When facing an ethical dilemma, ask yourself this

Nothing is going rightLeaders are often faced with tough decisions and must resolve ethical dilemmas. They think about the ends – what will be the possible result of each alternative? Hopefully, leaders also examine the means – what actions will be taken and how will they measure up against our values?

When you are pondering an ethical decision, there is one question that can be a guiding light in the darkness. Would I want my decision to appear on the front page of the newspaper or be posted prominently in the public arena?

Re-think choices that you would not want to showcase on Facebook or to be re-tweeted in perpetuity. It’s said that whatever is posted on social media lives forever. The consequences of your choices do as well.


Make all of your decisions worthy of front-page review. Contact Humanergy today.

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Two ways to boost your employees’ performance

It makes intuitive sense that how people feel day to day impacts their contributions on the job. New research by Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer “reveals the dramatic impact of employees’ inner work lives—their perceptions, emotions, and motivation levels—on several dimensions of performance.”

Your inner work life boils down to your emotions, level of motivation and perceptions throughout the day. What is the link between good or bad days and how people perform?

People perform better when their workday experiences include more positive emotions, stronger intrinsic motivation (passion for the work), and more favorable perceptions of their work, their team, their leaders, and their organization.

Not surprisingly how people are managed has a significant impact on the quality of their inner work lives. This study found two key differentiating factors when they examined managerial impact. The first was enabling employees to make progress – to achieve a goal, reach a milestone or solve a problem. This means not getting in the way and actively removing obstacles that derail progress.

The second way to positively impact performance is having managers treat employees decently. Interestingly, this dimension was strongly linked with the previous one around making progress. Praising people for work that did not make progress did not have a positive impact on performance, probably because such fail praise smacks of insincerity. Employees felt better about their work and contributed more if their managers expressed appreciation for valid results and achievements.

The bottom line is that if you want high performance, it isn’t enough to set the bar high. You need to attend to the inner work life of your people as well.


Need help boosting your people’s performance? Contact Humanergy.

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Are you too nice?

I’m all for courtesy, kindness and generosity. But do you want to be thought of as nice? I can think of many reasons to avoid niceness as a label.

Niceness can work against you. Studies about agreeableness show that people who are considered warm and nice are often believed to be less competent.

“If there’s an apparent surplus of one trait, they infer a deficit of the other. (“She’s so sweet….She’d probably be inept in the boardroom.”)”

Nice people can avoid dealing with conflict. Agreeable people don’t say what’s bugging them, for fear of seeming rude or damaging relationships. Unfortunately, those frustrations ultimately are expressed in indirect and unproductive ways.

Nice people don’t advocate for themselves. Because they don’t want to appear greedy, they don’t ask for raises, promotions or a higher starting salary. They hope that their hard work and talent are obvious.

Nice people don’t give feedback when it’s needed. They are indirect (or mute) when it comes to giving constructive feedback, even when the situation clearly warrants it. Confusing giving helpful feedback with being mean, they avoid it or soft-pedal the truth.

Nice people don’t stand up for their truths. Nice people don’t speak up about what is most important – who they are and what “truths” that are central to their being. They don’t want to upset others, even if it means being untrue to themselves.

Yes, I will continue to strive for niceness, well aware that my desire to be pleasant can’t take precedence over good old-fashioned courage and truth-telling.


Need some help being just nice enough? Contact Humanergy.

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Help people learn by experience

Experience is a wonderful teacher. If you’ve ever tried to convince someone of something by using your gift of gab, you know what I mean. It’s hard to talk people into changing their minds.

Once people have experienced something for themselves, they don’t just believe it. They are true believers and are more likely to want (even need) to share it with others. It is nearly impossible to talk someone out of a belief they’ve gained through personal experience.

Helping people learn through experience takes some setup. Imagine that you want to convince people to change the way they do something at work. If the change is significant, you need to give them some insight and perspective before you say, “Do it this way now!”  How do you set the stage for people learning through experience?

1. Frame and message the idea. Put it into context, help people understand how it applies to them and stress why it matters. “Customers have been concerned that our response to complaints is slow. We are going to change processes to stay competitive.”

2. Share and compare. Ask people to share what they already know on the topic. Build on this information and clarify any points of confusion. “Here’s the current process for prioritizing complaints… What has been your experience? What has worked and what hasn’t?”

3. Test and explore. Tap into people’s previous experiences (“When has this happened to you?”) or predictions (“What would happen if…?“). People begin to think critically about the issue and understand it on a more personal level. “Have you used a matrix to prioritize complaints before? What unexpected consequences might we experience?”

