Happy, Grumpy, Dopey, or Sneezy: Which Dwarf Are You?

With these choices, I’ve found that most of us want to be Happy. In fact, I don’t know anyone who doesn’t.

But how does an adult achieve a high level of contentment (happiness) while living a frenetic and distraction-packed life? How do we not be Grumpy all the time?

It’s not easy.

You first have to figure out how you’re spending your time personally and professionally. More analysis – urgh! We really are a nation of analysts and should be, in my opinion, a nation doers. This subject will be discussed on a later post.

One can look at this in two dimensions: short-term satisfaction and long-term benefit. Both have value. It can be just as disappointing to live our lives with no meaning or pleasure in the present as it can be unfulfilling to live without thought for tomorrow’s plans and aspirations.

Questions like, “Does this activity make me happy?” or “Do I find meaning in the activity itself?” can help gauge the degree of short-term satisfaction that we get from any activity or behavior. Questions like, “Are the results achieved from this activity worth my effort?” or “Is the successful completion of this activity going to have a long-term positive impact on my life?” can help gauge our expectations for potential long-term benefit.

The graphic below shows five different modes of behavior and how they can characterize our relationship to any activity—either at work or at home.

Dwarf Graphic

Stimulating activities score high in short-term satisfaction but low in long-term benefit. The use of drugs or alcohol, for instance, can provide short-term satisfaction yet be dysfunctional for long-term benefit. At work, gossiping with co-workers may be fun for a while, but it is probably not career – or business-enhancing. A life spent solely on stimulating activities could provide a lot of short-term pleasure but go nowhere.

Sacrificing activities score low in short-term satisfaction but high in long-term benefit. For instance, dedicating your life to work that you hate because you “have to” to achieve a larger goal. Or working out (when you don’t feel like it) to improve your long-term health. A life spent solely on sacrificing activities would be the life of a martyr—lots of achievement, but not much joy.

Surviving activities score low on short-term satisfaction and low on long-term benefit. These activities don’t cause much joy or satisfaction in the short-term, nor do they contribute to the future. We do these activities because we feel we have to and we do not have much to show for our efforts. A life spent solely on surviving activities is a hard one indeed.

Sustaining activities produce moderate amounts of short-term satisfaction and lead to moderate long-term benefits. For many professionals, the daily answering of e-mails is a sustaining activity. It is moderately interesting (not thrilling) and usually produces moderate long-term but hardly life-changing benefit. At home, the day-to-day routine of shopping, cooking, and cleaning may be viewed as sustaining. A life spent solely on sustaining activities would be “okay”.

Succeeding activities score high on short-term satisfaction and high on long-term benefit. These activities are the ones that we love to do and get great benefit from doing. At work, people who spend a lot of time in the succeeding box love what they are doing and believe that it is producing long-term benefit at the same time. At home, a parent may be spending hours with a child time that the parent greatly enjoys while valuing the long-term benefit that will come to the child. A life spent in succeeding is a life that is filled with both joy and accomplishment.

[No one can define what short-term satisfaction or long-term benefit means for you but you.]

Consider an immigrant who leaves a poor country and come to the U.S. She works 18 hours a day at two minimum-wage jobs, yet has a great attitude toward her work and saves every cent for her children’s education. She defines her life as mostly succeeding. It is filled with short-term happiness and long-term benefit.

At the other end of the professional scale, a CEO is resentful about her work because a drop in stock value means that she will have to work another couple of years to have the savings she thinks she needs in order to retire. She sees herself in the surviving category.

These two people have completely different perceptions of what an activity means to them.

My suggestion is simple. Let’s all spend a week tracking how we spend your time. At the end of the week examine how many hours we spent on stimulating, sacrificing, surviving, sustaining, or succeeding. Then ask ourselves what changes can we make to help create a life that is both more satisfying in the short-term and more rewarding in the long-term.

While the activities that take up our time can be one factor in determining our happiness and achievement, our attitude toward these activities can be an equally important factor in determining the ultimate quality of our lives. If we cannot change our activities (behavior – it’s all about the behavior), we can at least try to change our attitude toward them and thus become who we’ve always wanted to be, Happy!

