Your Workplace is Broken and It’s Your Manager’s Fault

June 5 , 2019 •  9 minute read • by Saeed


“Outstanding leaders go out of their way to boos the self-esteem of their personnel. If people believe in themselves, its amazing what they can accomplish.”

~Sam Walton

In high school, I had an English teacher who used to say that if you have one good friend in the course of your lifetime—just one—you should consider yourself lucky. Mr. Smith was right and the same can be said about good managers.

While the world’s workplace is going through extraordinary change, the practice of management has been frozen in time for decades.

Employees often cite lackluster benefits, low engagement, and lack of a challenge for their low levels of satisfaction. But when it comes to high levels of turnover, one culprit is likely to blame: poor management.

It’s been said that people don’t leave jobs, they leave managers, and in companies with high turnover, this is often true.

Turnover is costly to an organization in terms of both money and morale and losing a high-performing employee can be detrimental to a company’s health.

While a competent boss is likely to retain employees, an incompetent manager is likely to have the opposite effect. According to a study published in the Harvard Business Review, there is a strong correlation between a competent manager and an employee’s satisfaction. In other words, the more competent the boss, the more likely the employee is to stay with the company.

But that kind of competence is an endangered species and when turnover is high in a company, that’s a sign that Nessie may be lurking just below the surface (Nessie is the adorable name given to a large marine creature believed by some to inhabit Lock Ness, Scotland).

Fear and Loathing On the Shop Floor

A 2012 study, conducted by psychologist Michelle McQuaid, the author of Five Reasons to Tell Your Boss To Go F**k Themselves, found the majority of Americans are unhappy in the workplace—and more often than not, they say their boss is to blame.

In fact, 35% of U.S. employees said they would willingly forego a substantial pay raise if their direct supervisor got fired.

Gallup research found that 60% of government workers are miserable because of bad bosses. Significant percentages of US workers describe their bosses as follows:

  • Self-oriented (60%)
  • Stubborn (49%)
  • Overly demanding (43%)
  • Impulsive (41%)
  • Interruptive (39%)

Even more alarming, research by New York-based psychologist Paul Babiak has suggested up to 4% of business leaders in the US could be psychopaths.

Too often businesses focus on the bottom line but neglect the human beings who are the backbone of the organization.

What human beings need (besides good leadership) is psychological safety.

Just Google Psychological Safety

Google conducted a massive two-year study on team performance, which revealed that the highest-performing teams have one thing in common: psychological safety, the belief that you won’t be punished when you make a mistake.

It may be stating the obvious that when people are afraid, it hampers their creativity. Employees won’t take risks or try new things if they are in a constant state of fear.

When you manage via intimidation, people will fearfully work to meet expectations – but they will never exceed them. They will do the minimum required to keep you off their back but that’s as far as they will go. If you want to get optimal performance from people you have to not only capture their heads, but also their hearts.

When you create a safe, encouraging work relationship where it’s ok to make mistakes, you’ll end up with employees that are more proactive, creative and innovative.

Your Bad Boss Could Be Killing You (Literally)

Poor leadership is also resulting in elevated levels of anxiety, uncertainty, fear and indecisiveness across nearly all workplaces. But far worse, studies show that bad bosses are also bad for your heart.

In these studies clear links have been established between aggressive, intimidating or “bad” supervisors with increases in anxiety, depression, the deterioration of personal relationships away from work and, yes, even heart disease.

One longitudinal study conducted by Swedish researchers at the Stress Institute in Stockholm found that employees who had managers with the following traits are 60% more likely to suffer coronary heart disease:

  • Their managers were incompetent.
  • They were inconsiderate.
  • They were secretive.
  • They were uncommunicative.

In another large-scale study of over 20,000 employees conducted at the Karolinska Institute, results showed a strong link between leadership behavior and heart disease in employees.

Conversely, the Karolinska study also showed that employees who rated their managers as inspirational, positive and enthusiastic also reported less short-term sick leave.

Good management is clearly good for the bottom line, morale and turnover, but as it turns out, it’s also good for your cardiovascular health.

How So Called Leaders Fail to Lead

Besides their poor communication skills, lack of transparency, and their myopic vision, there are a number of other key ways that poor managers fail to lead. The list is actually quite long but I have tried to whittle it down here to the most problematic and observable behaviors of toxic bossary. If you recognize more than one of these signs in your boss, it may be time to start browsing the help wanted section of your local newspaper (is there still such a thing?)

