Tag Archives: Attitude

The One Way to Constructively Defuse an Argument

Constructive conflict is a healthy part of any organization. Deprived of it, we end up with a lack of innovation, status quos are not challenged, necessary questions are avoided, and there is a lethal amount of consensus. The key is how we address this conflict.

One way to face conflict is fast and furious. Like the multi-sequel movie franchise, we can follow Dom Toretto’s philosophy:

I live my life a quarter-mile at a time. Nothing else matters; not the mortgage; not the store; not my team and their bullshit. For those ten seconds or less, I’m free.

When we lead through a “quarter-mile at a time” mindset, we are likely to engage in such practical strategies as seeking compromise, utilizing empathy, avoiding blame, apologizing, and forgiving past actions. However, while these techniques can be effective, they do not work when we are in the midst of a heated argument where we feel emotionally invested. So how can we improve our ability to resolve our interpersonal conflicts?

According to a study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, you are more likely to resolve conflict through superior reasoning strategies when you consider the situation in the long run. By distancing yourself from your current feelings, you are better equipped to unravel negative events and find resolution. Otherwise, according to another study, you are prone to ruminating, recounting, and re-experiencing the negative event indefinitely.

Still not convinced you are better off with a marathon (versus sprint) mentality? A study in Psychological Review found that imagining the future is a natural outlet to thinking more abstractly about an interpersonal conflict. Once we are able to transcend the present moment and put the negative events in context, we are less focused on recounting it and more focused on thinking about the bigger picture. And with enhanced adaptive reasoning strategies, the research reported that participants had a greater influx of positive emotions and insight.

To resolve conflicts, we need to think beyond a “quarter-mile at a time.” How will it pan out tomorrow, next week, and next year? It may not be as harrowing as a fast and furious solution, but the measure of successful leadership is not reliant on how quickly you reach the finish line.

The Chicago Cubs, Theo Epstein, and the Rebuilding of a Legendary Franchise

chicago-cubsThe Chicago Cubs are in the World Series. If you aren’t a baseball fan, this may not seem like a big deal, but consider that the team hasn’t won Major League Baseball’s sought-after championship in 108 years. This is the longest championship drought in North American sports history.

Many fans blame the Cubs’ losing streak on being cursed. You can choose from the 1945 curse of the Billy Goat, the 1969 black cat incident, or Steve Bartman’s unfortunate 2003 interference with a critical foul ball. While one of these curses may have led to their problems, we can credit solid leadership (and a league-best regular season record) with getting them out.

In 2012, the Cubs lost 101 games. As part of their rebuilding process, the Cubs’ new president of baseball operations, Theo Epstein, decided it was time to wipe the slate clean and start from scratch. Epstein stressed that while acquiring talent is essential, it is meaningless without a culture based upon a winning attitude.

To establish this new culture, they created the “Cubs’ Way,” a written set of guiding principles that standardize the organization’s philosophy. With it’s three core goals—Be a good neighbor, Preserve historic Wrigley Field, and Win the World Series—the Cubs’ Way applies to everyone, from Epstein to the players, to their minor league scout, to the ticket office attendees, to interns.

The Cubs’ Way really boils down to the people. The players, obviously, but then all the scouts, all the people in the minor leagues, here in the big leagues. It’s more than words on a page. It comes down to how deep we dig to get connected to players, to teach the game the right way, how much we care, how committed we are, how we treat each other in the front office, the coaches, the players, how hard we work.—Theo Epstein

With a new organizational philosophy came new recruitment criteria. In a recent interview, Epstein emphasized one of his prime hiring gauges, knowing how players handle failure. This is key in a game where even the best hitters fail 70% of their time at bat. To find these players, Cubs’ scouts must produce three detailed examples of how prospective players faced adversity on the field and three examples off the field.

In the draft room, we will always spend more than half the time talking about the person rather than the player. What are their backgrounds, their psyches, their habits, and what makes them tick?— Theo Epstein

Since Epstein’s focus is on the big picture, he needed a Manager who could uphold these values in the bullpen. In 2014, he hired veteran Joe Maddon. While Maddon’s responsibilities include those of the typical manager such as determining team strategy, the lineup, and in-game decisions, he has a few irregular habits that have significantly benefited the team’s on-field performance. After every win, the team holds a 30-minute impromptu dance party in the locker room, which includes a disco ball, lights, and a fog machine. After each loss, players are given 30 minutes to mope. Once the half hour of celebration or sulking passes, it’s time to start preparing for the next game.

