Take yourself back to the days in which you were offered your most important jobs. How did you feel? You were likely excited and hopeful, happy to have the opportunity to prove your own worth. You may also have been determined to not repeat any past mistakes or political faux pas.
For most of us, the first day at a new job may include a complex array of emotions - enthusiasm and fear, confidence mixed with a nagging feeling of "oh boy, what did I get myself into?" It is unlikely, however, that you would start a new job disengaged.
Engagement - a close connection between who we are and what we do - involves three main components: physical, cognitive, and emotional engagement.
Now, consider the following consequences of the above definitions:
Unfortunately, "stuff happens" at work. Maybe you were given more to do than you could handle. Maybe your energy was drained by lack of resources, excessive demands, and confusing requests. Maybe it felt unsafe to be you at work - you may have faced the pressure to pretend to act or feel like someone else. Finally, maybe you simply discovered that your job did not match your interests or capabilities.
My question today is: When did you become disengaged ... and why? Perhaps if we could understand the sources of disengagement, we could:
When did you lose "the light in your eyes"? Can you tell us about it?
A disclaimer: You may want to share experiences from days gone by, rather than your current experiences - remember that anything posted online tends to stay there.
The newly released Disney movie "Maleficent" is another must see - yes, even for you who don't have young kids. Actually, the beautiful symbolism of the movie might be totally lost on children - this is a movie for grownups to enjoy. Watch the trailer below.
Warning: Spoiler alert - if you don't want to know anything about the movie yet, go watch it first, then come back to this blog. I won't tell anyone the ending, though.
In this new take on the classic tale of Sleeping Beauty, Maleficent was once a beautiful fairy who loved flying over her beloved moors. She also loved Stephen, whom she had met as a boy. Young Stephen, however, had powerful ambitions. He wanted to become king. When the dying king promised the crown to whomever slayed "the winged creature" Stephen took his chances. He attracted Maleficent to his side, pretended to love her, and clipped her wings. Thus, when Maleficent issued her powerful curse on Stephen's child, she was acting out of revenge and bitter grief.
Aurora grew up to become a sweet teenager, beloved by all. Watch the clip below, when Aurora tells Maleficent how she sees her.
I won't say more so as not to spoil the movie experience for anyone who hasn't seen it yet. Instead, I'll address the "two Maleficents": The evil and powerful fairy whom everyone fears and the loving protector Aurora sees. Who is the "real" Maleficent? The villain or the hero?
Arguably, both - and there lies the beauty of the movie. Maleficent reminds us that leaders are not all good or all evil. Instead, leaders could be molded by love and grief, support and hostility, excitement and disappointment.
This "human quality" of leaders has three interesting implications.
First, no amount of "development" will trump the complexity of human nature. The same leader could be a hero to some and a villain to others. Good and evil may lie "on the eye of the beholder."
Second, the good of a leader may depend - at least in part - on others. Like young Aurora, some followers may have the power to transform villains into heroes.
Are you planning a leadership development process for your organization? Then consider this. Maleficent did not become a better leader after completing a 360 assessment or participating in a leadership training workshop. She did not hire an executive coach. She simply had the gift of a follower who loved her.
Remember the followers. They are leaders too.
Don't you hate it when two organizations you respect and enjoy are on opposite sides of the fence - and you feel that you have to "take sides"? I suppose this is one of those times.
I do respect SHRM. In particular, I have had wonderful experiences with members of the Iowa SHRM Council Board and the Central Iowa SHRM.
Over the last few years, however, (in my capacity as Director of Certification for the Iowa SHRM State Council) I have worked closely with the HRCI. I have become acquainted with their work and with the seriousness of their efforts. So yes - I am saddened (and considerably surprised) by the national SHRM's move to create its own certification. Here are my reasons:
Call me old fashioned but I like the idea of a "separation of powers" between those who develop and maintain a certification exam and those whose business model includes preparing candidates or providing recertification credits. Here is why:
SHRM has not yet shared with its members a strong enough reason to justify such a major shock to the system. Confused candidates or certified professionals may stop trusting the certification process in general, regardless of who offers it.