1) They Are Narcissists Who Lack Empathy: Practically everyone I know, including myself, has either worked for a narcissistic boss or been exposed to one. You know the type: they are quick to claim credit and quick to assign blame. They treat everyone like they are dispensable, using people for their own gains and then discarding them, either literally or emotionally. Unfortunately, this one trait overrides every other.

Narcissists are fixated on controlling all outcomes, usually through micromanaging behaviors, sometimes subtle and sometimes guileless. They are usually hyper competitive and disingenuous. They will not think twice about firing you on the spot if you fail to agree with their point of view. These workplaces often have an undercurrent of fear because the employees have seen other staff members thrown out at a moments notice and fear the same could happen to them. Worst of all, narcissists lack remorse having very little to no ability to feel empathy for others. Due to their inflated sense of self-importance, the feelings of others are not something that keeps them up at night.

The Fix: Narcissists love flattery due to their over-inflated egos. If you are independently minded and refuse to kiss up to your narcissistic boss, or worse yet, challenge them in any way, your head will invariably be on the chopping block and the guillotine will fall swiftly and decisively. The best advice I can give you is to make a decision (to leave) before one is made for you.

2) They Take Credit For Your Work: A study done by the Society for Human Resource Management found that only 37% of polled employees were happy with how their ideas were received by their supervisors. In Good to Great, Jim Collins highlighted Level 5 leaders who were characterized as being exceptionally modest (which is one reason why few of them were well-known prior to the book). As the old saying goes, modesty is a virtue. Modest leaders share credit, which encourages their colleagues to contribute more effort and feel better about themselves and their help in producing organizational success.

The Fix: If you are the manager-leader, acknowledge your employees’ hard work and ideas and give credit where credit is due, both publicly and privately. Strong, confident, and effective manager-leaders take pride in the success of their people and are happy to sing their praises. It creates a win-win situation and is at the foundation of employee engagement. If you are the employee and your boss is not a narcissist, they may not realize they’re hogging the glory. If this is the case, having a private discussion with your boss may be enough to do the trick.

3) They Are Micromanages: There is nothing good about a practice that will eventually lead to a massive breakdown of confidence and competence in your employees. That’s gthe impact of micromanagement. What may be perceived as short term gains (control and task completion) never outweighs the long term loss of micromanaging otherwise perfectly competent staff. It is likely that they will end up becoming dependent on you, resenting you and eventually leaving you.

The Fix: Consider the reasons why managers micromanage in the first place (ego, insecurity, inexperience, perfectionism, arrogance). Train and coach managers in effective delegation techniques that provide the needed information for job completion without micromanagement. In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey suggests that you delegate results rather than methods. Tell your employee the objective you have for the task at hand and let them go. As long as you get the result you’re looking for and your team member learns along the way, we have a win/win.

4) They Show Favoritism: Poor leaders promote a culture of favoritism, often protecting or promoting those who reinforce their own ego. Once on a job, a manager confessed to me unabashedly (because she was also a narcissist) that she had a favorite on the team. The favorite got special assignments, special perks, and they were friends outside of work (all telltale signs). Not only are these arrangements unfair and unethical, but they kill staff morale. The blindside of their ego also doesn’t realize that the favoritism is rarely reciprocated. The teacher’s pet in my own example left for a better paying job the first chance she got.

The Fix: If you are the one favored, the most professional thing you can do is to not accept the benefits of favoritism. If the shoe is on the other foot, don’t resent the favored employee. After all it’s not their fault. You may have to other colleagues to check your perception or to HR if the situation is particularly egregious. Failing that, be patient, always endeavor to maintain trust, maintain your self-belief and stay positive. 

5) They Are Critical: To put it mildly, these bosses never learned how to give constructive feedback. Criticism is like a productivity poison injected into your veins. It has a negative effect on your self-image and studies have found that your self-image has far more to do with your performance than any other indicator. Many people who face endless criticism from a bad boss wind up quitting – as they should.

The Fix: First, easier said than done but try not to take it personally. Recognize that getting defensive, withdrawing or reciprocating the criticism is counterproductive. Try balancing out the criticism by getting positive feedback from other sources. Find a mentor or two, inside or outside your organization, to give you the constructive feedback you’re not getting from your boss. If you are a manager who is struggling with how to give constructive feedback, attack the problem, not the person; describe observable facts, not opinions or hearsay; and offer specific suggestions for improvement. 