4. Do and learn. Finally, help the person to experience the situation for herself; at this stage, experience becomes a shared understanding. “Let’s try the matrix for an hour with real issues. We’ll share our thoughts and suggestions afterwards.”

Even with the best preparation and explanation, it is only through experience that we can achieve profound insights and deep understanding. When a new idea is explained, tested and adapted in real life, enthusiasm and confidence soar. If you’re struggling with a problem, gain clarity through direct experience. As Leonardo da Vinci said, “Wisdom is the daughter of experience.”


Want to set people up for great learning experiences? Contact Humanergy for help.

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Can you fix people?

We have heard it before. “You can’t change people.” Yet we persist with the idea that if we just use the right words at the right time, the other person will “get it.”

In “Leadership in the Age of Complexity: From Hero to Host” Margaret Wheatley (no relation to Humanergy’s co-founder, David Wheatley) talks about the myth of the heroic leader. One thing the heroic leader believes is that people will do what they are told, if they are given good enough instructions.

The problem here is the illusion that leaders control what they cannot, like what others do, think or feel. What you can control is your own actions.

Rather than jumping in to correct what’s wrong with their people, leaders can be a positive influence and provide support. They can:

Articulate a vision for the future

Be specific about expectations

Ask great questions

Give feedback on behaviors

Protect people from bureaucracy, politics and other distractions

Celebrate wins

When you feel the urge to jump in and fix a person, say, “I want to help. How can I best do that?”

Want to help your people navigate choppy waters? Contact Humanergy.

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Three steps to selling anything

We recently had a fascinating team discussion about business development. Experts say that the vast majority of successful sales conversations involve the buyer talking more than the seller. (No wonder we are turned off by the fast-talking used car salesperson!)

Whether you’re selling a product, service or idea, the most important job of the seller is to listen. You will gain valuable insight about the buyer, but only if you are fully listening (not planning your next comment).

The next priority is asking powerful questions in order to understand the reality of the potential customer.“How is production affected when this machine breaks down?”

Finally, summarize your understanding to make sure that what you heard is really what the other person said. Do not assume that you get it. Periodically sum it up in your own words. “What I heard was you have a problem with the amount of resources this solution will require.”

One potential pitfall is asking questions in order to persuade, not to understand. Questions with an ulterior motive feel manipulative to the listener and can be a barrier in any conversation. When seeking to influence, whether you’re selling a service or an idea, ask honest and sincere questions.

Excellent tips for asking questions (stay in a state of curiosity to sort out where people are coming from) and listening (eliminate judgmental self-conversation, such as “They’re just not getting it!”) are found in Kevin Cashman’s blog on Fast Company.

You have listened, asked questions and ensured that you have mutual understanding. Now is the time to offer your solution. “The wise man puts himself last and finds himself first” (Lao Tsu).


Want to be a whiz at selling your big idea? Contact Humanergy.

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Are you a bully boss?

I saw these words on a t-shirt yesterday:

Humankind. Be both.

Full of warm feelings about the human family, this morning I read a Washington Post blog titled, Do jerks make better leaders? Geoffrey Nunberg concludes that jerky CEOs (he calls them A-holes) get more airtime from the media and attention in popular culture. “Every age seizes on one social miscreant to personify its deepest social anxieties,” and for the moment, it’s the bully boss.

New leaders can confuse the need for clear expectations or accountability with the need to be a jerk. I hope that everyone who reads Mr. Nunberg’s post will focus less on the Donald-Trump-like antics and more on these last two lines:

“True, every once in a while an A-word aspirant manages to percolate to the executive dining room on the strength of audacity alone. But the majority wind up seven job changes later, still in the company cafeteria, eating lunch alone.”

Bill Taylor sums up the importance of kindness (versus being smart) on Harvard Business Review’s blog:

“So by all means, encourage your people to embrace technology, get great at business analytics, and otherwise ramp up the efficiency of everything they do. But just make sure all their efficiency doesn’t come at the expense of their humanity. Small gestures can send big signals about who we are, what we care about, and why people should want to affiliate with us. It’s harder (and more important) to be kind than clever.”

Go forth and be an intelligent, demanding and nice leader!


Want to find better balance between kindness and accountability? Contact Humanergy

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Use influence to reel in success

Influence allows you to impact results through your interactions with other people. Although you can’t control the outcome completely, you can increase the probability of achieving the impact you desire by how you network, communicate and find common ground with other people.

A powerful metaphor for influence is sport fishing. How is it that you can use a 50-pound line to land a 250 pound fish?

Be patient. Know where you want to end up, but manage your expectations along the way.

Be aware. Influence and manage the other people on the boat – the other people who can affect the situation.

