Written by: Gretchen Vogelgesang Lester
Gozer: The Choice is made!
Dr. Peter Venkman: Whoa! Ho! Ho! Whoa-oa!
Gozer: The Traveller has come!
Dr. Peter Venkman: Nobody choosed anything!
Dr. Peter Venkman: Did you choose anything?
Dr. Egon Spengler: No.
Dr. Peter Venkman: Did YOU?
Winston Zeddemore: My mind is totally blank.
Dr. Peter Venkman: I didn't choose anything...
Dr. Raymond Stantz: I couldn't help it. It just popped in there.
Dr. Peter Venkman: What? WHAT "just popped in there?"
Dr. Raymond Stantz: I... I... I tried to think...
Dr. Egon Spengler: LOOK!
Dr. Raymond Stantz: No! It CAN'T be!
Dr. Peter Venkman: What is it?
Dr. Raymond Stantz: It CAN'T be!
Dr. Peter Venkman: What did you DO, Ray?
Winston Zeddemore: Oh, s***!
Dr. Raymond Stantz: It's the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man.
Just like in the Ghostbusters dialogue above, our visions of leaders just “pop” in there, creating leaders based upon leader prototypes each of us has generated inside our own minds.
When I begin teaching a segment on leadership, I often ask my students to share personal leadership influences. There is substantial research noting that context is a major determinant of one’s leadership impressions. There are also some trends that come and go based on the general business climate and press coverage, but often, students share stories of fathers, mothers, siblings, and other family members along with coaches and religious leaders.
These implicit leadership theories (or ILTs) predispose us to accept certain types of leaders and reject others, and will color our ratings of leader performance. So why does this matter? Don’t we all expect our leaders to do great things?
Well, just as Ray thought the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man could never inflict harm on people, many of us ignore how harmful our ILTs can be. How could our “ideal” leader harm us? If we expect our leaders to enact transformational change, be directive, and fix all our problems, we end up disappointed and disillusioned. If we think leaders can only be successful by directing others’ behavior, we fail to support leaders who take a more participative, integrative approach. Even more dangerous, if we only accept leaders that look or sound a specific way or espouse a specific credo, we lose out on potential leaders who could challenge our way of thinking and deliver better results.
So what can we do? These ILTs are deeply embedded in our expectations of leadership. But we can address them head on by first understanding what our ILTs do. In one exercise we present in our training sessions, we ask participants to draw what leadership looks like to them. These pictures can reshape what people want or expect from leaders – focusing on the behaviors and outcomes instead of traits. We can also expose younger generations to leaders from all different backgrounds and try to balance the messages they receive so they can all see themselves as potential leaders.
And we can ask ourselves whether our chosen leaders are just reinforcing our ILTs as we accept their performance, or we can try to set aside our biases and judge performance against an accepted standard.
Joseph De Maistra coined the phrase “each nation gets the government it deserves.” Implicit leadership theories dictate individuals often get the leaders they conceive based upon their experiences. We can challenge these imprints by highlighting the wide array of leadership behaviors and styles that are effective in any given situation.
Start with being grateful for them
After being abroad for the past nine Thanksgivings, I’m looking forward to celebrating Thanksgiving in America. Although I really enjoyed sharing our holiday traditions with friends of many other cultures the weekend following Thanksgiving each year, there is something special about being able to celebrate it on the day with extended family (or in my case, my husband’s family). I’m really grateful for this!
The topic of gratitude has seen an explosion of interest in the media and academic communities alike. How many times have you been recommended to keep a gratitude journal or even tried it yourself. So what do we know about gratitude? It’s associated with a litany of great things for us. Feeling and expressing gratitude lowers the risk of poor physical and mental health including health complaints, inflammation, major depression, generalized anxiety disorder, phobia, nicotine dependence, and alcohol and drug dependence. It’s also related to better coping and resiliency, more positive post-traumatic growth, and even better sleep.
Some of my former colleagues at the University of Limerick recently published an article that investigated why gratitude leads to improved health. Interestingly enough, the reason gratitude had such a positive effect on our physical health is that it makes people feel less lonely. Gratitude turns our thoughts and emotions outward and we reflect on positive aspects of others – how they have helped us and what they mean to us. It is summed up in the find-remind-and-bind theory of gratitude. Within this framework, the experience of gratitude fosters the development or finding of new relationships or it reminds us to focus on the positive aspects of those with whom we currently share relationships. In either case, it binds people together through reflection on positive aspects and mutual support. It fosters appreciative feelings and thoughts.
