Leader: show your values, not your emotions

Being vulnerable and bringing your whole personality to work is a development goal for many leaders. We want workplaces with a strong psychological safety: everyone should feel free to speak their mind. Otherwise the workplace loses its ability improve and innovate.

We need leaders that are human beings! As a leader you may therefore try to show your emotions more.

I believe that to be a misunderstanding

What you feel, is not just a reaction to the situation you are in here and now. Your emotional reactions are grounded far earlier, not just by everything you experience during your upbringing. We’ll have to go thousands of years back through evolution of the human race!

I’m a huge fan of getting to know your emotions. Getting really sharp at recognizing them when they wash over you, categorizing them and maybe even reflecting on their origin and functionality. The total number of emotions is debatable, but there are more than the 3 people usually mention first: angry, sad, happy.

As an example, there is difference between doubt and anxiety, Doubt arises when we are unsure of something new. We focus our attention on our preparations. Our breath is slow and shallow, and we hesitate. Anxiety is the conviction that something can hurt us. Anxiety arises in new as well as familiar circumstances, our breath is quick and shallow and we feel a clenching of the belly, shoulders and neck.

Recognizing and separating between own emotions is like knowing the names of the trees on a walk in the forest: a better experience. This does not necessarily mean acting upon the; they can be part of a survival pattern only relevant thousands of years ago.

That the leader also has feelings will come as no surprise (not to anyone, not to the staff). But emotion-laden reactions, however well-meant, can be perceived as self-centered and cringe, and can hereby increase the distance we wanted to reduce!

What makes sense is to act on your personal values. Values are a set of reflected guidelines, the essence of YOU. Don’t you know them very well, or not well enough to be able to use them actively? Spend some time with me and we’ll clarify them together.

From a former client: “Lone helped me define my personal life values – something I didn’t even realise was so important, but which now forever will define me and my actions. It gives me a sense of direction in life, and it gives me strength to be ME and be mindful of when my borders are crossed”.

Sessions are taking place at Dampfærgevej near Østerport Station. Contact me om hej@lonealler if you’re curious.

Job satisfaction – precisely!

A lot of people will tell you that they can only describe three emotions: happiness, sadness, anger. This can make it hard to understand and explain what you need – hence difficult to act or help.

This also applies in the workplace: when you talk about job satisfaction, there is not necessarily a common understanding of what is meant.

Some will find job satisfaction to be about being happy every day, having good colleagues and a nice, appreciative boss. Others think it’s about having a super-ambitious goal and a killer team working towards it. Others appreciate about the security from having a steady job, enabling the pursuit of dreams on your personal time.

This is all true for the individual, but how should a workplace and a leader act in a universe this rich and varied in understanding?

I frequently see initiatives to strengthen job satisfaction, where the intention is good but the mark is missed completely. A few examples:

  • Development of a common ”team charter”; this is a great tool if collaboration is faltering, but won’t help if the boss is a tyrant.
  • Subsidicing fitness memberships and providing fruit baskets in the office may be masked as initiatives to strengthen job satisfaction. In essence, these are hygiene factors, only contributing negatively if they are absent.
  • Christmas parties and other social gatherings, where the idea is to get to know each other better across departments. May lead to huge frustrations and brand new crisis, especially if there is alcohol involved.
  • Frequent 1:1 meetings. Great if you’re a new leader wanting to connect with your team, but won’t fix the absence of vision and strategy.

To be able to address job satisfaction constructively, we need knowledge and a common language.  You don’t have to settle for ”anything goes”. I was recently certified in the platform GAIS, based on ”General Job Satisfaction Index” measured by statistics professionals since 2015. (This is not a commercial, I have no relationship to GAIS, am not a member of Krifa and paid for the education myself).

When you look at a large enough pool of numbers, you’ll begin to see patterns. And when you apply a health-focus (rather than the typical APV-sickness focus) you will have interesting results. GAIS identified 7 factors which impact job satisfaction: meaning, influence, mastery, achievements, leadership, colleagues and balance. The factors have varying impact on job satisfaction, and their weighting will shift over time.

GAIS can be used at no cost, also by businesses (you can see examples here  of regular business clients).

When your satisfaction is measured according to 7 welldefined and benchmarked factors, you get a temperature for each (how are ”we” doing compared to ”others”). But even more importantly, you develop a common language for something that can otherwise be fluffy, and as a leader you are enabled to target the real problems rather than shooting generic initiatives into your team.

Reach out if you want to hear more, or check them out yourself directly.

Diversity, disagreement, courage

Margaret Heffernan, UK scientist and entrepreneur, Professor of Practice at the University of Bath School of Management, is the author of a string of books on effective leadership and the release of hidden or unused talent.

