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How to Tell Leaders They’re Not as Great as They Think They Are

Although we live in a world that glorifies self-belief and stigmatizes self-doubt, there are really only two advantages to thinking that you’re better than you actually are. The first is when you’re attempting to do a difficult task. Believing that you can do something difficult is half the battle, but if you truly overrate your abilities, then by definition you will fail. The second is fooling others into thinking that you are competent. Most people will be found out eventually, and the personal benefits of faking competence will be offset by the negative consequences for others. For example, deluded leaders may come across as charismatic and talented, but their overconfidence puts their followers at risk in the long run. In contrast, when leaders are aware of their limitations, they are less likely to make mistakes that put their teams, organizations, and countries in danger.

And yet — as I demonstrate in my latest book — leaders are not generally known for their self-awareness. Although leadership talent is normally distributed, 80% of people think they are better-than-average leaders. Moreover, with narcissism rates rising steadily for decades, there is no reason to expect future leaders to be more accurate in their self-evaluations, let alone to be humble. Strengths-based coaching, and removing negative feedback from performance appraisals are aggravating the problem, validating leaders’ fantasized talents much like when parents tell their children that they are the brightest and cutest in the world. This is especially likely when leaders are intimidating, or when they surround themselves with sycophantic employees. As a result, leaders are deprived of the very feedback they need to get better.

Whether you manage or coach leaders, or are just trying to provide some feedback to your own boss, here are three simple points you may wish to consider in order to have this difficult (but necessary) conversation with them:

  • Tap into their personal motives: Nobody likes to be criticized — especially high-status individuals. However, if you can help leaders understand how they can achieve their personal goals, they will pay attention. The most effective way of doing this is by tapping into the leader’s motives and values. For instance, leaders who are driven by recognition care a great deal about their reputation. Telling them that they are seen as less capable than they think they are will probably mobilize them, even if you allow for the possibility that their reputation is unwarranted. On the other hand, when leaders are driven by power, you will be able to appeal to them by linking the feedback to their performance and career progression: “If you change X and Y, you will be able to outperform your competitors and make it to the top”. In contrast, when dealing with altruistic leaders, your best strategy for delivering negative feedback is to convey that “by changing X and Y, you will be able to harness your team’s potential and improve their engagement and wellbeing”.
  • Let the data do the talking: Leaders are not always interested in people, and they often regard psychological matters as fluffy. On the upside, they tend to care about results. A good way to help leaders understand that their self-views and behaviors matter is via 360-degree feedback (360s) and employee engagement In particular, there is ample evidence for the connection between 360s and leadership performance, as well as a leader’s integrity. The use of 360s also enhances coaching and development interventions by closing the “blind-spots” between leaders’ self-views and other people’s views on them. As for engagement, it is arguably the best source of data to evaluate leaders’ effectiveness — other than actual team performance data. For example, a meta-analysis of almost 8,000 business units and 36 organizations shows that increases in employee engagement are associated with better business-unit outcomes, including revenues and profits. Another data-driven approach to making leaders aware of their potential deficits is through scientifically valid personality assessments. When reports focus not just on the bright side, but also the dark side of personality, leaders will be able to understand what their “toxic assets” are. Indeed, dark side personality traits predict leader derailment even in the presence of outstanding technical skills and expertise. From Dominic Strauss-Kahn to Bernie Madoff, there is no shortage of famous case studies demonstrating that brilliant leaders can damage their own and others’ careers when they overuse certain strengths and are unable to tame their undesirable qualities.
  • Highlight the downside of self-confidence: A final point to consider is that leaders who are interested in science may be easily persuaded of the virtues of modesty, as well as the adverse consequences of hubris. In other words, there is vast empirical evidence to convince leaders that excessive self-confidence is more problematic than they think. For example, economic studies suggest that overconfidence leads to poor financial decisions and an inability to attend to social cues that highlight one’s mistakes. Financial studies show that overconfidence drives Forbes 500 CEOs to “persistently fail to reduce their personal exposure to company-specific risk”. Business studies show that overconfident entrepreneurs are not just more likely to fail, but also die younger than their more insecure counterparts. By the same token, there is also compelling evidence for the benefits of (moderate) self-doubt. For instance, academic studies suggest that leaders who underrate their abilities tend to be more effective, and broad theories of motivationsuggests that self-perceived deficits in competence are pivotal for improving one’s performance. Perhaps most famously, Jim Collins’ seminal analyses of effective executives suggested that the most outstanding leaders are not just relentless and driven, but also humble.
  • Sadly, these suggestions are not always easily applied. For example, leaders with poor 360s tend to dismiss the value of feedback, which makes them virtually uncoachable. This is one of the fundamental limitations of coaching: it often works with those who need it the least; but it works a lot less with those who need it the most. There are also too many sources of (fake) positive feedback at the disposal of leaders, no matter how talented they are. In that sense, the world of work is not so different from Facebook, though even Facebook has decided to allow users to leave negative feedback on other people’s posts. Ultimately, we need to get better at selecting leaders who are comfortable with their own insecurities and self-doubt. As the great Voltaire noted: “Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd.”

Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic is the CEO of Hogan Assessments, a professor of business psychology at University College London and at Columbia University, and an associate at Harvard’s Entrepreneurial Finance Lab. His latest book is The Talent Delusion: Why Data, Not Intuition, Is the Key to Unlocking Human Potential. Find him on Twitter: @drtcp or at www.drtomascp.com. 

 

HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW:  https://hbr.org/2017/03/how-to-tell-leaders-theyre-not-as-great-as-they-think-they-are?utm_medium=email&utm_source=newsletter_daily&utm_campaign=mtod&referral=00203&spMailingID=17777502&spUserID=OTA1Njk1ODMwMAS2&spJobID=1080076064&spReportId=MTA4MDA3NjA2NAS2

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Why You Should Make Time for Self-Reflection (Even If You Hate Doing It)

When people find out I’m an executive coach, they often ask who my toughest clients are. Inexperienced leaders? Senior leaders who think they know everything? Leaders who bully and belittle others? Leaders who shirk responsibility?

The answer is none of the above. The hardest leaders to coach are those who won’t reflect — particularly leaders who won’t reflect on themselves.

At its simplest, reflection is about careful thought. But the kind of reflection that is really valuable to leaders is more nuanced than that. The most useful reflection involves the conscious consideration and analysis of beliefs and actions for the purpose of learning. Reflection gives the brain an opportunity to pause amidst the chaos, untangle and sort through observations and experiences, consider multiple possible interpretations, and create meaning. This meaning becomes learning, which can then inform future mindsets and actions. For leaders, this “meaning making” is crucial to their ongoing growth and development.

Research by Giada Di Stefano, Francesca Gino, Gary Pisano, and Bradley Staats in call centers demonstrated that employees who spent 15 minutes at the end of the day reflecting about lessons learned performed 23% better after 10 days than those who did not reflect. A study of UK commuters found a similar result when those who were prompted to use their commute to think about and plan for their day were happier, more productive, and less burned out than people who didn’t.

So, if reflection is so helpful, why don’t many leaders do it?  Leaders often:

