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Don’t do that

I’ve learned a thing or two as a parent of adult children.

As parents and leaders, we need to teach our children and our teams how to do things and to be clear about what we expect of them. We need to set boundaries and to enforce those boundaries when the need arises.

People need to know where they stand. It helps them to feel safe.

One of the greatest challenges is working out which boundaries are absolutely non-negotiable and which ones are less important and a guide only.

Because when we enforce rules and boundaries that don’t make sense, seem unnecessarily punitive or are condescending we will get push back – I guarantee it.

Our children (particularly our teenage children) and our staff are not robots; they do not exist to please us or to do what they are told. They have feelings and thoughts and their own belief and values systems. They are less likely than ever before to do what they are told because you are their parent or their boss.  We live in a world where we all have a lot of information at our fingertips, where we can share a story in the blink of an eye. Our society is less hierarchical than ever before. People expect to be treated fairly and with respect.

So it is most likely that they will challenge your ‘dumb’ rules; they will act out and rebel.

And you will probably respond strongly. You will be frustrated, angry, insulted and stressed by their “terrible behaviour”. Chances are you will impose further penalties, turn to some form of disciplinary action. A mini-war will ensue.  

Your charge will probably be thinking about you in the negative. You will return the favour.

You will be watching out for them to do something else that is against the rules and they will start playing with fire and daring you to challenge them further.  

The relationship will deteriorate or go into a stalemate.

So how do we stop this all too familiar pattern of behaviour?

 

  • We develop the rules with them as much as possible; or we give a clear explanation as to why this is the rule, why it needs to be a non-negotiable

 

That way your child or staff learn that the rule wasn’t created just to make their life difficult. And we can test out some theories with them. Get them to consider the risks if this rule wasn’t in place. Get them to problem solve a related scenario.  Importantly, you might learn something at the same time. And you might, through this process, even recognise that the rule is over the top.

This process will also make our charges feel valued and respected. They will feel included in the process, and they are way more likely to abide by a rule or a boundary that they have developed.

 

  • We focus on the behaviour we want

 

We make a fuss if our child or employee does what we want the way we want them to do it; we don’t give energy the behaviour we don’t want.

For example, we want our employee to complete the Occ Health and Safety forms in a certain way to make sure the documentation meets legislative standards. The employee believes this task is onerous and stops them from getting on with the job. They regularly “forget” to do it or they do it poorly.

So every Monday at your team meeting you give a chocolate frog or make a fuss about the person who was best at completing their paperwork correctly the week before. Let them know how this has added value to the company because they would pass any audit. The staff member might not have done it perfectly but you have to start somewhere.  In due course, you will train all of the staff that this is a non-negotiable and they will do it because they recognise the value of completing the paperwork, even if it is onerous.

Despite everything we know, I constantly see parents and leaders use discipline to change behaviour. It rarely works.

It’s so easy to punish people. To deprive them of their rights and privileges, to dock their pay or whatever nasty thing you can think of to “teach someone a lesson”.

I challenge you to think differently; to bring your people with you. To be on the same team and working towards the same goals and outcomes.

I accept that there are times when it is necessary to impose consequences; particularly if someone is deliberately breaking a non-negotiable rule. We do have to keep people safe, and they have to be standards.

But in the main, our lives and the lives of our children and staff will be significantly less stressful and far more enjoyable if we focus on the positive.

Okay, I’m a leader – now what?

Most leaders care about their people, but they don’t know how to lead because they have ended up as leaders almost by accident.

They are usually so good on the tools or in their area of expertise that they suddenly find themselves setting up a business or being chosen to lead a team.

But leadership requires its own skill set. Most leaders are not taught how to lead people.

So many leaders become incredibly stressed out and scared because they don’t know how to get their people to do what they want them to do and as a leader, they are expected to get results (often make money) to keep the business going. As a result, they often become critical and punitive. These leaders are always on the lookout for problems and encourage their staff to tell them about what’s going wrong. They then unintentionally create a culture of dobbing and gossip.

Chances are that these poor stressed out leaders will then blame their team when things go wrong. They might end up yelling and screaming at their people, micromanaging them or using the silent treatment on them just because they are so stressed out. These leaders will probably have a high staff turnover as a result. Their team may not be telling them important information because they are scared of the consequences.

This situation will often put the business at risk of being sued for unfair dismissal or unsafe work practices because they are unintentionally disrespecting their people’s rights or they don’t set boundaries so that their team feels safe and supported.

Their team will be unproductive, disengaged and disconnected.