She is featured in this TED Talk about the importance of having diverse ways of thinking; how even freely available information will be of no use unless someone has the courage to fight for it.  And how we need to resist our neurological wiring, driving us to seek companionship with people sharing our world views, rather than actively seek diversity.

Global connectivity and sharing of information are only the beginning. We need the courage to start conflict and disagree, challenge conventional wisdom, and speak up for real change to happen. This is true in politics as well as in business.

A culture where opinions can be shared freely and conflicts addressed without fear of interpersonal retaliation, is a key precondition for psychological safety.

The talk is less than 13 minutes; and it’s great!

Summer reading

Vacation is just around the corner, and the feed will now be flooded with pictures of planned summer readings. Piles of eminent management books, in English or American to get to the contents quickly.

No thanks. For me, vacation is part of my self-defense. I’m letting go of all feelings of guilt and obligation, not wanting to contribute to the self-destruction so applauded in our culture. A few weeks of unplugging and blissful relaxation is just what I need. My summer reading is just one book, and I’ve already read it many times. Still looking forward to hours in the proverbial hammock with this one, it’s almost like spending time with an old friend.

For years and years, my favorite novel was Gabriel García Márquez’ “A Hundred Years of Solitude”. I’ve read it countless times, its magical and exotic universe coupled with a complicated family legend – deservedly awarded the Nobel Prize. Since 2012 however, I’m having a new favourite: Kim Leine’s “The Prophets of Eternal Fjord”. I’m reading it in Danish to really indulge in every nuance of the story, but it’s available in many languages. The story is about Greenland’s movement to liberate from Danish colonialism, told from the viewpoint of a Danish priest and set in the late parts of the 1700’s. It is every bit as magical and amazing as the Márquez novel, a quiet, gripping story of Nordics and the Arctics.

Enjoy summer.

First: conflict habituation. Conflict management and resolution come later.

We have learned that unless we have something “nice” to say, we should stay silent. Unfortunately, this drives a conflict-avoidant behavior well into our adult lives.

Even well-supported and -founded conflict resolution models (such as the Thomas-Kilmann instrument) are based on the unstated assumption that we know what we want – based on insight into what our own best interests are – and can articulate it, compare it with alternatives, and argue our case.

This fairly analytical view of conflicts skips the “quenching” mechanism coming from not feeling free to speak our minds even when it’s a dumb question or slight critique. Many teams (in fact, most teams I have ever worked with) have a huge “conflict debt”.

Legitimately opposing interests (eg between sales and delivery – does that sound familiar to anyone?) are escalated rather than resolved at an appropriate level, frequently due to our lack of conflict habituation. We avoid tough conversations, rather send an email, right?

We must un-learn the habit of only speaking up when we have something nice to say. This is not about being obnoxiously aggressive. But about acknowledging that we are actually NOT all pulling in the same direction. We often have different, even opposing objectives, sometimes to a level of win/lose.

Before we can start working through our conflicts, we need to get used to their existence; expose ourselves to training in conflict habituation. This needs to be long-term; after all, we are dealing with deeply rooted behaviors.

As part of my work in team development, I offer a 9-step conflict habituation program. Each step is a small exercise, a tiny step towards being able to address conflicting interests without going full-throttle emotional about it.

Step 1 is: Explore facts (or, information presented to you as facts). Ask where they’re from or what they’re based on. Make everyone understand that you’re a team asking questions and not accepting everything as given. Do this for a week and notice how this becomes easier every time you try. Step 2-9 gently introduces increasing levels of pressure and interpersonal risk.

Only when we are relaxed about legitimate conflicts can we bring them to the surface and work on their constructive resolution. A prerequisite for teams looking to be innovative, creative, productive – and friends having fun.

Rewarding courage, not only compliance

Loads of research – prominently, the work of Amy Edmonson and her team – is bearing evidence to the importance of psychological safety. This important feature of a workplace is a prerequisite for innovation, team collaboration, quality work and a healthy workplace. It signifies a working environment where it is possible to state your opinion and talk about relevant ideas, where people feel free – or even compelled – to be open and honest.

The term “psychological safety” is becoming a term used almost as synonymous with trust, or with feeling personally confident to speak up. However, trust and confidence exist inside an individual person – psychological safety exists at the group or workplace level, and leadership’s efficiency in sustaining the conditions for psychological safety is crucial.

One example: encourage learning to avoid preventable mistakes, those that are due to lack of care and attention.  To “encourage” means to REWARD, not just refrain from shaming. People making preventable mistakes should not be praised for their inattention (obviously) but for their willingness to come forward and admitting the mistake, enabling a process improvement to make sure this does not happen again.