Houston, We Have A Leadership Crisis

Combine too much work, too many demands, too many unrealistic expectations with too little appreciation and too many managers who, well, couldn’t manage their way out of a paper bag, and you have a full fledged leadership crisis.

Companies make crucial mistakes when developing new managers, especially first time, front of the line leaders.

A survey of 1,367 executives by the Institute for Corporate Productivity reported that even among the best, highest performing companies, 66 % reported that they were ineffective at developing leaders and were getting worse.

Often, people are promoted into management roles for all the wrong reasons. The criteria used to promote is subjective, political, and/or not well thought through. Critical training opportunities are overlooked in the crucial first 90 days or not provided at all.

There is no correspondence between power and competency. It is more important than ever that we get leadership development right. The onset of new technologies means all kinds of professions are now in the cross hairs of change and nearly every organization is in the middle of some seismic industry shift.

This radical shift requires radical reformulation of the leadership ethos. Good leadership is a workplace right, not a privilege.

A Final Word

In Stanford Business School Professor Bob Sutton’s brilliant treatise on the subject of leadership aptly titled “The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t,” Professor Sutton makes a well-reasoned argument that these despots, tyrants, and bullies are bad for the people that work with them and for them, and for the organizations that harbor them.

But he is also emphatic about this point: even if assholes are successful, life is too short and too precious to tolerate them.

Personally and professionally, I have yet to come across a workplace where leadership is not broken. Twenty-first-century success depends on good leadership and good leadership depends on trust, integrity, generosity, and empathy, among a slew of other character traits. There’s no team without it. And without team, there is no organization.

Underlying every team’s who-did-what confrontation are universal needs such as respect, competence, social status, and autonomy. Recognizing these deeper needs naturally elicits trust and promotes positive language and behaviors on the part of leaders.

Be weary of bullies, despots, ego-driven narcissists and tyrants. Bosses behaving badly or ineffectively lead to workplace zombies, high levels of stress, burnout, and attrition. McQuaid who’s taking on workplace bullying, one boss at a time, says ridding the workplace of the scourge of bad bosses will save our economy $360 billion in lost productivity each year.

We must demand more and expect better from our leadership. It’s good for the bottom line, good for the customer and good for the economy. Most importantly, it’s good for our health.

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.

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

The Secret Weapon To Achieving Your Goals

March 26 , 2019 •  6 minute read • by Saeed


“Work is love made visible.”

-Kahil Gibran

Contrary to the common belief, goal setting was not invented by self-help gurus and life coaches.

There is actually an impressive body of evidence behind the theory of goal setting dating back to the early 70’s. This research shows how focus, attention, persistence, feedback, incentives, rewards, self-efficacy and a host of other factors influence our degree of success or failure in achieving goals.

In over 25 years of working with real people, I’ve fine tuned what an effective goal-setting process looks like and I’ve come to the conclusion that while goals can be SMART, aligned with your values, big, audacious and hairy, there is one factor that people commonly skip, that tends to make the biggest difference in whether or not those goals are reached.

Research shows that when we make a goal visible and keep it in front of us, our chances for achieving that goal increase dramatically.

In 1979, interviewers asked students enrolled in a Harvard MBA program, how many of them set goals. They found 84% of them set no goals at all, 13% of them set goals but they weren’t committed on paper and only 3% of them set goals that were committed on paper and had planned to accomplish them.

In 1989, they interviewed the same individuals again, they found that 13% of those who set goals but weren’t committed on paper were making twice as much as the 84% who had never set goal.

The 3% who set goals and committed on paper and had the plan to accomplish them were making more money than the 97% put together.

Goal visibility is about motivation, commitment, progress and accountability. It is at this intersection that success in achieving your goals is had. As a social species and one that gives primacy to sight, people have envisioned their dreams and desires from the dawn of time. It’s only natural that we still do. We care about what others think and see. In today’s workplace, shared goals are a powerful way to keep team members on the same page and to drive engagement.

How to make your goals visible:

1.      Talk about it: telling others about your goals creates an immediate accountability mechanism. The larger the audience, the larger the accountability. It’s easier to slip out of accountability if you tell one friend or colleague vs. your whole team or company.