The way to turn this around is for leaders to take responsibility for their leadership style. They need to learn to be vulnerable with their team; acknowledge their mistakes and provide a safe environment for people to speak up. They need to have a clear vision, clarity around people’s roles and responsibilities and expectations of their staff. They need to learn to manage their stress and their fears so that they can focus on all the good work being done by the team; not on the mistakes.

So many leaders are misunderstood good people struggling with overwhelming levels of stress and fear.

Cops on the plane

I am on a plane travelling to Melbourne. We are sitting on the tarmac.  The plane has pulled back and just as you think that we are about to get going the captain comes on over the speaker and says that due to some unforeseen circumstances we have to go back to the airport.

We are asked to stay in our seats with our seatbelts on. We are all obedient and continue to play on our phones whilst the flight staff do whatever they have to do.

Then suddenly three police officers walk up the aisle of the plane.

Well, this is highly entertaining.  So we all distract ourselves from our phones to get a look at what is happening at the back of the plane.

Next minute, they are walking a fairly good looking, clean cut boy of about 22 down the aisle and off the plane.

Well, we all look at each other and breathe a sigh of relief that we have been saved from this 20 something year old misfit.  The captain makes some light hearted joke about the little issue now being resolved and we are on our way. No-one tells us why this young man has been escorted from the plane.

My brain goes into overdrive. What has he done? Was he really a baddie? Is there another reason why the police would have to escort him from the plane.

Then someone behind me says they overheard the flight attendants saying that “he” (again I assume the baddie who was taken off the plane) was shooting up something illegal before we took off.  He had asked to use the bathroom before we took off. Apparently his eyes were like “golf balls”.

Titbits of information; lots of gossip. You can imagine that nearly everyone on that flight will go and talk about that young man to someone they know when they get off the plane.

I don’t know why that young man was escorted from the plane. But I do know that my mind went into overdrive creating lots of assumptions about his circumstances.

Three police officers entering a plane before take off is an unusual and unsettling experience. It makes you wonder whether we were all at risk of some harm if we had flown with this gentleman all the way to Melbourne.

Where we don’t know the facts we fill the gap with assumptions. We can’t help ourselves. We need to know stuff, to know what is going on. It makes us feel safe.  

We then talk about our assumptions a lot. Suddenly they feel like the truth, despite the fact that we know nothing more than three police officers got on our plane and escorted a young man off.

If you want your team to feel secure; to speak truths and not assumptions then tell them what is going on. Otherwise they will come up with their own truth based on assumptions and they will talk about those assumptions; a lot.

The dog did it

A couple of weeks ago my husband and I were staying in Port Elliott, our favourite place in the world.

It was a wet and cold weekend but we somehow missed the rain every time we went for a walk.

On one of our walks we noticed a family and their dog near a pond in the local park. All of a sudden there was a lot of noise and yelling.  We looked over to see the father yelling aggressively at the dog who had decided to go for a bit of a paddle in the water.

The dog was as obedient as our dogs and he kept paddling in the water despite the man’s desperate attempt to get him to come out of the water.

Eventually the father dragged the drenched dog out of the water, getting soaked in the meantime. He then cruelly picked up the dog by his collar, basically choking the dog and then hit the dog hard.

Suddenly the man noticed that he was being watched and he stopped his cruel punishment of the dog.

The man was furious. Furious that the dog was disobedient. Furious that the dog was now wet and would make his car both wet and smelly. He was furious that the dog was so disrespectful to him.

But on some level I anticipate that he was furious with himself.  Furious that he had not invested the time and energy into training the dog. Furious that he had, in some way, contributed to this mess of a situation. And embarrassed. Embarrassed that he had lost his cool. Embarrassed that he had been seen by strangers behaving in a manner that was totally unacceptable.

In that moment, that man was so stressed and agitated by the situation that he became so self absorbed that he didn’t even notice that there were other people around.  

I do not condone his behaviour but I can relate to it. I know that there have been times, particularly with my children, when I have behaved totally inappropriately. Where I have yelled and screamed because I didn’t feel respected; I had lost control of the situation.

I have not generally behaved like that at work. Somehow I can restrain myself from yelling and screaming at work. However I have been heard to swear at work.

I have worked with a number of leaders who struggle to hold it together at work. Who do lose their cool. Who are known yellers. It’s very hard for their staff to respect them; when they are unable to behave appropriately in the workplace.

These leaders lash out. They blame, They attack. They don’t take responsibility for the mistakes that have been made, the lack of adequate training, the mess that they have set up. They blame their staff.

And the more they blame, the more they attack their team, the less they are respected and the more stressed they become. A recipe for disaster.

The buck stops with the leader. Always. So the leader needs to calmly take responsibility for whatever is going on and learn from each situation; so that it is less likely to happen again.

