I first saw a computer when I arrived in the United States in 1992. My husband Mel and I had just gotten married in Rio de Janeiro, and I came straight to Bowling Green, Ohio, a university town. In Brazil, I ran a small business with my sister; I was a literary agent. We had purchased two little electronic typewriters and owned a fax machine that felt like magic. I still remember the faxes arriving from Japan at 4 in the morning, the buzzing of the paper in my bedroom.
In those days, the word "computer "meant the gigantic machines my brothers talked about; both of them had studied systems engineering. My brothers brought home piles of paper with little holes on each side. I wasn't particularly intrigued; the computers seemed too far away from my world to matter.
Computers started "mattering "when my sister and I were asked to find Brazilian publishers for a series of "Norton "books. I had no idea what Norton meant. We scheduled a meeting with our client to understand what on earth we were about to sell. That was the first time I heard the word "Windows." What is "Windows"? I asked our client. He said it was an environment. He might as well have described a planet in a black hole. Luckily, my ignorance didn't matter as we quickly found a publisher for the Norton books. Someone out there knew what I did not know.
By the time I arrived in the US, ordinary people - academicians, students, business people - already owned personal computers. Mel and I started our masters, and his brother loaned us a little laptop. I purchased a set of k7 tapes that taught me how to use Wordperfect 5.1 and still remember the excitement of pressing keys and seeing letters become bold or italic. Finally, I had figured out what Windows meant.
Mel and I introduced our baby daughter to computers as soon as we could. We owned a Tandy, a bulky machine with a relatively small screen. One computer for the entire household, something that these days would feel unthinkable (between the three of us, we own five computers). We purchased a series of educational CD-ROMs; one of them was for toddlers. Maggie loved the game, she would click on buttons, and little chicks jumped while other animals made noises. She grew up playing with our Tandy and typing on her Leapfrog book to hear words and music. Her new world was filled with magic.
I often hear the old saying, "you can't teach old dogs new tricks," when discussing technology and generations at work. I smile because older dogs learn tricks all the time. They just need to be motivated. And, as much as I love my furry family members, I'm not a dog. Besides, people my age, who did not grow up with computers, were still in their late 20s or early 30s when the revolution took hold; when k7 tapes taught us how to use WordPerfect 5.1. If my 89-year-old mother can work with her iPad, communicate via WhatsApp on her iPhone, and write a little memoir book using Word, I can learn new tricks.
These days, my colleagues at work call me the Tech Toys Queen. You need free or relatively cheap software to do something in communications, training, teaching, or time management? Ask Cris. My students laugh because if they ask for one tool, I share ten or more. I have an Excel spreadsheet with so many tools I need to find a fresh way to keep them straight. There must be a tool for that.
How did I become the technology queen starting from an electronic typewriter, WordPerfect 5.1 k7 tapes, and Tandy computers? What does all that have to do with leadership?
Leadership, Curiosity, and the Power of Not Knowing
Leaders are brave. You can't lead if you are not courageous enough to jump into the mist and see what's there. You can't lead if you always need someone to teach you. Few people have crossed the misty borders; those who have may be too busy to guide you. Leaders brave the mist and train their eyes to see in the darkness.
Leaders are curious. They love the thrill of the mysteries beyond the mist. Leaders feel exhilarated when discovering a new Windows environment in a machine they had never seen before; they seek new toys when they have barely figured out how to use the old ones. Leaders are eternal Christmas toy grabbers, opening package after package.
Leaders are passionate. You can't bring people into your world if you say, "Hey, there's work to do, it's boring as heck, but follow me anyway for another day of drudgery." Instead, your eyes shine, and you tell people you discovered something magical, and you ask them to go with you - not follow you. You do not invite others to see your magic; you ask them to uncover their own.
Leaders accept failure. You can't fear failure and conquer new worlds at the same time. New worlds have new rules, new vocabulary (What is Norton? What is Windows?), different cultural connections. New worlds are challenging at first; mistakes are inevitable. If you want to be a leader, you must tolerate your fallibility and build resilience.
