact with them.

So what’s a savvy leader to do? The high road to personal success requires you to take control of the one thing you do control – yourself. While the temptation to fire off a snarky retort is alluring, it isn’t a politically astute move on your part.

1) Manage your attitude. Think first, don’t immediately react when provoked. Move away from your sense of rightness to avoid a confrontation which serves no one well. This is the time for calm self-control.

Even in your rightness about a subject, when you try to push your rightness toward another who disagrees, no matter how right you are, it causes more pushing against. In other words, it isn’t until you stop pushing that any real allowing of what you want can take place. ~Abraham Hicks

Don’t immediately react when provoked. Give yourself time to think. Move away from your sense of rightness to avoid a confrontation which serves no one well. This is the time for calm self-control.

2)  Understand and master your own intentions.

Are you operating from the “I win, you lose” position or from a “win-win” standpoint? Astute business people operate from the perspective of seeking win-win outcomes. Always seek to understand the motivation of the other party, e.g. is their intention that you lose so they can win. Susan Lankton-Rivas, a consultant with Insight Performance, Inc., reminds us to “Try to understand the other person’s point of view and how he or she arrived it at.” Understanding why this person annoys you helps you manage your reaction.”

3) When it’s time to deal with the situation, control your communication style and message so there’s total alignment between what you say and how you say it.

The National Network for Women’s Employment reminds to us to “keep in mind it’s not just what you say that matters. It’s also how you say it, how you act and your body language.”

Advising a colleague in a sharp tone of voice that there’s a problem you want to discuss – and doing so with your arms tightly folded across your chest – sets off his or her internal alarms and doesn’t set a good foundation for the two of you to productively resolve the issue.

The greatest conflicts are not between two people but between one person and himself. ~Garth Brooks

Learning to master your own attitude, intentions and communication style forms the bedrock for knowing how to effectively manage conflict!




5 Not-Quite-Rocket-Science Ways to Build Leadership Trust

We’re guest posting over at the terrific Lead Change Group blog today, talking about five fairly simple ways leaders can build trust…

This statistic stopped me cold: 60% of the participants in a 2009 international study trusted a stranger more than they trusted their boss. Yikes, how sad.

In doing a quick mental tally of bosses I’ve had, unfortunately this figure didn’t seem too far off my experience. Many of those bosses didn’t grasp that in times of rapid change and uncertainty (which is the new normal for business) people turn to relationships and those whom they trust.

“The truth is that trust rules,” writes Pamela S. Shockley-Zalabak in Building High-trust Organizations. “Trust rules your personal credibility. Trust rules your ability to get things done. Trust rules your team’s cohesiveness. Trust rules your organization’s innovativeness and performance. Trust rules your brand image. Trust rules just about everything you do.”

5 elements for building personal trust

The handful of bosses from my past who “got it” about building personal trust had mastered these five elements:

Being a transparent communicator. They came, they listened and they spoke without hidden agendas or ulterior motives. They avoided making bite-you-in-the-butt-later remarks like “This is the last time we’ll have layoffs” or “This is the toughest decision I’ve ever had to make.”

Practicing consistent consistency. There were no say-do gaps because they did what they said they were going to do. And they didn’t hesitate to be tactful in advising their team members of their shortcomings. Problems weren’t glossed over and/or ignored; they were resolved.

Defining clear roles, responsibilities and expectations. They made it clear what they expected you to do and how they generally wanted it done. You knew ahead of time how your performance would be measured. And they trusted you to take care of your job.

Applying equal consideration. These men and women lived out fairness and justice in how they allocated outcomes, dealt with processes and handled interpersonal treatment. There were no favorites or overblown platitudes like “This is the best work I’ve ever seen” or “You’re just the greatest.”

Being a character role model. Research tells us that perceptions of a leader’s characteristics, things like integrity, credibility and fairness, shape how employees will behave in the workplace. “…individuals who feel that their leader has, or will, demonstrate care and consideration will reciprocate this sentiment in the form of desired behaviors,” writes professor K.T. Dirks. Authentically walking the talk is important.

Is building, maintaining and restoring/repair trust high on your 2012 leadership to do list?



4 Ways to Cope with A Crappy Boss

Think you’ve got the worst boss in the world? Well, your boss may have serious competition according to a five-year comparative study commissioned by Lynn Taylor Consulting. According to this study, seven out of 10 people believe bosses and toddlers act alike. Being self-oriented is noted as the top offending boss behavior. Being stubborn, overly demanding, impulsive and interrupting round out the top five.

