Expectations and the Art of Transparency

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One of the challenges of communicating is managing expectations. Expectations can be “managed” per se, if the message communicated is clear and is free of residual meanings.

The idea of Transparency clarifies what one can expect. The alternative usually results in:

1. Co-dependent communication where we are simply saying what we think others want to hear.
2. Manipulation. We are saying something in purpose that is not really real.
3. Excuse making. We have to justify our positions rather than own them.

How many of us have been in any of these positions?

Making our communication explicit communicates a level of respect for others, even if it is not the kind of message we would prefer to present, or what others would want to hear. Being transparent, means that we are willing to take the appropriate risk to communicate true meanings, specific opinions, and bare bones knowledge, that leaves no questions, and leads not to misconstrued messages, which lead to unmet expectations.

Ways of being transparent
We exercise transparency, when we say what we mean. We help others with hard truths. It may not be immediately comfortable, but it communicates an understanding and reality to others, that suggests that you respect the other person despite the message itself. It also saves you a lot of further defensiveness and justification later, when others “find out” what the factual reality really is.

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Why Do You Become a Leader?

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Leadership can represent titles, positions and authority. For some that is the purpose of being a leader: Themselves. It is the power trip, and the personal identity that comes from being called a leader. In this author’s view, that is hollow victory, and has no sustainable long term benefit.

Those that don’t seek the recognition of leadership, often are the ones that have the most to offer it. Leadership is not necessarily about solidifying one’s legacy, it’s about leaving others in a better position. If we’re in a position of leadership, what is the purpose of our position there?

Those that see leadership as a position:
1. Seek power over others

2. See the system serving them, not serving the system.

3. Don’t care who is hurt in the process.

4. See people as obstacles rather than opportunities to contribute.

Others…see leadership to:
1. Engage their passion about people and what is produced for others.

2. Developing other leaders in a chosen field.

3. Derive joy from seeing others succeed, and develop. This fuels them.

4. Want to leave a legacy, rather than build one.

The truth is, those that truly lead, do so from the heart and seek to better others. They are humble, and do not seek the spotlight. They don’t necessarily see their efforts as special, but rather a response to the needs before them. Their payoff is seeing others derive benefits.

    How do you think others will view you at retirement?

A few months back, this author had an opportunity to attend and participate in a retirement party for a college mentor who had recently finished three decades in a college department. It was an honor to participate in the celebrations, but very interesting to see how this longtime professor handled talk of his legacy and contributions to the department, that he essentially developed.

Although there were numerous formal honors given, the most profound honor was the significant turnout of decades of alumni to share their best wishes. In his remarks it was evident that he gave no credit to himself, but it was clear from the turnout what impact his leadership had meant to so many others. It was also obvious that the true message was people’s presence at the event. What a message. If Leadership is about how many people you have touched, then that is the true measure and purpose of leadership.

When you consider your style of leadership, do you consider it in terms of making a difference for others, or as a collection of honors? The memory of the honors will ultimately pass, but the difference you make in others can last well beyond your tenure or life.

Resiliency Skills for Leaders, Part 2

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Sustaining your strength and focus is more than individual growth. It is about how you interface with others. Maintaining our effectiveness is about how we lift others beyond their challenges and how we gain from the contribution.

1. Remember it’s not about you. If our emphasis is on others and not our own spotlight, then we avoid creating a codependency on what we do, and instead focus and celebrate what others do as a result of our vision and direction.

2. Integrate and Listen to Others. If we are talking at others rather than listening to them, then we are missing out on key contributions that others are making. The objective of leading others is to create other leaders. If we are listening to them, then we are allowing them to lead.

3. You’re not supposed to know everything. If you know everything, then why are you leading others? Leading with the Idea that you know everything, is closing off the necessary things and people that can teach us more about leading. If we are not being influenced by others, then we have closed off potential creativity and growth within our unit.

4. See your role as a contribution. The question is: Why did we choose to lead others? If it was for personal fame or notoriety, then our gains may be shortsighted, and short lived. Only leadership that aims to make a valuable contribution can feel worthwhile and purposeful in the long run. Ask yourself daily or weekly: Why do I do this? Why do I lead? Search for the answer that comes back.

5. Make Alone Time. At the end of the day or period, absorb what you just experienced that day. Making private time to do this is not selfish, but very important in your personal discovery process, and thinking how others receive us. Use the lessons to feed your thinking and vision.

Resiliency Skills for Leaders – Part 1

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There has been much written about personal renewal. These include a variety of personal habits, health oriented skills, and stress reduction techniques. Leadership and management are very difficult, and the reserve needed from day to day is significant. Personal renewal is certainly necessary, but it is not sufficient when we consider organizational constraints and barriers.

BARRIERS
1. Multiple time sensitive demands
2. Phone calls
3. Commitments
4. Personnel or Customer problems

The need to be creative, present for others, and ready to fight “fires” within the organization can be enormous. The leader can find themselves operating from survival mode, or avoidance mode. Neither option is a preferable method and can lead to organizational drift.

