Category Archives: Assessment

Three Ways to Assess Someone’s Ethics

What if unethical behaviors emitted a visible indicator? That’s the premise of a great book I just finished, Smoke by Dan Vyleta. Set in Victorian-era England, people produce a trail of smoke every time they sin. As a result, they are not able to hide their worst thoughts or impulses.

As leaders, there are certainly benefits to a smoking-inducing culture. We’d always know who to trust, intentions would be crystal clear, and we could take immediate action when faced with ethical hiccups. Of course, with our morals on display we’d also have to remain on the virtuous path, but that wouldn’t an issue, right?

If you want to avoid the smokey discharge of corruption, the following are three ways you can assess your team’s ethics.

Establish a Baseline

When identifying an ethical quandary, many rely on perception. Sure, some situations are black and white, but these are the obvious examples. For those predicaments in the grey-ish area, perception is dependent upon circumstances and the individual trying to recognize the breach. Therefore, if you are going to be on the lookout, you need to ensure that everyone on the leadership team shares the same expectations.

Creating a foundation begins with assessing your current organizational culture. According to Kenneth W. Johnson, Director of the Ethics & Policy Integration Centre, there a number of measurable factors that can serve to align a company, including how employees:

  • perceive that leadership prioritizes ethics and the core values over the bottom line,
  • speak openly about ethics and the company’s core values,
  • consider the core values in decision making,
  • feel that they and their co-workers are treated fairly,
  • pressure felt to compromise values,
  • distinguish that ethical behavior is rewarded and unethical behavior is punished,
  • identify that “good faith” mistakes are seen as opportunities for growth and development, and
  • hold themselves and others accountable to the standards.

These factors provide a profile of the organization so as to help leadership design and implement an effective ethics program. Then, after the program has launched, this list is valuable in evaluating program success.

Ask the Right Questions

When you know what to ask and what to listen for, a behavioral approach to conversations can uncover a person’s ethical leanings.

If you ask people if they’re ethical, they’re going to say, ‘Yes.’ Behavioral questions tell you that the person was in a situation that they saw as ethics-related and tell you how they thought through the problem and what they did.—Patricia Harned, President of the Ethics Resource Center

When trying to gauge someone’s ethics, consider a few of these questions:

  • What makes up an ethical workplace?
  • At Acme Corp, we are accountable, dependable and transparent. How do you define accountable, dependable and transparent?
  • Did you see the section of our website where we described the company’s stance on ethics? Which of our core values made an impression?
  • When you’ve had ethical issues arise at work, whom did you consult?
  • Can you describe an instance when you witnessed or learned of someone engaging in unethical behavior? What was that behavior and how did you address it?
  • Tell me about a time when you felt it was necessary to cut corners on the quality of a job. What was the situation and how did you resolve it?
  • Describe a time where you were pressured to cheat on a [test / expense report / project. What were the circumstances and how did you handle it?

Clandestine Observations

Famed basketball player and coach John Wooden once said, “The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching.” To really assess someone’s ethics, you need to observe them in situations where they aren’t aware of being observed. Consider:

  1. Creating a list of ethical criteria in which you are interested. This will provide a starting point in the behaviors of which you need to be mindful. They may involve honesty, value driven decision-making, modeling, humaneness, trustworthiness, and fairness.
  2. Getting a full picture. Use 360 practices to gather the team’s experiences with the individual. For instance, with interview candidates, I like to utilize the receptionist. How do they treat him/her when a manager is not present? Are they courteous and respectful or dismissive?
  3. Observing firsthand. You can’t rely solely on other’s perceptions. Watch the individuals’ actions and reactions in a manner where they do not realize you are monitoring their behavior. Take note of the criteria you outlined and anything else you find pertinent.

In the absence of smoke, a growing Pinocchio nose, or a flashing red “LIAR” sign, leaders must be able to detect falsehoods. Start with establishing your code of conduct. Then engage in intelligent conversations and observe people’s behaviors. It’s not as easy as watching someone emit smoke, but it’ll sure cut down on the cleaning bill.

Have a Fear of Losing? Self-Esteem Won’t Help, You Need Self-Compassion

What motivates you to pursue success? I’m not referring to money or fame; those are the products of success. What I’m asking is when you set your sights on a new challenge, what thought is going through your head?

