Teamwork vs Individualism: Using Professional Empathy to be a Better Coworker

In the workplace of today, teamwork is common, even mandatory, and generally accepted as best practice in a dynamic work environment.   That being said, the spirit of individualism is alive and well and can lead to moments of tension or awkwardness.  Striking the proper balance between teamwork and individual expression can be difficult.

You have probably experienced individualism push back against teamwork both ways – on the giving and receiving ends.  When someone steps into your work territory your hackles go up.  When you offer help to someone (or even more just do a coworker’s task without prior discussion) you are very surprised (even shocked) when they are not happy about it.

Why in the world would someone not want your input, ideas, creativity, and possibly even genius thoughts to be brought to the table?  There are several possible reasons.  They:

  1. Have their own ideas about the task or project.
  2. Don’t want to appear incompetent or like they need help.  They are concerned about perceptions of their boss or peers.
  3. Are a little bit insecure.
  4. Know their role, have been doing it for a while and are comfortable with the established boundaries.

These same points can be used to measure your reaction as well.  Maybe you are able to see the big picture better than others.  You may understand and appreciate the advantages of hearing, seeing, and experiencing others’ ideas.  Even if this is so, it can still feel strange and awkward when you sense a trespasser.  If this is something you can identify with, use that to help generate a sense of professional empathy.  If someone bristles at your help, then think about why you would bristle at someone else’s help and proceed with caution.

Beware!  When you are helping someone in your organization and you are entering someone else’s territory without permission (or even with permission – vocally or by omission) you may not get the appreciation you think you deserve and you may leave behind a bad taste.

Yes, walls need to be broken down sometimes.  Yes, problems need to be solved creatively. And, yes, collaboration is a good thing.  But tread softly the first time.  Be sensitive to others being hurt or offended.

Ensure that you are working toward a common goal and not just pushing your agenda. I will leave you with these suggested steps in the collaborative process:

  1. Assess the situation.  Be aware of the personalities involved, especially those who have more competitive personalities.
  2. Secure permission to be involved.
  3. Be flexible while being a part of the process and solution.
  4. Allow time for discussion, feedback, and debriefing.

 

BRH

 

“There are no constraints on the human mind, no walls around the human spirit, no barriers to our progress except those we ourselves erect.” – Ronald Reagan

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The Who, What, Why, and How of Personality Assessments

I am a big fan of personality assessments used in the workplace or for any type of teambuilding.  We use this tool often in our work. Besides being plain ol’ fun, it provides individuals, teammates, and supervisors insight they would not otherwise have.

 

Who?

The assessment can be used for individual employees, teams, boards, groups or even families.

 

What?

A personality profile describes who you are as a unique person. The assessment we have chosen to use is the Workplace Big Five. It provides general information (see two sample assessments below) about each person who completes the assessment questionnaire based on 5 essential personality characteristics.  Each individual will get scores in the following categories:

  • Need for Stability
  • Extraversion
  • Originality
  • Accommodation
  • Consolidation

The assessment only takes 15 minutes, but, if the individual doesn’t overthink their responses and goes with their first response, reveals much. We learn, among many other things:

  • How they respond to stress.
  • Whether they are stimulated by people and activity or not.
  • Whether they are open to change or prefer the status quo.
  • How they respond to authority.
  • How much they plan.
  • How each of these characteristics interacts with the other.

 

Why?

The purpose of completing the assessment can be multi-fold or for one aim:

  • Selection
  • Promotion
  • Validation
  • Development
  • Conflict resolution
  • Collaboration

It is always helpful for each individual who participates to become more self-aware of his/her personality, individuality, competencies and motivations. There are no good or bad scores. The results help the individual explore their unique personality styles, how their personality exhibits itself in the workplace, and how it helps them relate to team members.

In a group setting, it is so freeing to see how you are alike and different from your teammates. If someone discovers she has a low ‘warmth’ score, she might become more conscious of how this effects her encounters with others. Conversely, there are ah-ha moments such as “Oh, ______ is not acting like that to get under my skin, that is just who she is.”

The estimate is that 60% of your personality is based on who you were at birth (nature), while 40% is based on what has occurred since then (nurture). The old adage, “A tiger can’t change its stripes” comes to mind. Did you know that under the tiger’s fur, the skin is also striped? The interpretation is that we can’t change our essential nature. We are who we are down to the skin. Nonetheless, being self-aware can make all the difference in the world.

 

How?

