Please Don’t Know Everything

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I went to a networking event last night and talked to someone about why it’s difficult to hear from people on your team. He mentioned the type of manager who thinks they need to know everything already.

Are you that kind of person? Do you feel queasy when you think your people might question you? Do you go into meetings already knowing what outcome you’re looking for? Do you think you know best, and the rest of the people in your organization are just hands to execute what you dictate?

If so, you are why 70% of the American workforce feels disengaged at work.  Please stop knowing everything.

The truth is – bosses might have great ideas, but they’re not the only ones who do. Chances are the people in your organization were hired for their smarts, abilities, experience, etc. They also have great ideas.

It takes courage to admit you don’t have the whole answer, and to ask others for their viewpoints. It means the meeting might take longer, people might disagree with each other and with you, emotions might run high. Or, if people are unused to being asked for their ideas, maybe there will be silence. They might not believe you want to hear from them. They might be afraid of being made wrong, or simply of being visible from speaking up in a quiet room.

There was a quote from the TV show Agents of SHIELD which I probably won’t get 100% correct, but it went something like this: What if no one has 100% of the answer, but 100 people each have 1% of the answer?

We have complicated problems these days. The problems are bigger than we are, and might take a lot of brains to figure out. Maybe it will take 100 people giving input to whip an idea into shape. If the boss won’t listen to their team, everyone loses.

So, how can you, as a manager, get access to all those great ideas brewing in your peoples’ heads?  Here are some ideas:

  1. Ask a lot of questions. Become curious about what other people are thinking. (I’m currently reading a book about questions, I’ll write more about this in the future.)
  2. Admit you don’t know everything. No matter how humbling, uncomfortable, or difficult this is, you can’t know things from anyone else’s perspective. Admitting this helps make it easier to hear what other people think.
  3. Be patient. It will take a while for people to get used to the new you, the one that doesn’t have all the answers. People won’t trust you right away, so don’t give up.
  4. Give people reason to trust you. Don’t jump down people’s throats when they disagree with you. Ask more questions. Acknowledge the validity of their points.
  5. Acknowledge your people for speaking up. Thank them for their courage, for their insight, for anything you can find to thank them for. People will do a lot for positive acknowledgement.

(Side note: In college I took a dance class with a teacher who did not give praise out easily. She challenged us, she made us work hard, and she made us repeat things a lot of times. But – when she called out my name to say I was doing it well, I felt like I was dancing on air. I wanted to work even harder, to get that acknowledgement again. I would have followed her anywhere, and done anything for her. Genuine praise for something specific that is done well is hugely motivating!)

Okay, now that we have solved all the problems in the office, let’s go have a great and collaborative day!

Power And Force

I was out of town when the Charlottesville events happened last week. I have been spending some time processing what has happened, and I have something to say.

Most of my writing assumes good will on everyone’s part, but cluelessness at times. That is, I don’t think people want to oppress others, and that they do want to know if they are doing something that keeps others from speaking up. Sometimes, however, people are very explicit in how they try to keep others down. Right now, white men are marching with torches claiming they are superior, they won’t be replaced by any minority (Jews, people of color, women, immigrants, Muslims, etc.) – and they are using violence to intimidate people into letting them have their way.

We also have a president who advocates violence and bigotry, and this is allowing people to speak up about their own bigotry in ways they had to hide in the past. What the person at the top says makes a difference all the way down the line.

I think that all of the racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, etc, is about power. There are some white men who are afraid of losing power to people they think are beneath them, and they will do anything to keep their power. They will kill, and threaten, and beat up, and elect powerful people who think the way they do.

These people seem to think that power is a zero sum game. That is, there is a finite amount, and if someone else gets more, that means they get less. They also view the world in a very hierarchical way – everyone is either one-up or one-down from others. I don’t agree with this world view. I think that everyone is equal, no one is better or worse than anyone else, and that everyone can hold personal power without taking away from anyone else’s power. However, power is not the same as force. That power is personal power to speak our own truths. It is power to bring multiple points of view into the world and work out how they can coexist. It is power to build, not destroy, and to understand, not suppress.

