A User's Manual: To You

Posted by: Ben Dattner on August 13

Your iPhone has one. So should you. Providing detailed instructions on how you operate can be a great dysfunction defuser. In your “Managerial User’s Manual,” you can describe your preferences, your style, what makes you apoplectic. After all, most bosses would claim, “Hey, I’m not toxic, just misunderstood.”

A user’s manual is a clear and concise document that communicates to others one’s motivations, work style, management and delegation style, communication and feedback style, learning and decision-making style, values, personal style, and any other information that can help reduce misunderstandings, accelerate mutual understanding and facilitate better collaboration with your team. (See below for an example)

The benefit of a user’s manual is that it provides a basis for accelerating the “getting to know you” process. Writing a User’s Manual greatly diminishes the possibility that misunderstandings will cause your new staff to view you as a “toxic” boss. (It can also defuse tensions between longtime leaders and their staffers).

The content of a user’s manual should include what one values, what one is motivated by, and areas for potential miscommunications. In a sense, any interaction between a new leader and his or her team can be thought of as a cross-cultural communication. After all, the new leader comes from another organizational culture, and possibly also a different national culture as well.

For example, a client of mine wrote a user’s manual in which he let his team know that just because he asks many questions, it doesn’t mean that he is skeptical about their capabilities. It’s simply his modus operandi. Originally a New Yorker, and now a company president in Mexico, my client was mindful that his new team might misinterpret his candid style as confrontational. A British HR Director working in New York City told her staff that they shouldn’t interpret her reserved demeanor as being distant or unfriendly.

In order to create a User’s Manual, you can review past performance reviews and/or 360 degree feedback, consult trusted current or past colleagues, mentors or coaches for input, or take assessment tests such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) or the Hogan Personality Inventory.

By writing a “user’s manual” in which one conveys valuable information about oneself, the risk that negative interactions will occur can be greatly reduced. For example, another client wrote in his user’s manual that he was a morning person, and he requested that his new team approach him with issues in the morning rather than in the afternoon. If he had not conveyed that preference, his staff might have approached him in the afternoon and concluded that he did not really want to interact. Or that he didn’t care about the issues that they were trying to bring to his attention. In other words, they might have perceived his afternoon disengagement as being due to toxic disinterest instead of circadian rhythms.

With many people in career transition these days due to the challenging economy, writing a user’s manual can be a good use of time, not just because when one finds one’s next job the user’s manual can be a useful tool, but also because even in the interviewing process, taking time to reflect on one’s style and preferences can make it easier to prepare for interviews in which prospective employers may assess self awareness and potential leadership skills. Whenever I interview job candidates on behalf of clients, I ask them what wisdom they would share with their prospective new staff.

Writing a user’s manual not only accelerates the getting-to-know one other process, it also sets a positive precedent for open dialogue and a framework for ongoing clear and candid communication with your new staff. A user’s manual should provide explanations and suggestions, not rationalizations or justifications, should be a supplement to candid and open conversations, not a substitute for them, and should prevent the kinds of misunderstandings that can lead a new leader to be viewed as toxic.

A user’s manual should be an evolving, living document; managers and executives should solicit ongoing feedback from staff and colleagues about how accurate and useful their user’s manual is, and should update it as they progress in their careers. Leaders should also endeavor to build on their strengths and remedy their development areas on an ongoing basis, so that both their user interface and their operating system improve over time. Used intelligently, a user’s manual can be an invaluable antidote against toxicity.

A SAMPLE USER'S MANUAL:

MY STYLE:

When I’m under pressure, I get serious. This doesn’t mean I’m angry or dissatisfied. Also, be ready to answer the question “why” five times for any given issue. If I ask a lot of questions, please don’t become worried or defensive

WHEN TO APPROACH ME:

Please don’t bring important issues to my attention if you see me at the break room. Instead, schedule a time and book a conference room so I can give the issue my full attention. Also, I’m a morning person, so if possible, please try to schedule time for critical issues before noon.

