Want to Be Happier at Work? Build A Better Relationship With Your Boss

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Want more engaging work assignments? Think about how to improve your performance?  Wish you were happier at work? Improve your relationship with your boss to make your work life much better. 

The relationship with your boss usually is the most important one related to your job. In matrix organizations, expand this concept to “dotted line bosses.”  Numerous research studies, and perhaps your personal experience, come to the same conclusion. The quality of your relationship with your boss affects the type of assignments you receive, your performance, job satisfaction and organizational commitment. Given the importance of this relationship, there are three things you should know and three things you should do to make it better.

The quality of your relationship starts very early.

Research, including that conducted by Epitropaki and Martin ((2005) indicates that you and your boss form opinions of each other very early and those opinions remain stable. How early? Some research suggests that as early as five days after working together, you and your new boss already have an opinion about your ability to work with each other.  Why is this early impression resistant to change? One important factor is that both you and a boss are susceptible to confirmation bias, or the tendency to look for information that supports what you already believe and discard disconfirming information.

Your boss doesn’t have the same quality of relationship with everyone in your team/group.

Your boss forms a unique relationship with everyone who reports to him or her. Researchers label it leader- member exchange. What it means is that your manger will develop high quality relationships with some and lower quality relationship with others based upon several factors.  The differentiating aspects of each unique relationship means it’s harder to copy the style a peer uses with your boss and get the same results. Your peers find it just as hard to copy your style with your boss, too. You and your boss will form a unique, reciprocal relationship that will influence the type of assignments you receive, the amount of autonomy you enjoy, and the level of influence and support he or she extends on your behalf.

Your boss has different criteria for decisions

Often, we read into decisions made by the boss to infer hidden motivation or beliefs. For example, the fact that a boss did not lobby on someone’s behalf with her peers is interpreted that she isn’t willing to go to bat for her people.

Most people in a role of managing others try to take an expanded view of all decisions. But perhaps like you, she made the most obvious decision available at the time. Nobel laureate Herbert Simon describes the propensity for all of us to satisfice, or settle for the first acceptable solution. These solutions made sense, can be accommodated, and there did not seem to be a reason not to proceed.

Is satisficing the best way for your boss to make decisions? No. But in a world where decisions come at her like fast balls or soccer kicks several times a day, making the first “good enough” decision is rational to her. In fact, with honest reflection, there is reasonable likelihood that you can recall your own satisficing decisions.

Advice To Build a Better Relationship With Your Boss

Of course, your relationship with your boss is a two way street. Even if you got a lemon, there are things you can control. Even if you don’t think you can make the relationship better, you can make it worse. It’s too important- don’t do that.

Try these ideas to control what you can to form a better relationship with your boss.

Start Strong
The first month in your relationship with a new boss is the most important. You don’t have to like him or her, but it is far better if you can reasons to like them. At a minimum, be positive in your interactions; try out some of his or her ideas instead of dismissing them out of hand. Put your best effort into your first assignments. The lasting impression your boss has about you and your work is formed in your first month, or through your first series of interactions. Bring your “A” game.

Give Better than You Get
The relationship with your manager is an exchange. It’s reciprocal. Build equity through your best effort, attitude and work. You do not have to pretend to like someone you do not like, but you can develop a respectful, professional relationship. The relationship with your boss is one where you will get back what you put in.

Don’t Assume Intentions
The best outcomes for you and your peers are certainly among your boss’ considerations when weighing decisions. But you are not the only considerations. He or she must consider the goals and needs of the organization, business and role. Your boss must make the best, most expedient decision for all involved; even though it’s not the outcome you wanted. You do not need to like your boss’ decisions, but your relationship will be better if you appreciate their view.

You can’t control everything in the relationship with your boss. But by managing the aspects that are under your control- you may reap the benefits of richer assignments, greater autonomy and higher job satisfaction. A better relationship with your boss is worth your effort.

References:

Epitropaki, O. and Martin, R. (2005). From Ideal to Real: A Longitudinal Study of the Role of Implicit leadership Theories on Leader- member Exchanges and Employee Outcomes. Journal of Applied Psychology, vol. 90 pp. 659-676

Manzoni, J.F. and Barsoux, J.L. (2002).  The Set Up to Fail Syndrome: How Good Managers Cause Great People to FailBoston: Harvard Business Sch

Four Ways To Be Ready When Your Name Is Called

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Jeremy Lin’s story represents everything we believe about earning success.  Select the space to win. Show unwavering commitment. Always be ready. Pursue opportunities. How do we apply this to our professional lives?

