Why Collaboration is Not Always the Answer

January 25, 2019 • 4 minute read • by Saeed


You’ve watched ants at work. You’ve seen them collaborating around a shared goal. Ants are social insects and outnumber humans a million to one. They would rule the world if they could strategically switch mindsets between teamwork and collaboration.

We all think we understand what collaboration is, we all think we understand what it means, if this is true then how come we constantly read accounts of it failing? Well this is not the case. Collaboration is misunderstood and overused.

As a matter of fact, it’s common for people to use the terms collaboration and teamwork interchangeably. It’s common, but it’s wrong.

Teamwork – Collaboration, What’s the Difference?

Teamwork

Teams are created usually by a manager who is looking for a specific single result. A group of people with the required skills are assembled. Tasks, timelines, goals, and success measures are created and the team is off and running. Their actions are interdependent, but are fully committed to the result articulated by the manager.

For the most part, as long as the team is provided with good leadership and has the project management skills to and coordinate the action, teams work well. That’s teamwork. But that’s not collaboration. The key for a successful team lies in its leader. You can have an ineffective, argumentative team but as long as strong leadership is provided to resolve disputes and help the team communicate and coordinate their activities, odds are the team will be successful. We have all been in these situations before where engaging in effective teamwork really hinges on the effectiveness of the leader. There is a certain framework backed by standards and expectations that we engage in, when we work on teams. Accountability on a team is usually, in theory at least, clear. So are the lines of communication and how delegated tasks are advanced. Control is key with teamwork.

Collaboration

Collaboration on the other hand is completely different. Collaborators usually have some shared goals that are only a smaller part of their overall responsibilities. Unlike teams, collaborators cannot rely on a leader to resolve differences, and cannot walk away from each other when they do disagree. In collaboration, the hierarchy experienced on teams is muted so accountability, communication, and how tasks are advanced all look different. Successful collaboration is reliant on the relationships of give and take between its participants. The end product comes from the effort of the group thinking and working together as equal partners; without a leader. Where collaboration breaks down is when there is a lack of trust, an inability to have healthy conflict and no framework established for accountability (mutual trust and agreement).

 So Teamwork or Collaboration? Which Should I use?

Both models are important and useful. It’s important to know how to be a team player but also to know how to be an effective collaborator. Knowing when to push and pull in each scenario is often a matter of emotional intelligence. With collaboration, you have to learn to share power and expect that your idea is not always the best idea.

Ask yourself these questions: Do I want participants to work as a team or as collaborators? Do I run this project as a collaboration or as a team? Which model will work best for this specific project? How do I prepare my personnel to excel as collaborators? How do I encourage team leaders?

Establishing teams uses up lots of internal resources. Collaboration is best when a project is greater than any one individual’s expertise and you don’t want to pull dedicated resources to ensure completion. Collaboration expands the team’s expertise.

Collaboration should not be thought of as a permanent solution. Collaborative groups should form, complete a project and disband. While collaborative engagements usually take longer, they should not be allowed to go ad infinitum. A team often stays together. When deciding whether a collaborative relationship is really necessary, assess if the conditions for success exist. Do people know how to work in a leader-less environment? Are they equipped to handle conflict? How will they communicate? How will they keep each other accountable?

A Final Word

So, collaboration and teamwork, no matter how similar they may seem are actually different. Both enable employees to work together efficiently to complete tasks and reach targets quicker. Both play an important role in the world of business. Choosing which to use, is an important decision with regards to resources as well as the capacity of personnel involved.

Creating an environment that encourages everyone to work together can have a big impact on your team’s performance.  Finding the correct balance between autonomous working, teamwork and collaboration will help to play to each person’s individual strengths to keep the workforce engaged and efficient.

Good luck.

Wait! Before you go…

I really appreciate your readership. If you found this article valuable, please like, comment, and share it with your network so that it can benefit others. 

I also invite you to FOLLOW ME on LinkedIn or subscribe to my BLOG to receive exclusive content not found here.

©2019 – All Content by Saeed H. Mirfattah, M.A.

Blame: The Toxic Team Killer on the Loose

January 15, 2019 • 5 minute read • by Saeed


“Average people place blame, exceptional people take responsibility.”

-Craig Valentine

Toxic work environments, that is to say, those that feature narcissistic leadership, poor communication, high turnover, absenteeism, lack of trust, lack of accountability and a lack of employee engagement, are the most rife for blame-ridden interactions.

You know that blame has infiltrated your team (or worse your psyche) when there is a general lack of accountability, avoidance of responsibility, lack of commitment to excellence, and an environment where everyone seems to be out for themselves. When something goes wrong, the first question often posed is: “Whose fault is it?”

Blame is the killer of innovation and creativity. It is a death sentence for a culture of learning and unless it is addressed at its roots, it becomes a pathogen that erodes motivation, collaboration, engagement and productivity.

Blame, in short, costs money.

It has been empirically proven that positive work environments, absent of blame, increase productivity. In contrast, when people work in an atmosphere of blame, they expend their productive energy on covering up their errors, avoiding accountability and hiding their real concerns. A lack of accountability can be deadly to team accountability and to our personal efforts to fulfill our potential.

Accountability emphasizes keeping agreements and commitments in an environment of mutual respect. Blaming, in contrast, is an emotional process that discredits and shuts down the blamed. Where accountability leads to inquiry, learning and improvement; blame short circuits learning, makes inquiry difficult and reduces the chances of getting to the real root of a problem.

The qualities of blame are judgment, anger, fear, punishment, and self-righteousness. The qualities of accountability, on the other hand, are respect, trust, inquiry, moderation, curiosity, and mutuality.

Why do people blame?