VALUES:

I value loyalty to our company’s values above all else. And it is very important to me that everyone in this organization treats everyone—from me to the janitor—with equal respect and dignity.

COMMUNICATING WITH ME:

Have conviction for your point of view. I respect people who have the courage to push back if they think I’m wrong. But don’t present until you are prepared. And make sure you have solutions.

WHAT I WILL NOT TOLERATE:

I am very unforgiving of people who don’t admit or who cover up mistakes. Admitting a mistake will not get you in trouble. Concealing a mistake will cause major problems.

FEEDBACK:

I don’t give much positive feedback. Assume I’m satisfied with your work unless I tell you otherwise.

HOW TO HELP ME:

I have a tendency to do things myself instead of delegating, so please suggest things you can take off of my plate.


Porcupines With Hearts of Gold

Posted by: Robert Sutton on July 14

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One of the most important lessons I’ve learned about workplace assholes, bully bosses, toxic teammates, and a host of other terms used to describe mean-spirited creeps in the workplace, is that first impressions can be deceiving. There are so many people who, once you get to know them, are kind and helpful. But they come across as assholes because they have a gruff exterior or perhaps lack social skills. As I wrote in The No Asshole Rule:

"A few years back, I was talking to Peter McDonald, one of IDEO’s veteran engineers. He was talking about several of the gruffer people at IDEO, people who are known in some corners as being jerks. Peter then went on to say that IDEO was actually quite effective at keeping jerks out of the company, but newcomers sometimes mistake people who are gruff, outspoken, and insist on applying high standards to their own work and everyone else’s for being demeaning, nasty people. Peter went on to say 'whenever I’ve worked with a person who was supposed to be an asshole, I always found out that it was a bad rap, each turned out to be OK once I got to know them better.'"

Peter’s comment implies many lessons about why it is important to be slow to label people as assholes, bullies, or whatever. First, the no asshole rule is not an argument for populating organizations with doormats or wimps, or for avoiding conflict.

The best organizations have bosses who give people honest and constructive feedback. And the best organizations encourage constructive conflict over ideas. There are times when the targets of such feedback or those involved in conflict get their feelings hurt (and there are people who are overly sensitive to criticism). But the best organizations teach people how to accept and to give constructive feedback and how to fight constructively (which includes learning to have “strong opinions, weakly held”).

Second, people with gruff exteriors sometimes turn out to be what I call “porcupines with hearts of gold.” I have had quite a few people who – like Peter McDonald - have written me about a boss or co-worker with rough or even downright rude exteriors who have turned out to be great people underneath.

In this vein, when I gave a talk about workplace assholes at Google about a year ago, an audience member described how some his favorite people at Google had “A bad user interface, but a great operating system,” and how once you got past the unpleasant exterior, there was a lovely human-being in there.

Third, and finally, it is important to avoid labeling people “jerks,” “assholes,” or bullies too quickly because these emotionally loaded words can spark aggression from otherwise civilized people. Along these lines, one of the most fascinating experiments I’ve ever read showed (especially among men raised in the southern United States) that when a trained confederate passing by in a narrow hall bumped into a study participant and called him an “asshole,” the person who was bumped often responded with loud and threatening verbal aggression. So calling a person an asshole can be an effective way to turn him or her into an asshole, at least temporarily.

I would be curious about the tactics that readers use to avoid labeling people as “toxic” too quickly and ideas that readers have about how to tell the difference between “a porcupine with a heart of gold” and an authentic certified asshole.

5 Minutes a Day Can Save Your Sanity (and maybe your job and your marriage!)

Posted by: Annie McKee on July 11

So. It’s summer, and you are desperately looking forward to that blessed, long-awaited vacation. Or you are completely depressed because it is over, and it was way too short. Either way, face up to it: that vacation isn’t going to do very much to fix what’s wrong, and you know it. You are working too much and too hard, and you have been for a very long time. You don’t do a lot of the fun things you used to enjoy, and your relationships (including the really important ones) are mostly instrumental--cook the meals, pick up the kids/drycleaning/groceries, pay the bills.