Who doesn’t love a story like Jeremy Lin? The perpetually overlooked back bencher who finally gets their big moment and astounds us with their talent. It’s what we tell our kids, our teams and ourselves: Be ready when your name is called. But how do we do that? How do we keep our interest, skills and talent sharp while waiting for our day to shine? I have four ideas.

Select the Right Space

Jeremy Lin’s right space is basketball. He’s good at it. He likes it. There is a place for his contributions to add value. That’s it. Those three criteria can help each of us to select the right space to showcase our talents. Follow them to start with an advantage instead of a penalty. One resource I really like is Do What You Are by Paul Tieger and Barbara Barron- Tieger.

Show Unwavering Commitment

Jeremy Lin is another overnight success built upon years of preparation. He played basketball because he was good at it. He liked it. He made a team better. For all that, he was not offered a college scholarship. He was not drafted to the NBA out of college. He bounced (no pun intended) to three teams in less than two years. Through it all he remained committed to his goal.

It’s hard to discuss commitment without a mention of its relationship to purpose and motivation. Without a clear, personal purpose, we look externally for measures that are often out of sync with our destiny.  If Jeremy Lin’s focus was on minutes played per game, or some other factor he could not control, he may have surrendered to discouragement long ago.  A clear, personal purpose keeps our motivation strong enough to maintain our commitment before the world sees our brilliance.

Always Be Ready

Jeremy Lin went a season and a half before he got a starting role in the NBA. Still, by all reports, he prepared for every game. He worked on his jump shot. He paid attention in practice. He read scouting reports.  He listened to the coaches’ call plays. But when his name was called, Jeremy Lin was ready.

In Great By Choice (2011), Jim Collins and Morten Hansen write: You prepare with intensity all the time, so when conditions turn against you, you can draw from a reservoir of strength. And, equally, you prepare so that when conditions turn in your favor, you strike hard.

What can you do to prepare for when your name is called?  Do you follow changes in your industry? Learn more about how your organization plans to win? Find out how your team contributes and add more? Upgrade your skills? Whether you are on the front lines or the backbench, you can prepare to do more. Start today.

Pursue Opportunities

There are many reasons why Jeremy Lin shouldn’t be in the NBA. He wasn’t drafted. His first team put him on the inactive list before being sent down to the NBA Developmental League. He only became available to his new team because his last team released him. Still, he’s playing today because he pursued opportunities to play.

How many people do you know who live on “Someday Isle?” They sound like this: Someday I’ll write that book. Someday I’ll look for a better job.  Someday I’ll take that chance. Someday I’ll get that certification. Someday never comes, because the opportunities are not where they are, but where they need to go.

If you are not where you can use your strengths, do what you like or add value, it’s up to you to change that.  Create opportunities that open possibilities. Make a call.  Ask for a favor. Join a social network of professionals in your dream field. Go to a conference. No one taps on our shoulder like a concierge to announce that our dream has arrived. We have to go get it.

I’m not surprised that Jeremy Lin is a phenomenon. I am surprised that so many of us who could be the next unexpected marvel in our fields don’t take the necessary steps to be ready when our name is called. Don’t let that be you.

Related articles

What Jeremy Lin Teaches Us About Talent

References

Tieger, P.D. and Barron-Tieger, B. (2001). Do What You Are: Discover the Perfect Career Through The Secrets of Personality Type. Boston: Little, Brown  & Company.

Collins, J. and Hansen, M.T. (2011) Great By Choice: Uncertainty, Chaos and Luck – Why Some Thrive Despite Them All. New York: Harper Collins.

How To Increase Employee Productivity

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Do you wish your employees were more productive? Spent less time on negative gossip? Any organization can improve productivity by creating stronger positive connections. It’s free. It’s easy. It works.

I was scared. My knees were shaking. Other kids were already snickering at me. Why? It was my turn to stand and read the next paragraph out loud. Only I had a secret. The words didn’t look the same to me as they did to everyone else. I couldn’t do it.  I stood frozen in fear.

The teacher made her way over to me. What would she do? Would she tell me to sit down in shame? Would she tell me what I thought: That I was stupid? No. She put her big, soft arm around my shoulder and whispered: “We’ll read it together.” And, with great relief, we did.

There was silence in the room full of executives listening to this story. The speaker lifted the lid on one of the “undiscussable” topics among the group. Nearly every one of these accomplished, competitive, driven leaders was, at one point in their careers, like the scared little boy with a secret that held him back. And, each of them had longed for that arm around their shoulder encouraging them to make the brave next step.

The speaker was Dr. Ned Hallowell, an alumnus of Harvard University and Tulane Medical School, an accomplished psychiatrist who now dedicates his career to teaching and writing.  Of all of the dozens of keynotes I’ve heard over many conferences, I will never forget Dr. Hallowell’s. Here he was addressing a group of mostly marketing leaders, offering simple facts about reaching people. Connection precedes action.  Caring precedes connection. Your message, no matter how slick, won’t be sustained without caring and connection.

