Don’t Let LITTLE FOXES
Spoil Your Business
Awwww, aren’t they SOOO CUTE!
Yes, but only until they start damaging the garden
What are the “Little Foxes” spoiling Your vineyard?
Foxes don’t just come into the vineyard; eat the flowers and leave. They like to gnaw on the vines and dig holes, exposing the roots and thus destroying the entire plant. So the question at hand is this: What foxes are chewing up your leadership, team, and organization? Here are some possible answers:
- Communication Gap
- Defensive Posture
- Emotional Ignorance
- Myopic Vision
- No Accountability
- Too Many Apps
Culture can kill innovation and run up labor costs through poor performance. It is also the most challenging thing to change because it is self-generating. Culture exists in the people making up the teams and the organizations of the corporation or business. We have a habit of quickly figuring out the culture and then unintentionally or sometimes intentionally spreading it around perpetually. For corporations that have been around a long time, the current CEO may have inherited a mess. Yet it is up to this leadership to figure it out and do all they can to root out detrimental culture and behavior. In a real way, the CEO and C-Suite team is the model for it all.
One way to mitigate unhealthy culture is to begin modeling a ‘Coaching’ environment versus a top-down communications pipeline which results in silos. This will be very difficult at the outset because people are generally resistive to any change, no matter how good it might be in the end. Also, they are used to the status quo, and a Coaching mentality and practice is a tremendous time investment. It will feel extremely risky on the front end with little reward because it takes time to change the ship’s direction; it will be a slow, wide turn. But on the other side, it will be tremendously beneficial.
“They just don’t get it. The employee surveys score very low on communication. But they only have more All-Hands meetings to “TELL” us what they are doing. Then, when a question is asked, there are only many excuses. That isn’t the communication we seek.”— a high-performance employee
We all know about top-down and bottom-up communication and change, but proper communication is an art and not one that everyone can practice effectively. If you are ‘telling’ your teams what to do or advising what YOU are doing, that is a form of communication, but you may be missing out on moving your organization to the next level. What kind of communication do you value if you have a family or a really good friend? Do you want them to ‘Talk AT you,’ or would you rather have a conversation where thoughts and ideas are shared? There seems to be an idea that this isn’t possible in large corporations. But communication is already occurring; it just takes a shift in HOW.
Remember that your workforce keeps the business afloat, not you or the leadership team. Your teams, as are the employees engaged in the ground-floor operations, are critical. Telling is only part of the picture – listening is vital. It is essential to ensure that people are being heard. When someone asks a question, don’t be so quick to answer it with a standard, practiced, canned response. Politicians do that, and no one likes it except the press. People don’t just want to hear the current decisions and vision; they want to be part of that process. I know it’s time-consuming and often unwieldy. But like anything else, it is well worth the investment and the resulting wave and surge your business above your competition.
Defense is an appropriate posture on the sports field or in combat. However, it does not lend itself well in the business environment. When you repeatedly respond defensively, people may react in kind and emulate the behavior, creating a culture limiting communication. It is a bad example for those around you and tends to undermine your leadership, not enhance it.
When we feel challenged or accused, it is normal to feel defensive. The key is to avoid reacting defensively. At the outset, take a deep breath to oxygenate your brain and take time to practice active listening techniques. Ask powerful questions to determine the true purpose of the communication and message you are hearing. Sometimes, people need space to vent and talk it out; the initial communication may come across as not intended. Listening to other people’s opinions and hearing them out can go a long way to significant relationships in all venues. It is something we miss in society as a whole.
This ‘little fox’ is the opposite of EQ (emotional quotient) or emotional intelligence, an extensive discussion and metric in today’s business world. As with many of these concepts, it is also critical in your personal life. EQ is expressed in empathy, emotional management, and self-awareness, essential to everything leadership-related. Most leadership and organizational issues are created within the organization, and we are responsible for them as a leader. However, there is a truism about problem resolution, which Einstein encapsulated in this statement, “Problems cannot be solved with the same mindset that created them.” We need to be able to change our perspective and step outside of the box to view the world from a different angle. This is a scarce ability.
The good news is that EQ is easy to understand but challenging to practice. It is easy to say, “Don’t let emotions rule your world,” but much more difficult to practice. It begins with self-awareness, which includes awareness of yourself, emotions, and the state of others. Very few leaders are self-aware or able to practice this daily. Those rarely take time to coach their team, much less their organization, on this critical EQ skill. Working diligently on this area can help change your team’s culture and, eventually, your organization and your personal relationships. There is much information on the Internet about EQ and many free tests. Start by evaluating yourself and determine how to improve your EQ. Coaching or counseling can help.