Since the dawn of civilization we’ve assigned unseen causes to effects that we can’t explain.

When we are threatened, we often have what is known as the Fight or Flight response. Our bodies are very adept at letting us know there’s a “danger” that needs to be addressed, so we need to pay attention. This primes our system to move our attention outside. There is a certain sense to this. After all, we might not escape danger if we can’t take our focus off our internal world of thoughts, feeling and sensations.  When fight or flight dynamics enter the realm of interpersonal relationships it looks like blame.

Blame provides some immediate relief and a sense of having solved a problem. Blame is like a sugar high – it produces a brief spike in satisfaction and then a crash. It doesn’t serve the system’s long-term needs and can actually prevent it from functioning effectively. Like sugar, blame can also be addictive, because it makes us feel powerful (having avoided the danger) and keeps us from having to examine our own role in a situation. Blame has its foundations in fear and insecurity and works cyclically by causing more fear and insecurity.

How to shift from blame to accountability:

There are a few principles to remember before your knee-jerk reaction of fault-finding and assigning blame:

  • Shift from blame to accountability:

Developing a strong culture of transparency and accountability will focus your team’s efforts where they belong: on taking individual responsibility for their actions.

  • Become self aware:

Your current attitude, expectations, and beliefs have a powerful effect on thought, emotion, and ultimately behavior.

  • Don’t assume the worst:

Everyone is always doing as well as they can within their personal limitations, their personal history, what they know and don’t know and what they’re feeling in that moment.

  • Failure is not the enemy:

Everyone makes mistakes, and sometimes these mistakes are harmful to the team’s efforts. Every mistake contains a lesson.

  • Proactive communication is key:

Accountability comes from clear expectations, follow-through on commitments, and ongoing conversations, to review both explicit and tacit agreements in order to verify shared understanding.

  • Look at the part you played:

Even if, in your mind, you are 99% right and your partner is 99% wrong, it’s your job to look at the 1% you did that was harmful or unhealthy.

 The Coach Approach

If you find yourself confounded by the blame game, before you take out the blame thrower, take the coach approach. Bring your complaints about someone else to a third person to get coaching on how to raise your concerns.

Valuable questions from the coach include:

  • Tell me about the situation.
  • What results do you want?
  • What’s another way of explaining the other person’s actions?
  • How might the other person describe the situation?
  • What was your role in creating the situation?
  • What requests or complaints do you need to bring to the other person?
  • How will you state them in order to get the results you want?
  • What do you think your learning is in this situation?

 A final word…

Finally, when we give responsibility for our feelings and actions away to others, we are left progressively more weak and powerless people. When we stop blaming others we begin to take responsibility for our emotional states. It’s then that we really begin to have choices. When we continue to be habitually sucked into the blame game, we drive erode our relationships. Developing accountability takes courage and the willingness to learn new ways of thinking and acting.

Wait! Before you go…

I really appreciate your readership. If you found this article valuable, please like, comment, and share it with your network so that it can benefit others. 

I also invite you to FOLLOW ME on LinkedIn or subscribe to my BLOG to receive exclusive content not found here.

©2019 – All Content by Saeed H. Mirfattah, M.A.

Why You Should Only Work with Trained Coaches

October 28, 2018 • 5 minute read • by Saeed


“The only journey is the one within.”

― Rainer Maria Rilke

Professional coaching is a relatively recent profession so some of the misconceptions surrounding what coaching is and is not, shouldn’t be surprising. It seems that everyone these days is a coach of one form or another.

What Coaching is and is not…

Historically, coaching has often been used remedially, as companies attempted to correct employees’ unwelcome behavior or perceived lack of competencies. Many conventional programs still use this approach. Obviously, this is a misappropriation of coaching since it yields few positive or lasting results. It is also entirely antithetical to the paradigm of coaching.

The best and most effective programs support the whole person and not isolated issues or problems. They take into account things like habitual patterns of thoughts, emotional states, and underlying mental models that may keep someone stuck.

In the 1990s, the first established accreditation groups for professional coaches were formed and coaching went from being used remedially to how we mostly recognize it today – as a developmental tool initiated by the client who is seeking self-improvement and lasting results.

In a study of the professional coaching industry by the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development (CIPD), coaching was found to be used by 90% of organizations surveyed. Even in the global economic recession of 2008, when companies were cutting corners left and right, 70% reported increasing or maintaining their commitment to coaching.

As coaching has grown in value and evolved in design, so too has its potential for mainstream application. Today, Harvard Business Review reports that coaching is a $1 billion a year industry.

Coaching, it appears, is a growth industry.

So, what is coaching and what do coaches really do?

The International Coach Federation (ICF) — the leading global coaching organization and professional association for coaches — defines coaching as “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.”

Despite this guidance, one of the challenges of defining coaching and its effectiveness remains the relative lack of adequate research with significant enough control groups and clear parameters and measurement tools applied to a coaching framework that fully supports the complete range of ways in which personal and professional development efforts can influence behavior change.

But there are enough evidence-based insights that validate the value of coaching when applied in a systematic framework by a trained professional.

While many people attach the title of coach next to their name, it does not mean they are practicing true coaching or know how to get lasting results. The key to personal and professional transformation is the coachee’s belief in the benefits of coaching and their own ability to make lasting behavioral changes, couple with an evidence based methodology applied by a trained professional.

In a 2013 study published in Research in Organizational Change and Development, researchers adapted traditional clinical psychological practices into the context of executive coaching into a highly-customizable process of program design and found the approach was highly effective in enabling executives to develop behaviors and competencies aligned with their ideal future state and in improving adaptability in both actions and thoughts.

