Learned Helplessness

Reading social media today I came across an article on Learned Helplessness.  You need to google it to get a full understanding however it really struck me how this might happen to our teams.

The article I read was about horses and how they often begin to ignore pain and other stressors simply because they can’t get away.

As leaders we often want our teams to work a certain way.  We want to push them into a behavior that makes sense to us, the leader!  We either can’t or don’t want to deal with behavior that seems outside of our norm.

We punish, belittle, even use sarcasm to get behavior we want.  By doing this we often make our team become numb to their own pain.  Now there are behaviors that do not go well when working with a team, however by using punishment we often get to our results faster and with little work on our part!

Take the horse for example, Duke doesn’t like pressure.  (Pressure for horses means bad things and they react to that pressure). Horses also don’t like things they can’t process.  Noises, shifts in their vision all cause them to spook.  It is our job to get the horse to trust us to keep them safe.  We do this by exposing them to these pressures and noises and by showing them that we are keeping them safe.  We want them to trust us!  However, some people use other methods to train their horses.  They punish them, they leave them tied tightly to force the spook out of them. Horses who are trained this way learn they can’t escape and eventually become really good horses on the outside but they are no longer horses on the inside!

As leaders are we doing this to our teams? Are we tying them down to simply get behavior we want instead of teaching them to trust us.  Teaching our team to trust us means we have to make difficult decisions, we have to stand up to our leadership for our teams.  We then often have to go back to our teams and tell them we failed.  We have to show that we aren’t perfect and that is a hard thing to do!

Think about this as you lead your teams, what if you were honest with them!  What if you told them the truth that you spoke up at the last meeting but you were turned down. Or that you feel that the decision is a good one for the organization and that you support it even if it means something bad for the team?

When someone on your team works in a way that is different or in a way that maybe needs improvement, try understanding why they work that way and getting them to trust you that your way might be better?

Being a good leader isn’t about forcing people into a mold it’s about getting them to trust you and know that you have their best interest at heart!!

Be a Beginner!

beginner tuskey dressage

(Photo cred to Tuskey Dressage)

Why is it we always want to jump to the end of everything!  We don’t allow ourselves OR our teams to learn.  This is something that has been causing quite a bit of conversation in our family lately.  We are meeting with alot of young people who are struggling because they don’t know what they want to be an so many companies are requiring them to be an expert before they start!

Most of us who are in our 40’s and older started at companies and were taught the skills we needed to do the jobs.  We didn’t ‘know’ everything when we started, fewer and fewer organizations are allowing people to grow into jobs.  This can be both good and bad as it often means that you are missing out on someone who might be really good at the job if you gave them a few months to learn!

As leaders we often follow this mentality as well with our teams, we expect people to be instantly good leaders and forget that we didn’t start off knowing what we know.  We had to learn and grow into our positions!

What IF (stay with me here), what if we found someone who seemed to have some skills and we invested in them?  Taught them how to be a good leader, how to lead a team, how to handle conflicts?  Taught them the skills they needed to be good leaders and then allowed them to expand their leadership skills in small but impact-full ways? Mentoring another member of the team or leading a small project?  Not only could we guide but they would have the chance to learn!

Today your exercise is to find someone on your team who you think might make a good leader.  Setup a meeting with them and then help them find small ways they can lead within your organization.  Allow them to fail, allow them to succeed and guide them along the way!  I promise you, you won’t be disappointed!

Vision Casting

Most of us middle to low level managers feel that vision casting is something that those higher on the food chain should be managing.  We don’t feel like we have a vision to cast and we couldn’t be more wrong!

Often those of us in this role actually get the vision being cast from our upper level managers AND we understand how it impacts our teams. It is our job to make sure our teams get it.  Most of the time our teams don’t understand how what they do has any effect on the bottom line of the organization. They may feel that their contributions can’t have any real impact, however they have a huge impact on the bottom line!

Yesterday at volleyball a parent came up to me to say how thankful she was that I was coaching.  My energy really impacted her daughter and she wanted to say thank you for what I was doing.  I am an assistant on a 5th/6th team.  I am not a coach, I am not directly impacting the program but my leadership is making a difference on that 1 child whose parent will share that impact with other parents.  My actions impact the bottom line.

It is our job as leaders to make sure our teams know how their actions impact everyone.  It doesn’t matter if their job is to bring the team lunch or interact with the customers directly what they do matters and as leaders it is our job to make sure they know that!