A 2010 Gallup management study of one million employed workers confirmed that having a poor relationship with the boss is the number one reason people quit their jobs. “People leave managers, not companies … in the end, turnover is mostly a manager issue,” Gallup wrote in its survey findings.

While you can’t control how your boss behaves, you are in total control of how you choose to manage the bad boss situation.

  • Is your boss a glory grabber who takes all the credit for your good work? Sure it rankles to see the boss accept all the praise and fail to mention your contribution, but there are a few things you can subtly do to favorably remind others of your involvement. Send e-mails containing pertinent work information to your boss and include other key management personnel in the distribution. Casually mention your input on a project if you get to share an elevator ride with your boss’ boss.
  • Are you dealing with a weather vane boss who changes the rules without notice? The most effective way to deal with this impulsive behavior is to clearly define the work outcomes with your boss when the assignment is given, and then send a confirming e-mail to him/her that outlines the established expectations. When your boss flip-flops on what is to be done, calmly share the e-mail and renegotiate the results.
  • Does your boss remind you of a helicopter hovering overhead, constantly interrupting and micromanaging your work? First, you need to recognize and accept your boss’ deep-seated need for control; and then manage around it. Reassure him that you have the bases covered and keep him updated on your progress by sending periodic e-mails, reports, phone calls, a quick coffee chat or whatever communication vehicle your company uses.
  • Could your boss be doubling as a secret agent, that mysterious person who’s missing in action and who communicates irregularly? With a boss like this, you must take responsibility for getting on her radar (sure it’s a pain, but failing to do so only hurts your performance review) by scheduling meetings or popping into her office to quickly chat, ask questions and confirm work assignments.

Bosses typically fall into one of three categories:

1) those who are totally clueless about their behaviors,

2) those who know they aren’t a good boss and do want to get better, and

3) those who plain just don’t care. They’re bad, know they’re bad and don’t give a rip.

If your boss falls into category one or two, discuss your concerns directly with them. Organize what you want to say, present it in a thoughtful manner and don’t respond in anger, which only hurts you.

If your boss falls in the last category and/or may be behaving unlawfully, talk to your HR representative if your organization has one; otherwise speak with another trusted person in management or decide if you can continue to work for the company.

A LeadBIG reminder: always take the high road in dealing with a bad boss so your performance is above reproach.


Keep your integrity pointing north

While doing some pro bono career coaching for a local organization, an individual expressed this sentiment: Why shouldn’t I go with the flow to get ahead? I don’t want to be a failure so what’s the big deal about “reframing” my experience, my job title, etc. to fit a job posting and at least get the interview? I can clarify things then. Where’s the harm?

Where’s the harm? It depends on which “flow: you want. Do you want the flow of getting a job at any cost, or the one where you stick with the truth and maintain your integrity?

My counsel? Hold firm to the truth! Keep your integrity! Think about the wisdom Harriet Beecher Stowe offers when she says to “never give up, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn.”

Your values are your rock and your compass against which you measure what’s important to you in life. Be true to yourself.

A few practical tips and pointers for not giving up:

  • Steer clear up the lure of jazzing up your resume in an untruthful way to make your background more attractive. Be thorough in defining and quantifying your contributions. Stick to the facts.
  • Volunteer. It’s a great a way to keep your skills fresh if you are having trouble finding another job. Helping an organization or individuals in need is also a pretty cool positive jolt to your spirits.
  • Be open to trying new jobs that you might have passed over in better times. No job is below you.
  • Don’t compromise your core values and beliefs. Avoid acting like something or someone you are not to gain some temporary benefit.
  • Keep smiling, stay friendly, and stay positive.

Your time will come, and when it does, you’ll still have your integrity.


This Week’s Fav Leadership Reading

A Recipe for Appreciation (Susan Mazza, Random Acts Of Leadership)

Susan reminds us that “appreciation has two very important purposes – to let someone know you care and to let them know they matter” and goes on to offer a helpful three-part recipe for incorporating real thanks and gratitude into your daily actions. Most appropriate for the holiday season - and for every day of the year!

