Archive for the ‘academic institutions’ Category

Leaders Support Growth and Development through Role Modeling

One of the most important components of leadership is being a role model. You can’t be a great leader if you don’t practice what you preach. Leaders have to be willing to learn and grow themselves.

Being a leader role model goes beyond just being willing to take a few courses and read a few books. Supporting the growth and development of employees means learning alongside your them, encouraging some risk-taking, and tolerating mistakes without judgment.

People are certainly worried about failure and rejection that come with making mistakes. They are incredibly frightened about doing it in front of their boss. This isn’t just a fear of being fired; it is the fear of failing in front of a parent figure. That’s hard.

So when you as the leader ask for help, or allow yourself to be informed/corrected, you convey that there is acceptance for others and their learning. You foster a willingness to look for answers outside the box instead of something tried and true. Your organization will set the world on fire only if staff takes new and novel approaches to problem solving.

Fostering growth also means you have a recognition that people need time and energy to grow. Not only do employees need time to participate in training, but they time to stay in control of their personal lives by maintaining a decent work/life balance. When people are forced to sacrifice their personal lives for work, they will do only the minimum needed, not the maximum a high performance organization demands.

Leaders protect their employees from pressures to work at the expense of a balanced life. It is not just about work policies, but about a culture which supports and encourages healthy living. Leaders who live balanced lives, ones that include ongoing growth and development, will gain a strong following among their employees. Being a great role model leader pays off for everyone in the organization, including you.

Tom DeMaio, PhD


Leaders Encourage the Growth and Development of their Employees

Being part of a family is an important source of security for people. Another important source is feeling that you have mastery in your environment. People like to feel like they know what they are doing and that they can accomplish their tasks. Yes, it’s true, people really want to grow. As a leader, you want to be right there supporting the growth and development of your employees.

On one level this is technically smart for your organization. You want your people to be improving their knowledge and skills for their task accomplishment. Well trained people do their jobs technically better and faster. Mistakes are reduced and there is greater organizational efficiency.

But there are more important less tangible benefits to encouraging employee personal growth and development. Offering opportunities for professional development is another way to show you care for your staff. When workers perceive that you are interested in their growth they feel you have their interest at heart. They will give back to organization both technically and with their hearts. They will perform better and do it with greater self direction and autonomy.

One leader described how she conducted the annual evaluations of her team members. She asked them about their development goals for the coming year. She encouraged them to think about their training in terms of their career goals, five, 10, and even 20 years into the future. From her point of view she owed it to them as their leader to help them make sure that in 20 years they had 20 years of experience, not one year of the same experience repeated twenty times over. You can bet her employees appreciated her.

A key part to encouraging employee growth is making it safe for people to take some risks, and make some mistakes. People are amazingly afraid to fail. Fear of failure is the biggest deterrent to growth. Consequently, you as a leader support people and avoid being critical. Of course, it is the trick of leadership to simultaneously maintain your supportive presence without letting go of accountability.

Tom DeMaio, PhD

Leaders Create Work Families

People come to work primed to view their experience on the job through the perspective of family relationships. They look at their leaders and see their parents. You can ignore this basic human response or you can find ways to make use of it for the good of the organization, maybe by trying a little organizational ju-jitsu.

Most people have a strong drive for attachment and security; being part of a family is as good as it gets. Leaders create a family-like atmosphere by pulling people together and encouraging a sense of belonging. They build teams where everyone can contribute their unique strength to further the goals of the company.

From my experience building teams facilitates people feeling more connected to each other. As people become more and more committed to their work family, they begin to share a common sense of purpose—and that’s a very powerful driver of performance. People feel free to act more independently when the team is functioning as a family. It’s not like they go off on their own or anything; they are just more willing to step up on their own initiative and help achieve team goals. This is the autonomous functioning that you want from your employees.

Leaders make it a point to treat everyone fairly, honestly, and with respect. They set the tone for the family. This helps minimize sibling rivalry, er, I mean employee competition.

Great leaders also require that there be expectations. These expectations are developed jointly by the team and individuals. Everyone buys into the notion that they have important work to accomplish. And, like good parents, leaders encourage the growth of their team members. They want team members to mature and eventually join and replace them as leaders.