Another example: Intelligent mistakes, exploring new ground, fueled by a willingness to take risks and to experiment, should be straight-up rewarded, even if the desired results are not materializing. (And yes, results should be rewarded as well, that’s not the point).

Encouraging these behaviors will take a little bit of imagination but is totally doable. Modelling learning, asking for help as a leader, setting high standards and continuously talking about how to reach them, builds and sustains psychological safety where it belongs.

Psychological safety is not about being friendly all the time; it has nothing to do with being introvert or insecure, and it’s not about lowering the performance expectations. It is about removing the breaks that are holding people back.

Turning psychological safety into a matter of individual assertiveness bears resemblance to the way some companies deal with mental health and stress (“it’s personal”). But it’s not personal; sustaining psychological safety is a key requirement on contemporary leadership.

New Year – setback and recovery

The New Year had a more somber tone than usual for me. Sure, I was happy to see 2020 go. But the start to 2021 was not the one I had hoped for: on the second morning of January, I lost my footing on black ice when walking the dog near the sea. Complicated bone fractures in both wrists and a twisted elbow were the unfortunate and painful results, leaving me with both arms in cast to the shoulders! Fortunately recovery is going well, and I will be resuming work and life (brushing my own teeth etc.) over the coming 2-3 weeks.

Setbacks can strike hard when you least expect it; they can also occur as the culmination of a long struggle. In any case, how you recover is largely dependent on your mindset. The most successful (ie non-traumatic) dealings with setbacks acknowledge the hardships as well as the silver linings. There is even a line of study investigating Post Traumatic Growth. This is not to be confused with false optimism, ignoring the pain; I’m skeptical of any approach distorting the truth.

Setbacks are a part of life, and the frequency will logically increase with your courage and exposure to new things. Executing a sweeping digital transformation of uncharted legacy technology? Leading your team from the distance? Home-schooling your children? Setbacks are guaranteed to happen. In my case, balancing on the edge of an icy harbor-front to see the view under a bridge was clearly too much of a physical challenge.

The solution is not resigning from life or not accepting a challenge. Both are negative results of unhealthy perfectionism, hampering sense of adventure and willingness to learn.

To build strength and resilience to better deal with setbacks (and failure, and other stressors of life), the important research of Stanford professor @Carol Dweck recommends cultivating your growth mindset.

An actual exercise in “growth mindset-building” from my online micro-training “Upside-Down View of Stress” goes like below. Think through (write, draw, talk with a friend, whatever works for you) your setback in these four steps:

  1. What happened?
  2. Why was it important to overcome the setback?
  3. Which convictions, attitudes or personal strengths helped you pull through?
  4. Did you get any help from others?

This will activate your self-compassion and sense of connection. It’s not about analyzing deep emotions; there’s no mumbo-jumbo, it’s just looking at the truth, seeing yourself in the context of your own strengths and your important network of people. Not seeing yourself as a failure, or clumsy, or having to do everything yourself again.

The effect is remarkable.

As an example, regarding my own New Year setback, I’ve already mentioned what happened. The motivation for getting back to normal functioning should be obvious. I’m pulling through with my strong sense of personal responsibility for my health and well-being – doing all the ergo-therapy chores in spite of the pain, because I know it works. Did I get any help from others? You bet, for all kinds of things! I’m blessed with (and very grateful for) the dearest husband, family and friends, for the first weeks helping me with literally everything, and now keeping me company.

Can’t wait to be fully back!

How’s the team? Check in following 4 easy steps

We have been distancing for quite some time now, and one thing is for certain: we’re communicating less than we used to. These days, do you know how your team is really doing?

Maybe you just got back together. Maybe there are new members, or a new team lead? Surely there are new requirements. Maybe you just need inspiration to re-kindle the team spirit.

You can check in with your team following 4 easy steps.

**Videoen er på engelsk, men dansk tales også 😊**

Tug-of-war or hanging a tarp?

Engaging in conflict is often thought of as problem behavior to be avoided, especially in a workplace context.

We’re born into this world with a distaste for threats, our brains constantly scanning our environment to avoid or eliminate them. Since conflicts can be hard on relationships, and relationships in turn being something we crave for and need, conflicts can be understood as a threat. This perception continues to be passed on between generations, fuelled by every parent’s urge to train “good behaviors”: being nice to others, staying silent if you have nothing positive to say etc. In Scandinavia in particular, we are nice and polite and stay away from conflict if we can – our social coherence is strong, impacting our behavior quite forcefully.

However, in organizations, harmony is getting us nowhere. Conflict is a requirement for development and growth, and frequently even a foundational element in organizational design. Cross-functional teams have conflict – resolving different or opposed interests – as the main purpose.