 

MaxCo Advisors

November 25th, 2015

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Choose to Be Grateful. It Will Make You Happier.

Massacre and bloodbaths in Paris; horror in the skies over Egypt; carnage and murders in Mali; suicide bombings in Beirut. Choosing gratitude may be very challenging today but choose it we must.

The following is a wonderfully poignant article for this week. For those who have not read it, please do. For those who have, please re-read. It’s worth it. Really.

Many of us in the US are offering gratitude this week as we celebrate the Thanksgiving Holiday. It is perhaps therefore, a good time to pause for a moment to take stock and cherish the gifts that we have, and appreciate in anticipation, those treasures still to come.


Arthur C. Brooks. Op-Ed. New York Times, November 22, 2015

TWENTY-FOUR years ago this month, my wife and I married in Barcelona, Spain. Two weeks after our wedding, flush with international idealism, I had the bright idea of sharing a bit of American culture with my Spanish in-laws by cooking a full Thanksgiving dinner.

Easier said than done. Turkeys are not common in Barcelona. The local butcher shop had to order the bird from a specialty farm in France, and it came only partially plucked. Our tiny oven was too small for the turkey. No one had ever heard of cranberries.

Over dinner, my new family had many queries. Some were practical, such as, “What does this beast eat to be so filled with bread?” But others were philosophical: “Should you celebrate this holiday even if you don’t feel grateful?”

I stumbled over this last question. At the time, I believed one should feel grateful in order to give thanks. To do anything else seemed somehow dishonest or fake — a kind of bourgeois, saccharine insincerity that one should reject. It’s best to be emotionally authentic, right? Wrong. Building the best life does not require fealty to feelings in the name of authenticity, but rather rebelling against negative impulses and acting right even when we don’t feel like it. In a nutshell, acting grateful can actually make you grateful.

For many people, gratitude is difficult, because life is difficult. Even beyond deprivation and depression, there are many ordinary circumstances in which gratitude doesn’t come easily. This point will elicit a knowing, mirthless chuckle from readers whose Thanksgiving dinners are usually ruined by a drunk uncle who always needs to share his political views. Thanks for nothing.

Beyond rotten circumstances, some people are just naturally more grateful than others. A 2014 article in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience identified a variation in a gene (CD38) associated with gratitude. Some people simply have a heightened genetic tendency to experience, in the researchers’ words, “global relationship satisfaction, perceived partner responsiveness and positive emotions (particularly love).” That is, those relentlessly positive people you know who seem grateful all the time may simply be mutants.

But we are more than slaves to our feelings, circumstances and genes. Evidence suggests that we can actively choose to practice gratitude — and that doing so raises our happiness.

This is not just self-improvement hokum. For example, researchers in one 2003 study randomly assigned one group of study participants to keep a short weekly list of the things they were grateful for, while other groups listed hassles or neutral events. Ten weeks later, the first group enjoyed significantly greater life satisfaction than the others. Other studies have shown the same pattern and lead to the same conclusion. If you want a truly happy holiday, choose to keep the “thanks” in Thanksgiving, whether you feel like it or not.

How does all this work? One explanation is that acting happy, regardless of feelings, coaxes one’s brain into processing positive emotions. In one famous 1993 experiment, researchers asked human subjects to smile forcibly for 20 seconds while tensing facial muscles, notably the muscles around the eyes called the orbicularis oculi (which create “crow’s feet”). They found that this action stimulated brain activity associated with positive emotions.

If grinning for an uncomfortably long time like a scary lunatic isn’t your cup of tea, try expressing gratitude instead. According to research published in the journal Cerebral Cortex, gratitude stimulates the hypothalamus (a key part of the brain that regulates stress) and the ventral tegmental area (part of our “reward circuitry” that produces the sensation of pleasure).

It’s science, but also common sense: Choosing to focus on good things makes you feel better than focusing on bad things. As my teenage kids would say, “Thank you, Captain Obvious.” In the slightly more elegant language of the Stoic philosopher Epictetus, “He is a man of sense who does not grieve for what he has not, but rejoices in what he has.”