RESILIENCY SKILLS
Invest consistently
Investing in others within the workplace is good for you and your employees. There is no replacement for compassion, empathy, concern and providing recognition to others for the good that is happening in the organization. Connecting, engaging, supporting, and learning from others and recognizing others, can be uplifting. The more you uplift, the more you can be lifted.

Take time to reflect
From what you’ve learned and connected with, comes the need to find a quiet place to reflect. The banter of noise, multiple disruptions, and interference does little to integrate what you are now. In order to know where you want to be, you have to reflect on where you are.

Avoid being mired in petty issues
Keeping the big picture in front of you despite the noise and interference of competing problems is a key skill to maintaining focus. Putting small issues aside, getting closure on potential distractions is a key skill and one that bypasses issues, rather than letting them control the path that is being set.

Write about what you’ve learned
Leaders that write, and reflect – and “crunch” ideas have the potential toward resiliency and personal growth. They not only reflect, but put their goals in clearer perspective. If you integrate your insights at the end of the day, your next day will be more informed.

Maintain a routine
Changes are a given, but maintaining a consistent routine is critical to dealing with the ebb and flow of a given day. Maintaining a structure that is flexible, yet adds some predictability can impact how you approach new issues that seek to derail your day.

Resiliency is a process – it requires constant development. It requires meeting problems, using skill reserves you develop, and getting closure on residual issues.

Creating More Impact with Your Staff – The Performance Review

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Performance reviews, individual supervision, group reviews can vary in how they are conducted with your staff. Organizations vary.

Individual staff (and groups) have a right to know where they stand at any given moment in the process of their work. Keeping your appraisals until the “yearly review”, or waiting until a problem develops to supply corrective action is the wrong way to do supervisory reviews.

It might appear overbearing to meet regularly with an employee, however the most supportive thing to do is have a transparent discussion with your staff members in the “here and now” and at predictable and regular points.

Reasons why regular reviews are good
There are several reasons why meeting regularly with your staff is a good idea. Several include:

1. A staff member knows where they stand – there are no secrets.

2. Regular development can occur which helps the employee make course adjustments.

3. What is expected, and what is happening can be reviewed now – not later.

4. Institutional values can be discussed, incorporated, and developed.

5. Staff knows you care, and that you are not being critical.

6. Helps build cohesion, retention of employees, and morale.

A Method for Doing Regular Reviews
Preferably reviews should be twice monthly, but can be weekly. They don’t have to be long protracted meetings, and they should have a positive, proactive and helpful atmosphere surrounding them. There are never punitive or critical remarks made. Everything said is transparent. Honesty is the best policy.

The Staff Member Creates the Agenda for the Review
The best review is one where the employee or staff member comes prepared to discuss the issues important to their work. A general outline path can be prescribed by the manager, but it is important that the employee own the outline, and set the topics that are to be discussed. The outline can consist of the following:

Accomplishments
Challenges
Areas of Proposed Development
Project Status/Progress

New Employees Need Mentored
A new employee may need further coaching in the process. Oftentimes, those least experienced in their jobs won’t know the questions to ask, or the material to bring forth. Examples and coaching may be necessary to help the staff member know how to think about their work.

Connection and Engagement is the Key
The overall process should only take about a half hour, but it is a good accountability for both the staff member and manager. These reviews are seen as ways to connect with the leader, and the leader has an obligation to serve and provide guidance where necessary. Importantly, it allows the staff member the opportunity to take initiative, showcase accomplishments, and honestly discuss problems they are having with their jobs or their experience. Opportunities to improve, and change path can be done on an ongoing basis, and more radical corrective action is unnecessary.

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Don’t Expect Everyone to Meet Your Expectations

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Management intrinsically sets expectations – both of managers and those they lead. When expectations are present, there is the expectation that they will be met.

This is easier said than done. If you manage others with the rigid expectation that they will meet them, there is going to be disappointment.

The expectations of others need to include the potential that others will fall short – for example:

1. Falling short following policy
2. Character weaknesses
3. Not accepting supervision
4. Avoidance
5. Ethical missteps
6. Personal problems affecting workplace behavior

When you begin to accept the potential that others will fall short of expectations, you allow yourself to stay focused on the more important stuff. Mistakes or falling short is a part of human nature. Personalizing the actions of others is a sure fire way to stress, or most importantly, sidetrack your eye from the big picture.

Keeping Your Eye on the Big Picture
The way you work through a failed expectation is to realize that drift may occur.

1. Identify the program or policy drift
2. Acknowledge the self – correction with others
3. Examine your own motivations and expectations
4. Adjust your attitude with others- accept failures, insist on corrective behaviors in others
5. Provide supports, clarify your expectation

Finally, set future expectations in a way they are incrementally attainable with your team. Insure potential roadblocks are removed. The failed expectation could be your roadblock not your staff member’s. Keep an open mind that you may be setting the wrong or unclear expectation that is not matched with their current realities.