Do SHRM's hopes for a "competency based" test convince me? Not yet - at least not until I receive more in-depth information. The word "competency," after all, involves a complex combination of skills, traits, attitudes, and knowledge. Is SHRM really going to test competencies? Or just knowledge of competencies? I guess we'll need to wait and see, but a truly valid and reliable competency based test is extremely hard to build. SHRM might need to incorporate in the testing processes the review of real work products (an analysis of portfolios, perhaps?), and other time consuming (and likely costly) methods.
SHRM is our association - we, the members, should have a say in something as important as the launch of a new professional certification. Instead, SHRM chapters have been operating in the dark, working hard to promote the current certifications to employers and candidates. Frankly, I feel betrayed.
So here is my message to the national SHRM. You play a valuable role to your members and to the HR field. Right now, however, you are sharing a poor example of strategic planning, communication, and cooperation. HR professionals should be able to play nicely in the sandbox.
I wonder if these competencies will appear in the new certification exam?
An important "postscript": I plan to keep my SPHR certification, which I very much value. I'm proud of this certification and grateful for all the doors it opened for me in the HR community.
For the record, I do not plan to seek the new SHRM certification. In fact, the idea of "transferring" a certification (something SHRM has suggested) makes absolutely no sense (perhaps it only makes sense in the minds of marketing colleagues). Do I plan to obtain further HRCI certifications? Absolutely - GPHR is next on my plans, as soon as I take care of tenure requirements at my university.
I guess it comes with the territory. If you teach leadership, conduct research on leadership development, and "breathe" leadership materials, you start seeing beautiful examples of leadership everywhere. So today I thought I'd start a new "theme" for my blog: I will bring in 100 examples of great leadership from various movies or TV shows.
My first choice is "Dead Poet Society" - a brilliant 1989 Peter Weir movie with Robin Williams, Robert Sean Leonard, and Ethan Hawke. If you haven't seen this movie, you should rush to rent it (or better still, purchase it for your library - this one is a keeper!)
Here is a brief synopsis: John Keating (Robin Williams) is a charismatic teacher in an all-boys school. Keating encourages the boys to live fully, enjoy literature and art, make their lives extraordinary. Watch as he tells the boys to "seize the day":
Mr. Keating's methods are unusual - for instance, in order to inspire the boys to use a different perspective, he tells them to step on his table.
Yes, Mr. Keating is an inspiring "once in a lifetime" leader - but he's not the one I pick as my first leadership example. After all, not everyone can be that exciting, original, or simply brilliant. Mr. Keating is one of a kind.
I invite you to meet a different kind of leader. This person does not need extraordinary gifts or charisma. All he or she needs is courage. I'm talking about Todd Anderson (Ethan Hawke), a shy young boy who would probably be overlooked by any high-po seeker or recruiter.
Returning to the story: Ultimately, Mr. Keating is "too much" for the school establishment - too strong, too original, too out of the box. The school administration uses him as a scapegoat and fires him.
In this final scene, Todd Anderson leads his classmates in a final goodbye to honor his teacher. Watch as Anderson "grabs" his leadership moment.
In The Practice of Adaptive Leadership, Ronald Heifetz explains that leadership is not who you are - it's what you do. And leadership, Heifetz continues, is not even what you do all the time. It's what you do when you must motivate people too confront change.
Some people (Mr. Keating, perhaps) find leadership natural. They grab it as easily as they breathe. These people lead because people naturally look up to them, follow their steps, ask for inspiration.
That's great - we need these folks. But these are not the only people we need. We also need those of us who are not brilliant, natural leaders. We need us to seize the day, grab the moment. The moment to make lives extraordinary. Not our own, really - but others'.
