Thursday, May 19, 2011

Power and Empathy: Not Easy "Bedfellows"

What fires together, wires together, as neuroscientists tell us. In The Shallows, author Nicholas Carr uses a water analogy to illustrate his lament on the impact of the Internet in changing the very structure of our minds, potentially short-circuiting our deep thinking:

Flowing water hollows out a channel which grows broader and deeper. When it flows again, it follows the path traced by itself before.

This reality about how out thoughts and habits “train” our minds structurally, explains what power can do when unleashed without the daily discipline of self-control. If power, due to a leader’s position, goes to his head, it can have grave consequences hollowing out a channel that ultimately can literally trip him (or her) up! It appears to be the case with Dominic Strauss-Kahn.

What is interesting with the commentary on Mr. Strauss-Kahn’s situation is that empathy goes down as power bewitches a person. He or she loses the ability to sense or read accurately another’s emotions and to take constructive actions as a result. The shadow side of the leader takes over weakening more and more the very skills and character qualities that enabled his rise to power.

This paradox is a real and present danger for any leader-manager anywhere in the hierarchy of an organization. It takes work to understand another, daily work. Not surprisingly, the closer a person is to the front line, the greater the empathy for another. A grounded life keeps one grounded.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

When You're Feeling Micro-Managed, What's One Way to Change Up the Situation?

The best managers define the right outcomes rather than the right steps then get out of the way, as the Gallup Organization confirmed in its massive 25 year study in the late 1990s. This finding still stands, particularly among the upcoming younger generations who seek autonomy, purpose and mastery, according to Daniel Pink’s research and documented in his book Drive.

In reality, best managers are in short supply. Micro-managing is a frequent workplace complaint whether you are a front line worker or a middle manager. So, if you are feeling micro-managed, a not uncommon predicament, how can you shift the relationship with your manager in a positive direction using the Gallup and Pink knowledge?

In First Break All the Rules, which describes the Gallup results, authors Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman like to quote Oscar Wilde to illustrate the interpersonal challenges we face generally in life, let alone in organizations:

A truth ceases to be a truth as soon as two people perceive it.

If the only truth is your own, it’s easy to understand why reality is a moving target. In the case of a micro-managing manager, the truth can indeed be elusive as it appears in many guises in any given day. How do you catch the truth and make it work for both of you?

Do the obvious: Get yourself out of the perpetual cycle of uncertainty and frustration by digging deeper for the “truth” --- that which is in your manager’s head. Use the “right outcomes <> right steps” framework as your guide. Shape your own working life instead of letting your manager shape it for you. In essence, go on a search and discovery mission to draw out more clearly what your manager has in mind.

These steps help change up the situation. Talk with your manager in real time to:

1. Clarify the outcomes, in detail, including the assumptions behind them (Use open-ended questions that start with “what”, “how” and “in what ways”).

2. Negotiate improvements to the outcomes, based on your own wisdom and experience.

3. Take the opportunity to bargain for the right resources, if appropriate.

4. Explore and sign off on the next check in time and the nature of the deliverable.

In some circles, this is called “managing up”. Others might name it “project chartering” with your manager. At its most fundamental, sharing “truths” is the bridge.