The act of expressing gratitude is also related to a host of positive outcomes for the receiver of that genuine gratitude. Feeling valued and appreciated touches on our three most basic human needs: competence, autonomy, and relatedness. Gratitude can help us feel appreciated for the work we do (competence) and who we are as individuals (autonomy) and it clearly fosters a sense of social connection (relatedness).
Bottom line: Gratitude fosters connection. It’s good for us. It’s good for others. Let’s make a commitment to be grateful well beyond the holiday.
What is it?
Feedback - that oft-stated, oft-misunderstood grail of organizational life - is simply information provided to a person about his/her behavior and the results of that behavior.
360 feedback is a unique type of feedback that is often used for leader development. Basically, the leader is asked a series of questions about his/her behaviors (e.g., setting a vision or encouraging teamwork) and the results of those behaviors (e.g., fostering trust and team performance). Then, people who know the leader well and have observed his/her behaviors answer the same set of questions. These raters typically consist of the leader’s boss, peers, and direct reports, as well as internal and external customers. It is this feedback from all sides that results in a 360 degree “view” of the leader’s actions.
Why do we use it?
The answer is very simple: Leader self ratings alone tend to be unreliable and sometimes inaccurate “scores” of a leader’s actual behaviors.
This is not to say that leader self ratings are devoid of accuracy; to the contrary, in certain situations they can be quite accurate. Likewise, ratings supplied by other people should not be considered the absolute “true scores” of leader effectiveness.
The point is that we need both the leader self rating and the ratings of others to get the most accurate view of the leader’s behaviors and effectiveness.
How do we use it?
The power of 360 feedback manifests in two main ways.
First, by comparing his/her self scores to the scores of others, the leader can develop greater self-awareness. Sometimes, the leader can discover a hidden strength be realizing that others see something that the leader may have missed. For example, perhaps the leader does not see herself as engaging others at an individual level. However, her raters report a high level of individual consideration. As she reflects on some recent incidents, she realizes that she has done a pretty good job of relating on an individual basis. This realization gives her greater confidence in these situations.
Second, by using benchmarking data, the leader can identify areas for improvement. In other words, the 360 data is best utilized when the leader sets specific goals for improvement. This is one area in which an experienced leadership coach can be helpful. An experienced coach can help the leader to craft clear goals, find resources to help meet those goals, and act as an accountability partner.
Concerns about 360 feedback
In our research and consulting, we see three common concerns with 360 feedback
1 - Leaders believe that it is a waste of time
The answer to this concern is straightforward: it all depends on the leader. If the leader is motivated to learn and grow, he/she will find something useful in the 360 feedback. We have found this to be the case Every Single Time.
2 - Feedback will not be confidential
This concern manifests in two forms.
First, raters are concerned that their answers will not be confidential. We address this concern by assuring anonymity, with the following caveats: a) if the leader only invites one person to a particular category (e.g., peer), then the leader will likely know who you are [the exception to this scenario is the direct report category, in which at least two raters must participate in order for feedback to show].
Second, the leader is concerned that others will see his/her feedback. To counter this concern, we stress that the data belongs to the leader, and the leader decides who sees what. Even when we conduct a 360 in an organization, one of our rules of engagement is that senior management will only see data in aggregated form.
3 - Feedback will be used for evaluation instead of development
We cannot stress this point enough: 360 feedback should only be used for developmental purposes. When used for evaluation, it is too easy for people to “game the system”. Our suggestion is to require participants to identify 2-3 goals based on their 360 feedback, and to have senior management hold them accountable for goal achievement.
Have more questions about 360 feedback? Contact us and we will be glad to help
Written by Rachel Clapp-Smith
Photo by William Bout
In the “barbaric yawp” post, we discussed how awareness of small moments of leading can have big effects on how we make sense of our own leadership. In this second part of the ‘making sense of leadership” series, we will unpack the first step in this sensemaking process: seeing opportunities to lead and develop leadership.
Often, we are triggered to lead when we see a moment that is familiar, which can come in the form of having had a similar experience in a different domain of life, yet, the situation and requisite behavior to lead is familiar. An example might be that you have to motivate people in your volunteer organization all the time by inspiring them. Your work might call for similar leading behaviors to motivate your subordinates. In these moments, our internal thought process is that the moment is connected to other past successes in leading and all we have to do is behave just as we have in the past in similar situations in order to influence. Such moments we label “noticing connections,” and while these are great moments for us to claim leadership, rarely do they challenge us to develop into more complex leaders with broader skill sets. In short, what we have always done always works, so we keep doing the same thing. A connection.