Take care…

Feeling uncomfortable

A while back I watched the latest royal wedding. I thought Meghan’s dress was stunning. I thought the music and gospel choir and Meghan walking up the aisle by herself most of the way was awesome.

But I have to admit that I felt very uncomfortable when Rev Curry spoke.

Not because of what he said. But because of how he said it.

I could see that the Queen and some members of the Royal family were uncomfortable and I felt uncomfortable for them.

I grew up in the Anglican Church. My dad was a priest. I know the service backwards.

My dad was not a traditionalist by any sense of the word but he couldn’t stomach Evangelical preachers and the excited ways they spoke about the “faith”.

So as soon as I heard Rev Curry’s excited and exuberant speech on love and then on fire, I felt stressed. My dad’s voice in my head kicked in. It was matched by the discomfort of the Queen and I just wanted him to stop. I wasn’t listening to his words. I was listening to how he said those words and I let it affect me.

At the time, I was aware that I was feeling very uncomfortable. I knew my feelings were completely irrational. Like as if I care if the Queen is feeling comfortable about an Evangelical preacher from the US using this opportunity to promote the power of love! I don’t even know the Queen (really!)

These feelings can also happen much closer to home. When someone new joins a group or a team and immediately challenges the dominant leader’s suggestions; when someone says something in a group that is the exact opposite of the status quo (don’t you know we’ve always done it this way!) or when I watch people eating snails or frog legs!

We can become very comfortable in our norms. They make us feel safe. They can unite us. Then a stranger enters. They don’t know our norms. They don’t know the rules. If they are brave and confident they will often speak up, say things that are different, make us think, make us revisit whether we had it right in the first place.

Rev Curry’s sermon at the Royal wedding was such a gift. It rocked the boat – big time. People haven’t stopped talking about it. He made us feel uncomfortable. Very uncomfortable. He was excited and exuberant and he challenged us to remember that love is so incredibly powerful. It’s okay to be uncomfortable. In fact, it’s good for us.

 

When will we learn?

Poor Doug had to be groomed the other day. Doug is one of my dogs. He’s a Maltese Shitzu and his “sister from another mister” is Margaret, she’s a Maltese Shitzu x Poodle.

They both have to be groomed on a regular basis.

They hate it.

Doug in particular has a little breakdown every time he has to be groomed.  Neil, who comes to our house to commit this atrocity on the dogs, is used to Doug having to empty his bowels on the bench before the procedure begins.

After this traumatic procedure, Doug then comes inside and shows me how clever he is that he survived once again and then he proceeds to run around the house like a mad thing,

It takes Doug at least a couple of days to recover from being groomed. He will sit on his bed for hours. He won’t eat or if he does he runs over to his bowl, grabs some food and then takes it back to his bed. He is agitated and neurotic for a few days and then suddenly he forgets all about the traumatic experience and goes back to being Doug.

This happens every few weeks. Yet somehow he doesn’t seem to learn from the experience. He doesn’t recognise that he will be okay and that it is just a part of life.

Margaret on the other hand, doesn’t like being groomed; but after a Schmacko it’s back to business as usual.

Change is really hard for some people. Some people are early adapters and try everything new. They line up overnight to buy a new phone or they are on top of all the new time management or communication apps.

And then there are the Dougs of the world. Just the suggestion of change upsets them (and their tummies.) They rally against it; find fault with the new gadget, app or procedure.

Doug has to be groomed. It is not an option. So every few weeks we have help him through the trauma.

You will have colleagues that need your support to manage change. They usually need a lot of information and reassurance. Change is inevitable; so is pushback. Go with those people, help them through the process. Be kind and caring and the whole process will be less scary for them.

Tantrums

Hand up if you’re a parent or know a parent.

Hand up if you have ever witnessed a three year old have a tantrum in a shopping centre when you said no. When you set a boundary. When they couldn’t have what they wanted there and then.

Hand up if you’ve witnessed an adult have a tantrum when we have said no, when we have set a boundary and followed up on it.

Adult tantrums tend to be less violent. Less thrashing around on the floor; less full on weeping.

Adult tantrums might look like sulking and silent treatment or alternatively they might look like yelling and telling you that you’re an idiot, that you don’t get it.  Often there are lots of words, emails and phone calls to help you understand how unreasonable you are being. There’s lots of drama.

Either way this full on behaviour will be an attempt to manipulate you to let them have what they want.  They don’t want you to hold your ground. They want you to cave – big time.

So there is a lot of pressure to give in. There is a lot of emotion. Anger, sadness, frustration – it’s sometimes very intimidating.

So what happens if you give in; if you are not consistent or if the boundaries are not respected?