2.      Doodle about it: draw, paint, clip pictures out of a newspaper and create something compelling and meaningful that can represent your goal and how you see it. Having a visual representation of what you are trying to achieve and where you are trying to go is a powerful reminder of the rewards waiting for you. Human beings are not terribly good at being patient for what’s in the distant future. A visual representation of the future you want to create would go a long way towards keeping that desired state in your line of sight.

3.      Write about it: studies have consistently shown that writing down goals increases the odds of completion. When you write down goals, they immediately become real and in writing them down, you can see whether they lack specificity or are overly ambitious. The act of documenting the goals helps get you clear on them.

4.      Post about it: finally, sharing your goals with others provides the opportunity for feedback and accountability. Friends and colleagues will begin to take an interest in your goals and check in on progress. Sharing your goals will also encourage others to share their creating the opportunity for mutual accountability partners. But you also have to avoid making goals *too* visible. Derek Sivers discusses public goals in his TED Talk, sharing how a public announcement of goals gives you a similar satisfaction to actually completing them — and then, you don’t bother.

A final word…

Lastly, be sure you review your goals on a regular basis and don’t be afraid to discard those that are outdated or no longer relevant.  If a goal is no longer meeting its purpose, don’t be afraid to yank it. Sometimes you need to eliminate less important goals in order to meet the ones that matter. The law of diminishing returns would dictate that the fewer goals you have, the more likely you are to meet them with excellence and depth.

It goes without saying that goals have to be meaningful. Otherwise, goal setting can lead to pressure, frustration and a feeling of failure. Stay determined and positive. With the right mindset and mechanisms in place, you can achieve anything you want. Above all, make it visible.

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. 

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

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. 

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©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. 

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

7 Ways to Master the Art of Showing Up

November 5, 2018 • 4 minute read • by Saeed


“80 percent of success is showing up.” Woody Allen

The difference between people who want to do something and those who actually do, those who develop mastery and those who don’t, is the showing up.

But what makes it so hard to go from thinking to doing? You wanted to go to the gym today, but did you? Just showing up means you’re 80% of the way to a good workout. The trick is in cultivating the self-discipline to start and then to sustain the momentum. Here is a 7-step roadmap to get you there.

1.      Think big, start small…

It’s okay to have big goals and vision. But you have to accept that you will need to start small. If you want to buy a mansion in Manhattan, you may need to start with a condo in Kansas. If your goal is to run 10 miles a day, start by setting your running shoes and gear aside the night before. When people begin a project, they often default to the big prize and forget that life is like a game of football, you make progress in inches, not yards. If at every play, you expect a touchdown, you will soon be disappointed and give up.

2.      Whatever you do, do it daily…

Daily action builds habits. Small actions each day accumulate into “compounding interest” of continuous improvement. Bruce Lee famously said: “I fear not the man who has practiced 10000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.” Daily action yields greater benefits than waiting for inspiration to make your big splash.

3.      Eat a live frog first thing in the morning…

Mark Twain famously said that if you eat a live frog first thing in the morning, meaning do your least desirable task first, you can go through the rest of your day knowing the worst is behind you. While it seems like common sense, many people indulge and reward themselves first by doing favored tasks and then dread and avoid the less desirable tasks the rest of the day. To break the cycle, always start with essential projects first, no matter what. You’ll thank yourself for your diligence come the afternoon.

4.      Create a false sense of urgency…

Some people work and thrive under pressure. They need that extra bit of adrenaline to get them past the finish line. You can recreate that sensation by blocking out less time than you actually think you need. Often, you’ll find your focus improves when you begin working and ultimately finish on time. If you need to hack and trick your brain into being productive, then so be it.

5.      Tame your unconscious mind…

If you listen to Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi (The Psychology of Flow), the whole idea of mastery is nothing more than the self-expression of your ability to consciously dedicate your time towards something that in the long run gives you structure for the entropy of your mind. This means cultivating the daily discipline to tame the chaos of your unconscious mind, avoid distractions, and focus only on what is wildly important. Harness your focus, and you will harness your success.