If you would like to learn more about assessments and how they can be used with coaching or teaching, we would love to hear from you anytime!

BRH

 

Powers & Associates is certified to assess the The WorkPlace Big Five by:

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WorkPlace Big Five Assessment Samples

See a sample trait report here:  Trait Report

See a sample narrator report here:   Narrator Report

 

Curiosity…helped…the cat?

Curiosity (n):  A strong desire to know or learn something; inquisitiveness.

 

One of the key characteristics of a learning leader is to be curious.  If you don’t have a strong Curiosity Quotient (CQ), you won’t go far.  I find in the world in general that there is a lack of curiosity.

Is it diminishing?   

We are more curious as children so we do need to try to keep that child-like curiosity alive and well.  If you are curious, you are interested in everything and everybody.

Is curiosity a natural or developed skill?

I would say … ‘yes’.  You probably have a natural tendency to be curious or not.  But you can train yourself to look around at to your situation and ask questions.  Where did he come from?  What is this data saying to me?  How does this piece of equipment work?

 

Those leaders who are naturally inquisitive want to know about the people they engage with everyday.  They want to know best practices of their competitors.  The want to know about the latest and greatest technology available to them.

 

When we complete personality assessments, we can learn about the individual’s curiosity if we look a little deeper:

  1.  Are they a good listener?
  2.  Do they naturally investigate problems by asking lots of questions?
  3.  Are they open to change and serendipity and exploration?
  4.  Do they focus on the moment as much as they focus on the future?
  5.  Are they willing to make mistakes and take risks that will teach them new things?
  6.  Do they build time into their overwrought schedule to think?
  7.  Do they put their ego aside and value others who have talents they don’t have?

 

How curious are you?  How curious can you become?

Let’s be clear, though, curiosity can be a practiced part of your day.  As part of your morning routine, write out 5 good hard questions you don’t readily have an answer for and keep them in mind as you move through your day.  Answering one of these questions might be as easy as Googling the answer and making an effort to memorize or retain the answer.  It may be that you need to use your life’s human resources (friends, family, coworkers) to work out an answer.  It may be that you need to meditate on the question to get some guidance, to hold on to it until you have a better sense of how to approach it and what method to find the answer. Needless to say if you approach your day through the lens of curiosity, you will doubtless expand your horizons and invite even more questions to answer.

 

“We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.” – Walt Disney

 

“The human brain made us curious and creative.  Those were the characteristics that gave us an advantage – curiosity, creativity, and memory.  And that brain did something very special. It invented an idea called the future.” – David SuzukiScreen Shot 2016-06-14 at 10.42.49 PM

The Good and the Bad in Leadership

I often listen to NPR radio. On one such occasion, there was a series of soliloquies about the 7 Deadly Sins. The purpose of the program was for presenters to talk about one Deadly Sin and how it comes to bear in less obvious ways. This led me to thinking about these sins as they apply to leadership.

Let’s explore them one at a time but let’s also look at the flip side of each sin.

Greed. Greed can quickly get you derailed. The leader who becomes greedy may make short-term decisions rather than long term ones. They may choose to pay key people less so that their year-end bonus will be more. Greed could create a positive influence if it yields giving generously or creating goodwill. This type of greed could have a leader  greedy for acknowledgement or being unselfish in making decisions about other people rather than selfish, e.g. taking a risk on promoting someone who is not quite ready, because the leader sees the potential rather than the immediate gain.

Sloth. Sloth in a leader can lead to many downsides. I have had the unfortunate experience of working for a boss who was slothful. I am sure you have had similar experiences with a boss or co-worker. This individual does just enough to get by. They pawn off work to anyone who is ready, willing, and able. When you follow-up with this slothful leader on tasks you thought they were going to do, somehow it has bounced back to you. On the positive side, a leader who holds back and lets others lead the way, allowing them to demonstrate their talents, gifts, and skills, knows that letting others shine doesn’t take away from their own competence.  What might look like sloth, could very well be good leadership, so be careful that you are not quick to judge.

Pride. You’ve heard the old adage, “Pride cometh before a fall.” Unbridled pride in a leader can create a huge narcissistic impediment. This is the leader who takes the credit for anything and everything, whether he accomplished it or not. Also, this is the leader who is potentially to prideful to own up to mistakes or short comings.  On the winning side, pride can help a person stay afloat when getting through a difficult time. The leader who takes great pride in the work is motivated to do his/her best. The operative phrase is ‘in the work’. Great leaders are typically pretty humble people.  The leader who holds out critical self-judgement and believes in themselves, can often see the pay off.