In addition to building our own happiness, choosing gratitude can also bring out the best in those around us. Researchers at the University of Southern California showed this in a 2011 study of people with high power but low emotional security (think of the worst boss you’ve ever had). The research demonstrated that when their competence was questioned, the subjects tended to lash out with aggression and personal denigration. When shown gratitude, however, they reduced the bad behavior. That is, the best way to disarm an angry interlocutor is with a warm “thank you.”

I learned this lesson 10 years ago. At the time, I was an academic social scientist toiling in professorial obscurity, writing technical articles and books that would be read by a few dozen people at most. Soon after securing tenure, however, I published a book about charitable giving that, to my utter befuddlement, gained a popular audience. Overnight, I started receiving feedback from total strangers who had seen me on television or heard me on the radio.

One afternoon, I received an unsolicited email. “Dear Professor Brooks,” it began, “You are a fraud.” That seemed pretty unpromising, but I read on anyway. My correspondent made, in brutal detail, a case against every chapter of my book. As I made my way through the long email, however, my dominant thought wasn’t resentment. It was, “He read my book!” And so I wrote him back — rebutting a few of his points, but mostly just expressing gratitude for his time and attention. I felt good writing it, and his near-immediate response came with a warm and friendly tone.

DOES expressing gratitude have any downside? Actually, it might: There is some research suggesting it could make you fat. A new study in the Journal of Consumer Psychology finds evidence that people begin to crave sweets when they are asked to express gratitude. If this finding holds up, we might call it the Pumpkin Pie Paradox.

The costs to your weight notwithstanding, the prescription for all of us is clear: Make gratitude a routine, independent of how you feel — and not just once each November, but all year long.

There are concrete strategies that each of us can adopt. First, start with “interior gratitude,” the practice of giving thanks privately. Having a job that involves giving frequent speeches — not always to friendly audiences — I have tried to adopt the mantra in my own work of being grateful to the people who come to see me.

Next, move to “exterior gratitude,” which focuses on public expression. The psychologist Martin Seligman, father of the field known as “positive psychology,” gives

Next, move to “exterior gratitude,” which focuses on public expression. The psychologist Martin Seligman, father of the field known as “positive psychology,” gives some practical suggestions on how to do this. In his best seller “Authentic Happiness,” he recommends that readers systematically express gratitude in letters to loved ones and colleagues. A disciplined way to put this into practice is to make it as routine as morning coffee. Write two short emails each morning to friends, family or colleagues, thanking them for what they do.

Finally, be grateful for useless things. It is relatively easy to be thankful for the most important and obvious parts of life — a happy marriage, healthy kids or living in America. But truly happy people find ways to give thanks for the little, insignificant trifles. Ponder the impractical joy in Gerard Manley Hopkins’s poem “Pied Beauty”:

Glory be to God for dappled things —
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced — fold, fallow, and plough;
And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.

Be honest: When was the last time you were grateful for the spots on a trout? More seriously, think of the small, useless things you experience — the smell of fall in the air, the fragment of a song that reminds you of when you were a kid. Give thanks.

This Thanksgiving, don’t express gratitude only when you feel it. Give thanks especially when you don’t feel it. Rebel against the emotional “authenticity” that holds you back from your bliss. As for me, I am taking my own advice and updating my gratitude list. It includes my family, faith, friends and work. But also the dappled complexion of my bread-packed bird. And it includes you, for reading this column.

Arthur C. Brooks is the president of the American Enterprise Institute and a contributing opinion writer.

 

Alastair
MaxCo Advisors
November 25th, 2015

How We Became A Little More Impervious to Failure

Please read this truly delightful piece on the very precious and wonderful delusions of growing up, by Glenn Kelman, CEO of Redfin. It’s one of my current favorites.

Redfin are a next-generation real estate broker. www.redfin.com


When my brother and I were 11, our father designed a 17-foot boat for sailing around the world. He’d never ventured more than a few miles from the U.S. He’d never sailed, or designed a boat before.

Dad bought a book, “Skene’s Elements of Yacht Design,” and a RadioShack computer. Then he spent a year programming the computer to produce the optimal shape for a sailboat hull. The unloveliness of the result was proof of its genius: where most hulls curve up at the stern and bow into a smile, ours curved down into an oval.