You’re putting on a good act, but underneath it, you hear the proverbial wake up call. Don’t be like this guy.

Listen! And be sure you know what our wake up call really means.

Chances are you need to change your approach to life and work pretty substantially—and a two week vacation just isn’t the answer. Finding balance is the answer—but not in the way we’ve become used to thinking about it. For most people today, having enough time to dedicate to family, work, learning, community, exercise, spirituality ... well, there just aren’t enough hours in the day or days in the year to get it right. Something’s always going to be getting short shrift.

So what can you do? Find balance inside. Mind, body, heart and spirit—each is a crucial part of your Self, defining your very humanity. Are you tending to your intellect, challenging what you know, seeking to learn? Are you taking care of your body, exercising, eating well, finding joy in health? Are you paying attention to the miracle of emotion, how your feelings ebb and flow, how they move you and others? Are you noticing how your feelings and moods are contagious, touching those around you for better or worse? And do you, once in a while, really think about your values, your beliefs, your noble purpose, and what you are here to do, during the years you walk this planet?

Now, I know, we’re not used to talking this way when it comes to work, jobs, leadership and effectiveness. But against the backdrop of our rapidly changing world, our stressful lives and the pressures we all feel, we need to think differently about ourselves and how to manage life and work. We need to cultivate inner balance and resonance through mindfulness.

Want to start to find a bit more balance? For one week, give five minutes a day—just five minutes—to quiet reflection. Choose a time and a place when you can be alone, uninterrupted, silent. If you are lucky, you will find a beautiful place in nature, or a peaceful corner in your home. But even if it’s just those few minutes before rising, lying quietly in bed, that’s good enough.

For five minutes, just breathe. Deeply and slowly. And as you breathe, let go of anxiety, irritation, and stress. To chase negative emotions away, begin to think about your ideal life—a life ripe with laughter, learning and love. Imagine yourself living this life. Who is there? What are you doing? Where do you live and what is your job or your work? What gives you joy? Who and what challenges you to be your very best? How are you giving to the people and the communities you belong to? How does it feel to be you, living your ideal life? Oh, and don’t let that little naysayer in your head mess up the picture. It’s your picture, and you have a right to it! Stay with the vision. Notice how you feel — for those few minutes, live in hope, optimism, and joy.

Now, will these five minutes fix everything at work, give you more time with your family or get rid of all your worries? Of course not. What it will do, however, is to give you a head start on a path to renewal. Realistically, our stressful lives aren’t going to change much. But we can change how we respond to the stress and the pressure. We can learn to find inner balance, through cultivating mindfulness. Learning to practice mindfulness helps us to attend to our whole selves, making it possible for us to maintain equilibrium and sanity in a crazy world.

Networking every day keeps the toxic boss away

Posted by: Ben Dattner on July 10

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Let’s say you’ve done everything you can, you’ve followed Annie and Bob’s sage advice, and you come to the reluctant conclusion that your toxic boss is unmanageable, and that the only solution to the horrors of working with him or her is to leave the organization. Having a large, well cultivated social and professional network is the best insurance policy against being stuck in an unacceptable work situation. It’s not Scotty who is going to beam you outta there, it’s your network.

Most people think of networking as temporary and episodic, for example, as a way to get a job or close a deal, instead of as an ongoing process. This is a mistake for many reasons. Networking only when you "have to" means that you will likely be anxious and stressed, and be more focused on what you need from your network than on what you can offer it. A better practice is to network when you don't need anything in particular, and to focus more on what you can do for others than on what they can do for you.

People often make the mistake of thinking that the best way to keep in touch with people is to update them about your activities and accomplishments. While this can be helpful at times, a better strategy is to keep track of their activities and accomplishments, for example by using tools like Google News Alerts, which enable you to enter in the names of people, organizations, or topics that you'd like to be automatically notified about. When setting up a news alert, it's helpful to use quotes around search terms so that you only get alerted when exact terms are matched.

