In my pursuit of becoming a better leader I sometimes forget to look at my the lessons life has taught me much earlier on in life (as a child), its interactions with people that ask interesting questions that help dig out those lessons – this is one of those.
I grew up in Dubai – back then it wasn’t all the glitter and glamour it is today, things have changed dramatically. One thing that has not changed though, is the summer heat.
I am not sure what you may have heard, but Dubai has two seasons, “”hot” and “very hot”. So, growing up in Dubai and school being out over the summer heat pretty much meant that we were mostly indoors.
Being stuck at home gave us just a few options: watch TV (not much to watch), play games, read books. The games were fun for a while, but they were the same games, TV kinda sucked…. the only thing that changed, or was new was “reading books”. Junior school on-wards at the end of the school year, my parents would buy the books needed for next school year and being bored, we would study them over summer. This turned out to be a great thing to do because once the school year started, I was already familiar with the material, had already done the required readings and most of the homework – I could mess around in class and do what I wanted, and since it was no longer summer, I could go out and play after school – it was a lot of fun.
I was performing, my homework was done, I already knew everything and I could do whatever I wanted; there was no harm that I could have been doing by having fun…. right? well. I was wrong.
Eventually (think it was grade 9) a teacher called my parents in and together they explained to me that while it was great that I was on top of my game, my “fun” was becoming a distraction for others because the other students were unable to concentrate and get work done. Since the others had not already gone through the material, someone like me should be helping them get their homework done and leading by example rather than distracting them with fun alternatives.
We all have different motivations for pushing hard and getting things “done”, i.e. “I just want to push through he last few minutes of this workout and complete this 1000 meter row so that I can sit down and take a break”, or “I just want to finish coding this feature so that I can get back to learning about Node.js”, or “I just want to finish my work so that I can have fun..”… (who really wants to be rewarded for finishing early with more work?) working hard and having fun is great – there should be a healthy balance. Top players work hard and take a deserved break; However, most of us do not know or even think about how our actions may negatively impact others by creating distractions, or may impact ourselves and stop us from growing or delivering to our full potential; when the fun does negatively impact others/ourselves, it is important to recognize and address it. In the event that you do end up in a situation where someones “fun” is negatively impacting others, or themselves: do what my teacher did and have a conversation explaining the impacts. In my opinion (and experience), explaining the impact (of an observed issue) can make a world of a difference and often solves the issue.
At the end of the day, its the culture you build as a leader that dictates how people “have fun” and what work means to them.
.. well maybe not as bluntly as that…
*this post has a follow on post Continue and read building high performing teams by showing your employees why they suck*
Every now and then, managers get together and play this wonderful game where they take all their employees and put them on a “9 box”; if you ask me., its more like snakes-and-ladders (aka chutes and ladders).. but the end goal is the same., identify where each employee is and figure out how to move they into the top-right corner (and promote), or move them into the bottom-left corner (and out).
Many of us have played this game many time…. In my opinion the problem with this game, and the way that many choose to act upon it is that its just too politically correct. For the individuals who fall in the bottom left corner we have decided that they suck but wont tell them that to their face, the ones who are in the top right are the super stars and we don’t want to make it too obvious to others…. so rather than say it how it is, we waste endless hours trying to figure out how to get the message across and build a better performing team all by ourselves….
Where is the fearless leader? where is the animal instinct and the competitiveness? Forget the politically appropriate messaging., I say call it all out: Hold a team meeting, tell people where you think they land and get it over with. Yes, either your team will think you are an ass for doing it., or they will respect you for being open and straight forward with them. Use your team to help pull the ones in the lower left corner and let the team know who the obvious role models are; Why do all the work your self? trying to be careful not to hurt someones ego? we are all here to work, get the job done and perform. Does your team really want dead weight slowing them down? holding them back? You are accountable when someone else has to work over time because someone in their team didn’t get their work done. Its you who they curse when they are putting in 60 hours because you didn’t have the guts to fire the bad apple and get a new one. yes, its always your fault.
So why the emphasis on being open? why the public humiliation or the public praise?
Not too long ago, an employee asked me “Why don’t you tell your people that they did a great job? Did you know he had to work through the weekend to get it done?”; My answer was “They day any of you guys, works more than I do, I will personally congratulate you and send you a box of chocolates”…… It was in humor that I made the comment, and followed up with a “the reason why he had to work the weekend was because he was not at his desk most of the week, coming in late, leaving early… he was off doing personal things”… What I am outlining here is the perception that someone else in the team had of me not being appreciative and recognizing someones hard work vs the fact that the person was simply making up time lost during the week – The thing about incorrect perception is that its never “just one person”… it could be your entire team!… Using a team meeting to dish out things like this helps reset perceptions and gives everyone a clear picture of what you see; essentially such a group setting promotes conversation that goes both ways… don’t be surprised if your team starts telling you what you are not doing and what you need to improve on. A team that gives you honest and open feedback about yourself as their manager not only tells you that they trust you, but it also allows you to use that information and grow yourself.
So do the 9-box and get a team meeting together: tell the ones who suck that they suck and that you and their team mates are here to help them improve and talk through issues – tell the high performers that they are high performers and that you and your team will be demanding more from them to help them grow to the next level in their career. Do this and you will build high performing teams that follow and believe in your fearless leadership.