I’m disturbed by the number of people who have forgotten what every kindergarten teacher tries to impart – we are all in this world together, we need to share, we need to help each other, we are all worthy of love and attention, and we all need to let other people have love and attention too. There is enough love and attention for everyone. We don’t need to take it away from others to get it for ourselves. No one always gets their own way. We need to compromise to be able to live together. Force just makes people angry and resentful. Hate begets hate – and help begets help.

I think the world is stronger with everyone’s viewpoints in it. I think the world is better when more people are able to be fully present and alive and seen and heard and valued. I will fight bigotry and hatred with love and compassion, and continue to insist that every voice must be heard. Together, we are stronger.

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Monkey See, Monkey Do

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People need to see you make it safe to participate. If they don’t see you do it, they won’t do it either.

I was reading the book Contagious: Why Things Catch On by Jonah Berger. One section really caught my attention. He was talking about why things that are public and easily observable catch on more than things that are private. People use other people to judge the value of things. If someone rejects a kidney, other people will think it’s a sub-par kidney and reject it even if they need one to survive. Even in preschool, children play with the toys that other children play with. And – if no one asks a question after a presentation, then no one else will either. They will think no one else is confused, so they won’t admit they are either.

“Behavior is public and thoughts are private.” (p. 134) If you want to make your work place a safe place to speak up, then people need to see behavior that supports that. People need to see that you don’t shame people who ask questions, that you thank people for bringing up opposing views, that you ask for more opinions and don’t want people to just say what you say.

If the boss can do all this, that’s best. If the boss doesn’t, then rank and file people can do it too. It helps if there’s more than just one. The more observable behavior people see, the more they can imitate. So even if you don’t see other people doing it, you can be the shining example that lets others know it’s okay to challenge bigotry, or it’s desirable to question the way things have always been done. Get a friend to back you, and the behavior you model may in fact become contagious.

In other news: I will need to miss next week’s blog. Back in two weeks!

What makes a high functioning team? (The truth will shock you!)

Ah, click bait. I hate those headlines, so I won’t keep you in suspense. The secret is:

Psychological Safety

When Google investigated what makes a high-functioning team (see NYTimes article), they discovered that the teams in which people spoke up about equally were the most productive, creative, and efficient. The biggest requirement for people to be able to speak up about equally was psychological safety.

To save you the trouble, I’ve gathered some definitions of what makes a space psychologically safe from various experts:

Amy Edmonson of Harvard from her TED talk:
1) Encourage everyone to contribute
2) Listen to one another
3) Review / repeat people’s points
4) Avoid dominating or interrupting
5) Be caring, curious, and nonjudgemental

 

John Looney, Principal Engineer, Intercom
When I worked for Google as a Site Reliability Engineer, I was lucky enough to travel around the world with a group called “Team Development”. …The biggest finding was that the number-one indicator of a successful team wasn’t tenure, seniority or salary levels, but psychological safety.

1) Make respect part of your team’s culture
2) Make space for people to take chances
3) Make it obvious when your team is doing well
4) Make your communication clear, and your expectations explicit
5) Make your team feel safe

 

Dale Carnegie on Uncovering Leadership Blind Spots (and Discovering thePathway to Motivating Your Employees)
These characteristics of leaders bring out the best in employees:
1) Sincere appreciation and praise are essential
2) Employees demand leaders who can admit when they’re wrong
3) Honesty and integrity in action drive engagement
4) Effective leaders truly listen to and value their employees’ opinions

 

Talia Dashow, Play Professional
1) All of the above!
2) Set up a culture where there is no failure, only feedback
3) Play is a great way to practice taking chances and speaking up
4) Some ideas need to grow before they can withstand criticism – give them that time

I’m sure there are more definitions out there, but this is a sampling of what you should look for in your own team environments. Do people listen to each other? Do people ask clarifying questions? Do people dismiss any idea that’s not their own? Do people admit to mistakes? Do people make others pay for their mistakes over and over again?

You probably know most of this stuff already – you know if there is space for your ideas or not. You know if people share their ideas with you, or not. These lists are here to give you some ideas of how to fix things if participation is out of balance.