After another year drawing in by hand each joint and winch, our father drove the family across the state to meet a naval architect. We played catch in the parking lot while he went in. He came out an hour later, defeated.

The architect had said that such a small boat wouldn’t have enough wind in the open ocean, where the mast would dip below the level of the swells. But then Dad spent most of the family’s savings buying a boat of the exact same size.

From Here, You’d Spend the Rest of Your Life Swimming for Shore

Now we had to learn how to sail it. From home, he’d call a Coast Guard hotline for small-craft advisories, announcing each as an opportunity to learn reefing or heaving-to. Once we passed the first channel buoy, he relished reminding us how cold Puget Sound was by saying “From here, you’d spend the rest of your life swimming for shore.”

For landfalls, he built a dinghy in the exact shape of our tiny cockpit, so it could fit inside it like a matryoshka doll. The dinghy had room for only one person, but he attached a fishing line to it, reeling it back for a second passenger. When I got in for the first time, water began spilling over the sides until I sprawled across the bottom to distribute my weight.

I learned from this to be careful, which doesn’t come naturally to me. I learned other things too: that people will endure any hazard, such as coming about in a strong wind, if you can calmly explain first what will happen. I learned you don’t always get to decide when you have to make a decision.

I learned that looking miserable was a family betrayal, even when we came sputtering past all the other boats at the dock near midnight; this has been useful to remember when I’ve felt like the only unsuccessful person in a room.

I learned that to win a race, you have to develop a feel for the trim of the sails, freeing your eyes to scan the waters for wind-shifts; in any competition, it’s easy to spend too much energy sorting yourself out, and miss the world around you.

And I learned from being becalmed so many times that all of us, even car-seat-bound infants in a traffic jam, like going anywhere much better than going nowhere, a tendency that can lead you astray.

But mostly I learned about the power of delusion. After years of boom bashings, lee shores, near-misses from container ships, hypothermia and passengers’ hollered prayers to God, I was shocked to see that his ship’s log consisted entirely of entries like “Successfully crossed Strait of Juan de Fuca. Arrived Port Angeles 0200.”

How to Resist Growing Up

These delusions became my world. Growing up is mostly the process of having to acknowledge the differences between your world and the whole world. Bizarre displays of affection for the family pet or bedtime stories deep into adolescence only become embarrassing — only begin to die — the first time someone else sees them.

But part of what our father taught us was how to resist growing up, how to keep seeing things the way only our family did. After a young adulthood trying to get him to see the world for how it really is, my brother Wes and I have come back to the way our dad is, realizing that it’s sometimes our job to see the world as it could be, as we want it to be.

Any New Enterprise Is a Sustained, Collective Delusion

This is what I try to do at work; what after all is a startup, if not a sustained, collective delusion? And this is what my wife and I do dragging the family out for a two-mile hike, telling the grumblers in the backseat that the Seattle rain is refreshing.

It turns out that you can recognize a delusion’s a delusion and still refuse to give it up. On an overnight crossing to Dry Tortugas, my dad and Wes got caught in a squall. “I wasn’t scared,” Wes said, “until the storm cleared, and the moon showed the waves towering above the boat.” He saw our father at the tiller, happy as ever. It was the same for me in Bellingham Bay, when Dad tried to reassure me about the water gushing into the cockpit by explaining the center-board’s rising moment arm and the changing force vectors on the sails.

Back on shore, I told him in all seriousness I worried he was nuts. He just laughed. It was the sound an only child makes, who never tried fitting in, and who probably always knew he was never going to make it around the world.

My mother has died, and my father, 81, now lives alone in Florida. He still has a boat filled with his jury-rigged inventions. He struggles to maintain it, and I barely know how to operate it. He has decided that the boat is too dangerous for his dog, but seems puzzled that I spend so much time trying to find the life preservers for our small children. We go out, with nobody on the ocean to tell us how foolish we are, on every visit.

 

MaxCo Advisors
November 24th, 2015

Being the Boss – There Ain’t No Classroom Instruction or User Manual

Mention you’re about to start a business and you’ll get plenty of advice. Everyone you know will suddenly turn into an expert on financing, marketing and sales strategies, technology and innovation. At least that was my experience.