The International Journal of Theory, Research and Practice, conducted a study in 2016 and examined the emerging approach to workplace coaching, which increasingly emphasizes “enhancing both the performance and the well-being of individuals and organizations in ways that are sustainable and personally meaningful.” They found that simplicity and personalization lie at the heart of this methodology and the effectiveness of coaching as a framework.

Another large-scale study of executive coaching conducted in 2016 found that a strong working alliance from the perspective of the coach and coachee predicted coaching effectiveness.

Conclusion

All of these research studies simply validate what the professional coaching industry has known for decades. Clear, practical models make coaching methodologies accessible and more likely to create lasting individual and organizational change. Deep personalization, in which the coach seeks to understand the coachee’s personal values and goals in a holistic way, is equally critical to success.

From an evidence-based perspective, this kind of coaching has been demonstrated as being highly effective in many peer-reviewed studies with randomized control groups.

Trained coaches who excel in relationship management competencies, understand the importance of building a foundation of trust and a strong working alliance with their clients, and establish clear tasks and goals to reach desired outcomes, were rated most highly for successful coaching results.

Final Word

Coaching has exploded as an industry. Today, I hear many execs say they have not one but two or three coaches who help them with everything from leadership presence to public speaking to shifting to a growth mindset. But I also hear just as many people self proclaiming to be a leadership coach, an executive coach, a motivational coach and a life coach. Cue eye rolls.

As good coaching is fundamentally a quality conversation based in trust, it follows that authentic, individualized coaching is vital to cultivating genuine organizational change and personal development.

Coaching is about being in service to the growth and development of the person being coached. As a leader, if that excites you and drives your leadership engine, then coaching skills are an appropriate and successful addition to your leadership toolbox.

But to be of true service to clients, you can’t just print up some business cards and call yourself a coach.

To be accredited by the International Coach Federation, a training program must meet a number of criteria. Among them, it must offer a minimum of 125 hours of contact between students and faculty, six hours of observed coaching sessions, 10 hours of mentor coaching and a performance evaluation. There are more than 446 programs (132 in the United States) accredited by the federation.

I, myself, am about to complete a year-long program at the Coaches Training Institute, the world’s largest in-person coach training organization, a Harvard Medical School affiliate and widely considered to be a pioneer and the “Gold Standard” in the coaching industry, to become a certified coach. I can tell you from my own experience, that while the course has been rigorous and sometimes taxing, there is no substitute for professional training. It is the best decision I have made for my own career as a professional coach.

Good luck.

Wait! Before you go…

I really appreciate your readership. If you found this article valuable, please like, comment, and share it with your network so that it can benefit others.  I also invite you to FOLLOW ME on LinkedIn or subscribe to my BLOG to receive exclusive content not found here.

A Special Offer:

In addition to being an organizational development and leadership consultant, I am a personal leadership coach who specializes in helping passionate, thoughtful, creative people like you find your inner leader and live the life you deserve.

As a trained co-active coach, I am currently enrolled in a 6-month professional development program to complete my certification. As part of that training, I need practice clients to try out my new skills, and I am offering a huge (>50%) discount for the first five practice clients.

You can do a free call with me to see if my approach and style would be a good fit for you (and no worries if it’s not – coaching is super personal and I’m happy to recommend you to other coaches that might be a better fit for you).

You can check out my website here. You can also contact me on LinkedIn.

Three Simple Steps To Transform Your Team Retreats

October 24, 2018 • 7 minute read • by Saeed


If you could get all the people in an organization rowing in the same direction, you could dominate any industry, in any market, against any competition, at any time.”

~Patrick Lencioni

There are many good reasons to conduct a team retreat: to create trust, clarify roles and responsibilities; establish goals and vision, orient new members; reconnect and re-energize team members; and/or address critical issues or opportunities, to name a few. However, bringing the entire team together in person can be a challenge. Greater still is the challenge of engaging them effectively — and to do so, you need to create a focused, meaningful, and enjoyable experience for everyone. Here are some ideas for team retreats that really hit the mark.

Step 1: Pay Attention to Design and Planning

First, identify the purpose and specific outcomes you want from the retreat.

  •  Is it time for strategic or tactical planning?
  • Are you trying to solve an important team or organizational issue?
  • Do you need to re-energize the team?

Second, schedule a planning meeting with your team leaders – you know who they are – to determine the retreat purpose and outcomes; learn what’s most pressing for your team; better understand team dynamics; and assess team engagement, strengths, weaknesses, etc. In addition, discuss timing, duration, location, number of attendees, etc. You don’t need to finalize all the details yet, just enough to develop a draft agenda.

After meeting with your leaders, it’s a good idea to have brief “input” conversations with some or all team members to understand their views, gather topic ideas and get participants excited about the retreat. Input conversations can last anywhere from 20-40 minutes. Some sample input questions include:

  • What do you think is working well with the team?
  • What would you like to see the team do more of, do better or do differently?
  • What do you think the team should stop doing?
  • What are three things the team should focus on over the next 12 months?
  • What is your vision for this team over the next three years?
  • What would help you feel more engaged and useful as a team member?
  • What would help the team work even more effectively together?

Using the information from your team leaders and input conversations, craft an action-focused agenda that incorporates the retreat’s purpose and desired outcomes.