Try not to suck.—Joe Maddon

Turning around a floundering organization begins with turning around its culture. Success follows culture; culture never follows success. Like the Cubs, you may have a deep roster of talent, but without properly cultivating its capabilities, you and your team will never reach the championships. Lead the charge to set your version of the Cubs’ Way to get your culture on track. The sooner you start, the better chance you have of avoiding a century-long losing streak.

Do You Know Your Redshirts? How to Avoid Becoming a Star Trek Captain

start trek red shirtI was recently meeting with a leadership committee tasked with overseeing a layoff. It was a grim room filled with apprehension and resentment. No one was happy to make these difficult choices, but it was understood that a reduction in force was the last available option to save the company.

The committee’s conversations were analytically based, as if de-personalizing the decisions would make them easier. Human resources did a nice job preparing quantitative research complete with charts and graphs. Performance (division, department, and employee) was summarized on spreadsheets without identifiers to allow for unbiased analyses. And everyone was armed with a calculator to crunch the numbers. It was at this moment when I began empathizing with Captain Kirk—we were both responsible for choosing the “redshirts” undertaking their last expedition.

If you are not familiar with the term redshirt, it is commonly used by Star Trek fans when referring to the characters dressed in a red uniform. It seems that anyone wearing red has a higher fatality rate than other characters on the show. This is not just conjecture. When SiteLogic crunched the numbers, they found that 13.7% of the crew died during Star Trek’s three-year televised mission; and of those who died, 73% were redshirts.

By comparing real-life layoffs to the fictional deaths of USS Enterprise staff, I am not trying to minimize how awful is it to be laid off, nor am I undercutting the immense pressure leaders are under when implementing an initiative that will negatively impact so many people. What I recognized sitting with that committee through hours of discussions is how easy is can be to begin thinking of employees as anonymous redshirts.

Redshirting the workforce may sound callous, but let’s consider it from the leader’s viewpoint. How many people can a leader really be expected to know? In a smaller company, you should be acquainted with everyone, however as the populace grows into the hundreds and then thousands, no one can realistically maintain a relationship with each person. Throw in satellite offices and a swelling organizational hierarchy and the once start-up now feels beyond one leader’s control.

My advice is to avoid the apathy associated with accepting others as redshirts. They are not expendable, even if Star Trek treats them as such. Your redshirts are responsible for getting the work done. Unlike the layers of management, redshirts touch your product and maintain relations with your customers. Their value (and your ability to make sure they feel valued) is a primary competitive advantage for the lasting success of your organization.

Being unfamiliar with every employee doesn’t excuse you from continuing to make an attempt. This direct contact not only gives you candid insights in the culture, but also provides you the opportunity to tap undiscovered potential and unearth the many ways your organization can be improved from the people with firsthand access to the processes.

You may read this and decide to uphold your redshirt practices. Be warned. If you choose to use them as a disposable first line of offense, it is only a matter of time until they grasp the stigma associated with the redshirt. Engagement will plummet, productivity will suffer, and turnover will spike faster than a Tribble reproduces.

Valentine’s Weekender: Gordon Gekko and the Love of Money

Gordon Gekko heartsWelcome to the Valentine’s Day edition of leadersayswhat’s the Weekender, an arrow of thought to start your weekend on the right track. Why just an arrow? Because it’s the weekend!

Another Valentine’s Day is upon us; a time to ponder the idea of love. You may be thinking about romantic love, but I don’t write for casanovasayswhat. Let’s discuss a common love in the workplace, the love of money.

There are many negative connotations associated with the love of money. We often think of the ethically- challenged Gordon “Greed is Good” Gekko from the movie Wall Street who put monetary wins above all else. But research shows that loving money is not as detrimental as Gekko made it out to be.

What’s worth doing is worth doing for money. – Gordon Gekko

According to research from the Journal of Business Ethics, a high love of money:

  • does NOT impact job satisfaction;
  • is positively associated with coping strategies for “bad apples”; and, most surprisingly,
  • is related to low corrupt intent.

These results do not mean you should take out a large deposit and cuddle up with your cash on Valentine’s Day. It just shows that loving money will not hurt or help your organization in the ways stigma has dictated.

Instead of focusing on the money, spend more of your time on the above research findings in which work environment and job satisfaction were most strongest link. Gordon Gekko may say that “greed clarifies and cuts through to the essence of the evolutionary spirit,” but a positive workplace culture can do so more effectively and with less expense.