I am using the term work family to distinguish it from the biological family. Leaders create a family-like atmosphere in the work environment, while simultaneously helping everyone keep their eye on performance and the need to achieve organizational goals. That’s the ju-jitsu part. Leaders are not parents and work teams are not families.

The leadership implication of our third principle, that people working together tend to replicate family structures and dynamics, is that leaders create a family-like atmosphere in the workplace.

Tom DeMaio, PhD

Leadership Makes People Feel Emotionally Safe and Secure

January 20, 2011 2 comments

People are most productive in an emotionally safe and supportive atmosphere. From a leadership point of view, this means that it is critical to make sure people feel cared for in ways that are meaningful to them.

People come to work looking for security. They are happier and more productive if they feel someone cares. Leadership conveys to people that they are cared for and that things are going to be okay. This is not false optimism, but a feeling that there is safety by virtue of common effort through your leadership.

Leaders make sure the people on their team know that they matter. Leaders listen to them when they have something to say and follow up when they say they will. Leaders stand up for their team when the chips are down. They look for opportunities to praise and encourage. Leaders nurture. And the great thing about this is that these activities cost essentially nothing.

Providing nurturance and security comes in a variety of guises. Whether it is making sure the team has a welcoming work environment, being concerned about individual welfare, or responding to concerns, leaders convey that they care, and that it is safe. And people read this quality in a leader through subtle cues and practical effort. It is not easy to fake.

But what do you as leaders get out of the arrangement? It is not just a one way arrangement with effort emanating from you. It is something more basic, more fundamental than performance. It’s trust. When leaders provide the security employees need, they trust you to lead them. They commit themselves to the mission of the organization and act as autonomous persons contributing to optimal business outcomes. That trust makes your job so much easier. I’d say it is win-win for both sides.

Remembering that people are most productive in an emotionally safe and supportive atmosphere determines that your fundamental approach to your staff will be nurturing. You will commit yourself as a leader to actively care for your people. You will naturally provide support and encouragement on a personal level and through the programs of your organization. You will insure the safety and security of your workers. And, no matter what, you will avoid any hint of rejection all the while connecting emotionally with your people.

Tom DeMaio, PhD

A Foundation for Leadership in the Workplace

Leading people requires that you understand the nature of people and their needs. This is why, as psychologist/business consultants, Lee Hersch and I have tried to carefully delineate the six most important psychological principles needed to understand people in the workplace. Leadership is not just a list of good things to do; it is a coherent approach to addressing what people need so they will be motivated and work productively with you.

Leaders who don’t understand the psychological responses that people bring to work, who fail to incorporate these fundamental psychological insights in their approach to management, will never be able to harness these responses to meet their organization’s goals. They are always going to underperform. Smart leaders will use these basic facts of life as a starting point, adjust their leadership strategy appropriately, and create a more productive, more motivated workforce.

Grounded in the latest thinking from evolutionary psychology, our first principle states that the brain works from the bottom up. Human responses reflect the underlying design of the brain, which has been fine-tuned over hundreds of thousands of years for survival. Primitive emotions like the need for security take precedence over higher order rational processes.

Put simply this means that if you expect people to act in purely rational ways, you’re kidding yourself. People are people, not Vulcans. Leaders not only know that people have their rational and irrational features, they relish in it.

What moves people is not a rational argument about the good of their organization, but the passion people feel for their organization (or team, or country, or other personal connection). Leaders engage the passion of their people for a cause. Passion provides meaning, energy, and commitment.

Fundamentally, leaders don’t fight human nature; they accept people. The acceptance makes leaders safe and comfortable for those around them. The acceptance allows a positive passion to develop and lays the foundation for all the other components of leadership.

Tom DeMaio, PhD

Principled Leadership

Working as a psychologist/business consultant I am continually fascinated by leaders and the actions of leadership. Leadership makes all the difference in an organization; great companies are led by great leaders.

When I review the literature and talk to leaders, I generally find leadership defined as a list of things to do and ways to be. These lists are usually derived from the intuition and experience of a wise person, or from leadership research. Surely there must be some underlying framework from which leadership principles can be derived.

As Lee Hersch and I wrote The People Side of Business, it became clear to us that leadership activities can be derived from an understanding of the basic needs of people. When you understand what people need in the work environment you can formulate what is needed to lead them. Great leadership is about behaving in a way that takes into account how people are psychologically constructed and what they need to survive and thrive.