Some things to consider:

  • Avoid status or progress reporting. Instead, have participants review status reports ahead of time and focus sessions on generating ideas, solving problems, making decisions, etc.
  • Structure adequate time for building relationships. Schedule time to eat together, walk together and learn about one another. It’s ideal if you can hold a retreat over two days that includes a social dinner.
  • Build some flexibility into your agenda to accommodate hot topics or deeper dives into important issues.
  • Create discrete sessions with time blocks of one to three hours to help participants digest information, offer natural break points and provide variety. Have each session build upon one another in a logical order based on your goals.
  • As you create the agenda, decide what output you want from each session and plan for how to capture key issues, ideas, resources, outcomes and action steps from each session. This will make documenting the retreat much easier.
  • Schedule ample time (at least 45 minutes) at the end to discuss action items, accountability, takeaways, appreciations and other closing activities.
  • Decide on any supporting materials, resources and preparatory work. Make sure participants have the agenda, materials and instructions at least one week before the retreat. Communicate with team members throughout the planning process to answer questions, remind them about pre-work, help them with logistics, etc.

Step 2: Get Expert Facilitation

While it’s not uncommon for a team member to facilitate a retreat, having outside facilitation helps every participant fully engage in the retreat. Also, an outside facilitator also helps reduce bias or undue influence and may notice and address team issues or dynamics not obvious to participants. Some other good practices for facilitation:

  • Start with a warm-up that gets everyone talking. An easy exercise is to pose a couple of questions that participants discuss with one or two people next to them. It’s good to include one personal and one organizational question.
  • Announce the retreat objectives and outcomes, preview the agenda, cover any logistics and discuss how participants can get the most from their time together.
  • Set expectations up front for how you will facilitate the retreat, such as balancing participation, managing interruptions, encouraging constructive comments, etc.
  • Capture highlights from each session using flipcharts, a note taker, recording device, etc. Some facilitators find it useful to use separate flipcharts for ideas, resources, action steps, “parking lot” or other categories as needed.
  • Check in periodically about participants’ comfort level, questions, concerns, etc. The more transparent you are as a facilitator, the more the participants can relax and trust the process.
  • After a long or complex session, briefly summarize highlights and outcomes. If there is time, ask participants to share their own takeaways from the session.
  • If the discussion veers off the agenda, refer back to the retreat objectives and outcomes. Ask if this conversation supports their overall retreat goals, if the topic supersedes other agenda items or if it can be covered elsewhere.
  • Have plenty of food, beverages, time for breaks and table toys to help quell the “fidgets.” Periodically check people’s energy and take a short break if needed.

 Step Three: Don’t Neglect Outcomes and Next Steps

For a retreat to be worthwhile, participants must know their ideas and decisions will actually go somewhere after the event. It’s equally important for team members to understand their own responsibilities to take actions after the retreat. Here are some ideas for documenting the retreat and creating accountable action steps:

  • After each session, capture key points and outline next steps, responsible parties and time frames. Use action verbs to clarify what needs to be done (write, call, review, schedule, plan, etc.).
  • The final session should be used to summarize all next steps. Discuss how participants will hold themselves and others accountable for taking action. In addition, invite participants to share takeaways, appreciations, personal commitments and other comments.
  • Consider pairing people to accomplish tasks. This helps boost accountability and build team member relationships between meetings.
  • Move away from a “minutes” mindset. Try to organize retreat notes logically rather than strictly chronologically. Participants won’t necessarily remember who said what when so it’s useful to group related ideas and actions together.
  • Suggest ways to incorporate progress checks from the retreat into subsequent staff meetings. For example, if you do a strategic plan, organize future team meeting agendas to parallel strategic goal areas from the plan.

Final Word

Team retreats can be powerful events that help clarify organizational vision, address complex issues and energize a team. With collaborative planning, a steady focus on the desired outcomes, skillful facilitation, and the willingness to hold people accountable, you can transform your team retreat from a necessary evil to the event of the year!

Good luck.

Wait! Before you go…

I really appreciate your readership. If you found this article valuable, please like, comment, and share it with your network so that it can benefit others.  I also invite you to FOLLOW ME on LinkedIn or subscribe to my BLOG to receive exclusive content not found here.

Why would you follow me?

The most compelling reason I can think of is this: I believe what I write and I write what I believe. I see myself as an alchemist of ideas writing at the intersection of personal, professional, and organizational development to help readers be the most effective human being they can be in order to create lasting impact in the world. If we dig together, we’ll find the gold.

©2018 – All Content by Saeed H. Mirfattah, M.A.

Want Top Flight Performance? Give Your Employees C.R.A.P.

July 17, 2018 • 6 minute read • by Saeed


“Leadership is not a position or at title, it is action and example.” ~ Unknown

If you think there are a lot of definitions of leadership then you might be very concerned by the number of models there are to explain what leaders actually do! In fact, there is solid leadership research and literature that points the way to a more conscious approach that leads the path to accomplishing extraordinary things in organizations.  Here is one of the simplest definitions offered by management guru Peter Drucker:

·        Leadership: from an ancient Greek word meaning path-maker

·        Management: from an ancient Greek word meaning path-follower

What Does Poor Leadership Look Like?

You wake up, take one look in the mirror, and realize that you simply can’t face going into the office. You feel demoralized, dejected and defeated. Your expectations have gone unmet and your boss just doesn’t seem to get it. Like a polar ice cap, their unconscious behavior has slowly eroded your morale over time. You complain to your friends and spouse that all you get at work is crap.

Here is some of what they do:

  • They contact employees on their time off
  • They micromanage instead of fostering trust and empowering you
  • They are unwilling to listen to new ideas (or worse yet, take the new ideas but don’t give you credit)
  • They provide vague, useless feedback
  • They don’t foster a learning and growth environment
  • They criticize publicly
  • They iterate and reiterate your work until all feeling of satisfaction and engagement is squeezed out of it like a wet sponge

Do you recognize any of this? The truth is it doesn’t have to be this way.

What Does Good Leadership Look Like?