You maybe wondering how bringing the team lunch impacts the client, well anyone whose seen an angry, hungry co-worker knows that feeding them helps!  However what if you thought of it this way, the lunch that you are providing to that team allows them to spend more time working out a serious customer facing issue.  Because they had lunch together they were able to solve a problem that is costing the company money. The lunch you brought solved that problem!

Leaders, we need to be able to cast that vision for our team and continue to cast it.  There is an old saying that vision leaks. It’s like carrying our a heavy bucket of water.  Every step we take some water falls out.  If we won’t refill the bucket eventually it’s going to be empty.  When our teams run out of vision they may start to lack focus and wonder why do they have to bring people lunch!

Sometimes others bump the bucket and cause water to fall out.  People say things in the heat of the moment that causes the water to spill out. It is our job to refill that bucket!  Reminding our team that what they are doing not only matters but has a positive impact on the organizations bottom line ensures that they see the importance in their jobs!

Today, think about the impact your team as on the organization! You may have to be creative in thinking about it.  Write down 3 or 4 ways what your team does makes the organization better and then share those ways with your team!

Being Open

Everyone hears about a company’s open door policy, it’s the one that says “you can talk to us about anything”. We all know that’s not true, I mean really as leaders do we really want to hear what someone thinks is wrong with our company?  Of course not!  So saying that you have an open door policy is really just a way to make it sound like you are open to suggestions

I don’t think I’ve ever worked for a company where I felt comfortable walking into the boss to say this is wrong!  However, what if we as leaders were open to hearing things that might be wrong?

Working with horses you have to be relaxed. They can read your body language like nobody’s business and if you are tense they are going to assume that something is going to kill them.  You see horses are prey animals so literally the entire world is going to kill them! I am not joking ask anyone with a horse and they will tell  you that at some point in time a leaf was going to kill their horse! (or so the horse thought)

So when I go to work with the horses I have to tell myself to relax.  I have to take deep breaths and calm myself down.  If I don’t I am either going to end up on the ground or at the very least with a horse who really doesn’t trust me because if I am not calm then something is wrong!

So as leaders we have to do the same thing.  We have to calm ourselves down, we have to open up and listen and if we can’t then we need to be honest with our teams about that!  When someone comes to us to talk and we are in a place where we can’t honestly listen and take it in, we have to tell the person that.  We need to say, “I am not in a place to have this talk because my day has been really stressful and I want to hear what you are saying” then ask if you can reschedule.

When you do reschedule make sure you are prepared.  Take a walk, take deep breaths and be ready to hear what the person is saying. You don’t have to fix the issue, you might not be able to, but you have to listen and you have to be open!  If we are going to say we have open door policies then we need to be really be open to hear!

This doesn’t mean you have to make the changes suggested, but you do have to listen (ACTIVELY) and ask questions and get information and even go back and ask for more clarification if you aren’t sure.  If it’s something that you can control and can change and it’s good for the organization then change it!  If not then be honest with the person.  Let them know the idea was good or not and why you couldn’t implement it now.  Even asking them if they have ways to modify it to fit the organization.

You see being a leader isn’t about tell people what to do, or how to do it, it’s about listening to how others want to get it done!

Friday Funday

As a leader I am always trying to think of fun ways to connect as a team.  I have seen first hand how important this is!  I have done things like tell me about yourself based on the color of the M&M share 3 things noone knows about you and get your personality based on an animal.

Here’s the thing it doesn’t matter WHAT it is, it matters that you do it!  You see as teams we are often spread across the country or even world and that makes connecting really hard.  As leaders it is our job to connect our teams together!

AND it doesn’t require you spending hours looking for get to know you games it can be as simple as asking everyone what they are doing on the weekends!  Sharing what each person is doing or planning allows the team to connect over something over than work!

Novel concept I know!!  However teams have interesting dynamics and often times when we only focus on the work we forget that our teams are made of people!  People who have VASTLY different ideas about how stuff should work.  Connecting our teams allows us to come together on a shared common ground even if it’s a disagreed common ground.

For example one of your team members may really like James Bond while the rest don’t, this can be a fun way to share everyone’s favorite movie.  Something so simple yet is will bond you as a team!

This weekend spend time thinking and researching 1 quick way you can bring your team together and then at your next meeting just spend a few minutes talking.  You’ll be very surprised at the results!