On a recent episode of Pod Save America, they were discussing the inner dialogue of an unsuccessful presidential campaign—oversights, skewed approaches, why the candidate’s popularity seems to increase after losing. In regards to Hilary Clinton, one concept I found fascinating is the idea that her campaign and pre-election persona were too restrained and prudent. According to co-host Jon Favreau, this is not a new diagnosis after a failed run for the top office.

They said it about John Kerry after his concession speech. They said it about Mitt Romney after his concession speech. They said it about Al Gore after his concession speech. They said it about John McCain after his concession speech. There is a certain brand of politicians who are too cautious during a campaign and are less cautious after the campaign is over, and that is because they run with an overwhelming fear of losing. And that fear of losing makes them more cautious and calculated.

How many leaders are hampered by their fear of losing? Instead of operating from a position of confidence or positivity, they are focused on not screwing up. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy; the more you fixate on the negative outcome, the more likely they are to come to fruition. So how can we stop ‘not losing’ and concentrate on ‘winning’?

We are frequently taught that success stems from self-esteem. Unfortunately, self-esteem is situational. It is linked to social comparisons, unrealistic expectations, and arbitrary self-assessments. In truth, research shows that self-esteem does not cause success; it is the result of success. Therefore, to start thinking like a winner, we need to replace our aspirations for self-esteem with aspirations of self-compassion.
Unlike self-esteem which is concerned with how you evaluate yourself, self-compassion is about how you treat yourself. This has three aspects. First, self-compassion means caring for one’s self with the same benevolence, care, and consideration that you treat those you care about. Being driven, results-focused individuals, we tend to set idealistically high goals and bet ourselves up when we fall short. Hence, we need to practice more self-kindness.

Second, it entails recognition that all people are imperfect. Often when we fail, our initial response is that something has gone wrong, that this shouldn’t be happening. We have this flawed view that everyone else is living a struggle-free life. With self-compassion we can alter how we relate to failure and difficulty by turning “poor me,” into “I’m not the only one.”

Finally, self-compassion involves mindfulness, a willingness to acknowledge our suffering. This may seem counter to a “winning” mindset, but denying the pain does not mean you aren’t feeling it. Maintain an accurate reading of your emotions so you can deal with them and move on.

Kristin Neff, a developmental psychologist at the University of Texas at Austin, fi
rst proposed the concept of self-compassion in 2003. Since then, her research has shown that self-compassion is significantly associated with every indicator of psychological well-being.

Self-compassion yields greater emotional stability, resilience, life satisfaction, and a more optimistic perspective. The self-compassionate respond more adaptively to negative events with less pessimism, cynicism and self-critical thoughts and experience fewer negative emotions. And they experience lower amounts of stress, anxiety, and guilt.

Remember that fear of losing? Well self-compassion has also been found to enhance motivation. When people with greater self-compassion fail, they are less afraid of failure. In one study, after participants failed a test, they were coached to be more self-compassionate. Later, when they had the opportunity re-take the test, they studied longer than people who were not told to be self-compassionate.

Self-compassion filters how we respond to setbacks, thereby freeing us up to take risks and remain true to our convictions. Without the burden of hypercritical thoughts we can stop focusing on reducing distress and instead manage the actual issue.

And good news! We can learn to be more self-compassionate. Studies have found that even brief exercises instructing people to think about a problem in a self-compassionate manner have positive effects.

Step 1: Identify instances in which you are not being nice to yourself. Does your internal monologue tend to be negative? Are you punishing yourself when things don’t go your way?

Step 2: Determine why you are so self-callous. Do you think being hard on yourself is motivating? And if so, how badly do you need to feel in order be motivated? While negative thoughts can help us to manage behaviors, those with low self-compassion make themselves feel much worse than needed. Recognize when your sentiments cross from constructive into destructive.

Step 3: Stop it. When bad things happen, remind yourself that everyone fails, is rejected, humiliated, or experiences a multitude of other less-than-desirable happenings. Practice some self-kindness by being nice to yourself. Don’t lower the bar, but don’t beat yourself up when trying to reach it either.