When working at their best leaders challenge, inspire, enable, model and encourage positive behavior, creativity and productivity. They do this through committing themselves to particular sets of behaviors linked to these values.

These leadership traits are an observable and learnable set of practices, available to anyone prepared to spend time developing them. Now, let’s look at some of what great leaders actually do:

  • They thrive and learn from adversity and challenge
  • They take risks and regard failure as a chance to learn
  • They seek challenging opportunities to help you grow, innovate and improve 24/7
  • They envision an uplifting and ennobling future
  • They enlist others in a common vision by appealing to their values, interests, hopes, and dreams
  • They achieve results through others and build trust in doing so
  • They are impeccable role models (and readily admit failure)
  • They recognize individual contributions to the success of every project
  • They celebrate team accomplishments

These traits and others, all go hand in hand to create a working environment that empowers employees to be their best. When employees feel that growth in the company is impossible, their motivation goes out the window and they stop performing at their best. And can you really blame them? What happens next is crucial. They either give up and move on, or face the dysfunction head on. Most choose the former. Look around. Is there a constant exodus in your company?

Give Them C.R.A.P.

The key to employee retention, engagement and satisfaction is consistent quality supervision.  People want caring, respect, appreciation and praise (C.R.A.P.) from their organization. But unfortunately, leaders are often not trained and don’t know how to show they care and that they respect their people or how to give appreciation and properly praise people. Training leaders on these skills is crucial. Most want to give their people C.R.A.P but have not been taught how to. If they are equipped to give their people C.R.A.P., they will, and if they are not, well, they just end up giving them crap!

A Final Word…

By giving your people C.R.A.P. you will inspire loyalty and your impact on the organization will go beyond the bottom line. Most leaders, I believe, have the desire to succeed but have never been trained on basic leadership skills. They are unconscious. Much of leadership is about becoming conscious, learning and then applying skills that support and serve your workforce. If an organization does not have consistent, ongoing leadership training, it will struggle with employee retention, because supervisors and mid-level leaders are the drivers of employee retention. Without trained leaders, you will never optimize your employee retention, and ultimately, your bottom line will flounder. There is a better way. Give them C.R.A.P.

Wait! Before you go…

I really appreciate your readership. If you found this article valuable, please like, comment, and share it with your network so that it can benefit others.  I also invite you to FOLLOW ME on LinkedIn or subscribe to my BLOG to receive exclusive content not found here.

A Special Offer:

In addition to being an organizational development and leadership consultant, I am a personal leadership coach who specializes in helping passionate, thoughtful, creative people like you find your inner leader and live the life you deserve.

As a trained co-active coach, I am currently enrolled in a 6-month professional development program to complete my certification. As part of that training, I need practice clients to try out my new skills, and I am offering a huge (>50%) discount for the first five practice clients.

You can do a free call with me to see if my approach and style would be a good fit for you (and no worries if it’s not – coaching is super personal and I’m happy to recommend you to other coaches that might be a better fit for you).

You can check out my website here. You can also contact me on LinkedIn.

8 Steps to Coaching Your Boss to Success

July 3, 2018 • 5 minute read • by Saeed


“The medium is the message.” ~ Marshall McLuhan

Stop pulling your hair out over your boss.

The frustrations of managing the boss-employee relationship come up again and again in my executive coaching sessions. The best way to approach this challenge is to “coach up.”

When you think about it, we’re all private coaches at least some of the time. So why not be more intentional about coaching to help co-create the experience you want to have in your relationships; including the one with your boss.

Let’s first debunk one myth. Coaching up your boss is not a sneaky way to get what you want. The coaching model doesn’t work unless you actually care about the person you’re working with. It doesn’t work unless you have created a partnership and designed your alliance together. You don’t have to love the person you are coaching, but you do have to respect them and care about their well being.

Coaching up means learning and using coaching techniques to promote an authentic, positive, and productive relationship with your most significant professional relationship: your boss. When used effectively, coaching up can enrich mutual understanding and often reduce frustration and stress. In fact, use the ‘coach approach’ in all aspects of your life, and it will quickly become second nature and help you succeed through tough conversations and difficult relationships inside and outside of work. Here is how:

1.   Start with the right mindset: Suspend negative judgments about the boss, whether these are conscious and crystal clear or faint and subtle. Suspending does not mean permanent deletion but temporary hold. If you do not do this, you risk your judgments getting in the way of being truly present and open.

2.   Be Curious: Coaching is all about unleashing your curiosity. That means beinggenuinely curious and interested in your boss’ point of view. That may be hard to do if you are at odds with your boss but it is imperative to put things on the right footing.

3.   Deploy your attention:  This means listen with your full attention and ask clarifying questions when needed. If you disagree, instead of getting defensive (default reaction) try getting even more curious. Ask questions like “What factors are influencing this decision?” or “Please help me understand this.”

4.   Ask artful questions: Ask open-ended questions rather than questions that are answered with “yes” or “no.” We begin our questions with “how” and “what” as often as we can.

5.   Work with, not against the grain: This means attending to your boss’ communication and learning style.  Some learners are visual while others are auditory. Some like big picture information, while others prefer lots of detail; some like crisp bullet points, others like longer pieces; some like to be told after actions have been taken, and some like to know our every step before and during our tasks. If you don’t know your boss’ preferences, it’s time for a curious conversation!

6.   Work towards a win/win: Negotiation is a key business skill to learn. For example, if your boss wants a daily written report, and you don’t have the time to compose that each day, ask if she would accept a weekly written report instead. She may say yes, and she may say no. If she says no, offer another solution that will meet her needs as well as your own.