Lust. Lusting after anything – another person at work, your boss’ job, the corner office, the next wrung on the corporate ladder, the competition’s market position – creates more negatives than positives. It focuses the leader away from his/her own priorities, planning, and deployment AND leads to the next sin, Envy. A positive form of lust could be passion. Passionate leaders are those who help make things happen. They are on a quest for the next steppingstone and tend to take others with them in advancement.

Envy. Green (with envy) is not an attractive color in a leader. Envy creates resentment. The envious leader is sitting in a meeting thinking about why someone else gets away with not accomplishing a task or goal when s/he is held accountable. The thought, “Gosh, I wish I had it as easy as __________.” is one that often plays across the envious leader’s mental screen. Envy can also create a leader who is jealous of others’ abilities, especially when they are better at something that is a weakness for the leader. In this situation, the leader may sabotage an action of those s/he is envious of. On the positive side of envy, it may help that someone pays attention to what the others have that they want. So a leader who observes someone who is getting ahead because they care about other people may begin to ask themselves deeper questions about how they could begin to care more.

Gluttony. Gluttony can be similar to greed. It means excessive indulgence. So a leader who is gluttonous may do everything in excess – take on huge projects for a team that is under resourced, underestimate the time that is needed to complete a project when assigning it, becoming a workaholic, and creating stress by his/her unrealistic expectations. Gluttony creates MORE and MORE and MORE. It is not much fun to work for a gluttonous leader. The only positive of this type of leader is that s/he will also use excessiveness in the recognition of team members and the celebration of team accomplishments. Expect wonderful parties!

Wrath. The angry leader is indignant, wanting to deliver punishment rather than information.  Little injustices can create an instant trigger of anger. I have personally witnessed the angry leader who throws things, jumps up with waving arms to make a point, who explodes and lets you know they are angry by facial expressions, body language, and pointed words. There is no question in your mind when they are hot under the collar. It is very difficult to know when to approach them about anything. They are NOT very approachable. You typically have to work around the angry leader. The positive characteristics of someone who is intense is that they are willing to fight the battles for the budget, the team, and the company. Bring it on! Of course, it is better to have them on your side. This type of leader would be a formidable enemy.

Summary. As a leader in any situation, explore your motivations, especially when you react strongly to what is happening. Is your reaction driven by one of these sins? If so, rethink your viewpoint. Drop those preconceived ideas about people and about yourself. Often the line between the positive and negative side of these sins is thin.  You may spin it one way, but take cues from those around you in evaluating where on the spectrum you may stand.  Stand back, humble yourself, and start over. Apologize, if appropriate. Be as honest with yourself as possible.  Exercise self-control. Use positive words and deeds in your role. It is easier to abstain from the sins than clean up after them.  It is not an easy task to break the bad habits caused by any of the seven deadly sins, but self-reflection and honesty will go a long way to righting the past wrongs of a leader.

Professional Empathy: Walls, Barriers & No Tresspassing Signs

Wall: a continuous structure that encloses or divides an area; generally permanent.
Barrier: a fence or other obstacle that prevents movement or access; a circumstance or obstacle that keeps people or things apart or prevents communication or progress.
Trespass: to enter an owner’s property without permission; make unfair claims or take advantage of something; commit an offense against another person. Tresspassing: the act of intrusion on said property or personal space.
I have observed all of these in the workplace.  Just this week as I was meeting with a young woman who works for a client, we talked about how it feels to share your turf – whether work responsibilities or office space – with another person.  Things can be going along swimmingly, even harmoniously, when one person goes too far in the eyes of the other – taking over a project, using their dominant personality to get their way, acting as if they are your boss when they are not, etc.

In the workplace of today, teamwork is common, even mandatory, and generally accepted as best practice in a dynamic work environment.   That being said, the spirit of individualism is alive and well and can lead to moments of tension or awkwardness.  Striking the proper balance between teamwork and individual expression can be difficult.

You have probably experienced individualism push back against teamwork both ways – on the giving and receiving ends.  When someone steps into your work territory your hackles go up.  When you offer help to someone (or even more just do a coworker’s task without prior discussion) you are very surprised (even shocked) when they are not happy about it.