Well, it’s just the same as with a toddler; the tantrums will escalate. The behaviour will become entrenched and the level of drama in your life will increase.  

You will lose your authority and the team will lose respect in you.

Who wants that?!

 

Public shaming is so shameful

The other day I was having a meeting in a cafe that was situated in a busy and dynamic office building just off Flinders Street, in Melbourne.

Out of the corner of my eye I could see this woman talking down to a man about something that had happened in that building.  The woman was trying to speak quietly but she was clearly angry and not accepting the responses she was receiving and her voice got louder and louder.

My meeting ended and I had to wait a while for the rain to pass and I watched as this woman continued to raise and deal with a performance issue in public.  She kept responding to almost everything the said with “no, that is not acceptable” or “we have discussed this before” and it seemed that nothing he said was going to satisfy her. He was wrong and she was right and it was all so very public.

I cringed.

I cringed not only because public shaming is not ok; but because it was clear that she wasn’t listening to him. She had a fixed position and nothing he said was going to change that.

I cringed for this woman that she had so little self awareness that she couldn’t see that she was the one on show; not the person she was attempting to shame.

I cringed for the man who felt he had no option but to stand there and take it because he wanted or needed this job… whatever it was.

To this day, I have never met anyone who goes out of their way to perform badly; particularly to the point where an employer or contractor would tell them off in public. So chances are that this woman has not adequately explained her or the organisation’s expectations. That there was a miscommunication of some sort.

We all need feedback. We all need to know if we have understood what is required of us; what is going well and what we need to work on. That’s fine.

But it is an abuse of power to aggressively provide negative feedback in a public place without any consideration of the wellbeing of the person receiving that information.

People matter. Their mental health matters. And we need to be more considerate.

 

Leading people up the garden path

The other day I was driving up the freeway. When I went to turn off the freeway I realised that I had had my left indicator on for the entire way.  I was singing pretty loudly so I didn’t hear the click click of my indicator.

I suddenly felt terrible. All the other poor drivers on the freeway had probably been waiting for me to turn left for about 15 kilometres. What a relief when I finally did.

I work with a number of managers who accidentally give misinformation to their teams. They say ‘do what I say’ but then immediately break their own rules.

One manager recently told me that he tries to have a relaxed office but then people take advantage of him. His problem is that he is giving off mixed messages. This is a relaxed workplace but it’s not in certain circumstances; and we’ll know what those circumstances are when they arise. What does relaxed mean? How is a staff member meant to know the boundaries of what will be tolerated and what won’t.

It’s not the staff member’s fault if they take the concept of “relaxed” too far if you have never set any boundaries.

People love rules. They love to know where they stand. For example, we all know the road rules, even those of us who don’t drive. We know what to expect; we notice when people break the rules or are deliberately abusive of the rules. Rules make us feel safe. It helps us manage people’s expectations.

So if you put the left indicator on, it is reasonable for everyone to assume that you are about to turn left within a short period of time.

Don’t mislead people. Be clear. Manage people’s expectations. Don’t say you are one thing; when you are not. Talk it out, write it down and don’t assume your staff know what is going on in your head if you haven’t communicated your boundaries.

I’m tired

There is a saying that keeps coming into my mind “I’m tired”. I say it all the time.

Now, being the queen of overworking, this is hardly surprising but the reality is I don’t think that I am actually tired most of the time. I think I am bored.

For more years than I wish to remember I have had a Government contract to do some very well paid work. It is difficult work dealing with complex issues, which is why I get paid well to do it.

My problem is that I now find it hard to get enthused about doing this work; I lose energy very quickly when I sit down to do this work. In fact I often want to go and have a nap within a short period of time.

I struggle with the process which is very structured and formal. There is little scope to adapt the process to meet the specific needs of the individuals and some people can legitimately use the process as a weapon rather than a valid tool to solve a problem.

So now every time I catch myself saying “I’m tired” I stop myself and ask am I really tired or am I disenchanted with this work or am I feeling disengaged?

Many managers complain to me that their staff are disengaged. That statement always raises a red flag for me. Why is that staff member disengaged? What is it about the work, the culture, the structure or the like that is having such a profound impact on this staff member? Do they think they are required to do too much work for the money they are paid; is someone else in the organisation getting special treatment? Is there anything you, as their manager, can do to change their circumstances, or is that they are just in the wrong job for their skill set or their main driver, their purpose?

I don’t believe people want to be disengaged at work. I don’t think people want to underperform. There is a reason for why this happening. Go on the journey and explore the issues.

And I need to do something about doing work that is no longer a good fit for me so I can stop telling everyone that “I’m tired”.

 

 

Image courtesy of yanalya / Freepik