7.   Seek common ground: Begin by understanding your boss’ values. It does not mean you have to agree or have the same values but understanding what they are is a good first step to learning to co-exist. This can also begin to create a sense of common ground and shared values, on which to build your future relationship.

8.   Communicate clearly and assertively: The challenge with assertive communication is that it takes some education and a little practice, particularly for those who weren’t taught assertive communication growing up. Many people mistake assertiveness for aggressiveness, but assertiveness is actually the balanced middle ground between aggressiveness and passivity. Communicate your requests and needs clearly and with confidence. The right balance is between being humble and respectful, and confident and assertive.

A final word:

While effective leaders know their options and their plans, they are also open to shifting gears if they receive persuasive new information. They know that they may not always have the full picture of what’s involved in the complex challenges of the organization. This is particularly true when working with bosses who have a much broader organizational perspective than we do. As you continue to coach up, you may improve your opinion and feelings about your boss. Even if negative judgments do creep back in from time to time, we have tools to work toward mutual understanding, if we choose to use them. Coaching up isn’t a magic bullet, but it is a very good way to enrich our partnership with the boss—that most significant of all organizational relationships. In the end, coaching up is about forging a partnership with your boss so you can produce your best work. And there is nothing wrong with that equation.

Good luck.

Wait! Before you go…

I really appreciate your readership. If you found this article valuable, please like, comment, and share it with your network so that it can benefit others.  I also invite you to FOLLOW ME on LinkedIn or subscribe to my BLOG to receive exclusive content not found here.

A Special Offer:

In addition to being an organizational development and leadership consultant, I am a personal leadership coach who specializes in helping passionate, thoughtful, creative people like you find your inner leader and live the life you deserve.

As a trained co-active coach, I am currently enrolled in a 6-month professional development program to complete my certification. As part of that training, I need practice clients to try out my new skills, and I am offering a huge (>50%) discount for the first five practice clients.

You can do a free call with me to see if my approach and style would be a good fit for you (and no worries if it’s not – coaching is super personal and I’m happy to recommend you to other coaches that might be a better fit for you).

You can check out my website here. You can also contact me on LinkedIn.

The Most Powerful (and least used) Leadership Tool

June 19, 2018 • 4 minute read • by Saeed


“Dialogue leads to connection, which leads to trust which leads to engagement.”

~ Seth Godin

Authentic and conscious dialogue is the most powerful tool available to us as leaders. It’s also the most underutilized.

Trust is the cornerstone of all relationships and it tends to grow over time – with mutually beneficial dialogue. Dialogue is the process of fostering ‘power with’ instead of ‘power over.’ That’s why it engenders trust.

Leaders often fall into the trap of believing in their own ‘power.’ Little do they know that their power is limited by their immediate circumstance and is always ephemeral. Even Presidents turn over every 4 years.

Dialogue is an art. In dialogue, we offer our thoughts and feelings as new dimensions of the collective exploration. In dialogue, we place the emphasis on hearing everyone and considering all facets of a problem until the best obtainable truth or solution, agreeable to all present, emerges. Dialogue refers to people exploring meaning together. “Meaning” might refer to ideas, experience, or feelings. In other words, things we talk about in dialogue are not trivial or irrelevant. In dialogue I’m engaging with meaning, not just socializing.

In dialogue, we are mining for shared values, affinities and understandings. This usually involves a more sophisticated process. It involves partnership. Engagement in dialogue requires conscious awareness. Authentic dialogue involves following an unfolding inquiry.

In dialogue, we are practicing co-evolution, co-exploration, co-intelligence.

There are many ways to explore meaning together. And there are many aids to mastering dialogue as a skill. More will probably evolve.

In my experience, the quality of exploration in dialogue depends largely on how open people are willing to be with each other – it depends on how conscious we are. If the dialogue is being facilitated, it also depends on the quality of facilitation. Positive, collective engagement and conscious dialogue is the progenitor to positive change. So what does that look like?

In conscious dialogue, we start from a place of appreciation.

In conscious dialogue, our attention is the currency of exchange.

In conscious dialogue, we use silence as well as words.

In conscious dialogue, we are fully present.

In conscious dialogue, our orientation is towards a solution.

In conscious dialogue, we are active listeners.

In conscious dialogue, we employ, rather than avoid confrontation.

In conscious dialogue, we have no hidden agendas.

Good luck.

Wait! Before you go…

I really appreciate your readership. If you found this article valuable, please like, comment, and share it with your network so that it can benefit others.  I also invite you to FOLLOW ME on LinkedIn or subscribe to my BLOG to receive exclusive content not found here.

A Special Offer:

In addition to being an organizational development and leadership consultant, I am a personal leadership coach who specializes in helping passionate, thoughtful, creative people like you find your inner leader and live the life you deserve.

As a trained co-active coach, I am currently enrolled in a 6-month professional development program to complete my certification. As part of that training, I need practice clients to try out my new skills, and I am offering a huge (>50%) discount for the first five practice clients.

You can do a free call with me to see if my approach and style would be a good fit for you (and no worries if it’s not – coaching is super personal and I’m happy to recommend you to other coaches that might be a better fit for you).

You can check out my website here. You can also contact me on LinkedIn.

Time Management is Dead. Here is the Alternative

May 23, 2018 • 7 minute read • by Saeed


“Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration. The rest of us just get up and go to work.”

—Stephen King

Time is a finite resource. The number of hours in a day are fixed.

Energy is not. The quality and quantity of available energy is boundless and renewable.

Attention is also a limited resource and a commodity. Where your attention goes, so does your learning. Where your attention goes, energy flows. And where energy flows, whatever you’re focusing on grows.