Have a fear of losing? Stop trying to build self-esteem and start developing your self-compassion. Unlike the self-admiration of self-esteem, self-compassion does not depend on viewing yourself positively or even liking yourself. It is not contingent on failing or succeeding. And it won’t diminish when you experience a low point. So be compassionate to yourself so you can concentrate on winning, not avoiding catastrophe.

Golden State Warriors’ Four Lessons on Finding Your Competitive Advantage

Stephen Curry bannerEvery leader is looking for a competitive advantage. We analyze business models, speak with consultants selling “the next big thing,” and delve into industry best practices all in the hopes of finding the magic bullet no one has ever considered. When someone does find it, we (and every other thought leader) beat ourselves up for missing something so obvious. Such is the story of the Golden State Warriors.

The Golden State Warriors just finished the NBA regular season with the best record of all-time—73-9—surpassing Michael Jordan’s 1995-1996 Chicago Bulls. In addition, Warrior’s superstar Stephen Curry finished the regular season with a record 402 3-pointers and Coach Steve Kerr won NBA Coach of the Year.

For anyone trying to propel their success, it is worth asking how a team with a 35-year losing streak transformed themselves into a NBA powerhouse. While some seasons were better than others, until five years ago, no one identified the Warriors as winners. Then the new owners came up with a less-than-revolutionary idea—what if we concentrate on 3-pointers?

Focusing on this niche plan may seem obvious, and I’m sure others tried it, but no one has utilized this system more effectively than the Warriors. Just as the masterminds who purchased the failing franchise turned it around, we must enhance our ability to spot a niche, which is simply determining the ways we can compete differently. Here are four things we can all do to make the most of our next opportunity and utilize that niche.

Remain Objective. The Warriors’ executives placed a strong emphasis on statistics. They found quantifiable evidence to support their new emphasis on 3-pointers: research showed that NBA players made roughly the same percentage of shots from 23 feet as they did from 24; the only difference was that the 3-point line ran between these distances.

Lesson: We need to collect similar measurable data to find untapped opportunities without being obstructed by unsound, emotional leanings.

Remain Open. When exploring potential advantages, the Warriors did not decide to focus on 3-pointers and then collect supporting evidence. Instead, they performed a deep dive into the endless supply of statistics before finalizing their plan.

Lesson: Brainstorm with an open mind to avoid an unconscious predilection towards reinforcing your own ideas.

Don’t Rely on One Top Performer. To put their plan into place, the Warriors knew they needed to build the team around Stephen Curry so he could take more 3-pointers. However, they also knew that most 3-point-shooting teams had one superstar surrounded by a collection of talented supporting players. This created an opening for Klay Thompson who was an excellent shooter and could take some defensive pressure off Curry.

Lesson: Finding one top performer is great, but to have a real competitive advantage, you need a team of top performers… and they must we willing to work together.

Believe in Your Plan. Before the season began, the Warriors had a chance to trade for one of the league’s premier players, Minnesota Timberwolves’ Kevin Love. While many would have jumped at the chance, the Timberwolves wanted to trade for Klay Thompson. Because this was a deal breaker, the Warriors passed.

They kept asking for Klay, and we kept saying no. We weren’t going to trade Klay, and they weren’t going to do a deal without Klay.—Joe Lacob, the Warriors’ primary owner

Lesson: Once you have a master plan in place, you must retain a dogmatic determination to see your plan to fruition.

We are all on the hunt for innovative solutions that will propel our business. Some solutions are cutting edge, but most are an attempt to get back to the basics. Dig through your data points to find missed opportunities. Involve key members of your brain trust on the treasure hunt. Maintain an open dialogue to continue on the path towards constant improvement. And remain vigilant for your Golden State-like golden opportunity.

Weekender: Scott Weiland on the Need for Collaboration

Scott WeilandWelcome to another edition of leadersayswhat’s the Weekender, a creep of information to kick start your weekend. Why just a creep? Because it’s the weekend!

This week we lost one of my favorite singers and songwriters. Scott Weiland was the front man for such remarkable bands as Stone Temple Pilots, Velvet Revolver, and most recently, the Wildabouts. Scott had a distinct sound that matched his style and stage presence.