Authentic Leadership Development: Getting to the root of positive forms of leadership (by Bruce J. Avolio and William L. Gardner)

As we move into the beginning of the holiday season and the end of the year, it’s common to take stock of what we’re doing, being and becoming. If becoming a more authentic leader is something you’re noodling for making a positive difference in business, start here. This 2005 report from the inaugural summit on the topic as hosted by the Gallup Leadership Institute article details authentic leadership - what it is, how it’s different and how to practice it. There’s some fascinating reading here, and the links and references are a treasure trove of information.

Gratitude in Leadership: When Gratefulness Fuels Giving (Lisa Petrilli, C- Level Strategies - Visionary Leadership)

Stories bring such deep and meaning to leadership; and here Lisa shares a great story of being named Vice-President of the Indiana University Student Foundation, and how this experience taught her the power of gratitude.

Negotiating Challenges for Women Leaders (Harvard Business School Working Knowledge)

In both my corporate and entrepreneurial careers, this issue surfaces over and over again: women actively advocating other others yet remaining silent and/or holding back when the situation calls for negotiating on their own behalf. No doubt, it’s a double bind situation: speak up and be labeled aggressive; fail to negotiate for yourself and fall behind in earnings, etc. Chew on this nugget from this article: “That research shows that in conditions of ambiguity, if you bring men and women into the lab and you say either one of two things: “Work until you think you’ve earned the $10 we just gave you,” or “Work and then tell us how much you think you deserve,” the women work longer hours with fewer errors for comparable pay, and pay themselves less for comparable work. But if there’s a standard [that men and women know], then this result goes away.”

Moon Shots for Management (Gary Hamel, Harvard Business Review, February 2009)

At Get Your BIG On, we’re big on polarities – those both/and scenarios that seem contradictory yet are interdependent and both necessary. Things like being confident and humble, well-liked and powerful. In this article Gary Hamel itemizes a whole host of polarities necessary to revitalize management (another fav topic of ours!). Which of the 25 grand challenges resonates the most with you? Share your thoughts for an upcoming LeadBIG post.

Inspiring thought of the week: “I urge you to: trudge not through life leaving ugly gashes, tiptoe not through life leaving half-formed impressions; but tread gently, lovingly and purposefully, leaving graceful heart-prints.” ~Unity Dow, the Botswana High Court Judge


3 ways to make sure compromise isn’t a 4-letter word

Gosh, I didn’t get the memo. Did you? You know, the one that says compromise isn’t an acceptable option? I’ve always thought compromise is a natural part of life, love and leadership.

Somewhere along the line, it seems to me that compromise (defined by Merriam-Webster as a settlement of differences by consent reached through mutual concessions, one of those “playing well in the sandbox” skills my mom taught me) got confused with capitulation or collusion.  Today, compromise is portrayed as selling-out or being a weakling.

Life (and my mom!) taught me to know what’s illegal, immoral and unethical. Not compromising one’s values and beliefs there makes perfect sense, yet many of the situations we face every day don’t reach that status. Expecting to get one’s way all the time, on everything especially on things that aren’t illegal, immoral and/or illegal, is a recipe for gridlock and an unhappy life. Aren’t most things about give-and-take? Isn’t life richer that way?

So the next time you’re faced with a situation when you aren’t the sole decision-maker, and you feel your spine getting stiff and you attitude getting rigid, stop and reflect on what real compromise is.

Real compromise is…

Sharing in both the process and the result. Compromise isn’t about domination and/or submission. It’s about an informed and intentional process in which two parties put everything on the table, have a frank dialogue, and jointly discover and/or create a solution that serves the best interests of both.

He who knows when he can fight and when he cannot will be victorious. ~Sun Tzu

Being flexible on what’s a “must have” versus what’s nice to have. I once had an employee who went to the mat on using Times New Roman font in a training manual when the rest of the project team preferred Arial!  Being willing to collaborate with others, to play in their sandbox and they in yours, usually results in a richer outcome than one could have produced on their own. Plus there’s an added benefit of broadening your horizons based on learning from others.

Every human benefit and enjoyment, every virtue and every prudent act, is founded on compromise and barter. ~Edmund Burke

Willingness to think in broader terms of “we” and “others” rather than  just “me” or “I.” Most of us bring distinct ideas of how we want things to be. Yet it’s important to be able to distinguish between “mission critical” components where’s little to no wiggle room and those items on which there’s space to flex.

A project manager who is willing step back from the team and allow others to add their ideas, as well as their labor, to make the project come along may sacrifice her own pet ideas for the good of the whole. That is compromise of the highest order. And it is also known by another name – leadership. ~CIO Magazine

What say you?