When you start a new project, it’s tempting to get right into it. Create those to do lists, assign tasks, and get it done. But according to Leigh Thompson, author of Creative Conspiracy: The New Rules of Breakthrough Collaboration, leaders do well to take some time at the beginning of a project to build trust with their team. This is done, according to Thompson, by addressing the 800-pound gorilla in the room: goals. Leaders need to discuss projects goals and get to know the goals of individuals on the team. The latter is often overlooked. The leader also needs to facilitate conversations about expectations from the leader and from the team members. And provide tools for giving feedback throughout the project.
TAKE IT FURTHER
Leigh Thompson’s courses on coursera
I scan TV music and dance competitions to watch the great performances. This one by a young dancer, Jaxon Willard, is worth watching. Also worth listening to is his explanation of the piece to the judges:
“It’s about my feelings toward my birth mom and how I was angry and felt abandoned by her. But then I also didn’t know how to [trails off – crying] I didn’t know how to share these feelings with the mom I have now because I didn’t want to hurt her feelings. So I just suppressed all these feelings. But throughout my journey and though growing, I learned that I can’t just be mad at my birth mom because I don’t know the full story.”
What a courageous and generous act of empathy from this artist to his birth mom. Mature beyond his years.
Judge Ne-Yo is spot on when he describes the performance and the performer as the “epitome of power and vulnerability. You jump in the air and you float.”
In tears, judge Jennifer Lopez calls out the importance of Jaxon’s journey to his art, “Without your story, you wouldn’t be able to be the artist that you are today.”
Processing emotion through your art can make great art. It can also help you heal.
There are many definitions of professional behavior. One of the more problematic ones is that you should bury your emotions at work. Of course, it’s important to exercise some control over your emotions so that they don’t become a chronic distraction to you and your team. But control does not mean bury. It’s healthy to acknowledge your feelings and the feelings of your colleagues. Sometimes things happen that cause good feelings. You want to celebrate those. And sometimes things happen that cause bad feelings. You want to deal with them as they arise.
Some very quick DOs and DON’Ts for professional behavior at work
- BUILD & MAINTAIN TRUST. Create a culture of trust with transparency, honesty, vulnerability. You don’t have to be the boss to do this
- BE INCLUSIVE. Help everyone on your team feel seen and heard. Again, you don’t have to be the boss to do this
- TROUBLESHOOT. Recognize bottlenecks and address them. Lean into problems that are uncomfortable
DON’Ts (counters to the points above)
- Create a culture of insecurity with fear, opacity, and gossip
- Be the only one talking and the only one who shares their goals out loud
- Ignore problems and hope that they will magically go away. This isn’t what happens. Unresolved problems grow into resentment
There’s a lot of good writing about how to implement the positive points above. Here are some of my favorites:
Radical Candor by Kim Scott
Linchpin by Seth Godin
Creative Conspiracy by Leigh Thompson
I’ve written about the leadership book Radical Candor before. Radical Candor is often misunderstood as: “be honest with your direct reports.” But there is an important precursor to being honest: you need to develop a trusting relationship, understand the goals of people on your team, and to appreciate different flavors of goals. Some employees are on a steep growth trajectory (easy to recognize as “good”). While others are, by design, on a more steady growth trajectory.
Either way, taking time to understand the goals of the people on your team builds trust and thus helps you lead effectively and enroll them in achieving collective goals for the organization.
So how do you get started? Here are some tips from the Radical Candor website:
- Get feedback from others — Show everyone how you benefit from their candor. Lead by example.
- Give feedback — Remember to Challenge Directly and show that you Care Personally. Use our tips for moving towards Radical Candor, and make sure to find out how your feedback feels to the person receiving it.
- Encourage feedback — Take simple, visible actions to push your team to give each other praise and criticism.
If you do this, you are on your way to good communication, trust, and effective leadership. And if you don’t, you might reflect on how your current method is working (or not working) for you and for the members of your team.
Take it further
Tons of tools and tips on the Radical Candor site: here
At present, I’m reading a leadership book called, The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups. In the book, the author claims that successful organizations have three things in common: They build safety, share vulnerability, and establish purpose.