We have a lot to learn from Todd Anderson.
Simple is good. At least that's the message we get from countless KISS (keep it simple, stupid!) recommendations we receive over our life times. Complexity is time consuming, ergo bad. Give me an A+B=C solution and I'll praise your knowledge and efficiency.
I suppose. Except that when it comes to ethics things are far from simple. First, take a look at psychologist James Rest's* "Four Component Model." All four components are necessary if one is to behave morally.
It's possible to get stuck in one of the components. First, we may be blind to the ethical dimensions of a situation (moral sensitivity). We may believe, for instance, that the issue is "just a business one" or is too simple to be considered "moral." Second, we may recognize the morality of the situation but not have the ethical tools to identify the "right answer" (moral judgment). Third, we may know what the "right answer" is but may be unwilling to follow it (moral motivation). Finally, we may be willing to do the right thing but be unable to do so at the last minute (moral behavior).
The next question, therefore, is: What makes us more or less able to go through the four components of morality? Now we turn to the work of Thomas Jones**. Dr. Jones suggested that all four of Rest's components are related to the moral intensity of a situation. In order to estimate the intensity of a situation, we must consider:
According to Jones, we are not likely to pay attention to situations of low moral intensity. For instance, if an employee believes that something has very low consequences and those consequences are very disperse, he/she is unlikely to activate any thoughts of morality. As an example, a person who would ordinarily never steal (not even from a complete stranger) could make a long distance phone call on the company's dime, take home a block of postits from the office supply cabinet or simply fail to focus on work tasks while at work. A normally ethical CEO might ignore the likely but very far way (200 years from now?) environmental impact of current organizational policies.
Why does this matter? Let me offer a few possible implications of ethical complexity:
So, after reading this, tell me: Is simple really good?
I'd love to hear your thoughts: What ethics interventions have you either experienced or implemented in your organization? How have they worked?
* Rest, J. R., & ez, D. N. (1994). Moral development in the professions: Psychology and applied ethics. Psychology Press.
** Jones, T. M. (1991). Ethical decision making by individuals in organizations: An issue-contingent model. Academy of Management Review, 16(2), 366–395.
*** Tenbrunsel, A., & Messick, D. (2004). Ethical fading: The role of self-deception in unethical behavior. Social Justice Research, 17(2), 223–236. doi:10.1023/B:SORE.0000027411.35832.53
Lately I have dedicated considerable time and effort to a study on impartiality and ethical decision making among HR professionals. The data for the study were collected a little while back with one of my then graduate students, Tim Kozitza. I'm currently working on the data analysis with my brother, Professor Carlos de-Mello-e-Souza, from Seattle University. The purpose of the study is to investigate two main questions:
As I write the first question, I can already hear my readers' "duh" response. Of course, you'll say, people are likely to favor their friends. Next question please.
Not so fast. First, the sample will include HR professionals only - we plan to eliminate from the sample participants who do not work in the field of HR. Most HR professionals will agree that "fairness" is an important value in the profession - you are expected to treat employees impartially and in accordance to organizational policy. For instance, the SHRM Code of Ethics states that HR professionals should "develop, administer, and advocate policies and procedures that foster fair, consistent, and equitable treatment for all." Second, the sample includes a large number of individuals with managerial responsibilities - and managers are also expected to be fair and equitable in the allocation of resources and application of organizational policies (we will be reviewing the data to see the impact of managerial role). Third, the dilemma proposed in the survey was a professional one. It did not involve outside friends, family, etc. One might expect "fairness" to be a more important motivation in the world of work than in one's social interactions.
The second question, however, is undoubtedly the most interesting one. Clearly, not everyone is likely to favor the friend. We are exploring variables such as personality traits, gender, and managerial status as we review the data.