6.      Be a diver, not a dabbler…

If you’ve ever watched waterfowl, you might have noticed that some ducks are divers while others are dabblers. The divers propel themselves underwater diving with intention and ferocity towards their target. The dabblers, in contrast feed in the shallows skimming food from the surface. For me this is analogous to being a jack of all trades and a master of none. The unavoidable truth is that without deep practice, there is no such thing as skill. There is obviously nothing wrong with having multiple skills or even having superficial knowledge in them. But in order to have any kind of mastery on any kind of subject, you need to be a diver.

7.      Get comfortable with failure…

The bright side of all this is that you can own your own success by taking responsibility for it. But that means you have to own the struggle and failure, integral parts of any goal worth pursuing, as well as, the success. If you aren’t comfortable with failure, it’s hard to be successful.

Final Word

The future belongs to those who master the art of showing up daily. There is a simple reason for that. It’s easier to make significant progress on a project if you simply show up to do it. If you want to be an author, show up to write your manuscript every day. If you want to be a pilot, go to your flying lessons, and if you want to be the CEO of the company one day, then show up being the CEO of your own station every day. Doesn’t it make sense that by showing up each day, you set yourself up to take advantage of opportunities?

So, if you want increase your chances of success by 80% – Show Up!

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.

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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.

10 Time Tested Tips to Make You Unstoppable at Work

May 11, 2018 • 5 minute read • by Saeed


“Where you will sit when you are old, shows where you stood in youth.” —African Proverb

Are you good at work? Notice I didn’t ask, are you good at your work? There is a difference between being a good financial advisor or whatever you do and being good at work. Work is sport. There are rules to follow and scores that are kept. Competition is sometimes fierce and teamwork can make all the difference. Some players stand out. Others fade into retirement or obscurity. Those whose names become synonymous with their sport work hard and reach the upper limits of their talent band. Yes, they have talent, but they also always have self-discipline, grit and resilience. The best players have a playbook for success and they follow it religiously.  The practices highlighted below are based on 30 years of leadership and management experience and a playbook for success at work.

Game on.

  1. Have a vision – you have to know where you are going in order to know how you’ll get there. Without a vision or a destination, you are just sitting in the traffic jam that is your career. The only way traffic is tolerable is when you know you’ve got a nice place to go. So, be sure you check the map each day and keep your ultimate destination in sight.
  2. Be relentless with your self-discipline – without self-discipline, success is impossible. Period. Done. End of story. Self-discipline is the variable that forces us to go the extra mile, to put in the extra hour, and the extra work that leads to success. Self-discipline breeds consistency, focus, and skill building. It is the engine behind the volume of work you need to produce to be ahead of the game. Without it, the game is lost.
  3. Build out your network – people need people. Your next job is likely coming through who you know rather than your education or work experience or polished resume. You need to connect with other and be vocal about your interests and build relationships with key people in your industry. You never know which relationship leads to the next opportunity so treat each one well and burn no bridges.
  4. Take on more work – taking on more work pushes you out of your comfort zone which is how you grow. Instead of looking busy and stressed out, look for busy and stressed out co-workers and lend them a hand. By doing this, you provide value and build relationship equity.
  5. Learn continuously – acquire new knowledge and continuously stay on top of trends or research relevant to your field. Become an expert so that you can be the first person people think of when there is a new project on the horizon. Read, research and talk to others who are experts themselves. Wear your curiosity on your sleeve.
  6. Make yourself visible – experience is important but so is exposure. If you are stuck in a cubicle in the back of an office and afraid to show yourself, you’ll be invisible to the world. No one will know about your talents and the value you can create for them. Seek opportunities to be in more meeting and gain access to more decision makers.
  7. Take initiative – don’t wait for the next assignment, create it. Be proactive in looking for tasks that are falling through the cracks and complete them. Your colleagues and your boss will appreciate the effort and you’ll be seen as a strong member of the team.
  8. Be self-directed – You know what managers appreciate most? Not having to be one. When you are self-directed, you relieve your manager of the burden of delegation and decision making. They can now concentrate on other more high leverage activities than figuring out how to keep you busy. Self-directedness conveys confidence and professionalism. It also maximized team productivity.
  9. Manage emotions effectively – there is nothing worse in the work place than being toxic. Negativity, gossip, back-stabbing, anger outbursts and the like simply don’t have a place in the world of work. Of course, we all have frustrations with our bosses and colleagues. We all feel from time to time that we treated unfairly, that we are not seen for our worth or our work. There is nothing wrong with emotions but being emotional about every single slight will take its toll. Learn to manage your emotions effectively so that people know exactly what they expect from you on a day-to-day basis.
  10. Persevere in the face of failure – in life and in work, there are inevitable failures and setbacks. Learn to use failure as a learning opportunity rather than a reason to self-flagellate and reinforce limiting beliefs. Perseverance is the mindset of champions. History is littered with examples of those that failed yet persevered their way to success. Struggle, setbacks and short-term failures don’t have to drain your motivation. It can be the opposite as long as you adopt the right mindset.