  • Don’t understand the process.  Many leaders don’t know how to reflect. One executive I work with, Ken, shared recently that he had yet again not met his commitment to spend an hour on Sunday mornings reflecting. To help him get over this barrier, I suggested he take the next 30 minutes of our two-hour session and just quietly reflect and then we’d debrief it. After five minutes of silence, he said, “I guess I don’t really know what you want me to do. Maybe that’s why I haven’t been doing it.”
  • Don’t like the process. Reflection requires leaders to do a number of things they typically don’t like to do: slow down, adopt a mindset of not knowing and curiosity, tolerate messiness and inefficiency, and take personal responsibility. The process can lead to valuable insights and even breakthroughs — and it can also lead to feelings of discomfort, vulnerability, defensiveness, and irritation.
  • Don’t like the results. When a leader takes time to reflect, she typically sees ways she was effective as well as things she could have done better. Most leaders quickly dismiss the noted strengths and dislike the noted weaknesses. Some become so defensive in the process that they don’t learn anything, so the results are not helpful.
  • Have a bias towards action. Like soccer goalies, many leaders have a bias toward action. A study of professional soccer goalies defending penalty kicks found that goalies who stay in the center of the goal, instead of lunging left or right, have a 33% chance of stopping the goal, and yet these goalies only stay in the center 6% of the time. The goalies just feel better when they “do something.”  The same is true of many leaders. Reflection can feel like staying in the center of the goal and missing the action.
  • Can’t see a good ROI.  From early roles, leaders are taught to invest where they can generate a positive ROI — results that indicate the contribution of time, talent or money paid off.  Sometimes it’s hard to see an immediate ROI on reflection — particularly when compared with other uses of a leader’s time.

If you have found yourself making these same excuses, you can become more reflective by practicing a few simple steps.

Identify some important questions. But don’t answer them yet. Here are some possibilities:

  • What are you avoiding?
  • How are you helping your colleagues achieve their goals?
  • How are you not helping or even hindering their progress?
  • How might you be contributing to your least enjoyable relationship at work?
  • How could you have been more effective in a recent meeting?

Select a reflection process that matches your preferences.  Many people reflect through writing in a journal.  If that sounds terrible but talking with a colleague sounds better, consider that.  As long as you’re reflecting and not just chatting about the latest sporting event or complaining about a colleague, your approach is up to you.  You can sit, walk, bike, or stand, alone or with a partner, writing, talking, or thinking

Schedule time.  Most leaders are driven by their calendars. So, schedule your reflection time and then commit to keep it. And if you find yourself trying to skip it or avoid it, reflect on that!

Start small.  If an hour of reflection seems like too much, try 10 minutes.  Teresa Amabile and her colleagues found that the most significant driver of positive emotions and motivation at work was making progress on the tasks at hand. Set yourself up to make progress, even if it feels small.

Do it. Go back to your list of questions and explore them. Be still. Think. Consider multiple perspectives. Look at the opposite of what you initially believe. Brainstorm. You don’t have to like or agree with all of your thoughts — just think and to examine your thinking.

Ask for help. For most leaders, a lack of desire, time, experience, or skill can get in the way of reflection.  Consider working with a colleague, therapist, or coach to help you make the time, listen carefully, be a thought partner, and hold you accountable.

Despite the challenges to reflection, the impact is clear. As Peter Drucker said: “Follow effective action with quiet reflection. From the quiet reflection, will come even more effective action.”

Jennifer Porter is the Managing Partner of The Boda Group, a leadership and team development firm. She is a graduate of Bates College and the Stanford Graduate School of Business, an experienced operations executive, and an executive and team coach.

 

HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW: https://hbr.org/2017/03/why-you-should-make-time-for-self-reflection-even-if-you-hate-doing-it?utm_medium=email&utm_source=newsletter_daily&utm_campaign=mtod&referral=00203&spMailingID=17636722&spUserID=OTA1Njk1ODMwMAS2&spJobID=1060809136&spReportId=MTA2MDgwOTEzNgS2

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How to Handle Underperformers on a Team You Inherit

Recently I was talking with a new manager about the team she had inherited. While she thought that most of the team members were doing a good job, she was concerned that one or two people were not pulling their weight. She wasn’t sure what to do about them. She was worried that if she fired these people, or even put them on notice, it would sink morale and others would worry about losing their jobs, too. She also didn’t want to come across as mean and insensitive so early on, because she wanted her team to like her. But she knew that if she didn’t do something, the team might not hit its goals.