Before I see the final results, though, I'm spending some time reflecting on the limits of impartiality. Yes, we advocate for it. We insist that we are capable of it. When push comes to shove, however, how impartial are we really? For instance:
In other words: When we think of "impartiality" we often think of big and clear decisions. The true test of impartiality, however, could lie in the little ones. These little decisions, however, might matter. They might make a difference between someone's success or failure.
What do you think? Can you bring examples of moments in which you favor those you love in the little things? What is the impact of your own partiality? What solutions might you offer?
I lied to my students last week.
At the time it didn't feel like a lie. I thought I was being truthful, honest, transparent. I thought it was ok to reveal myself as I really was, flaws and all.
Sure. But it's not ok to invent flaws.
Fiction: I am the picture perfect absent minded professor - a bit flighty, a tad scattered, forever losing my clicker, designing convoluted class plans I cheerfully ignore. I try to be organized, then give up. I mix up my handouts. Take me as I am.
Fact: It's true that I cheerfully ignore my plans - and it's also true that I keep losing the clicker. It's not true, however, that I'm disorganized. In fact, I'm almost absurdly organized at work. I'm always prepared for class, often with several days to spare. I review everything multiple times - plans, slides, materials. I create beautiful handout packages, including everything my students could possibly need (no power point handouts for this professor!). I plan my time methodically, making a list, checking it twice, regularly estimating the urgency and importance of each item. Time management and discipline keep me sane and productive, even as I handle a work load that would daunt most of my friends and well-wishers.
Why the fiction, then? As I puzzle over this question I consider the great work of two authors: Dan McAdams and Sheryl Sandberg.
Psychologist Dan McAdams describes a three-layered model of personality. The first layer are the traits - the so called "Big Five" neuroticism, extraversion, openness to experiences, agreeableness, and conscientiousness. Traits tend to change little in adult life - a young agreeable child is likely to be an equally agreeable adult. The second layer includes values, goals, and motivations. Those change as we age, as we contemplate adult responsibilities and our own fears of mortality. The third layer? Life stories. These are the films we watch (and direct) in our head, the characters we want people to see (Read about McAdam's life stories here).
Perhaps that's where my absent minded professor character comes from. I make it up - oh, using grains of truth and traits I really do possess. I exaggerate a natural propensity towards complexity. I laugh at the number of pieces I bring to class - index cards, post its, game pieces, and so on. I have a bit of fun with my extensive plans - the ones I change so happily on the fly.
Problem is - my life story is a caricature. This caricature ignores my real strengths - imagination, flexibility, the ability to read the class and notice a change in energy, a need for more movement, an interest in something new. The caricature ignores years of teaching and training experience guiding necessary changes in plans.
Sheryl Sandberg's great book Lean in: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead suggests another source for my life stories: Fear. Fear of power. Fear of competence and experience. Fear of leadership. It's easier to put myself down, pretend that I'm weak and distracted. It's easier to pretend I'm not in control.
As I write this blog, I wonder who else is out there - who else is reading this and recognizing herself in my experience. I'd love to hear from you. Are you too sharing a fictionalized version of yourself? If so, why? How can we help each other tell the real story?
Don't miss the Disney movie Frozen. The movie is a joyful modern fairy tale, with gorgeous Broadway-style music, amazing voices, and yes, powerful lessons of engagement and leadership.
First, a brief synopsis of the story: Young princess Elza's magical powers allow her to create winter at will. Elza and her sister Anna have a lot of fun with Elza's magic - what child wouldn't like to instantly create enough snow and cold to build snowmen, play with snow angels, or ice skate? One day, however, Elza accidentally hurts Anna. After that incident, Elza becomes desperately afraid to hurt others. She refuses her sister's friendship, hides in her room and wears gloves when in public.
When Elza's parents die, she becomes the Queen of the land - and must, at least for one day, show her face to the world. During that day, people discover Elza's magical powers. Elza now has nothing else to lose and realizes that she can "let go" of secrets and lies. If you haven't seen the movie, watch this one scene below.