Building safety is step one. How do we build it? We send a consistent stream of signals that reinforce the belief that people in the organization are connected. Coyle calls these “connection cues.”
In successful cultures, leaders continually provide a steady stream of small, powerful behavioral signals—we are connected; we share a future—that moves people away from selfish behavior, and creates cohesion and cooperation. Successful cultures aren’t smarter—they are safer.
What cues signal that safety is a priority for your organization? Here are a few tips from the book:
- Overcommunicate that you are listening
- “Yes.” “Uh-huh.'” “Got ya.” These cues encourage the speaker to go on
- Spotlight your fallibility early on, especially if you’re a leader. Open up, show you make mistakes
- “This is my two cents.” “Of course I could be wrong here.” ” What do you think?”
- Spark a response in the listener, “How can I help?” This invites participation
- Embrace the messenger
- If someone brings you bad news, embrace it. That way they know it’s safe to come to you when there’s a problem in future
- Overdo “Thank yous”
- Saying “thank you” is less about thanks and more about affirming the relationship and cueing safety, connection, and motivation
- Make sure everyone has a voice
Take it further:
Daniel Coyle website
Daniel Coyle at RSA (video)
I’m sitting in on a Social Impact Analysis course hosted by Acumen. The course is project based and with my project, I’m exploring the question: How might we inspire more women to become inventors?
Some data on the problem here:
If you make a smart device, it’s likely that you’re not a gadget company, but rather, a data company. Customers don’t want the drill, they want the hole in the wall.
It’s becoming more well known that being an assertive woman in the workplace is not a quality that gets women promoted. Whether a woman’s manager is male or female, studies reveal that women who are assertive are perceived as abrasive compared to their assertive male colleagues who are perceived as decisive and confident.
There’s a lot of advice out there for women. One of the most popular books on negotiation tactics for women, Ask for It by Linda Babcock, suggests that women should be clear about what they want, but that they should ask for it in a “relentlessly pleasant” tone. To the author’s credit, she comes right out and says, “I don’t like it either, but the research shows that this tactic is highly effective.”
However, Babcock follows this statement with one that has a big hole in it. She writes that if enough women play the game and use the relentlessly pleasant approach to acquire positions of power, then perhaps when more women are in power, assertive women applying for jobs or asking for promotions will no longer have to play this game.
This claim is flawed because, as Babcock points out in an earlier chapter, both female and male managers are biased against women. If this bias magically goes away when more women are in leadership roles, Babcock fails to explain the magic.
So what do we do about this trap? I’m not sure. Perhaps negotiation advice for women should be focused less on individuals playing the game and more on communities of women having their eyes wide open and helping each other out.
Take it Further
The Abrasiveness trap: High-achieving men and women are described differently in reviews
The management book, Radical Candor is often interpreted as, “Be blunt when giving feedback.” But it’s more nuanced than that. One of the most useful tips in the book is, “Praise in Public, Criticize in Private.” For example, if someone on your team sends out a group email and there is a mistake in it, let them know in a private message, not in a “reply all.” But if they share good work in a group email, “respond all” and praise away. Common sense, yes?
But what about a workshop or critique situation? If you read this blog, then you know I went to art school. And art school is tough, especially critique.
Critique is a group meeting in which you hang your work on the wall and your professor and peers rip it to shreds. It makes you tough. If managed correctly, the public criticism is all about the work, not about the artist, and it ultimately makes the work better. An artist that is practiced in crit eventually internalizes this kind of feedback and can call it up while they are working to make good decisions.
On the other end of the spectrum from critique is radical empathy, the practice of helping people feel seen and heard. This is especially important when teaching women and people of color who tend to hang back in group critique settings. First generation college students might have this challenge too. It can take them a while to speak up at all. And when they finally do, is critique the best environment help them build confidence? Do they need to be toughened up or have their lives been tough enough already?
I don’t know the answers here. But it’s good food for thought. Something to hold in my heart and continue to think about.
TAKE IT FURTHER
Radical Candor blog
Is “Grit” Racist?