So, there you have it – your success playbook for whatever work you do, whatever environment you may be in, and wherever you may be on your career trajectory. To put these tips in motion, you will need passion, purpose, commitment and intentionality. Where ever you may be, start today. It’s not too late. You can still win the game.

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.

 

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.

10 Ways to Make Your Performance Reviews Not Suck

 

April 4, 2018 • 6 minute read • by Saeed


“Not that there’s anything wrong with that.” ~ Jerry Seinfeld

Performance reviews are dreaded beasts of burden for managers and direct reports alike. They make people feel small. They reduce people to banal check boxes and categories. But they don’t have to be like this. If you are still marking people as ‘fair’ or ‘exceeding expectations’ in your annual form, you should really rethink your system. While this article is not about re-hauling your system, it is about helping you cope with whatever system you currently have in place. This article is about the universal principles you can deploy for better delivery, greater impact and ultimately stronger performance. Adopt these and you will exponentially improve the experience of giving and receiving your performance reviews on both sides of the table. Neglect them, and well, the experience will suck.

1.    It starts with intentions. You need to check your intention going into the meeting. You need to ask yourself if you are sincerely interested in learning and understanding what drives your employee or just being right. Do a serious check in with yourself and then really try to see the person for who they are. Leave your agenda at the door.  Remember, it’s about behaviors not personalities.

2.    Fail to plan, plan to fail. This is the worst time to wing it dude. You have to be ready if you get hit with information you were not expecting and is important to consider. You have to be ready to be flexible to create a mutually beneficial strategy if problems are surfaced you were not expecting. If you think you’re heading into a one-way conversation, you’ve already lost. If you can’t meet their expectations, be ready to acknowledge the importance of what they are saying, and then explain what you need to do and why. Be prepared for salary increase requests and revelations you may have not been aware of before. Don’t act surprised. Act curious.

3.    It’s about facts, not fiction. This is not the time for your opinions. Don’t let it become a case of he said, she said. If you share your opinion, you are opening the door for a counter opinion. Instead, be prepared with facts and evidence to support your case. As a best practice, keep a log of performance pluses and deltas throughout the year. Keep copies of related work you want to use as examples. Anticipate and be prepared for counter arguments but always present the facts.

4.    Emotions will get you in trouble. If you feel emotional or emotions begin to creep in, reschedule. This is not the time or place to emote. Emotions have no place in a performance reviews so you would do well to manage them accordingly. Being able to do this means the difference between responding or reacting, which can make the difference in a calm or chaotic performance review experience.

5.    Strengths and weaknesses are so yesterday. Can we not do better than this people? Seriously? Yes we can. Most performance reviews focus on strengths and weaknesses. Instead of strengths and weaknesses, focus on values and opportunities. It’s a better framework that invites a deeper understanding of what motivates the people you work with and it will help you coach and lead them to better performance outcomes. You’re welcome.

6.    Zip that lip. I’m always surprised by how little people listen. Listening is the most underrated element of communication. You can glean so much about what’s going on in the mind of your direct reports by listening and asking a few strategic and well placed questions. Trust me. The intel you gather through listening is indispensable and far more valuable than whatever you have to say. So zip it and learn.

7.    Values eat everything else for lunch. Values are in your DNA. Your values are probably your parents’ values. Values drive engagement, decisions, behavior, and well, you name it. A person’s emotional reaction is the easiest way to pinpoint a value. Negative emotions signal violated values. If the person becomes more emotional and animated in speaking about a topic, that’s because it’s important to them. There is a value hiding in there. Listen for repeated themes. Mine them for gold.