The image of a leader who "messes up "fascinates me. After all, when we think of leaders, we imagine people who always get things right. We see successful people who built technology empires. Leaders surely can't fail. But leaders fail repeatedly; the moment they stop failing is also the moment they stop trying.
Finally, leaders accept not knowing. When leaders stop, the mist dissipates, and the world is now clear to everyone else. If you want to be a leader, you must become comfortable with ignorance.
A perfect example of the leader who "does not know "comes from my favorite TV series, HBO's The Game of Thrones. In the Game of Thrones' second season, the show's main hero, Jon Snow, goes beyond the great Ice Wall that protects the seven kingdoms. Once there, he meets the "wildling "(a name given to the people who live beyond the wall) Ygritte. Ygritte laughs at Jon's ignorance and constantly says the famous words, "You know nothing, Jon Snow."
Jon Snow knew nothing as he faced a new frozen territory where there were giants and terrible zombie-producing creatures. Jon Snow knew nothing and would still know nothing if he hadn't gone past the wall. As Jon walked with Ygritte, he was clumsy and made mistakes. He didn't know how to do things that came quickly to Ygritte and her fellow wildllings. And yet, Jon Snow seemed eager to brave this wild world of ignorance. Leaders, like Jon Snow, are comfortable with always knowing nothing.
I just finished watching the first season of the Game of Thrones one more time, in preparation for a course I am teaching in January: Ethics, Leadership, and the Game of Thrones. I had missed one fascinating scene the first time I watched the show. Jon had just found out about his father's death and was eager to go to war alongside his brother Robb. Maester Aemon, the Maester of Castle Black. Watch the scene below.
Maester Targaryen starts by asking Jon why the brothers of the Night's Watch do not get married or bear children. "Love is the death of duty," he explains. Duty is easy when "there is no cost to it."
What fascinates me about this scene is the battle every leader must fight between fairness and love. Imagine, for example, that you are asked to enforce a particular rule at work. A person close to you - a close friend, a family member, someone you love - will suffer if you enforce the rule. If you fail to enforce the rule, you are guilty of favoritism. What would you do?
In the abstract, most people would say "oh, I would be fair." But would we really? Under what conditions? What if the consequences for the person you love were serious? What if your loved one would lose their job? And what if you had a way out?
One additional glitch: We are superb at rationalizing unfair decisions. In The Righteous Mind Jonathan Haidt explains that people seldom reach moral decisions rationally. Instead, people have instant moral intuitions. Reason becomes important later, as we brilliantly defend the decision we've already made.
Fortunately, there is a solution. We can reach stronger decisions as a team. My reason may not help me make a morally defensible decision, but could help someone else. In the scene above, six people helped Jon stay true to his oath: four friends, the Lord Commander Mormont, and Maester Aemon. In other words: Ethics is a team sport.
This year was filled with inconsistencies. We faced crushing isolation and learned that we needed each other. We missed our families and found new ways to connect. We found new ways to work. We found new ways to live.
Some of us were lucky. We didn't lose a loved one to the pandemic. We didn't get sick or if we did, we got better quickly. We still get to work. Our parties may be tiny, but there is a nice meal waiting for us on our holy days.
Others had a year filled with loss and grief and pain. Loved ones caught the virus and got seriously sick or died. Many lost their jobs. Others lost their businesses and had to lay off long-time employees. Many don't know how they'll pay their next rent, their next mortgage, their most basic bills.
Any time I complain of not having my favorite movie outings, not teaching face-to-face, not seeing colleagues at the office, I remember what I was spared. And, as I reflect on this crazy year and think of the next one, I remember the lessons I learned.
Funny. As I look at my list I see nothing about "being productive," or "writing more papers" or "becoming a better professional." My list is about strengthening my bonds with fellow humans, it's about caring and living and breathing.
So what about next year? Will we immediately forget what we went through and go back to business as usual?
I hope not. I hope 2021 becomes the year I choose to embrace and treasure life - just being alive. I hope I remember what mattered. I hope I remember to breathe.
Happy New Year, fellow humans. Happy Year of Life.
