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THE Leadership Japan Series by Dale Carnegie Training Tokyo Japan

Aug 12, 2015

Play Nice At Work



The New York Times recently carried an article about the growth at work of rudeness and bad behaviour over the last twenty years.  Christine Porath, the author, noted, “How we treat one another at work matters.  Insensitive interactions have a way of whittling away at people’s health, performance and soul”.  These interactions release hormones called glucocorticoids leading to potential health problems.


The more interesting part of the research on this topic looked at why we are uncivil and more than half said they felt overloaded with their work and 40% said they have no time to be nice.  Nearly half linked career progression to using their position power and being nice was seen as weak. Boss’s attitudes were enlightening.  Twenty-five percent believe they will be less leader-like if they are nice at work.  Nearly 40% feared they would be taken advantage of if they weren’t projecting a tough manner. 


There seems to be no shortage of bosses who can only muster position power, know it about themselves and so exploit it to the full because they are so insecure.  Strip away their titles and they are nobodies.  The way people become the boss is part of the issue.  The individual who can succeed and be accountable in their own little world is promoted to be in charge of others who are nothing like them.  They find that the skills that got them selected as leader are not what they need to be a real leader.  Their fall back strategy is to use their position power and lord it over their underlings, whipping them forward through fear.


Ironically, the Center For Creative Leadership found the number one characteristic associated with senior executives failure was their insensitive, abrasive or bullying style.  So we are left with a bunch of wannabe Napoleons, bossing us around and going nowhere in their careers.


What are we looking for in business?  We want our people to come up with ideas, innovations and creative solutions.  Some mini-me Napoleon type is not going to command anything more than compliance and so the innovation capacity of the organisation is hamstrung.  In such a fast paced competitive world of doing more, faster with less, this is a big opportunity cost.  From our own research on what engages employees to make the discretionary effort to go above and beyond, we found that feeling valued by the boss was the critical trigger. 


If the mentality is to beat people up to let them know who is the boss, then the “I feel valued” trigger never gets pulled.  Consequently, the ideas do not flow, the cooperation never eventuates and the information sharing doesn’t occur when you need it to happen. 


We want leverage, a next generation of leaders to be developed who can move the organisation forward.  Youthful employee tolerance for bad boss behavior today is very low and they simply vote with their feet and go across to the competition.  This is often after we have poured a lot of time, effort and money into training them.  Ouch!


Bosses need to become better time managers, so they are in better control of their emotions.  They need more time to be able to be  “nice”. There is nothing more disconcerting though, than working for a disorganized boss.  Everything becomes a vicious cycle of panic and emergency, because they are always leaving it too late or have neglected to do some vital step. 


Even those who are not terminally dysfunctional, are creating unnecessary issues because they have not learnt how to priortise their time and fail to dwell more often in preferred Quadrant Two of Time Management – the Not Urgent but Important box. 


Further, bosses who have not mastered the proper methods for delegating tasks are usually time poor.  They are hoarders of tasks, because their pathetic mantra is: “it is quicker if I do it myself”.  This and other similar delusions, ensure they are run ragged doing too much and usually doing it in a mediocre fashion.  They are also denying their subordinates the opportunity to learn, to take responsibility and to prepare themselves for future bigger roles. 


In one swoop, these bosses are overwhelming themselves and underwhelming the career progression of their team members.  The organisation pays a high price for this, especially when it comes to developing high potentials and securing proper succession planning.  When we are well organised, we are more likely to be more secure, more confident and not need to revert to crutches like position power to have authority.  There are no excuses for bosses to be bullies, to succeed in their work.  Their personal failure fails the company.


Leaders also need to be trained on how to smile when they interact with their staff.  Sounds simplistic, but there is whole raft of things going on in the background for that to happen and they are all good.  Think for a minute about what needs to happen in the boss’s mind, for them to remember to smile when talking with staff, rather than scowling.  There is a level of intention included which says, “I want to have a positive impact on my team”. Think also of what happens with the staff member from their side and how this impacts the morale of the workplace.  In my memory, boss scowls were never particularly invigorating or energising.  Scowling is unlikely to trigger the emotion “I feel valued by my boss”.  Smiles on the other hand create an entirely different dynamic. 


We want the bosses to be better in communication.  Rattling off instructions and commands isn’t leading.  Explaining the why and not just the what or the how is a much more inclusive way of leading.  By the way, rather than pontificating, we want to use the Socratic method of asking questions which lead the staff members to their own discoveries of the why.  This is how we get their ownership of the ideas and the commitment to follow through with them.  Giving orders is the usual default position and that only gets you so far.  Achieving high levels of engagement is an entirely different ask.  If we want to tap the full power of the team we need their total engagement. Having some input into the organisation’s direction, the execution of the company’s policy and some ownership of the ideas are critical for that engagement emotion to be felt by the staff.


We want them to praise people in a smart way.  Typical boss vague comments like “good work” don’t really register much.  Tell the staff member what they specifically did well, link this to the bigger picture, reinforce that they should keep doing it and thank them.  We want coaching that is not critique based around past mistakes but forward looking – what they did that was good and how they could do it even better the next time.  This takes a change of attitude on the boss’s part.  It means stepping out of the comfy Comfort Zone and seeking higher levels of performance.


Building a positive, supportive workplace must be the boss’s focus if the organisation wants to succeed through its people.  We first start with boss attitudinal change leading to behaviour change, producing team performance change. We can play nice at work after all.


Action Steps


1.     Master your personal time management so you can manage people better

2.     Complete more tasks from Quadrant Two – Not Urgent but Important

3.     Practice proper delegation methods that work

4.     Smile

5.     Ask questions rather than giving orders

6.     Praise using specifics not generalities

7.     Play nice at work