Finally, it is important to use "emotional intelligence" in your networking efforts. In order to network successfully, you need to know yourself- for example, knowing when you are in a state of mind that can enable you to network without conveying undue levels stress or anxiety. It's also helpful to know what exactly others can do to help you. It's easier for others to help you if you have a clear idea of the ways in which they can help you.

Social intelligence is also a critical part of successful networking. Knowing what the people in your network care about and value makes it easier for you to be helpful to them, which in turn makes it more likely that they will practice the norm of reciprocity and be helpful to you. It's also important to demonstrate sensitivity and to allow the people in your network to choose if, when and how they provide assistance rather than making demands on them.

For some additional suggestions about how to build and maintain a professional network, see this presentation.

Don’t let a toxic boss demoralize you to the point where you neglect your network- instead, let the toxic boss inspire you to see what else is out there for you!

Why Good People Become (Very) Bad Bosses

Posted by: Annie McKee on July 09

When I met ‘Marcus’ a couple of years ago I found him to be an engaging, talented, creative and emotionally intelligent senior manager of a retail goods company. He really cared about his people and he found deep satisfaction in being part of a team that helped to meet the needs of people in large and small cities across the US. He was bright, charming, fun to be with and generally a good guy and a good manager. Our team was working with his boss and the team, and as part of that we’d conducted qualitative 360 degree feedback—everyone interviewed about Marcus spoke about his dedication, his intense commitment and his passion for the team, the people, and the work.

Recently Marcus’ boss called us to come in and work with Marcus again…and this time it was a very different story. The CEO explained that something had gone very wrong and Marcus was close to being let go, at the very height of his career. What I heard surprised me tremendously—Marcus had become demanding, demeaning, and was micromanaging his team. He was alienating people up, down and around. One of his key team members had left and two more were on the verge. Rumor had it that there was trouble at home, and it was a fact that Marcus was spending a lot of evenings out with young associates, partying in some pretty sketchy places.

Well. What on earth had happened? We set out to find out. One of our Teleos coaches was asked to work with Marcus (she agreed on condition that Marcus be open to the idea). She’d had a good relationship with him in the past, and gave him a call. They worked out a plan to meet, and the detective work began.

Marcus was, in the coach’s words “totally stressed and deeply unhappy”. Over the next few months, she and Marcus unraveled what had happened over the past couple of years. The story that emerged was all-too-familiar. We hear it and see the unfortunate results all the time these days: Good leaders slowly slip into dissonance as a result of the unending pressures of their jobs, the responsibilities of leading people and organizations in challenging times, and the seemingly hopeless fight to find balance in life.

Over time and unchecked, the relentless pressure gets to even the best of us. Like Marcus, we slowly lose touch with ourselves and the people around us. We stop taking care of ourselves, have less empathy for others, get tunnel vision and find ourselves on the proverbial hamster wheel: trapped in an endless loop.

We call this the Sacrifice Syndrome: Good managers and leaders take their responsibilities seriously. We really care. We are tuned in and turned on—never more than a device away from a request, a problem or a crisis. We start working too much and sleeping too little. Whatever balance we might have had between work and home begins to disappear, and that causes even more stress. We feel like we are giving, giving, and giving, and there seems to be no end in sight.

When we are trapped in the Sacrifice Syndrome it is entirely likely that we will begin to lose our edge: we make bad decisions, don’t think things through, lose our creativity, become sharp with people, micromanage. Our emotional intelligence seems to dwindle, as do our cognitive abilities.

Why does this happen? It’s a matter of neuropsychology: when we live with chronic stress—we call the kind of stress leaders experience Power Stress—day in and day out, month after month after year, we literally shut down. We become clinically distressed, with all that goes with it: burnout, diminished effectiveness, even illness.