From our point of view the six principles we have outlined form a framework for leadership. The framework makes people leadership a coherent set of activities and ways of being. Let me explain.

1. If you understand that the brain works from the bottom up, and that people are driven by irrational internal forces, you will come to see that the foundation for leadership is acceptance. Acceptance is the critical building block for trust and for people being willing to utilize your leadership.

2. When you believe that humans need nurturance to feel safe and function at their best, as a leader you will provide nurturance to your employees. You will convey that you care for each of them as a person and as an essential part of the organization.

3. Realizing that humans see their relationships through the lens of family experience, you will build a family-like culture in your work environment. It will encourage you to build teams and support mutuality throughout the organization.

4. Since people want to learn and grow, and since their development is great for the business, you will encourage the growth and development of everyone. You will foster autonomy in your employees and provide opportunities for advancement.

5. Because people need structure to shape and motivate their behavior, you will make sure each person knows their roles and job expectations. You will insist that everyone knows where the organization is headed. You will share the rewards (and consequences) of their performance.

6. Given that humans are individually different, you will welcome diversity of ideas and of people. Each person can find a unique way to contribute to the organization.

In my next posts I will discuss leadership based on the six principles.

Tom DeMaio, PhD

Managing Yourself with the Developmentally Impaired Employee

Managers call me in to help them deal with developmentally impaired employees because they are flat out difficult to supervise. But, before we can work on the employee problem we often have to work on the reaction of the manager. As you may have experienced, these employees can be exasperating and push all your buttons.

You know how the flight attendant tells you to put your own oxygen mask on before you take care of your kids? Well, you need to have your oxygen mask on when dealing with these stressful workers. What does this mean? It means you need to breathe slowly, and see the problem as an unfortunate occurrence in the work environment. No matter how hard you try, some of these people will get hired into your organization and not perform.

Managers tend to take the response of the impaired employee personally. After all, managers are supposed to be responsible for the performance of their people, right? When a worker is stubborn and uncooperative it feels personal. “They are deliberately refusing to listen to me!”

But it is not personal; these employees don’t really listen to anyone. In fact, they often react in opposition to supervision from others. Many of them grew up parented in a way that would make anyone react. So, it takes a bit of self confidence and comfort in your management skin to implement a plan.

Having a plan and believing in it can help you breathe better. The plan is a carefully administered program of clarified expectations, support and encouragement, monitoring, and specific consequences. Such a plan can always work. The plan gets the employee on track or gets them off the bus. Either solution has to be acceptable to you. Your job is not to save anyone, but to ensure (through support and structure) the necessary high performance of your organization.

So, if you have one of these employees, I encourage you to be compassionate. You can be concerned for the employee and the company. “I’m sorry something is wrong, but your performance and the expectations for your job are not matching up. I’d like to help you perform in a way that is good for our organization, and allows you to stay with us.” If the employee can’t recover and perform, then their employment should be terminated.

Take time to breathe, implement your plan, and don’t take the employee reaction personally. When you handle the developmentally impaired employee in this way, you can orchestrate a healthy outcome and be proud of it.

Tom DeMaio, PhD

Dealing with the Developmentally Impaired Employee

The most vexing problem of business managers – the one that prompts a call to consultants – is the developmentally impaired employee. Managers use different names for them, but they are the ones who don’t follow rules, make excuses for failed performance, argue when corrected, and are counterproductive. What do you do?

The first task of management is to make sure the employee is not reacting to significant problems in the work environment. Toxic work environments bring out the worst in people. Some people are particularly sensitive to work environments that are controlling or hostile. Healthy work environments that utilize our six people principles help employees be at their best.

Next, your most important tool is to have a tight structure which clarifies outcome performance for all employees. Only when performance requirements are defined can you hold people accountable. You should normally be sitting down with all employees (and especially the problematic ones) to review how their work matches against expectations. The discrepancy between expectation and performance clarifies the change needed.

Perhaps half of the problem employees will respond to clarification about needed performance. Some will quit. But, impaired employees tend to have selective filters that make it almost impossible to assimilate negative feedback. They respond defensively because any feedback that challenges their inflated self-concept is intolerable. It’s common for them to refuse to sign performance improvement plans because signing would force them to acknowledge that a problem exists. It is not uncommon for them to respond to interventions by filing a grievance.