These concerns probably sound familiar to any new manager. Suddenly, instead of focusing only on your own performance, you have to make sure that other people are performing. Instead of building relationships with one or two coworkers, now you have to think about how you relate to the whole team. It’s not an easy transition. In order to manage it successfully, there are two principles you should keep in mind.

Principle number one is to remember that as a manager, your primary responsibility is to the organization and the achievement of its performance targets. Your job is not to compete for the “most popular manager” award or to make things easy for your team. Principle number two is that your success depends on the success of your team members. You need to help them achieve their individual and collective targets and feel good about the company — but you can’t do their jobs for them. If someone can’t perform, you have to find someone else who can, or you’ll be putting your own success at risk.

Applying these principles means that you have to be, in the words of Jack Welch, hardheaded and softhearted. You have to prioritize the team achieving its goals and everyone performing at the required level. But in order to do this, you have to set your team members up for success. This means understanding each person’s individual style, personality, and capabilities — and what they need to be successful.

Let’s go back to this new manager’s dilemma. She should not let the weaker performers on her team off the hook. This would not only put her and the team at risk of missing their goals but also send a message to other members that she is not serious about achieving the targets. Some employees may resent the fact that they have to work hard while others can slack off. Eventually they too might feel they can get away with underperforming. So not dealing with poor performers can be worse for morale and overall team performance than confronting the issue directly.

At the same time, the new manager shouldn’t judge the underperformers too quickly by assuming they are not capable or motivated. She shouldn’t assume that they can’t do better or aren’t the right people for the job. Instead, she should consider the potential reasons for their performance. Maybe the previous manager hadn’t insisted on high performance, or hadn’t trained them properly, or hadn’t given them the tools they needed.

So what should the new manager do? First, she needs to make her expectations about high performance clear to everyone on the team. She should create a performance “contract” with the team that lays out the overall goals and what each person needs to contribute to reach them. This contract might also include the behaviors that are expected.

Based on these requirements, she then needs to meet with the “problem” performers one-on-one to find out what’s going on. What do they need in order to get to a higher level? How can she help? Are they willing to do what’s needed to step up? For example, some people, when confronted honestly and constructively with high performance requirements, will start talking about whether there might be other jobs that better fit their skills. Others might raise the question of whether they have the capacity to work at that level. And still others, in the best scenario, will be excited about the challenge and will want to talk about what they have to do in order to improve.

For those team members who are ready to move forward, the manager has to establish an action plan and timeline for getting them to acceptable performance. This might include formal training, peer coaching, observation, future feedback sessions, or any number of other supportive steps. And for those who are not willing to put in the work, the manager has to move forward with replacing them or redistributing their work to others.

What’s important is that a manager do this transparently and quickly — in a matter of days, or weeks at the most. Creating the expectation for high performance and doing what’s necessary to help your team be successful is a critical skill for anyone managing others. So learning how to do it at the beginning of your managerial career will serve you well not only in this first job but also in many to come.

Ron Ashkenas is a Partner Emeritus at Schaffer Consulting. He is a co-author of The GE Work-Out and The Boundaryless Organization. His latest book is Simply Effective: How to Cut Through Complexity in Your Organization and Get Things Done.

 

HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW: https://hbr.org/2017/06/how-to-handle-underperformers-on-a-team-you-inherit?referral=00563&cm_mmc=email-_-newsletter-_-daily_alert-_-alert_date&utm_source=newsletter_daily_alert&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=alert_date&spMailingID=17463422&spUserID=OTA1Njk1ODMwMAS2&spJobID=1041158494&spReportId=MTA0MTE1ODQ5NAS2

 

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Effective couching involves unleashing the individual potential and expanding the capacity of employees to stretch and grow beyond self-limiting boundaries. This is extremely important in a country like South Africa, where differing levels of education and backgrounds may hinder finding the right skills.

Businesses today face countless challenges both externally and internally. The way they identify these challenges, face them and bring them under control can be the difference between success or failure.

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