Why in the world would someone not want your input, ideas, creativity, and possibly even genius thoughts to be brought to the table?  There are several possible reasons.  They:

  1. Have their own ideas about the task or project.
  2. Don’t want to appear incompetent or as if they need help.  They are concerned about perceptions of their boss or peers.
  3. Are a little bit insecure.
  4. Know their role, have been doing it for a while and are comfortable with the established boundaries.

These same points can be used to measure your reaction as well.  Maybe you are able to see the big picture better than others.  You may understand and appreciate the advantages of hearing, seeing, and experiencing others’ ideas.  Even if this is so, it can still feel strange and awkward when you sense a trespasser.  If this is something you can identify with, use that to help generate or hone a sense of professional empathy.  If someone bristles at your help, then think about why you would bristle at someone else’s help and proceed with caution.

Beware!  When you are helping someone in your organization and you are entering someone else’s territory without permission (or even with permission – vocally or by omission) you may not get the appreciation you think you deserve and you may leave behind a bad taste.

Yes, walls need to be broken down sometimes.  Yes, problems need to be solved creatively. And, yes, collaboration is a good thing.  But tread softly the first time.  Be sensitive to others being hurt or offended.

Ensure that you are working toward a common goal and not just pushing your agenda. I will leave you with these suggested steps in the collaborative process:

  1. Assess the situation.  Be aware of the personalities involved, especially those who have more competitive personalities.
  2. Secure permission to be involved.
  3. Be flexible while being a part of the process and solution.
  4. Allow time for discussion, feedback, and debriefing.

 

Brenda Haughney   –  President

 

“There are no constraints on the human mind, no walls around the human spirit, no barriers to our progress except those we ourselves erect.” – Ronald Reagan

Going Beyond the List: The Whys of a Great Workplace

We see the articles and lists all of the time.  16 Companies to Work for in 2016. Best Places to Work and Why.  Top Ten Companies for Employees.  Being a professional who works to help companies and their cultures every day, I know that the impact of these types of articles is not really about the companies in the list. Unless you happen to be one of the ten companies mentioned, WHO is mentioned is not important at all.  What’s key is WHY they are listed?

I recently came across an article in FastCompany Magazine by Lydia Dishman titled “These Were The Best Places to Work in the U.S. This Year.”  When I took the time to reflect on the best places I have worked or been associated with, the companies are all very similar to the litany of high-profile companies in the article.  The message can easily be adapted into a small to medium-sized business, a fast-growing or established one, as long as you are willing to open your mind and listen to your employees.  I made a list of 11 points that are a part of every successful and dynamic company I have worked with, then compared it to the FastCompany article.  Surprise!  They were very similar.

Continue reading “Going Beyond the List: The Whys of a Great Workplace”

Milestones: Setting Them and Celebrating Them

Milestone: an important point in the progress or development of something; a very important event or advance.

As I reflect on 2015 and consider the possibilities of 2016, the milestones of the past year come to mind:

  1. Celebrating our 16th anniversary of being in business on December 1.
  2. Downsizing to a new home and office space
  3. New / returning clients
  4. New / Completed projects
  5. Taking on blogging and other social media tasks (with a little help)

 

Milestones are important. They help us measure our progress. They allow us to break down a large task into smaller ones. For example, if a goal is to improve a working relationship with a colleague, I have to be intentional about how I go about that advancement. I must adjust my attitude, define the tasks that will help to ensure success, implement the “to-do list”, hold myself accountable, look back at progress made, ask for feedback, and celebrate the accomplishments along the way – large and small. This particular goal may be a difficult one to measure but intuition will help.

A more tangible example, an easier one to assess progress, is my daily exercise – walking five miles.  My Fitbit will help keep me on track but my own visual milestones assist too. When I see the blue mailbox, I know that I am 25% of the way. This adds a little zip to my step. When I spot the cream-colored post at the end of a driveway, 50% of the way is completed.  A sense of accomplishment overcomes me. There’s no turning back.  At the red and yellow fire hydrant, my achievement level is at 75%.  The end is near. Arrival back at home marks 100% and I am energized to do even more – walk around the cul-de-sac or run up the stairs.

“Try the Swiss cheese method of time management and project management. Instead of putting off complex tasks, hoping to have more time for them later, get started by chipping away at them. With enough holes, the cheese either disappears altogether, because the job is done, or enough of it disappears to make the job manageable.” – Alan Lakein

In the workplace, get your team to help you set the milestones related to the common goal. Achieving milestones creates energy and excitement and helps everyone move on to the next milestone. Be aware of the milestones reached.  Celebrate them!  Recognize those who helped you get there!

BRH