In strategic sales pursuits, my primary workplace for the last few decades, a cross-functional team is mobilized to balance the interest of the client with the bidder’s risk profile, financial health etc. Clearly a delicate balance when stakes are high and executive leadership are watching closely. Conflict is perceived as detrimental to teamwork, but the opposite: aiming for harmony, shutting conflict down or letting it simmer under the carpets, may cause important issues to be left un-explored, stifling collaboration and business growth.

Conflict can be very unpleasant, not least when driven by bad behavior, poor performance or skills shortage. We may worry or even ruminate about conversations regarding such topics, and conflict aversion can then lead to conflict avoidance, ie simply not engaging in the conflict.

The Thomas-Kilmann Instrument shows conflict as an activity in two dimensions: whether any given approach meets your needs (level of assertiveness) and whether it also meets the other party’s needs (level of cooperative-ness).

Working to meet both sides’ needs is Collaborating, and to meet at least some of both side’s needs is Compromising. A compromise is not the best outcome but the quickest available option, as Chris Voss clearly illustrates in his book Never Split the Difference: a compromise between black and brown shoes is to wear one black and one brown, no swag at all!

Meeting your own need and not caring about the other side is Competing; meeting the needs of the other side without getting anything for yourself is Accommodating; and, finally, not trying to get anyone’s needs met is Avoiding.

Conflict avoidance makes no sense, not for you, not for them. Topics are circumvented and opportunity is drained. You change the subject, don’t call back, skip the meeting – whatever it takes to not face the conflict, making no room for the issue to be dealt with. Conflict-avoidance may buy you time, but it is unlikely to make the conflict disappear. Pressure will build, and the conflict can even grow larger when avoided.

But how to get through it then? Focus on the positive outcomes that awaits when the conflict is resolved. Your emotions will guide you, if you feel strongly about a conflict it’s a sign that it’s touching something important to you. Don’t let emotions take the steering wheel though! Stay calm, constructive and kind. Hard? Yes, but not as hard as it sounds.

A useful analogy: see conflict as a process like the one of hanging a tarp over your tent. A good result requires people pulling from each corner; if one corner pulls much harder than the other three, the tarp won’t hang properly.  It’s not a tug-of-war.

Following the Conflict Code, developed by Liane Davey in “The Good Fight”, you may prevent most conflicts and make the ones that are left, more productive and less taxing on your well-being. The model is a three-step approach: “Establish a line of communication”, “Create a connection” and “Contribute to a solution”.  Liane Davey includes a set of exercises to train how to enable proactive management of tensions and interdependencies in a cross-functional teams.

Conflict management is included in the half-day course “Teamwork in the Gig economy”, an event designed for leaders, project managers and teams wanting to improve collaboration, performance and respect. The event is introducing participants to foundational skills for contemporary working life – willpower, self-awareness, coaching, resilience, and can be tailored to fit actual needs in your team. More information here.

Online with a human touch

Many of us are working from home for at least a few weeks, spending hours every day in isolation.

Modern life on a “normal day” is filled with social distractions from the buzz of co-workers in large office spaces. We are social beings with a constant impulse to connect – but for a while, the social buzz will be silenced, and we’re having to seek social interaction online.

Online meetings are safe and hygienic replacements for real human interaction. However, it takes focus to bring out the human qualities of communication in the somewhat unidimensional web meeting. But with effort and planning, maintaining your social exchange creates a feeling of security and normality (and is also an effective way to reduce anxiety and stress).

Advice is everywhere on how to run productive online meetings – how to plan agendas, which tools to use for whiteboarding etc. Allow me therefore to only make a few suggestions on how to make online meetings more human, helping to maintain the friendships at work that are so critical to our engagement:

  • Make it a deliberate priority in your team to have human online meetings, at least for as long as the current isolation is in force.
  • Take turns to do the thoughtful planning of this, eg to formulate a non-work question for all participants to answer at the start of the meeting. Make sure everyone gets time before the meeting to prepare.
  • Turn on the video. This improves the focus from all participants and introduces the option to have a bit of fun. Why not show your co-workers around the house? Compare coffee machines? Introduce family pets?
  • Make sure your voice is clearly associated with your full name, and that both are known to all participants. “Ghosts” in the call will prohibit everyone else from being open. It’s hard to exaggerate the importance of proper introduction in online meetings.
  • For corporate video content, organize Movie Nights (or rather, afternoons) to view them together instead of streaming individually.
  • Finish your agenda 5-8 minutes before the meeting ends, to have time for “watercooler talk”. The kind of informal evaluation that would normally happen in the corridors after a face-to-face meeting. This can be solicited with a question: “Does anyone disagree with the conclusions we just made?”.

Would you consider using any of these ideas? If yes how did it go? As you can imagine I’m isolated and hungry for comments.