I was recently interviewed by a long-time friend and colleague, Caryn Lee, on why I chose to use the Big Five Model of personality in my consulting, research, and with my graduate students at Drake University. For the sake of transparency: Over the years I made a clear choice for the Big Five and I have a business relationship with Ms. Lee. That said, I did have various choices of tools and still use such tools when a client prefers them. Frankly, I could have had a successful business with other personality tools. I chose a Big Five personality assessment for serious reasons, including increased accuracy, sound reputation among researchers, less chance to create a "self-fulfilling prophecy," and more connections opportunities for program participants. You'll hear my reasons and story in this brief interview. If you prefer, you may also download and read the transcript.
For an opportunity to learn more about the Five Factor Model and to complete a complimentary e-learning program (worth one SHRM credit), please visit THIS PAGE.
Ok, it sounds simple. Learn how to plan. Focus on efficiency. Follow through on your actions. Develop the habit to specify the steps of your projects and anticipate your future needs. Enhance your own objectivity. Who wouldn’t want to learn to be thorough, efficient, and effective? Who wouldn’t like to use time more efficiently or learn to manage his or her priorities perfectly?
There’s just a little glitch... those competencies, while admirable and useful, will drain the life blood of some of us. Simply put – some of us are not wired that way. Some of us crave the very flexibility and spontaneity that make careful planning (and follow through with the planning!) a real challenge.
I’m talking about personality.
Personality can be defined as a set of observable and fairly consistent behaviors. Personality changes little after about age 30, and impacts our “energy” for developing competencies. For instance, if your personality is flexible and spontaneous you probably have low energy for planning, organizing, and following through on your plans. That doesn’t mean you can’t learn to plan your days or organize yourself better – but it does mean that it won’t be easy. You’ll need to want it really badly, and you’ll probably need some coaching.
Personality researchers such as Bob McCrae and Paul Costa from the National Institute of Aging in Baltimore have agreed on five “clusters” that encompass most personality traits. This “set of clusters” is called the “Five Factor Model” (FFM). The five clusters are:
Of these, the set of personality traits that most impact our ability to plan and follow through on our plans is Conscientiousness. Some of us have “single processor minds” that go straight towards a pre-established goal. People whose Conscientiousness is high are typically efficient, disciplined, and focused.
So – why can’t you just hire people like that? That would solve the problem, wouldn’t it? Yes, it would... but then you’ll have a work environment devoid of flexibility, spontaneity, and spur of the moment changes of direction. Can you imagine a step-by-step Improv? Or a carefully planned conflict facilitation? How about a customer service representative willing to switch gears at a moment's notice to help a client? Oops.
Learning organizations require the presence of a multiplicity of personalities, including the flexible and spontaneous free spirits, the organized and disciplined planners, and everyone else in between. It is vital, however, that we all "learn to speak" the personality language. After all, not all personalities learn the same way, have the energy for the same things, or even hope to succeed in the same competencies.
HR Leaders are in the people business. It is virtually impossible to do what we do and not understand people. If you really want to understand people, start learning about personalities.... and never mind whether you plan your learning step-by-step or just swing it!
Dr. Cris Wildermuth is passionate about personality in the workpalce, and recently co-wrote with Caryn Lee, a brief e-learning introduction to Personality at Work worth 1 (one) SHRM credit. For additional information, visit THIS PAGE.
Years ago, a Linked:HR member, Dr. Gordon Curphy, asked an interesting question: Are there personality traits that allow us to find "team killers" - people who destroy the morale of a team? Dr. Curphy's question got me thinking: Are there traits on the Big Five that would allow us to predict organizational gremlins? I'm talking about people whose general behaviors would make most people uncomfortable - perhaps people who are abrasive, rude, arrogant and yes, unethical. Yikes. Have you ever worked with someone like that?