But what you don’t hear is what it’s really like to be in charge, even if you’re the CEO of just yourself. Knowing the buck truly does stop with you is a subject that leaders and bosses rarely share. Some do, but not as many and they should, as it’s vital.

That’s where Jim Whitehurst, the president and CEO of Red Hat, one of the largest and most successful providers of open-source software, comes in. Before joining Red Hat, Jim was the COO of Delta Airlines, so you’d assume he knew exactly what he was getting into – but that’s not the case.

Here are some examples that Jim sights. Read on.

You will, in fact, still have a boss, in fact lots of them. Most people assume you don’t have a boss when you’re the CEO. If you’re the sole owner that is, strictly speaking, true … but you still have plenty of “bosses.”

And that means you have to consider the different objectives of all those bosses when deciding what to do. In certain cases there is a board, major investors, government officials (if a public company), Wall Street, employees – lots of bosses.

Having greater latitude is one of the fun parts of being a CEO, but never assume you’ll have free rein to do whatever you want.

The input you receive will often conflict. Some investors may want you to focus more on short-term results than longer-term growth. Different customers may want very different things. Even individual board members can have very different opinions and objectives.

Your job is to continue to tell the story of your company, continually make judgment calls, and continually balance personalities, needs, and goals. That’s one of the most challenging things about the job; since you have multiple bosses with multiple agendas, you constantly wonder, “Am I doing the right things?” (or doing things right?)

Sometimes you will have less latitude than when you only had one boss. When you have investors or a board or employees whose future is at least partly in your hands, even though you’re in charge, you sometimes (quite often actually) need to seek permission. And unlike when you had a boss, often there’s not just one person you need to ask.

Everything you do will be under a microscope. As a CEO or business owner, you’re constantly on display, not just for the job you do but for things like what you wear, whether you use a paper cup instead of a mug and what that says about your environmental consciousness, what kind of car you drive, etc.

For example, an employee was talking with my wife at a company event and said, “One of the things I really like is that Jim is family oriented. That’s important, because I have kids.” How did she decide that? During a meeting I took a call from my wife — she rarely calls me at work and I wanted to make sure nothing was wrong.

But what if for some reason – say I knew she planned to call at that time to leave me a message that wasn’t urgent and I had hit “Ignore”? Would that employee have thought I was not family oriented … and that Red Hat was not a family-friendly company?

Possibly so. When you’re under the microscope, it’s amazing what can be read into the smallest things. One interaction doesn’t necessarily send a major signal, but when your business is large enough and employees only see you occasionally, that one experience can form their entire opinion.

Being in charge is like a double-edged sword. You get to lead by example, but you can set tons of inadvertent examples. You can’t have a bad day.

You will be the worst boss you ever had. Becoming your own boss theoretically frees you from being controlled and micromanaged … but your conscience is probably the most exacting taskmaster you’ve ever worked for.

Take today for example, in theory I could have not scheduled anything, and just “goofed-off.” But almost all the individuals who make it to the CEO level or who start their own company are fairly competitive, driven to do well, committed to performance. They’re their own toughest boss.

While you do have more control, with that responsibility comes a sense of obligation that pushes most people harder than any boss possibly could.

Your job will definitely be different from what you imagine. I came to Red Hat thinking my job would be quite different than it actually is – not better, not worse, just different. Even though you’re given a title, you still have to earn trust, earn latitude from shareholders and employees … you still have to do all the things you have to do as an employee to gain credibility and respect.

Six years ago I came from doing an operations-intensive job in a low-margin industry. Red Hat is a high-growth company with incredible opportunities that result in incredible ambiguity – my job is a lot more about developing strategies, inspiring people, inspiring creativity, and pivoting from driving numbers and executing to something totally different has been an interesting challenge.

That can happen to you even if you start a new business. Many people tell me what they thought their business would do – and what that meant their role would be – turned out to be very different from what they imagined.

… But it will also be the best job you ever had.