8.    Change the frame. People are locked into their own frame of reference. Change their frame, that is to say, change their perspective, and you’ll change their mind. Try asking powerful coaching questions: What if we could see this situation differently? What would a more positive perspective on this situation look like? Some people’s perspective is so intractable you may find yourself beating your head against the wall. Some people just aren’t willing to explore perspectives that are outside the realm of their own experience. It happens.  But at least you have made the effort if you try to get them to a new perspective. Recognize when the conversation should be terminated in order to maintain a respectful relationship and move on rather than trying to force your own viewpoint on the situation.

9.    At the end of the day, we work for the same place. Getting to agreement is not that hard. It’s just a process that’s well managed. Put everything on the table on both side and then look for the common ground. You don’t have to agree on everything but you both have mutual goals that intersect at some level. That intersection is what’s best for the enterprise and it’s where you should start looking for common ground. Sometimes you will need to reach to a higher level to do this so don’t try to get there too early. Make sure that the person feels sufficiently heard first. That’s your threshold for readiness. Once you cross that threshold, most people are congenial.

10.            Lock in the accountability.  To make sure everyone is walking away with a common understanding, solidify some action steps with clear timelines for who, when, how and how much of the behavior change you expect (did I say it’s about behavior?) Create opportunities to check in regularly during the year on the accountability action plan and support your direct report in maintaining their momentum to success. Provide more coaching support as needed.

A final word…

Performance reviews are generally not done well. People wait all year to provide critical feedback. This is a mistake. Nothing should be said at this stage that is a surprise to the employee because they should be working in a feedback rich environment that is constantly nurturing their growth. But we all know that’s not reality. So many workplaces suffer from so many dysfunctions. If you are lucky enough to work in a place where the culture supports a more progressive approach to performance reviews, then much of the above is already baked in to your day-to-day operations. If you are not, arm yourself with these tips and at least create a better experience for you and your direct report.

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.

2 Easy Steps to Transform from Manager to Coach

March 28, 2018 • 5 minute read • by Saeed


“The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity.” ~ Amelia Earhart

At the core, coaching is a more powerful form of communication and engagement. This richer form of communication begins by asking better, well crafted questions that focus not on the problem or the solution but on the individual and their process.

If you are a manager, this means getting off of your agenda for a moment and taking the time to better understand your direct report’s point of view. It means respecting their point of view and then together, co-creating a new possibility that would support your shared goals. It is about providing them with the space as well as the ability to tell you what they want or need. And this can happen during every conversation you have.

Coaching is the single most important managerial competency that separates highly effective managers from garden variety supervisors. Here are two steps that form the foundation of coaching to transform you from manager to coach.

Step 1: Ask Powerful Questions

To ensure you have a solid foundation to build from, you will need to start with a baseline of best practices, and then, over time you can make it your own by leveraging your own style, strengths and personality into your coaching.

Coaching engages a process of mindful conversation through powerful questions.

The right questions tend to show up naturally and organically within each conversation. The best coaches have attuned their listening skills to find the right question at the most appropriate time to unlock a key insight. This is both an art and a skill that must be practiced over and over to do well.

When this process of mindful inquiry is deployed against problems in a consistent manner not only are the ideas and solutions generated more meaningful, but there is a level of self-reliance and empowerment created in the individual that has lasting impact.

There are two main types of questions, OPEN and CLOSED. Closed questions are less useful in coaching because they only promote a “yes” or “no” response. Open questions promote discovery and stimulate thinking. They are therefore ideal for coaching.

Open questions are ones that start with what, where, when, how, and who. Aim to avoid the ‘why’ question which can be seen as aggressive and stimulate a defensive response. There are three specific types of open questions you may find helpful when coaching. They are:

1. Clarifying questions: “What else can you tell me about that?”

2. Creative questions. “What if the possibilities were limitless?”

3. Process questions. “How would you approach that from a different perspective?”

The best way to get someone to self generate ideas and solutions is by asking them, which is why powerful questions are so critical. And powerful questions are the key to helping individuals unlock their own potential.

Step 2: Foster Action and Accountability

Gaining insight into your own process is one side of the coin. It is half the story. The other side is acting on the solutions you generate.

In coaching, the desired solution is generated by the individual, not the coach, as they begin to better understand their own process. The magic of this method of engaging employees is that when they generate the solution, they also own it. And if they own it, we’re more apt to act on it.

Accountability increases the positive impact of coaching conversations and solidifies solutions and actions towards desired results.  Holding people accountable is about being clear, following up regularly, and having honest conversations when their commitment is wavering. Again, their process is more important than what they did or didn’t do. In coaching, you are always seeking to tap the roots, not swing from branch to branch.