Fear – Yours and those who report to you
Leading by fear is old school, and it is not optimal. While there will always be some fear or concern with your direct reports, helping to alleviate those as much as possible can go a long way toward a higher-performance team. Additionally, take a look at your fear quotient. Fear can quickly stop you from making timely decisions and hamper your communication in all directions.
You can find a lot of supposed opposites of Fear, like bravery, trust, calmness, and peace. But the reality is that you can be afraid but be brave. Trust and yet feel nervous. Experience calm and stability in the middle of a storm. These are ways to operate even when you feel fear. You may be afraid of the outcome but need to take action anyway because you know it is the right thing to do in the situation. Trust others with responsibility even though you may have doubts. Exercise peace and calm during turbulent times to benefit your team or organization, even when you may not be sure you’ll survive. We ALL have fear. The trick is to know it by name and master it. It’s like jumping into the circus ring, hopping on a giant roaring Lion, and taking a ride. It’s much easier knowing that this roaring Lion has no teeth. Fear can do much damage… but only if you allow it. Don’t allow it.
Multitasking has a lot of research indicating that it is ineffective and could reduce productivity by up to 40%. Even though it is sometimes possible to reduce project schedules by adding parallel efforts, it is better to give our complete focus and sequentially finish tasks when applied to operational work or personal functioning. Multitasking during communication is something I coined as un-presence. Un-presence is when you are in a communications silo, and you walk out of the silo and start doing something else; e.g., you are in a meeting and become distracted with messaging, email, or something else. The brain/mind can process information much faster than it can be spoken, and we get bored for seconds at a time. Therefore, it is easy to wander off in the middle of a conversation and forget to return.
Focus and Finish on the task or communication at hand in a sequential vs. parallel framework. Force yourself to be present during communication and task efforts. It isn’t always easy, but it is possible. At the end of your day, you will have better productivity.
Some call it a ‘lack of vision’ or ‘poor leadership’. It is more common than you may want to believe. The problem is this: Good leadership takes time, and Great leadership takes a lot of time; it is a significant investment. If the leadership team doesn’t recognize that, the culture will likely reflect only a “Git ‘er done now at any cost” mentality.
Leaders need to see the big picture, the long-term vision, and the short-term gains leading to the future. I don’t say “leading to the goal” because the corporation should never reach a set goal per se, or at least not a plan where it stops functioning in its quest for future relevance. That is an ongoing process. The goal is to continue to evaluate and adjust the direction and focus to remain market-relevant. Leaders with myopia usually only see what is directly in front of them, meaning the immediate issue of the day, which generally indicates a reactive firefighting mode. This is not good for the future of corporate longevity or employee retention. It may be ‘Fun’ for a while, but it gets old quickly.
Humility and discovery can help mitigate myopic vision. Find new ways to discover what you don’t know. My old professor at Washington University, Dr. Browdy, always used to start his business transformation class by saying (in a forceful voice),
“We don’t know what we don’t know. And it’s critical for the future of our business to find out what we don’t know. But it’s hard because we don’t know it. Yet, if we don’t take the time and effort to make the discovery, there will be some young upstart company that comes along with the next disruptive technology and knocks us right out of the playing field.”Dr. Tom Browdy
That discovery extends to our most profound personality flaws, oversights, cognitive bias, leadership failures, and corporate and personal cultures. It has to include our operational direction and vision and the road map of success. We are not on the road TO success – we are on the road OF success; it is a Journey, not a Destination. Let’s at least be honest with ourselves and our teams. We all have defects of character and hidden agendas that don’t lend toward the overall good. We can either continue to hide it and be mediocre or challenge ourselves to greater victory. I don’t know much about baseball coaching, but I want someone to tell me if I have a problem with my swing that will limit my hitting ability. It’s no different from any other type of failure, wherever it may crop up. Sure, there is a way to present the information. But at least let’s be open to hearing it, no matter how rough it comes across. It takes humility, presence, and a lot of emotional EQ to swallow your pride and accept advice and input. That’s why most people won’t read this. But if you have wandered this far… you’re probably not ‘most people.’