 

Alastair
MaxCo Advisors
November 18th, 2015

Attracting Attention In A World of Distractions: Key Product Lessons From Uber

As a child, I remember getting regular magazines and beautifully illustrated Cartoon Annuals (The Beano, for example), carefully type-set out in hard-back form. I always looked forward to reading these, backwards and forwards, and end-to-end. Today, some of these sit on my desk, right next to my devices. And while it certainly has sentimental value, it also reminds me of a time when we didn’t face quite so many distractions.

Today, we’re bombarded by requests for attention on every device imaginable, from every digital channel to Facebook notifications, and even ring-vibrations. With so many messages demanding our time, how does a company stand out? To me, the answer is simple – unified, cohesive connectivity. Hmmm, doesn’t sound that simple.

Stated somewhat differently, I think that success in an overstimulated world arises from creating short, seamless interactions. Of course, this isn’t a new concept – Google Search and Amazon One-Click Buy were pioneers of fewer clicks on our laptops and desktops. The critical difference today is that we tap and swipe on devices that are constantly interrupting us. Looking at Uber, this concept of short seamless experiences is core to the product. Mina Radhakrishnan the former Head of Product at Uber has commented on this, and goes on to explain specifically that it shows itself in three ways: location, choice and payments.

Location

One of the most time-consuming (and critical) parts of calling a car is making sure that your address is correctly set. One thing that was pioneered at Uber was the idea of moving the map as you moved your finger rather than moving your pin. At first glance, this felt strange because your actions weren’t directly moving you to where you want to go. However, as you swiped, the feeling of movement and placement quickly became intuitive. Now, this idea of moving the map as your centered location stays constant is a common practice across on-demand apps. By using places data, setting a pickup requires even less effort.

However, it’s critical to think about the best provider for this data across the world. Initially, using a single provider for all location data was the natural choice. However, as Uber expanded, this approach quickly became infeasible. Inaccurate map and places data led to confusing and frustrating calls between riders and drivers who couldn’t find each other. Ultimately, Uber had to find the appropriate providers for data around the world and automatically switch based on the location.

Additionally, using saved favorite locations, address setting becomes even quicker and cleaner. In fact, Uber now suggests destinations as you’re waiting so once you’ve made your request, there’s no need to ever open the app again once you’ve made a decision to request a car. At least, not until your next ride!

Choice

Another key component of calling a car is determining which type of car. While there is a default selection, as Uber continues to expand across product lines and delivery, the on-demand decision becomes more complicated. This was a key example of where naming was a critical component. What does UberX mean? How do you know what you’re getting when you request an UberExec?

Creating the right descriptions consistently around the world meant that the Company had to consciously consider how people would respond as the options continued to expand. And as Uber came up with these taglines, they also had to make sure that all the choices were clearly defined and organized. Hierarchical menus, consistent iconography and descriptive text at a glance reduce the analysis paralysis. Similarly, if you tap an option, you can get more information but there’s never a need to tap or swipe at all. And as you travel around the world, you always know what Uber means, whether it’s classic luxury or a reliable low-cost option.

Payments

This harmony is echoed in the way that Uber handles payments. Adding payment information is a high-friction activity and often one of the largest drop-off sources in sign-up conversion. As Uber thought about this, they considered what was unique to mobile. The first thing that came to mind was the camera. A natural evolution was the idea of scanning the card, which no-one had implemented as part of the sign-up process. At one point, 40% of users scanned their card, and Uber’s sign-up times were reduced by more than one minute.

Requiring payment information at sign-up seems counter-intuitive because the user hasn’t even experienced Uber yet but this was a guiding principle of the first time experience. In fact, it’s one of the reasons that using Uber for the first time feels magical. The Company went back and forth about it numerous times but without more data, ultimately felt that the seamlessness of the first ride trumped all. There’s no fumbling with wallets, or trying to figure out what to pay or worrying about whether it’s appropriate so all your other apps can interrupt away.

Fundamentally, instead of a transaction, Uber becomes an experience. I always held the opinion that Uber are not in the technology business, not even in the transportation business, but are in the entertainment business.

Of course, it’s not enough to just create an uninterrupted experience and expect to win. But when we’re faced with distractions from all directions, I propose that short and sweet is a great guiding principle.