Control yourself. Check your ego and your need to win.

Be purposeful. Be intense, but don’t make rash choices; consider the impact of your actions.

Know your fish. What are the characteristics of others involved? What choices are they making right now?

Be the fish. Don’t focus on you and your needs; get in the heads of the others involved.

Adjust as you learn. Your desired outcomes and your actions may need to change to create the right results for everyone.

Work within the parameters of the line. What are your limits and abilities? What do others want? What can they contribute?

Reel it in. Don’t ease up just because things seem to be going well. Follow through with 100% of the discipline you had when you started.

Use your influence to reel in the big fish and contribute to the greater good. Remember the words of Jackie Robinson: “A life isn’t significant except for its influence on other lives.”


Can you really say no to your boss?

Even when you have a positive relationship, bringing bad news to the boss is something most people would rather avoid. This includes telling the boss, “no,” even when it’s the right thing to do.

Sure, the supervisor should welcome honesty and candor – and most do. However, when delivering a “no” message, it’s also important to know what to tell your boss, when and how.

Katherine Reynolds Lewis of Fortune wrote, “companies that foster a fear-free culture enjoy better decision-making, more ethical behavior and the ability to truly harness the collective brainpower of the workforce.”  Creating and maintaining a positive culture isn’t just the boss’ job. How direct reports share information and team with their bosses for mutual success contributes to a transparent culture as well.

How do you effectively tell your boss “no?”

Communicate when an important result is at stake. If a key project or outcome is at risk, you need to tell your boss. State the situation clearly and provide possible solutions. “The software integration is 2 months behind schedule and 40% over budget. Options include adding a person to the team or finding an alternative vendor.”

Be honest about what you can and cannot do. Speak up if your boss assigns you something that is outside your skillset and more than a stretch goal. However, don’t leave her holding the ball. Suggest what you can do and who might fill the gap. “My skills would be better utilized on the project management end, with Sean on the technical side.”

Prepare the boss and speak in private. Your boss may be less willing to be open to input if it comes out of the blue. Send him an email, letting him know that you have some ideas you’d like to share. Meet one-on-one to explore these ideas without an audience that could have an unanticipated impact.

Say thanks. Even if she doesn’t agree with your perspective, your boss took the time to listen (hopefully). No matter how the meeting goes, genuinely thank her for her time. You’ll build some relationship capital that may be helpful in the future.

When saying no, or delivering any message that might be hard to hear, use as few words as possible. There is no need to use giant words, spin, lecture or defend. Remember the advice of John Kotter. “Good communication does not mean you have to speak in perfectly formed sentences and paragraphs. It isn’t about slickness. Simple and clear go a long way.”


Empathy: Not just for the touchy-feely

I worked for a boss once who was profoundly uncomfortable with feelings. He was a likeable guy who preferred to keep his distance when things got personal or emotional. It wasn’t unusual for him to miss meetings where contentious issues were going to be discussed.

My boss’ lack of empathy allowed him to deal with the facts at hand, without the complication of wading into various perspectives or attitudes. What he lost, however, was the ability to maximize our emotional intelligence, an important factor in team success.

Empathy was defined by Daniel Goleman in the HBR article, What Makes a Leader, as “the ability to understand the emotional makeup of other people” and “skill in treating people according to their emotional reactions.”

If you’re thinking that empathy is an unnecessary distraction, consider its benefits to leaders:

Empathy gives you insight. You will gain a richer understanding of your organization’s people, competitors and customers – and therefore make better decisions.

Empathy enhances influence. You will not be able to sway your peers or boss without understanding their perspectives and attitudes. Your attempts at persuasion will fall on deaf ears if you do not connect with what is important to them.

Empathy helps you leverage diversity. Your team is composed of people with skills, experiences and cultural backgrounds that are different from yours. Asking genuine questions and not making assumptions will help you not only “get them” as people, it will also allow you to tap into their interests and utilize their unique abilities.

How to enhance empathy?

Start with humility. You haven’t got it all figured out. Recognize that you need all of your people’s capabilities – tangible and intangible – to succeed.

Be curious. Listen more and talk less. Ask questions about what people are thinking and feeling. Don’t assume you already know.

Ask for feedback and input, and really mean it. Use the ideas and innovations that your team shares. This will encourage people to share more over time.

Empathy isn’t a magic bullet, as noted by Steve Tobak in a recent post. It is an important tool for your leadership toolbox that should be regularly used.

“If you just learn a single trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it” (Atticus Finch, a fictitious character in the book, To Kill a Mockingbird).


To find out more about how you can beef up your empathy, contact Humanergy.

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