What can we do? First of all, we need to recognize that even the most resilient among us need to pay attention to what is happening to us. In other words, we need to attend to ourselves holistically: mind, body, heart and spirit. We need to pay attention to the interaction of thoughts, feelings and behavior. Are we on an even keel? Are we tuned in to the information in the environment and the quiet voice inside that tells us which way to turn? Are we attending to our bodies—listening to the messages that signal loud and clear whether we are healthy or heading toward a breakdown of some sort? Are we in touch with our values and beliefs? Are we living them?

Attending this way to ourselves –and also to other people and our environment—is one aspect of mindfulness: a state of mind (literally) that scholars and researchers such as Ellen Langer have shown improves cognitive functioning, learning, and relationship skills. Living mindfully is also a first and critical step in avoiding (or recovering from) the Sacrifice Syndrome.

There are other experiences we can cultivate as a way to counter the inevitable pressures of our busy lives and jobs. Two that we have studied are hope and compassion. Hope is what we experience when we look forward to a future that is better than the present—a future that is feasible, attractive, and somehow tied to our dreams for ourselves and the people and institutions we care about. Hope is a powerful driver of our emotions and our behavior: when we feel hope, the parasympathetic nervous system is engaged. This physiological reaction actually helps us to counter the negative physical and psychological responses associated with power stress and the Sacrifice Syndrome. When we feel hope, we can more easily direct our energy and our actions toward the right things, and in the right way.

For leaders, engaging and cultivating a sense of hope makes sense. It is good for us—and it is contagious. It’s good for the people around us. But compassion? What does that have to do with work and leadership? Everything, it turns out. Like hope, the experience of compassion engages the parasympathetic nervous system, helping us to fight the effects of stress and destructive emotions. And like hope, compassion is contagious—people blossom when they feel a leader’s empathy, care and concern. When we coach, encourage, and guide people toward their dreams and our goals, the emotional reality of a group or an organization becomes resonant: ripe with energy, creativity and commitment—exactly what is needed for people to be at their best.

Mindfulness, hope and compassion: the keys to managing the Cycle of Sacrifice and Renewal. And, as Marcus found out, cultivating these habits does not happen by accident. We have to work at it. Marcus did work at developing strategies to renew himself: with his coach, he took a good, hard look at what was going on with himself, at work and in life. And he didn’t like it, and his current life and lifestyle were far from the ideal he imagined. He decided to take control, to find his way back to himself so he could once again reach for his dreams. And he succeeded. He’s doing fine at work, his team is engaged and performing. His partner at home is much, much happier, as are the kids. It was a close call, but he’s made it through. And as he puts it “I’ll never let that happen again. I’m paying attention now.”

You can start on the road to renewal today by listening to life’s wake up calls. Take a few minutes and reflect on your work, your job, your life. Do you sense that things aren’t quite right? Are there any subtle wake-up calls that you should pay attention to? Maybe your partner at home is becoming distant, your boss has suggested that things aren’t up to par, or maybe you have been getting too many colds, flu, etc. Maybe you have stopped attending your kids’ events, or you aren’t playing with them as much. Maybe you just aren’t laughing as often as you used to. Listen carefully! These wake up calls matter!

If you hear the call, you can begin to change. You can begin to build daily practices into your life to help you stay whole, healthy and engaged. These practices don’t have to be fancy, either. But they do have to be regular—meaning daily. And they need to be solitary. Five or ten minutes of quiet reflection every day can do a world of good. Or maybe you can manage a thirty minute walk outside, or a bit of time in the garden. Maybe you can just find a quiet place somewhere during the day to take a few deep breaths and think about the people you care about, your hopes and dreams for them. Or take ten minutes to seek out a colleague and praise their work, check how things are going for them. Building mindfulness, hope and compassion into daily life doesn’t have to be hard, and you don’t have to be a saint to do it. A little bit goes a long way.

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Annie McKee, Ben Dattner and Robert Sutton

Organizational behavior experts Ben Dattner, Annie McKee, and Robert Sutton, empower us to take on hellish bosses.

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