Time management is outdated

Time management experts will tell you to create to-do lists, prioritize tasks and schedule dedicated time for your activities. Discipline, prioritization, and organization are important components of productivity but they are not the be all and end all. To be sure, organization helps manage time and therefore manage energy. But how often do you realistically stick with these regiments? How many times each day does a well laid plan go pear-shaped because a colleague or a family member had a crisis?

The Chinese philosopher Zhuangzi wrote extensively, in the 4th century BC, about the importance of letting go. He makes the crucial point that a regimented, well-organized life doesn’t simply reflect a sense of duty, but a desire to control personal circumstances—which, to Zhuangzi, is a negative.

You know that putting in more time is not the answer either. If you had 36 hours in a day instead of 24 you wouldn’t get more done. You’d just waste more time. Putting in longer hours has the deleterious effect of exhaustion, disengagement and burnout. There is no scientific or labor force rationale behind the 8 hour work day. It’s simply a century old norm left over from the industrial revolution. The 8 hour work day is an antiquated marathon race.

The Brain Works in Sprints

Today, people everywhere seem to be experiencing an epidemic of overwhelm at work. We have information overload and we have distraction overload. It’s not separation anxiety but rather connection anxiety we suffer from. The technological umbilical cord of smart phones and cloud computing tether us to the office and make even more demands on our time. One of the usual arguments for “connecting” workers is that it helps them multitask and increase productivity. Recent research suggests otherwise. Technology can easily sap productivity. Some 41% of respondents to a LinkedIn survey cited “unwanted email” as the “biggest drain” on workplace productivity.

The truth is that the human brain doesn’t work well under these conditions which force it into marathons of productivity. The human brain works best in sprints. We can really do deep thinking and focus on any given task for 90-120 minutes at a time. Afterwards, a 20-30 minute break is needed for renewal. That’s why I recommend to my coaching clients who struggle with ‘time management’ to think “What can I get done in 90 minutes” instead of what can I get done in 8 hours. Focusing your energy for 90 minutes on a task is more manageable and at the end of the day, more productive.

 Manage Your Energy Not Your Time

Everybody has 24 hours in a day. But not everybody has the same energy levels. Some are more productive in the morning while others do better in the afternoon and still others work best in the evenings or late at night. The modern day workforce is beginning to recognize this and dishing out more autonomy to employees in how they get work done. Recognizing your natural energy patterns helps you be more productive with your time. It is at times where energy levels are low that you should deploy those to-do lists. It is at these times you should schedule activities that require less creativity and more automation. Take frequent breaks and build in energy boosters like walking around the block. You can’t change the amount of time you have but you can change how you feel throughout the day by hacking your time and hacking your brain.

In their influential Harvard Business Review article, authors Tony Schwartz (founder of the Energy Project) and a coauthor of Catherine McCarthy (senior vice president at the Energy Project) recommend these practices for renewing four dimensions of personal energy:

Physical Energy

  • Enhance your sleep by setting an earlier bedtime and reducing alcohol use.
  • Reduce stress by engaging in cardiovascular activity at least three times a week and strength training at least once.
  • Eat small meals and light snacks every three hours.
  • Learn to notice signs of imminent energy flagging, including restlessness, yawning, hunger, and difficulty concentrating.
  • Take brief but regular breaks, away from your desk, at 90- to 120-minute intervals throughout the day. – 2 – Emotional Energy
  • Defuse negative emotions–irritability, impatience, anxiety, insecurity–through deep abdominal breathing.
  • Fuel positive emotions in yourself and others by regularly expressing appreciation to others in detailed, specific terms through notes, e-mails, calls, or conversations.
  • Look at upsetting situations through new lenses. Adopt a “reverse lens” to ask, “What would the other person in this conflict say, and how might he be right?” Use a “long lens” to ask, “How will I likely view this situation in six months?” Employ a “wide lens” to ask, “How can I grow and learn from this situation?”

Mental Energy

  • Reduce interruptions by performing high-concentration tasks away from phones and e-mail.
  • Respond to voice mails and e-mails at designated times during the day.
  • Every night, identify the most important challenge for the next day. Then make it your first priority when you arrive at work in the morning.

 Spiritual Energy

  • Identify your “sweet spot” activities–those that give you feelings of effectiveness, effortless absorption, and fulfillment. Find ways to do more of these. One executive who hated doing sales reports delegated them to someone who loved that activity.
  • Allocate time and energy to what you consider most important. For example, spend the last 20 minutes of your evening commute relaxing, so you can connect with your family once you’re home.
  • Live your core values. For instance, if consideration is important to you but you’re perpetually late for meetings, practice intentionally showing up five minutes early for meetings.

How Companies Can Help

  • To support energy renewal rituals in your firm: Build “renewal rooms” where people can go to relax and refuel.
  • Subsidize gym memberships.
  • Encourage managers to gather employees for midday workouts.
  • Suggest that people stop checking e-mails during meetings.

A Final Word

According to research by Harvard University psychologists Matthew Killingsworth and Daniel Gilbert, we spend 46.9% of our time not thinking about what is happening in front of us.

The key to being productive might be found in using that time effectively through embracing the slumps in our day – those moments when your productivity begins to ebb away, usually in the midmorning, directly after lunch or mid-afternoon. Maybe this is why Tony Schwartz has this as his favorite energy management tip: “Spend at least 30 minutes a day reading a book.  It’s a way to train absorbed attention, and to be more reflective – an antidote to life on the Internet.”

Good luck .

Wait! Before you go…

I really appreciate your readership. If you found this article valuable, please like, comment, and share it with your network so that it can benefit others.  I also invite you to FOLLOW ME on LinkedIn or subscribe to my BLOG to receive exclusive content not found here.

