Over the years, I have witnessed many intelligent leaders stumble while leading change. A few because of external challenges or outright hostility; most because they did not recognize what being a leader means nowadays in the fast-moving economy of the 21st century. Without trying to be exhaustive, I want to address how organizational change often becomes a personal dilemma for leaders.
You don’t choose change, it chooses you
Truth is that by the time leaders consider the need for drastic change, they have already experienced loss of control and stress:
- something is not going as they had hoped,
- worse, it has gone completely awry,
- often, they are in conflict with others about what to do next.
The specters of poor performance and failure haunt the leader’s thoughts. Self-protection rather than change is more the mood of the moment.
The old way got you in hot water
Why do organizations tolerate dysfunctional interactions that destroy trust? And what prevents leaders from confronting toxic behaviors effectively? In this short clip, Elizabeth Holloway, PhD in Psychology, provides a useful introduction to understanding how toxic behaviors persist.
To access the complete presentation, click here
Our Viewpoint on Toxic Behaviors in Organizations
As Dr. Holloway argues toxic behavior relies on a system with different players. Identifying the participants in a toxic situation can help everyone gain clarity about the dynamics at play and decide for themselves what is the right course of action, whether as a leader or as a participant.
In her presentation, Holloway identifies three players in a toxic behavior system as:
- The perpetrator,
- The protector and
- The buffer,
For good measure, I will add the notion of:
In fact, once a pattern of toxic behavior is entrenched, everybody in the organization becomes an avoider to some degree. (As we will see later this often also applies to the leader.)
What holds the situation in place is fear. Most of us have no expertise in confronting toxic behavior. Besides, in many instances the person calling out the toxic behavior gets labelled the trouble maker. So no one thinks they have anything to gain through confrontation.
The Making of a Toxic Culture
This article was first published in TRUST MAGAZINE winter 2016
Most executives give little thought, if any, to how trust in action strengthens the performance of organizations. Trust is just not a priority for them. Why that is so remains a leadership puzzlement, especially when a growing body of evidence indicates that trust is key to success.
In one-on-one conversations leaders often admit that, in fact, they are not sure how to build trust. But such moments of candor are brief and generally followed by rationalizing that trust-building takes too much time anyway.
Whatever rationale is put forward to ignore trust; the fact remains trust is not just nice to have. It’s the center piece that determines how individuals behave and interact — whether team members are open with information or secretive, inclined to help out or hold back, willing to take risks or just looking to play it safe.
What to do?
Daniel Goleman explains how once the survival response has been triggered, the mind gets obsessed with the thoughts linked to negative emotions, such as fear and anger. Negative thoughts shrink the cognitive ability to make sound decisions and to tackle the work at hand. Unchecked negative emotions limit the capacity to think.
To watch the complete presentationclick here
Viewpoint on the Impact of Negative Emotions in the Workplace
A big part of executive coaching is about developing the self-mastery of leaders, helping them increase their self-awareness about emotions, self-management when they have been triggered into negative emotions, and also developing empathy to be able to recognize when others have been triggered.
Alain Bolea is delighted to be included in the 2015 list of Top 100 Thought Leaders in Trust. The list is put forward by Trust Across America | Trust Around the World. Founded by Barbara Kimmel, TIA|TAW is dedicated to bringing the topic of organizational trust to the forefront. It provides information to inspire leaders and tools to increase trust in business practices and institutions.
He is honored to be in the company of Patricia Aburdene, Ken Blanchard, Tim Cook, Stephen M.R. Covey and Bill George to name a few.
The complete list is available in the new issue of Trust Magazine. The magazine also contains my article Foster Trust—Build Team Performance. You can get your free copy of the magazine by clicking on the cover below.
In this interview conducted on November 15, 2012, I explore with David Keller the need for exploring project unknowns through conversations before launching major projects.
David has extensive experience in complex trading systems and led technology projects in both start-ups and large corporations as Co-Founder, Data Symmetry, Chief Information Officer & Senior Vice President, NEW YORK MERCANTILE EXCHANGE, Chief Information & Technology Officer, Founder, EnergyNet® & EnerSoft® Corporation.
By Alain Bolea and David Keller
A high proportion of Technology projects do not deliver: they are late, the product or service does not match end-user requirements, and/or requires significant late stage changes to satisfy the client’s needs. Such outcomes usually reduce a company’s competitive position, increase project costs, and strain relationships. Creating success in IT projects calls for greater project team alignment upfront.
Common Pitfalls of Technology Projects
At their inception, troubled projects tend to follow the same scenario; we call it “Rushing to fail” and it typically goes like this:
- High-level project parameters are set by a few individuals using an incomplete view of the needs of end-users, project constraints and risks.
- Because key project assumptions come from senior management, the project staff often unconsciously avoids fully vetting them; “solutions” are railroaded to meet timetable, budgets and requirements.
This faulty process, sourced in an incomplete view of the project as a whole combined with a rush to performance, is the real reason why projects fail.
Elon Musk discusses how collaboration needs to be a concern even when hiring exceptionally talented individuals because their ability to work well with others is essential.
To watch the complete interview click here
Collaboration is key to having teams function well. The level of collaboration impacts both the team’s ability to perform and its ability to innovate. Keeping in mind that even the smartest person will have to interface with others in order to be effective is an essential part of a healthy hiring process.
When pressure mounts at work is usually when leaders speak most of empowerment. In truth they are looking for greater initiative. With high expectations to see an impact on performance, few things rile leaders more than advocating for employee empowerment and seeing little employee initiative in return.
Left frustrated, leaders often rationalize this “apathy” as the sign that something is wrong with employee motivation: disinterest, laziness, stupidity, stubbornness, or the like. In isolated instances character “flaws” could be valid explanations, but if this perceived “apathy” is pervasive, something else is necessarily at work.
Trust — the Missing Link
When I look at situations where employees lack initiative, a strong correlation usually reveals itself with what leaders themselves are doing . Fundamentally a lack of engagement stems from the absence of trust in the leader. Trust builds from many different aspects, but two are critical for leaders: they must be trusted as leader and as a person.
Jack Welch responds to a question on how a leader knows who is being “cut-throat” and who is doing their work. Toxic behaviors need to be handled promptly.
To view the entire presentation click here
Viewpoint on Toxic Behaviors
With toxic behaviors present in a group, there is very little chance that people will fully trust each other, speak openly, and work in a collaborative manner. Cut-throat behaviors such as taking credit for work that others have done, backstabbing, gossiping may happen behind a leader’s back so to speak, but the consequences are always visible in the way people talk and act. Toxic behaviors can be detected in the patterns of avoidance in the team’s interactions.