But people tend to develop and grow when they are challenged. Leaders are no exception. When people lead in many domains, i.e., at work, with friends, with family, in the community, the demands for leading may differ. When a person uses the same leading behaviors with family or in the community as at work, sometimes those behaviors are ineffective. These become head-scratchers for the leader – how is it that I’m so effective influencing change at work, but I can’t get anywhere convincing my child to do his homework? In these moments, the leader is seeing a disconnection.
Disconnections often come in the form of conflict, challenges, and in some instances, they can be quite profound. As an example, one of our students described a disconnection when he realized that his organization valued a certain leadership style: aggressive, abrasive, and at times, abusive. The student had adapted his leadership to fit into the organization’s culture, and had been very successful there as a result. He had been promoted a few times and was constantly praised by his supervisor. However, feedback from other life domains identified that this abusive manner of leading was spilling over to where it did not belong, namely, in the family domain. By seeing this disconnection, our student became more mindful and deliberate about his leadership behaviors. The manner by which he was triggered to reflect based on this disconnection is the topic of the next post in the making sense of leadership series. Take a look at your own leadership in the domains of your life. Do you see connections? And how about disconnections?
Part 1 of Making Sense of Leadership Moments: Intro to Barbaric Yawps
When I teach leadership to my undergraduate students, they are very quick to apply a theory of leadership in vague terms. When I show Robin Williams as the poetry teacher in Dead Poet’s Society, my students spew academic terms: he’s being transformational by using inspirational motivation or individualized consideration. But these are terms that remain academic and somewhat meaningless to my students until we pick apart the small, micro-moments of leading.
Moment by moment, we relive Ethan Hawk yawping, first as an uncomfortable mouse, then slightly louder yet just as uncomfortable, until Robin Williams pushes him to yawp like a true barbarian. Where Robin Williams stands, the body language he uses, the words that show empathy, yet challenge Ethan Hawk. These details we try to become more aware of, to see the micro-moments, so we can understand how the leader/follower interaction occurs. We want to get at the core of moments that truly influence, that bring about change in attitudes or behavior.
Why do I ask my students to seemingly split hairs when it comes to understanding what is happening in each moment? Well, it helps to think about the choices leaders make about how to behave, out of the many ways they can influence. Leading is nothing more than standing in certain spots, using certain words, conveying certain emotions, in the attempt to influence someone or some outcome. In academic terms, we call these many, micro-behaviors acts of claiming leadership. Such acts are effective when others grant us the leadership, or, they simply follow.
So, when do leaders decide to lead? How do they assess their effectiveness in leading? And, the ultimate question, how do these moments accumulate to build a competent leader in many situations? To answer these questions, we look at the process people use for making sense of leading and incorporating that sense into future claims for leadership. In very basic terms, the process involves seeing, understanding, being, and doing. It probably comes as no surprise that we also have more academic labels for these, but the basic gist is the same. In a series of blog posts, we will break down each of these, so check these out, keep practicing your barbaric yawps, and let’s turn each small act of leading into a profound moment of influencing others.
Written by: Gretchen Vogelgesang Lester
At the end of my day-long interview for a Ph.D. Program focusing on leadership, my future advisor asked me who I thought the best leaders were. I froze. It was 4pm on the longest day of my life – having gotten up a 5am to take a flight from Chicago, Illinois to Lincoln, Nebraska, interviewed with multiple faculty, advisors, and potential future peers throughout the day, and then finding myself sitting across from a well-known and somewhat intimidating leadership scholar. I stammered out one of the only leaders I could think of: Oprah. Oprah! I felt so foolish – how could a talk-show host be a leader?
I have not been able to get that moment out of my head – going on 15 years now. I was sure I had blown the interview. Luckily, I didn’t, but I wonder sometimes if my advisor thinks of that answer as a good one or not. But to be honest, I do see Oprah as a leader. A woman that could make a book, a chef, a designer, a personal trainer, a product become so successful just by endorsing it on her show. A woman that could break the internet (back in its earlier days) just by including a product on her “Favorite Things” show. A woman who has since started her own TV network, brought attention to overlooked stories of powerful women, and served as a cultural force for decades. When I see Oprah in her magazine, on TV, or hear about her accomplishments, I’m immediately transported back to that July afternoon.