Why would you follow me?

The most compelling reason I can think of is this: I believe what I write and I write what I believe. I see myself as an alchemist of ideas writing at the intersection of personal, professional, and organizational development to help readers be the most effective human being they can be in order to create lasting impact in the world. If we dig together, we’ll find the gold.

©2018 – All Content by Saeed H. Mirfattah, M.A.

What is True Leadership? (hint: it is NOT management)

April 26, 2018 • 3 minute read • by Saeed


“A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.”

~John C. Maxwell

Leadership is influence.

Leadership comes from our heart and our head. It’s our attitude, and attitude is everything.

Leadership is also the ability to focus a team’s attention and the ability to inspire a team towards a grander vision – a purpose that is bigger than ourselves.

In 1961, JFK visited the NASA Space Center. The United States was in the space race with Russia, a crucial period in geopolitical history. The Russians were ahead of us, and we felt threatened as a culture and a society. Kennedy wanted us to be the first to put a man on the moon. He offered a challenge and a penultimate goal to the dedicated people in the field:

“I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon returning him safely to the earth.”

– John F. Kennedy

Notwithstanding the risk to his own reputation, which was at stake on the world stage, his vision shook NASA to its foundations. In part because, the spacecraft they would use had only a tiny fraction of the computing power of the smarphone that is in your pocket right now.

But at the same time accountability, engagement, motivation, and morale within NASA soared. Most leaders find this surprising. We tend to think that morale is impacted negatively when accountability and pressure are at their highest. The reality is the opposite: providing teams with an inspirational stretch goal, narrowing their focus and harnessing their attention increases both accountability and the engagement of the team.  This is what James Collins and Jerry Porras in their 1994 blockbuster book Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies meant by Big Audacious Hairy Goal (BHAG).

As evidence, consider that during his tour of the NASA space center Kennedy stopped to speak with a janitor. He asked, “What do you do?” The janitor responded, “I am helping to put a man on the moon.”

How are you influencing others?

If that influence is coming from your heart and your head, it will have a positive impact on others. That is true leadership!

Good luck.

Wait! Before you go…

I really appreciate your readership. If you found this article valuable, please like, comment, and share it with your network so that it can benefit others.  I also invite you to FOLLOW ME on LinkedIn or subscribe to my BLOG to receive exclusive content not found here.

Why would you follow me?

The most compelling reason I can think of is this: I believe what I write and I write what I believe. I see myself as an alchemist of ideas writing at the intersection of personal, professional, and organizational development to help readers be the most effective human being they can be in order to create lasting impact in the world. If we dig together, we’ll find the gold.

©2018 – All Content by Saeed H. Mirfattah, M.A.

*Photograph of President Obama and White House custodian Lawrence Libscomb by White House photographer Pete Souza

How to Solve the 3 Most Common Performance Problems

 

April 24, 2018 • 3 minute read • by Saeed


“An ounce of performance is worth pounds of promises.”  ~ Mae West

In all my time as a management consultant and executive coach, I have had one challenge surface more than any other: fixing performance problems.

Poor performance typically falls under one of these category types:

·        Underperformance related to personal problems

·        Breaches of workplace policies and procedures

·        Unsatisfactory quality or quantity of work

Of these, unsatisfactory quality or quality of work is the most common.  It is the problems related to attitudes, motivation, skills, and knowledge that challenge managers the most. Here is how that breaks down into the most common performance related issues:

1.      What am I supposed to do?

Often, employees don’t know what they are supposed to do. This may be because of an unclear job description or may be because you have not communicated expectations and standards clearly. The fix is simple: communicate expectations and standards clearly, check for understanding and monitor performance. Provide reinforcing feedback when you observe improvements.

2.      Why am I supposed to do it?

Next, employees may not understand the why of a task or a change in office policies. When people don’t understand why, they put up resistance. Here again, the fix comes in the form of clear communication explaining the reasoning behind policies, procedures, performance standards or changes. When possible, involve your employees in the solutions. People tend to own the solutions they are part of creating and therefore more motivated to support their implementation.

3.      How am I supposed to do it?

Some employees don’t know howthey are supposed to do their job. They simply don’t have the knowledge and skill level you thought they did. In this case, you have to tell or show people how to perform their job and observe them while they attempt to do it. Reinforce what they do well and redirect what they do poorly or incorrectly.

A final word…

Most people do a good job most of the time. A few of them occasionally underperform. All of them probably mess up every once in a while. Performance problems vary from individual to individual and situation to situation. There is no silver bullet, no one best way of fixing them. Most people will perform well as long as they know what to do, why they are doing it and how to do it. Today’s employees are more independent and empowered than generations past. They need more than a simplistic reward system to maintain motivation and performance. Provide everyone who works for you with honest feedback on how well they’re doing on a regular basis. Be timely. Be specific. Be sincere. Explain how the good performance fits into the big picture. Listen to their concerns and use their ideas if possible. Identify and change policies, procedures and practices that are, in reality, obstacles to good performance. Make it easy for your people to do their jobs. Then sit back, and watch performance improve.

Good luck.

Wait! Before you go…

I really appreciate your readership. If you found this article valuable, please like, comment, and share it with your network so that it can benefit others.  I also invite you to FOLLOW ME on LinkedIn or subscribe to my BLOG to receive exclusive content not found here.

Why would you follow me?

The most compelling reason I can think of is this: I believe what I write and I write what I believe. I see myself as an alchemist of ideas writing at the intersection of personal, professional, and organizational development to help readers be the most effective human being they can be in order to create lasting impact in the world. If we dig together, we’ll find the gold.

©2018 – All Content by Saeed H. Mirfattah, M.A.