MaxCo Advisors
November 16th, 2015

“Our Father, Who Art a Management Consultant…”

Something a little lighter for today, Thursday.

New Definition of a Management Consultant: someone who borrows your watch, tells you the time, keeps the watch and sends you a bill for it.


Spotted in the mail room and on the HR noticeboard of a local publishing company/website:

“This department requires no physical fitness program: everyone gets enough exercise jumping to conclusions, flying off the handle, running up expenses, flogging dead horses, knifing friends and colleagues in the back, dodging responsibility and generally pushing their luck.”


To all my friends who maybe familiar with the local transportation infrastructure in London and its close surroundings, here’s a cracker.

Hendon Central Prayer.

Our Farnham which art in Hendon,
Holloway Turnpike Lane,
Thy Kingston come,
Thy Wimbledon,
In Erith as it is in Hendon

Give us this day our Maidenhead,
And lead us not into Penge Station,
But deliver us from Esher,
For thine is the Kingston,
The Tower and the Horley,
For Iver and Iver,
Crouch End.

MaxCo Advisors

November 11th, 2015

Six Symptoms Of Toxic Leaders Who Derail Positivity In The Workplace

When it comes to work, we’re all expected to do more with less. Less time, less resources, and oftentimes less guidance (absence of leadership, inspiration and mentorship.) It’s no wonder the Gallup poll on employee engagement spits-out such low numbers on this issue.

People thrive based on the environment they’re in. In negative environments where criticism, finger-pointing, the launching of virtual “heat-seeking missiles” as I like to call them – when people seek to immediately bring-down creative ideas BEFORE even thinking about them (drives me nuts!), and general negatively lurk, it’s easy to assume similar behavior.

Conversely, the opposite is also true.

Laughter is contagious. Positivity is contagious. Genuine enthusiasm is contagious.

In “The Optimistic Workplace: Creating an Environment that Energizes Everyone”, author and leadership consultant Shawn Murphy addresses the challenge of increasing positivity in the workforce and contends that there are six symptoms that lead to destructive work environments (and ultimately crush employee happiness). Having experienced this directly myself, I wholeheartedly agree:

Symptom 1: Blind Impact. A leader who is unaware of how her actions, attitude, and words impact others damages any opportunity for workplace optimism. She consistently underestimates people’s value and often fails to connect the dots between their work and organizational direction.

Symptom 2: Antisocial Leadership. An antisocial leader lacks the ability to encourage, build, and evolve a community of people united by a shared purpose. Autocratic and sometimes distrustful of people, this leader dictates what workers should do and rarely praises or credits them for good work. Creating a void of connectedness, this symptom tends to leave people feeling used and abused.

Symptom 3: Chronic Change Resistance. If there’s one thing that plagues individual and organizational growth, it’s resistance to change. However, change is what keeps us relevant. Without change, we won’t learn; if we don’t learn we can’t grow; if we don’t grow we don’t get any better and the competition usurps our pole position. For leaders who are chronic change avoiders, they either A) avoid change altogether or B) change too late, which means only incremental change is possible at this point.

Symptom 4: Profit Myopia. Leaders with profit myopia cling to the outdated belief that profit is the only success measure. Yes, making money is a good thing, for sure, but if people are unhappy in their work roles then they’re just not going to work optimally, which means profits suffer.

Symptom 5: Constipated Inspiration. Boy, doesn’t it just. When a leader is too focused on her own needs and insecurities, she gives little attention to what her employees experience at work. As a result, she doesn’t see what inspires or demotivates them. This symptom stems from ignorance to personal values and a lack of self-awareness. When a leader knows what she stands for, she has greater capacity to learn about the people on her team. You can’t lead others until you know how to lead yourself.

Symptom 6: Silo Syndrome. A leader afflicted with silo-syndrome cannot see beyond his immediate responsibilities or see how work affects life outside company walls. They resort to cognitive biases of availability and confirmation bias, to form their judgments because there’s limited exposure cross-culturally. For instance, people in marketing know nothing about sales, so it’s easy for a marketer to take a mental shortcut and assign a label to sales as whole, thus degrading optimism.

Over and out.

MaxCo Advisors
November 11th, 2015