What Is Connection?

As. Dr. Hallowell describes in Shine (2011), connection is the bond a person feels with a person, team or organization that stirs feelings of attachment, loyalty and inspiration. The stronger the connection; the greater one’s willingness to make sacrifices for the sake of the connection. It starts with a person, or people, who understand you. Connection begins when someone cares enough to engage in a shared interest, to learn about you, to offer to help.

What Does Connection Have to Do With Productivity?

Connection creates positive energy. The greater the positive energy, the happier the employee. And the happier the employee, the better the quality of their work. As Dr. Hallowell states: Connecting with others is really good for you. And, it’s good for business. Consider some facts:

1.  Gallup finds a relationship between employee engagement and employee well being, including positive social well-being at work. An employee at the highest levels of engagement and well being is at work more, costing their employer an average of $840.00 a year in lost productivity. An employee at the bottom of both engagement and well being scores misses work to the tune of a whopping $28,000.00 a year in lost time.

2. Perhaps the cost of lost time for employees with the weakest engagement and connection at work is so great because they are more likely to get sick. Research from Europe shows a relationship between employees’ feelings of disconnection and insecurity about skills with occurrences of stress related illness, including heart attacks.  Research out of the University of Michigan shows that job insecurity was a better predictor of poor health than high blood pressure or cigarette smoking. Of course, a manager or organization can’t control employees’ feelings of insecurity, but an arm around the shoulder sure helps.

3. On the bright side, positive connection spreads positive energy. An analysis of social networks shows that a person is about 15% more likely to be happy if he or she is connected to a happy person. Gallup researchers show that connection at work can change people’s thinking. People who hear more positive things start to think more positively. The inverse is also true, that people who hear more negative things at work tend to think more negatively. So, spread positive connections to increase your chances of more positively thinking employees.

How To Create Connection at Work

This is the best part. Creating connection is free, easy, and any size organization has the resources to do it.

1.  Be positive about SOMETHING.  As a leader, you have more influence over the affective moods of your employees than any other person at work.  Your mood spreads. Positive energy attracts connection. This is not about wearing a Dilbert smiley button, but sharing something (or things) today you can be authentically happy about.

2. Create opportunities for positive socializing.  Way back when, people at work used to share lunch together without a Power Point presentation in front of them. Really, it’s true.  If lunch doesn’t work, create space in every teleconference or web meeting for a few minutes of personal sharing or inquiry. Plan a weekly standing afternoon “walk about” to a coffee house. Not everyone will participate at first, but over time, most will. 

3.  Reactions to problems build or destroy connection.  Even superstar employees have problems. How a leader responds to them can build or damage connection faster than almost any other circumstance. Dr. Hallowell’s teacher didn’t tell him he was a great reader and to keep going. She stood with him and helped. Asking an employee: How did you mess this up? damages connection. Asking: How do you think you’d do it differently? gets the same information, but communicates interest  and confidence.

Almost everyone I know can relate to the scared little boy in Dr. Hallowell’s story. No matter how smart, successful and confident we appear, each of us has that moment when we know we can’t do it alone. Positive connections at work fill that gap. Don’t wait until you need them: start getting the benefits today.

References

E.M. Hallowell (2011). Shine: Using Brain Science to Get the Best From Your People. Boston: Harvard Business Review Press.

Robinson, J. (2011). The Business of Good Friends. Gallup Management Journal, Dec. 2011.

How To Develop Better Goals: Introducing the Five I’s

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Want to get the benefits of goals, but the S.M.A.R.T. framework just doesn’t work for you? Me neither. Try the Five I’s to write better goals.

February is the month many people finalize their goals for the year. In a business, targets have been set, translated, and shared as the basis for performance goals. Organizations with a learning orientation also encourage employees to set developmental, or learning, goals, for the year. Regardless of the type, all are encouraged to use the same S.M.A.R.T. framework: Specific, Measureable, Attainable, Relevant and Time bound.

If your eyes rolled and your stomach tightened when you got to the description of S.M.A.R.T., you are not alone. For many years, it was my responsibility to lead discussions on the framework, and I wrote dozens of communications imploring people to write goals in this formula. Yet, very few S.M.A.R.T. goals came back. Upon reflection, I think I understand the problem. S.M.A.R.T. speaks to the head; but goal motivation comes from the heart.

I believe in goals. They provide a true north to navigate the daily wild frontier of distractions.  I believe in writing goals down. It is an act of commitment to get ideas out of my head and make my intent public. I believe, like Daniel Pink  in DRIVE: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, that the real motivation to achieve goals is neither the carrot nor the stick, but that voice deep inside that says I really want to do this. That voice doesn’t get out of bed for the analytics of S.M.A.R.T.