To commemorative a man who soundtracked large chunks of my life, I read a few of Scott’s interviews. One in particular caught my eye for the leaders among us. Scott was asked whether he finds it more difficult to work as a solo artist versus with a band. He said,

I don’t know. Tom Petty and I had a long conversation about this—The Wildabouts and the Heartbreakers—and after that conversation I woke up the next morning and came to the conclusion that unless you’re writing songs for other people to play, then collaborating is the only way to go.

There are plenty of opportunities in the business world to find success as a solo artist. However, if you are (or aspiring to be) a leader, then you must rely on the power of collaboration. Is it easier to make decisions on your own? Of course, but involving other people is a staple of leadership. Without it, you are not leading, you’re dictating.

With all of Scott’s success and name recognition, he continued to form bands and make incredible music. Scott did not need the bands to sell records; he chose to surround himself with other noteworthy musicians because he knew that this was how he created his best work.

If you want to see your best work come to fruition, find talented people that you trust and combine forces. And when your band tries to help you on the occasional instances that you aren’t trying to help yourself, I hope you listen.

Dr. Seuss on the Paradox of Choice

DrSuessGrowing up, I was a big fan of Dr. Seuss books – I Wish I Had Duck Feet and Green Eggs and Ham were personal favorites. My interest was renewed once I had kids. So I am thrilled that a previously unpublished Seuss book has been discovered.

What Pet Should I Get? tells the story of a brother and sister who are given the task of picking one pet to bring home from the pet store. This mission becomes increasingly daunting as they are confronted with more and more animals to choose from. Throughout the story a voice urges the kids to “Make up your mind.” And there lies the paradox of choice that we face everyday.

Paradox of choice is the idea that although abundance and variety are suppose to make us happier, in reality they do not. According to Barry Schwartz’s research in his book The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less, abundance depletes our mental energy, sets unreasonably high expectations, and leaves us feeling unfulfilled. Put in simple terms, by buying the NFL cable package where you can watch every game, pre-game, and coverage, you are setting yourself up for disappointment. That indecision on Sunday when you are flipping between five games is the paradox of choice and it is ruining the football experience, not enhancing it. This is true in the workplace as well.

Autonomy and freedom of choice are critical to our well being, and choice is critical to freedom and autonomy. Nonetheless, though modern Americans have more choice than any group of people ever has before, and thus, presumably, more freedom and autonomy, we don’t seem to be benefiting from it psychologically. – Barry Schwartz, The Paradox of Choice

As leaders, we often delude ourselves into thinking that by providing a multitude of options, we are promoting engagement and buy-in amongst the team. However, as Barry stated in his TEDTalk, the overabundance of choices has two negative effects.

The first negative effect is that while you are intending to empower your team with a sense of freedom, too many possibilities produces a decision paralysis. With so many options, people find it difficult to choose anything. Just imagine sitting in a meeting where someone says, “I have 50 different ways to tackle our problem.” Are you going to sit and listen to a detailed list of 50 solutions? To be influential, we need to either be fully committed to one solution or give 3-5 selections for the team to weigh.

The second negative effect is that even if we overcome the paralysis and decide, we end up less satisfied with the choice. One reason is that with so many options, it becomes easy to imagine how a different choice could have been better. As a result, you begin to regret your selection before it even started.

Another reason why too many options leaves us dissatisfied is what economists call opportunity costs. Whenever you choose one thing, you are choosing not to do other things. Then when you see all the attractive features associated with the many alternatives, it makes what you’ve chosen less attractive.

Finally, too many selections create unsustainable expectations. There is no “perfect” but when you see a hundred options, anything you choose will inevitably increase your expectations. So when you compare what you got with what you expected, the result can only be disappointment.

The secret to happiness — this is what you all came for — the secret to happiness is low expectations. – Barry Schwartz, TEDTalk

Consider the paradox of choice the next time you are presenting ideas to your team. Don’t put them in a position where they are walking into a pet store with infinite possibilities and the instruction to pick one. Vet the numerous alternatives and present a limited number of choices. This does not diminish their freedom, nor does it underestimate their analytic abilities; it allows the chance to absorb the intricacies of each option and make a more informed decision. It also saves you the effort of having to say, “Make up your mind!”