As I attempted to answer his question, however, I hesitated. I could see all sorts of problems in trying to "identify" a nightmare simply using "Big Five" personality traits. Here are just a few:
Nightmares are Relative
Nightmarish tendencies could lie in the eye of the beholder! I could call "arrogant" someone whom others see as "charismatic." A "rude" person could simply be more direct than I am or disagree with me on a variety of key areas. How about unethical? That's tougher but still possibly relative - I could judge as "unethical" behaviors that others would find perfectly reasonable. More importantly, I might be more likely to judge as "unethical" something that might damage my interests. In other words: Possibly, differences between my personality and the personality of the nightmare in question govern my own perceptions.
Nightmares have Mirrors
Maybe I'm the nightmare... or at least part of it! For instance, if two people are equally low in agreeableness (challengers, people more likely to stick to their goals) and equally high in neuroticism (in other words, both are rather nervous), they will probably disagree vehemently. Who is the nightmare then? Both of them?
Nightmares bring Gifts
A "nightmare" could actually bring something good to the table. For instance, a tad of arrogance could work well if it translates to the outside world as rightful pride in the organization. The same person who is perceived as "abrasive" to the team could sell this same team beautifully to outside clients. Unless the situation is extreme (or perhaps even pathological) a combination of personality traits is unlikely to be all bad under all circumstances.
Nightmares are Complex
Finally, a "nightmare recipe" may require more than traits. Instead, nightmares may require an explosive combination of traits, values, and motivations. Case in point: Consider someone who is ultra high in neuroticism (i.e., reactive, nervous, and prone to anger), ultra low in agreeableness (a challenging "limelight seeker"), ultra low in trust and tact, somewhat dry and unfriendly, and ultra high in need to "take charge" and in perfectionism. Before you say "ouch," however, consider the possibility that this same person is exquisitely self-aware, having participated in countless coaching sessions and in 360 exercises. As a result, this person may have learned to compensate for his/her tougher tendencies. Further, this person's goals and values could serve as powerful motivators to control his/her behaviors. After all, the relationship between traits and behavior is not that perfect - two people with similar trait tendencies may still behave differently (for a better review of "additional layers" impacting behaviors, the reader is directed to the fabulous work of Dr. Dan McAdams).
In summary - diagnosing nightmares is far from simple. Even if everyone in the team agreed that person X is a nightmare he/she could still have important redeeming values - or, alternatively, something in the system could be exacerbating someone's natural tendencies. Perhaps, therefore, our thinking on this topic might go beyond "how to diagnose a nightmare." We could also figure out how to diagnose nightmarish conditions (does the system bring the "worst" in everyone?) and relationships (how incompatible is this particular team?). We might also learn how to best communicate about nightmares. How can a team member approach a colleague and say "Houston, we have a problem, now let's talk"?
When I first started conducting research on employee engagement I had a conversation with my mother about engagement and rewards. I told mom that my own engagement did not depend on the opinions of others – it depended, instead, on my how committed I was to my mission, how passionate I felt about what I did. In other words: Engagement is about me and about what I was born to do for a living.
Mom then reminded me of an old and favorite poem called “The Man in the Glass.” She found it for me on the Internet. The first part of the poem goes like this:
When you get what you want in your struggle for self
And the world makes you king for a day,
Just go to the mirror and look at yourself
And see what that man has to say.
For it isn’t your father or mother or wife
Whose judgment upon you must pass.
The fellow whose verdict counts most in you life
Is the one staring back from the glass.
My mother is right. The Man in the Glass has everything to do with engagement. Those who are engaged do not excel in their work because of external rewards – bonuses, gift cards, or “employee of the month” certificates. They do not go above and beyond because someone out there will give them a medal. Instead, they do it because of their own sense of purpose.
Don’t get me wrong – recognition is likely to help. Recognition gives us a sense of being valued and valuable. Recognition calms fear and uncertainty. Recognition tells us there is someone who cares that we worked so hard or for so long. In order to improve engagement, however, recognition has to mean care. It has to involve true appreciation. Otherwise it’s not recognition – it’s just compensation.
Even the best kind of recognition, however, will not be as strong or as powerful as our own recognition. That person in the glass does more for our engagement than anyone else.
And perhaps… that is the message we need to send our colleagues. Stop expecting others to engage you. Stop waiting for others to cheer you up.