What happens when there is no accountability? Your organization is like a ship lost at sea. As the captain, you can steer it whichever way you desire. But without accountability, you are still lost. With no accountability, teams will go in their own direction, which is not necessarily best for the overall business. It causes lost labor, rework, and general confusion.
It sounds easy, but being accountable to and maintaining accountability to other people takes time and effort. Scoreboards are essential tools for management, but we seldom want to invest in the backend work required for accurate reporting. Peter Drucker, the famous business management guru, wrote many books on the subject of management; these principles are something you can use in business and your personal life. One of Drucker’s famous quotes is, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.”
Self-awareness – (or lack thereof)
We all have various cognitive biases, blind spots, and ways of interacting, which may not have the best outcome. Being a “blind spot,” we are not aware of it. This can have adverse effects and cause performance degradation in our lives and our organization.
Spend time honestly reviewing your behavior – what doesn’t and is working well. You want to repeat what works and throw out what does not work. It’s always good to get alternative opinions. Reach out to people who know you and ask for feedback. Create a plan to improve, and any work you can do with a coach is optimal.
Depending on your reaction to stress and stressful situations, stress can significantly impact your leadership. Stress can lead to fear, frozen decision-making, and unrealistic expectations, to name a few. It can also negatively impact the team too, of course. Remember that no one enters the day without bringing baggage with them, including yourself. It may be a small tote of joy or a large suitcase of trauma. Whatever the case or cause, this is not something that we can leave at the door. We are holistic beings; situations outside work come in, and problems inside work go out. We know this but rarely remember it when dealing with personnel situations.
When stressed, it activates the sympathetic nervous system, which causes you to tense up and lock up. It’s the fight or flight syndrome. Think of driving through a storm and gripping the steering wheel, feeling tense and perhaps breathing shallow. Imagine coming out of the storm, clearing clouds, and into the sunshine. Do you unconsciously breathe out deeply and relax a bit? That deep breath brings in oxygen, activates the parasympathetic nervous system, and counters our mental stress. Our mental stress creates physical tension and uses a lot of energy. Think of “sympathetic” as jumping in a mess and “parasympathetic” as paramedics rescuing.
Take time to de-stress your day and your life. When stress occurs, take a deep breath in for 6 seconds, pause for 6 seconds, and breathe out for 6 seconds. It will help you think clearly with focus. Repeat as necessary. Call for a break. If you’re in a tense meeting, suggest a bio-break. Take a walk, breathe, and form a new perspective. If appropriate, tell a (non-threatening) funny story to break the day’s tension. Here is one of mine…
We were building a cabin on our farm. Levi, a local Amish builder, did most of the “building,” as that is not my forte in life. I can hack at it, but it usually ends up that I have to redo things two or three times to get it right. The Amish folks have a different cultural relationship between men and women than my wife and I have. So, I would sometimes see Levi smiling as he observed our interaction. One particular time, as we were having a more ‘animated’ conversation, I saw Levi laughing. I turned to him and said, “Levi, you wouldn’t know about this since you don’t have a TV or the Internet. But there is something called “Reality TV,” and people pay a lot of money to watch it. But YOU, my friend, are getting it for free!”– Tales from the Farm
After I tell that story, I remind my team, “I know our work can be stressful daily, but let’s take a deep breath and shake it off. Just think of it as we get paid to star in the [insert your company’s name] corporate reality TV show. So look at it like that. Let’s do our best for our customers and then go home and enjoy our time away. But as long as we’re here, let’s also take some joy in this.” It’s a different perspective.
Too Many Apps Open
When too many apps open on your computer or smartphone, it gets sluggish and slows down; it’s not responsive. We may be tempted to throw it on the floor, but that is probably not the best response. Our brain runs on glucose, and the body has to convert what we take in. When a lot of decision-making occurs, it uses lots of energy. Maybe it results in tiredness, or we can’t just shut it off when it’s time to rest.
Find a way to close some of the apps, maybe all. Maybe it’s time to reboot and get a fresh start with complete system resources. What is a way that you reboot? Think about ways that you would LIKE to reboot. It should be something that brings you into more peace and calm. So, while it may be fun, playing a fast-paced game may not be the best activity. Find something to bring you down into peace and calm, not gear you up.
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Authored by H Mark Taylor – An Independent Certified Coach, Teacher, Trainer, and Speaker with Maxwell Leadership Certified Team
Copyright © 2024 H Mark Taylor. All rights reserved.