Organizational Definition of Codependency

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A corrosive threat to building teams is “Codependency.” A term used prominently within the addictions field, the behavior has wider meanings within leading individuals and teams. The basic idea of codependency in organizations is it defeats responsibility, initiative and the health of operations.

Codependency as “under functioning”
When team members are codependent, there is an imbalance in responsibility between members. Norms develop where doing the minimum is silently permitted. Unhealthy alliances develop, and fear of confronting the inequity or dysfunction in the team stifles the group.

Codependency as incompetence
Those that want to appear capable (but lack substance) hide behind a cloak of saying what is necessary or saying what they think others want to hear.

Codependence is fake acceptance
A distorted sense of acceptance occurs when the objective is agreed upon, but the words (commitment) does not match the results. The leader wants good results and accepts the stated intentions, that do not correspond to an individual team member’s actual behavior.

Codependence as rational lies
The use of rational lies (aka rationalization), itself is a form of team and individual betrayal. To avoid accountability a team member uses rationalization and excuses to avoid personal responsibility.

All these organizational definitions of codependency can be corrosive to objectives and the mission. Rampant codependency can significantly lead to human resource costs and deceased morale.

The Power of A Question

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When teams function best is when individual team members dare to ask questions of their leaders. To challenge indicates a commitment toward engagement, and a willingness to connect to the organization’s vision.

Questions suggest team engagement because:

1. It means the individual team member cares enough about their individual contribution.

2. Questions indicate that a team contributor is interested in doing rather than complaining.

3. New ideas might be imbedded in the question.

4. Through a question, the process of learning is occurring.

A leader should be very concerned with their team when people stop asking questions. It means that a member’s commitment is waning, a team member is not engaged with the vision, or the leader’s direction lacks clarity.

The worse case scenario when questioning is abandoned – is a sort of complacency where mediocrity is accepted and the program becomes a drifting entity.

Managers and leaders ought to encourage and welcome thoughtful questions by their teams. It’s the most reliable indicator regarding the health of an organization or program, including the teams that compose those areas.

How Much Control is Appropriate in Management? An Idea Revisited.

The command and control age of management is (or should be) over. The authoritative nature of interaction, and micro-management paradigm where those that have the authority – should know best – is something that has become out of mode, at least in management theory. The current thinking is that employee engagement and releasing others to develop and implement ideas is more desirable.

In a recent conversation with a colleague, the whole idea of “controlling” functions in the organization, and controlling how things get done was revisited. Being trained in both authoritarian and release/engagement management structures, I found the idea brought up again, fascinating.

The idea from my colleague – Doug Butchy (dougbutchy.com) who is a music educator went like this (paraphrase in italics):

I find myself needing to control all aspects of the organization (this being a music performance organization) because I want to make sure everything gets done – to my specifications. I now have a better understanding why others (he was referring to another colleague) always wanted to be in control of all aspects of the details. I find myself doing the same thing, to make sure things are right.

The idea was referring to the details of running a music performance group, but nonetheless an organization that is made up of rules, practices, a culture, and a “way” of doing something. My colleague’s view was that control worked for him in this type of organization. In other organizations however, having a “release” approach – where you engage others to take charge of more of the details, or delegate plans – might seem appropriate – especially where the organization’s competitive advantage is based on unleashing individual creativity in the organization. This definition may seem a bit broad because there are obviously other components that go into managing an organization. For this discussion however, it seems appropriate.

Over the ensuing several days, I have reflected on the idea why having a more control oriented management structure would work in some ways better than a more “stewardship” – servant leadership style would work. Here’s what I have arrived at:

More Control in Management is helpful when:
1. The organization – community or otherwise has a fluid workforce or membership (much like the organization that was being referred to above.

2. Staff, students, members in the organization need substantially more guidance to be successful with the task. In other words there is a learning curve in the organization.

3. The organizational task is more rigid in nature and parameters for the task are clearly understood. This would suit an educational organization, or some community organizations.

Less Control in Management is helpful when:
1. The organization’s task is more flexible, requires individual creativity, is product oriented, and employs professionals to implement their craft.

2. Where exerting more management control will only disrupt the individual capacity of the workers.

3. Where customers are involved – directly in the provision of developing products, and providing services.

Not to confuse Quality Control with “less control”, the idea for less control, does not mean there is less emphasis on adhering to quality standards, policy, procedures and the like. It also doesn’t negate the reporting relationship. Less control means that individuals in the organization are developed in such a way that they learn to manage themselves within established parameters.

The idea of using more control – often gets perceived as being a micro manager, or authoritarian – neither of which is the right definition for using more control with an organizational task. The idea here is that those that use more control are doing so, based on the unique elements and task of the organization they are managing. It has less to do with squelching employee engagement or initiative, or less to do with actually “controlling people”.