Instead, start focusing on that person in the glass.
According to the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) about 70 percent of U.S. professors are not in a "tenure" line. Of these, about 40 percent are adjunct or part-time faculty members. Sure, many may choose to work as adjunct faculty. Those who adjunct by choice are likely to be experienced professionals in other fields, holding full-time jobs elsewhere or leading their own businesses. Not all adjunct faculty, however, do so by choice. Many have not been able to locate academic employment and see themselves falling behind in academic studies (see Glenn, 2016). They have no benefits or job security and often receive low pay.
The problem is not limited to universities. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2017, 5.9 million people held temporary jobs in the US in 2017. Sure, this number represents a relatively small percentage of US workers (3.8 percent). Other workers, however, report "alternative work arrangements" including contract work (10.6 million or 6.9 percent), on-call (2.6 million or 1.7 percent), workers employed by temporary help agencies (1.4 million or 0.9 percent) and 933,000 (0.6 percent) workers employed by contractor firms. And, while most contractors choose to work independently (about 80 percent), most workers from the other alternative categories do not.
My question, today, is: What are the consequences of non-traditional and contingent work arrangements on the remaining employees and for the organization? I can think of several potential impact areas:
For item three, note the emphasis on the word "could." According to William Kahn, engagement relates to one's feelings of safety. A contingent worker could experience less safety, knowing that he or she could easily be let go. The story, however, is complicated, as contingency workers are quite diverse. The Gallup Organization found that while independent contractors are more engaged than the general population, on-call, temporary, and contractor organization workers are not (only 19% of these workers are engaged).
My final point: Both in and outside Academia, having a certain percentage of contingency workers may make sense. In Academia, experienced professionals could bring "real life" and practical examples to the classroom. Outside universities, independent contractors could bring to their client organizations special expertise and outsider perspectives. At the very least, however, the issue deserves thoughtful debate.
What have your experiences been with contingent and non-traditional work? Please share!
Today is my first day in a series of research projects. As always, I struggle getting started: Do I move first to completing the Institutional Ethics Review Board forms (IRBs)? Do I write my goals on a to do list? Do I start with the literature review? My main problem: I have three projects and no clear direction. The sheer amount of work to get these projects completed seems daunting.
Not knowing where to start, I chose something I love to do: Setting up a research Pbworks wiki, where I can upload my literature, tag all articles, organize my to-do list, link my research journal, etc.
I guess my main lesson today to procrastinators is just that: Look for something you love. Procrastination is just your brain letting you know you are afraid. The best way to curb it is by doing that which may not make you scared as long as you choose a task related to your end goal.
Some may say that's a bad idea. By creating a research wiki I am just postponing the pieces of my puzzle I do not like. My retort. Sure. However, by picking a piece of the puzzle I do like, I am also conquering the worst of all demons: Not getting started at all.
Of course, I wouldn't recommend that you start your project by doing something entirely irrelevant. My wiki is a helpful research tool. The page gets me organized, and lack of organization kills any multistep project. My point is that you should get something done, even if that something is not the most important component of your project. Even if it's just something you love.
Today is day 1 of a daunting mission - and I will conquer this demon.
I teach Ethics at a graduate leadership program. One of my challenges is to help our leaders understand the impact of lack of fairness. Specifically:
Of course, these discussions are hardly new. One of my favorite philosophers, John Rawls, argues that a fair society results from a "Veil of Ignorance." This "Veil" forces future society members to make blind decisions, without knowing whether they will be rich or poor, intelligent or unintelligent, members of a top or a lower class. They do not even know their personality traits or abilities. Under those "ignorance" conditions:
To help leaders experience inequality, I use a game called "The Kingdom Tycoons." I assign participants to three groups (upper, middle and lower class), provide different resources to each group and then observe the resulting group dynamics. Here is how you can reproduce the game:
Good luck! If you come up with a different version, how about sharing what you did? Also, let me know what happened!
About the Author
Dr. Cris Wildermuth is an Assistant Professor at Drake University, where she coordinates and teaches at the Master of Science in Leadership Development.