I didn’t know it yet, but that was a moment that mattered to my conceptualization of leadership. Oprah is a great example of an individual that influences followers to take action. And that moment, where I immediately felt so foolish but eventually came to understand that my belief in leadership as an influence process instead of a dictatorial or directive approach shifted my perspective on how I learn about leadership, how I teach leadership, and how I enact leadership on a daily basis.
So how can others search for those moments that matter, or trigger moments? My example with Oprah is about shifting perspectives – something important for an individual leaving one career in industry for an academic life. Other ways to use trigger moments include noticing when and where leadership opportunities arise. Perhaps you were not selected for a training program at work – this is a leadership opportunity. Perhaps you ended up refereeing for your kids’ soccer game because no other parents showed up. Perhaps you coordinated a night out for your friends to celebrate someone’s birthday. These might not seem like leadership opportunities, in fact, they might seem like disappointments or distractions from your career goals. BUT, reframing them as leadership opportunities creates a developmental opening.
Not selected for a training program? – set a meeting with your manager to determine why or why not. Make it apparent that you are ready and willing to move to the next level by accepting any constructive criticism that comes your way.
Refereeing a soccer game? Be sure to reflect upon the things you notice during the game – which kids are playing well together. Which directions are accepted by the children? Which parents are encouraging or frustrating their players? What emotions do you feel during and after the game that you can recognize and incorporate into your leadership style?
Coordinating a night out for friends or family? What actions are you taking that are leadership behaviors? Which style is effective – do you need to be more directive or participative? Compare this to your approach at work. Which behaviors get a better response from your group?
By treating these types of different occasions as leadership development opportunities, you are building your leadership behavioral repertoire. Keep your eyes out for as many chances to emerge as a leader as possible, and you will continue to stock up your leadership toolbox. Maybe it even involves Oprah.
When we think about how our family and working lives fit together, we usually think about conflict. Not enough time to “do it all.” Being too tired to fully engage in both roles. Conflicting schedules. The list goes on. Conflict is very real and has negative consequences for organizations, families, and societies, but maybe it’s not all bad. Have you stopped for a moment to think about the benefits?
There are several ways in which family life can improve our work. In research, we use the term work-family enrichment to reflect the idea that experiences in work or family can have benefits in the other role.
Here are some ways enrichment happens:
Mood and Sense of Self: A sweet drawing from our kids or feeling loved by our spouse can put us in a good mood that can spill over into our working lives. Support from loved ones can bolster our sense of self and buffer against letting negative work situations get us down.
Motivation: Thinking about supporting our family can provide us with an increased motivation to work hard. Knowing we need to carve out time for our family can help us to work more efficiently too.
Networks: We can meet all kinds of people through our personal and family activities that may translate into business partnerships.
Skills: There are so many skills that we can develop in our family life that helps us in work:
Building up ways in which our family lives contribute to our work has positive consequences for us. A meta-analysis of over 20 independent studies showed that individuals who report more enrichment tend also to be more satisfied with their jobs and their families, report greater commitment to their organizations, and experience better physical and mental health.
Enrichment may be especially important for leaders.
Because of their role modeling, the tone they set, and their role as “gatekeepers” of resources, leaders’ own work-family experiences matter very much in organizations.
In my own research, we surveyed 37 hotels across the US, getting data from the general manager and 14 mid-level managers, on average. We found that mid-level managers were more committed to their organization if their general manager reported more enrichment from family life in their work. Also, mid-level managers were less likely to intend to leave the organization when their top leader had children.
Another study that took place in New Zealand found that staff engagement levels were higher when their leaders reported more enrichment from family to work. The authors found this could be explained by increased engagement of the leader himself or herself. Leaders who reported more enrichment from family to work were more engaged at work and this led to a more engaged staff.
Sounds good – but how do we foster enrichment?
Research suggests that support from families, co-workers, and supervisors goes a long way. Similarly job characteristics such as flexibility, autonomy, and being able to use varied skills on the job create more opportunities for the benefits to be realized. Also, how important work and family identities are to us all contribute to work-family enrichment. However, we may be reaping these benefits without really being aware of them. So maybe we need to reflect on the positives sometimes too.
Taking these together, there are some serious benefits to recognizing the positive ways your family benefits your work.
We would love to hear from you! How can your family life help you at work?