The Five I’s Alternative

So, I humbly suggest the alternative I will use to evaluate my 2012 goals: The Five I’s.

1. Does it inspire?
This is the price of admission to my list. Does this goal make me excited? Do I get energy just thinking about it? Does it prime my imagination? If it doesn’t, I’ll find reasons not to stick to it when inevitable obstacles arise.

2. Is it important?
There is a difference between can do and should do. Will the outcome make a difference to me, to my clients, to others in my network? Will I care if I reach it? Does it represent the best way I can use my time and talent?

3. Does it improve my capabilities?
Good goals build a capability platform for new goals, whether I reach them or not. What will I personally develop by pursuit of this goal? Does it allow me to leverage strength? Try out a new skill? Regardless of the outcome, will I learn things I can build upon?

4. Is it inclusive?  
With apologies to Secretary Clinton, it takes a village to reach a goal. If the goal is important and developmental, I’ll need the help and support of others. Do I know who they are? Do I have access to them? What’s in it for them? Is the goal big enough to accommodate things they want to learn, try and do?

5. Can I identify progress?
Identifying the signs of progress will keep me both accountable and motivated. What will I see, hear or feel to know that I am on the right path? How will I know when I achieve my goal? What will be different?  One of the problems with S.M.A.R.T. is that it can’t accommodate the evolving nature of learning or just getting better; it only marks arrivals.

What Do You Think?

If S.M.A.R.T. works for your goals, share how you make it work. If it doesn’t, how do you write good goals?  Can you improve upon the Five I’s?

Regardless of your preference, I hope your 2012 goals set the stage for meaningful accomplishments in the year ahead.

Reference:

Pink, D.H. (2010) Drive: the Surprising truth About What Motivates Us. New York: Penguin Group

Four Ideas To Overcome Fear

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Yesterday, the great weather prognosticator, Punxsutawney Phil, predicted six more weeks of winter in the United States.  We know because Phil crawled out of his hole on a gloomy 30 degree-day, saw his shadow, and then ducked back into a hole in fear.

There are lots of problems with this explanation for a delayed spring. I’ll focus on one. Phil, like some of us, passes up great opportunities because we choose to miss the spring of opportunities to live in a winter of fear.

A little fear is a good thing. Social scientists show it with the performance anxiety curve, which shows that performance improves with fear up to a point. There are diminishing returns beyond that point, where increasing levels of fear result in declining performance. In real lives, it explains the adrenaline that kicks in before a deadline. And, it explains the mind-numbing mistake we make because we missed sleep due to worry over outcomes we can’t control.

So, when faced with a positive opportunity, do we to forge ahead or run back? Great thinkers have produced useful ideas: four of them are summarized below.

Consider Before You React: Is it a Real Threat?
As Michael Shermer describes in The Believing Brain, we look for patterns in new data based on old experiences, then infuse meaning into it. We use this pattern to explain why things are and what we should do when it happens. The problem is that we react to the new data in the same old ways, even when it’s now no threat at all. Consider: What else is possible?

Never Worry Alone
This advice comes from Dr. Ned Hallowell, author of Shine and faculty at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Hallowell suggests that a trusted confidant may see the same data in different ways, thus offer explanations to calm our fears. His research indicates that sharing our anxiety with trusted others could offer reassurance and coaching that may reverse the downward slop on the performance anxiety curve. Consider: Who can I trust to talk this over?

Reframe
A reframe is an emotional flip of our current perception. It doesn’t deny reality or facts, but considers alternatives. Instead of thinking: If the client says no, I’ll lose the deal a reframe is: If the client says no, I’ll understand more for the next proposal. Consider: How can I reframe this situation?

Adopt at Growth Mind Set
Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck describes choices between a “growth mind set” and a “fixed mind set.” A growth mind set is a belief that we can learn what we need to learn to achieve our goals. A fixed mindset is that our talent is capped at our current knowledge.  Her research shows that the most successful people are not those with the most innate talent, but those who develop a growth mind set. Consider: What do I need to learn to overcome this fear?

You are not a ground hog that cowers in fear in a cold hole in the ground. Right there, you have an advantage! But, things could also be better. There is a potential for the next spring in your life. Don’t miss it for a shadow that isn’t there.

Resources

Dweck, C.S. (2006). Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. New York: Random House.

Hallowell, E.M. (2011). Shine: Using Brain Science to Get the Best From Your People. Boston: Harvard Business School.

Shermer, M. (2011). The Believing Brain. New York: Henry Holt and Company.