A Final Word

At most companies, coaching isn’t part of what managers are formally trained to do. To foster higher levels of satisfaction and engagement, managers and employees should be having regular communication around growth and development. The best method to do this is coaching. It’s a powerful experience to create a resonant connection with another person and help them to achieve something they care about and to become more of who they want to be.

Without these regular conversations, employee growth is stunted. So is engagement and retention. Starting today, you can be significantly more effective as a manager — and enjoy your job more — by engaging in regular coaching conversations with your team members.

To do so effectively, you must understand what drives each person, help build connections between each person’s work and the organization’s mission and strategic objectives, provide timely feedback, and help each person learn and grow on an ongoing basis.

Starting today, create and sustain a coaching partnership that is focused on moving forward positively, listening deeply, asking powerful questions and building accountability.

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. By that I mean your life is a reflection of you. If you want to change your life, you have to change yourself. If you want to change the world, you have to be that change. 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.

It’d be great to have you along on this journey.

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

You Can’t Be A Great Leader If You Can’t Do These 5 Things

March 23, 2018 • 4 minute read • by Saeed


“A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.” ~ John C. Maxwell

All leaders agree that certain leadership skills are must-haves in order to achieve the long-term results you desire. Here are the 5 that make my list in order of importance:

1.      Managing People

Managing people is part of leadership, but it’s a part that may not come naturally to some. In almost every job, people skills are every bit as important as technical, or hard skills. Inevitably, this means managing people to overcome interpersonal conflict, helping staff with their own goal setting, time management, and collaboration challenges, encouraging staff to diagnose their own performance, and establishing a culture of accountability for the team.

In short, the best leaders know how manage people to bring out their best as individuals and as a collective unit in order to get the results they want.

2.      Communicating Effectively

While technical skills are important, skills such as being able to communicate effectively are indispensible to you as a leader. We spend large portions of our careers learning the hard skills required to do our jobs, but relatively little time learning how to build effective relationships, communicate clearly, listen actively or communicate to persuade. These skills are critical to leadership and should not be seen as merely ‘soft’ skills.

In short, the best leaders use the full gamut of their communication skills to get the results they want.

3.      Empowering People

The best leader knows how to make staff shine, by delegating responsibilities according to each staff member’s strengths and weaknesses. They use an effective delegation model because they know that a leader’s ability to delegate will have a significant impact on driving business results. This means knowing how to define the span of freedom and responsibility in executing tasks for direct reports, empowering with clarity, ensuring staff take personal ownership for delivering on commitments

In short, the best leaders know how to best nudge, motivate and deploy their staff’s strengths to get the results they want.

4.      Leading Meetings

Leading effective and productive meetings is one of the most important skills a leader needs to have. This may seem like a superficial skill to focus on, but consider how many meetings are run daily in an organization and how many are in fact ineffective. Almost all meetings will be run by someone in a leadership role. You need to step back and consider how effectively organized those meetings are and look at the productive outcome. This means having the ability to engage people and knowing how to get everyone involved and participating in the meeting topic. It means managing meetings effectively, so each member is heard and getting to the main meeting points quickly. It means staying on time and on task, focusing on core objectives and limiting distractions, and perhaps most importantly, it means generating actionable results.

In short, the best leaders know how to hold productive meetings and use the format to get the results they want.

5. Managing Change

While you can’t know exactly what the future will bring, there is one thing you can train leaders to face: Change. Even seasoned leaders who may not be undergoing a complete culture transformation may be challenged by change management. These are difficult choices to make. How do you educate others about a change? How do you choose whether to try a different change tactic? How do you assess your own impact toward change? How, what and where do you communicate about the change?

The best leaders know that they must get everyone on board to share the same perception about the change effort to get the results they want.

A Final Word…

The Failure of the field of Learning and Development is not having taught people the bedrock principles about people, leadership and management.  Yes, people are complex but at the same time, there is a ton of research about what works and what doesn’t. And as long as you apply the research and your own experience in a thoughtful and intentional way, you will get the results you want.

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.

By that I mean your life is a reflection of you. If you want to change your life, you have to change yourself. If you want to change the world, you have to be that change.

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.

It’d be great to have you along on this journey.

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