Like Elza, we all have special powers. Some are able to plan and follow their plans to a "T." Others need no plans at all - they move freely through their days, tackling several tasks at once, surprisingly able to keep them all straight. Some are quiet and contemplative, thinking before they speak, observing before they reach a conclusion. Others are bubbly and outgoing, thinking as they speak, relying on the energy of others to help them go through the day.
Yes. I am talking about personality.
Few people would see anything wrong with the picture I painted above - in theory. Practically speaking, however, we value certain personality traits over others. In fact, deeply embedded cultural norms may determine which personality traits are seen as "better." In the U.S., for instance, extraverts are clearly favored over introverts (check out an interview with Susan Cain on this topic). Other U.S. culture preferred personality-related characteristics (some connected to a blend of traits) may include ambition, energy, calmness, focus, and organization.
Fortunately, most of us are able to stretch. Introverts can act extraverted for an hour or so, during a party. Free spirits learn to create plans and follow them - at least during a critical meeting with the powers that be. Original souls force themselves to implement - again - blueprints of a project they would really like to toss and start over. We wear gloves. We pretend.
To be clear: There is nothing wrong with occasional stretching. In the real world, people must learn to do things they may not like so much. It's part of growing up. The problem is when occasionally becomes always. When we are asked to develop traits we are not wired to express.
Here are a few key lessons for leaders about human personalities:
What about you? What strengths are you hiding? How effective would you be if you could take off your gloves?
A couple of weeks ago a young high school student asked me to speak about "my passion" at his class. I've been reflecting on this assignment ever since. Is it even possible to follow my passion as an adult? Have I left it behind with youthful dreams of Opera houses and Broadway musicals? What is my passion now?
This question matters. It matters that I have to think about passion, that I don't just know - immediately - that I'm doing what I was born to do. It matters if I slowly allow my gifts to slip away.
Take a look, for instance, at Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's brilliant work on Flow. A person is in "Flow" when her work is so challenging, so enriching, that nothing else seems to matter - at least for that moment. Perhaps Warren Beatty was thinking of Flow when he said: "You've achieved success in your field when you don't know whether what you're doing is work or play."
Tomorrow, I want to wake up and focus first on that which brings me to Flow. The discovery of research. The pure joy of learning something new. The excitement of finishing something I care about. Let me declare Wednesdays my Flow days.
How about you? What brings you to Flow?
To learn more about Professor Csikszentmihaly's work:
Happy Flow Day!
During the last few weeks, I have focused my R&D efforts on a new program on Innovative Leadership. Developing this program has been an interesting ride, as I tried to "connect the dots" between topics such as systems thinking, adaptive leadership, innovation, creativity, and personality. I know - quite a smorgasbord. In fact, one of the toughest parts of the development process has been to use such complexity to build a rich program - but then to simplify the content for best possible results.
Here are a few "lessons learned' from this process:
In other words: Building an "innovative organization" is hardly possible if one only focuses on "individual creativity" workshops. These workshops, however, can still be useful. For instance, we're including in ours a review of a participant's unique path to creativity - his or her talents, personality traits, values, and expertise. One could also use workshops to support the development of innovation related competencies such as relationship building, information sharing, and making connections.
The last competency - making connections - brings me back to the main topic of this blog. It's impossible to be efficient if we constantly branch out of our areas of expertise. Thing is - making connections is at the heart of innovation. Amazing ideas come from the "odd bridges" that we build between our fields and others', between the immediate, the practical, and the "I'm not sure how on earth I'll use this" pieces of information.
So here are two questions to readers of this blog:
1. How much time do you dedicate to "impractical" or "out of your area of expertise" topics?
2. Once you "branch out" into different areas, how do you then bring yourself back and... make it simple?
(1) de Sousa, F., Pellissier, R., & Monteiro, I. (2012). Creativity, innovation, and collaborative organizations. International Journal Of Organizational Innovation, 5(1), 26-64.
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.