During the process it is critical that you use the same approach you would with any employee—providing support, encouraging professional development, and insisting on accountability. You should apply your organizational rules and structure in a very clear, consistent, and impersonal way. Remember, it is not personal. These people are struggling and are their own worst enemies.

Those who do not respond to a balance of active support and structure will need to be let go. The organization requires that only people who are willing (and able) to work for the common good stay on board. It is also a disservice for the impaired employee to be enabled to act out at work.

Of course it is always valuable to consult with human resource specialists to make sure you’re following correct procedure. If the employee fails to change and you have been steadfast in your process, grievances will be successfully overcome.

Tom DeMaio, PhD

Individual Differences and the Developmentally Impaired Employee

December 28, 2010 Leave a comment

In our book, the People Side of Business, our sixth principle is that individuals are different. For us this means that you want to capitalize on these differences by finding the right fit for your employees and by seeking diversity in your workforce. Another implication of individual differences is that there are a small percentage of people who are so different that they are developmentally impaired.

These impaired employees don’t follow rules, make excuses for failed performance, argue when corrected, and are counterproductive. They struggle to fit into an organizational culture and require an inordinate amount of time in supervision. These are the (non)workers who drive managers nuts.

Initially it can be very hard to assess developmentally impaired people. They are very good at presenting themselves as high functioning and technically competent. In fact, they often appear especially competent or confident during the hiring process. They mask their own self-doubt and express without reservation an ability to handle the most challenging problems. Early in their tenure they can maintain their facade of superiority, but events usually catch up with them. They typically bite off more than they can chew, and as this becomes apparent, they reveal the deep-seated developmental and emotional problems that caused them to overestimate their abilities in the first place. Their sarcasm, their deflection of blame, and their refusal to cooperate are all stratagems they use to try to maintain their inflated image and hide their failings.

How do you get these people to change? Well, in my book, you don’t. Remember, it’s not your responsibility to get anyone to change. You can create a supportive environment so that people have the opportunity to develop and grow. And if it’s possible, you can reconfigure their positions so that someone with a specific personality problem has a better chance of succeeding and serving the organization. But getting people to change is not part of your job description. It is up to them to contain themselves and do their jobs.

As a psychologist business consultant this is probably the most common problem that prompts a call for my consultation. A careful differentiation must be made between a dysfunctional work environment causing an employee to react and an individual poisoning the environment.

More on assessment and intervention in my next posts.

Tom DeMaio, PhD

Diversity – A Recipe for Organizational Success

December 22, 2010 Leave a comment

We hear so much about diversity in the workplace today.  But do we understand it as anything more than equality for racial, gender, or sexual orientation differences?  As psychologist-business consultants we encourage our clients to believe in equality… and the advantage diversity brings for organizational success.

You see, the first principle of the people side of business is acceptance of your employees.  A culture that builds on the fundamental notion of accepting human design and uniqueness will not only accept people who look different, it will welcome people who think differently. Embracing diverse ideas and perspectives is the key to organizational success.

It is much too easy for a “company line” to develop in an organization.  If no one can question the standard operating procedures or offer new solutions to evolving problems the organization will grow stagnant and outdated.  Other organizations utilizing the power of creative thinking will eventually outpace and outperform the “one size fits all” company.

And you never know where the new ideas, processes, or solutions will come from.  They may come from a woman who brings a softer touch to corporate policy or a racial minority who understands a customer base better than others.  The new idea may come from that quirky artistic person who doesn’t quite dress like everyone else.  You want creativity and diversity of perspectives in your organization.

Maintaining an open, accepting culture can seem more complex than having that solid, rigid platform for carrying out the mission of the organization.  Not only must you be open to new ideas, but you must have systems for coalescing them into a coherent strategy for doing your work.   This is the big advantage of working through teams I discussed earlier.  Everyone can come to understand that while they have input, once decisions are made, their job is to come together, back those decisions, and work for the common good.

An organization needs people from different backgrounds.  They may be different because of race, gender, sexual orientation, or ethnic background.  Diversity enriches the intellectual, social, and cultural environment of the organization and enhances the organization’s ability to define and meet its goals.  Diversity is an asset for the organization as long as people are willing to reconcile their diverse perspectives.

Tom DeMaio, PhD