I have witnessed some of the best and brightest MBAs crash and burn, like Icarus with his wings of wax,never to again ascend.  They are extraordinarily smart individuals.  They are amazingly articulate.  And damn if they do not know the answers to all matters. These confident and glassy contenders are able to decipher complex business conundrums and possess the facility to deliver sophisticated presentations to corroborate their campaign.  These managers are extremely proficient, cogent, brainy businesspeople. But repeatedly they take off towards the brightness of their ideas only to tumble back to failure.  What is it about their “book smarts” that thwarts their flight from soaring with their strategies?   Street Smart Leaders embrace an imperative truism, the sine qua non: Business is easy – People are hard.

All of the acumen in the world falls short if one does not understand the enigmatic component created once “people” are introduced into the equation.  There are a few exceptional careers where an individual’s solitary efforts are developed in a bubble to produce results.  But in the overwhelming majority of situations, people are necessary if we are to materialize concepts into actions.

So often, I see competent managers charged with a task fail to coalesce their team of people.  They self-sabotage their own brilliance and watch their plan plummet from the sky.  They focus on the plan, disregarding the importance of connecting their strategy to their people.  This snubbing of the human component creates an undercurrent of defiance leading to an imperceptible revolution.  The insurgency occurs because the manager has included “people” as one of the “things” in his plan.  For a Leader to implement a strategy or idea, the Leader must grasp he is asking “people to change”.  His plan’s success is reliant on his ability to mobilize human beings into action and construct change.

People are vital to accomplishing your goals.  They are diverse and complicated.  To be an effective Leader you must focus a significant part of your studies on the behavioral sciences.  What are the motivations of people?  The application of behavioral concepts to real world situations crafts a “business psychology” of people at the “street level”.  The more proficient you are at understanding the personal motivation of each member of your team, the better change agent you will become.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs

As a Leader it is your obligation to make change happen.  You are dealing with change issues involving broken and ineffective practices or you are moving your team in a new direction towards a competitive advantage.  Developing the strategies and plans for your program are characteristically a straight forward process.  You can ordinarily figure out what you need to do in business.  Getting people to embrace and carry out your plans is where the Leadership Challenge lies.  So let’s start with a fundamental of business psychology that you need to understand if you are going be successful with moving people to Change.

Fundamental Number One:  People love their misery.  Yes I’ll say that again, people love their misery.  I’m amazed at how often I see people in miserable conditions.  Nothing is going their way, they are frustrated to the extreme and at the brink of emotional (sometimes physical and deadly) breakdowns and yet when you approach them and start to discuss the idea of a change taking place, they seize their misery and clutch it tight to their guts refusing to release it.  What could be so petrifying about change?  They are unconsciously terrified to move from something they know so well, to something having an ambiguous result.  For most human beings this is a very scary proposition.  For them to let go of their misery they must trust that you, as their Leader, have a better place to go.  Many of them have been disappointed throughout their entire careers and they will only let go of the misery when they have no other choice.  A good leader knows how to inspire trust in the plan and emancipate the misery.

As time passes, with some attention to the subject of business psychology, you will get an overall general feel of what you need do as a manager to move people one way or the other.  But if you truly want to excel with the “people” factor of business, it is necessary to get involved with the people.  This means getting down to an individual level with the people on your team and taking the time to think about who they are and what makes them tick.  What makes them happy or excited and when are they skeptical and resistant?   You do not need to have a psychology degree to understand the elementary drivers of an individual’s inspiration.  It is a matter of dedicating generous time and paying close attention to your team.  It entails more than the time in your office with them sitting across the desk.  It necessitates time in their environments where you can listen and hear what is imperative to them. 

Remember it is your people who are going to assassinate your plan, often for reasons they do not even comprehend.  It’s your obligation as a leader to be proactive and stay ahead of them.  Understand what the motivations of each member of the team are.  There are those that have seen it all before.  They feel they have heard of all the changes you describe and invested themselves only to find disappointment.  They would rather hold onto their misery than put themselves out there gain and suffer another disappointment.  Or there are those who hold their misery because they are content with the routine; a daily routine which has become manageable and “easy” for them to navigate.  And there are those who will just refuse to accept someone may have better ideas.  There are thousand, maybe a million, different situations like this, each connecting someone’s resistance to the idea of change.  Regardless of the reasons for their confrontation to change, they are really suffering … miserably suffering. 

To become a strong leader you need to be strong on the people level.  Regardless of your talents, IQ, education, or your planning ability, if you are not able to move people forward, you will fail.

Leading people from misery to change involves three steps.  First, you need to build trust with people.  This comes from having a personal relationship with them.  Someone has to feel they know you and that you understand them before they are going to trust you. Once you have this basic trust established, you are then able to use it to leverage a Change Proposition. The change proposition is quite simple to extend.  The essential element is to remove the risk from the situation.  Your team must understand that the success of the project is their success.  They will have dedicated themselves to an outcome they can be proud of.  But more importantly, they must trust that if they give their comprehensive effort and the projects fails, the accountability will rest squarely on you, their Tough Leader.   It will be your failure.  Think about how many mangers you have seen set up the change proposition 180 degrees from this.  They quickly take the credit for success and blame the team for failure.   This is an anticipated misery far greater than the one they are clutching onto.  The change proposition is victorious when you generate a situation where people have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Next, build a roadmap of your vision to inspire your team.  It is important for them to see your vision of the end result and how much better they will be, but they are not leaving their misery to jump off of a cliff with you.  You must illustrate a piece by piece methodology where they can see realism and success in incremental steps.  Only then will they begin to ease the grip on their misery and grasp change.  By moving them through your change process one successful step at a time, you will find that they begin to take each new step faster and faster.  Eventually you can lead a team to running if they trust you and see the firm ground ahead.

Finally, celebrate the successes with your team.  Too many managers fail to become great leaders simply because they do not know how to distinguish their team’s achievements.  Changing is difficult.  Even success can leave a team exasperated and drained.  Without acknowledgment, your goal has been accomplished but the prominent opportunity has been squandered.  Each successful change should propel the next one.  It is important to replenish, re-invigorate, and re-inspire your team for the next challenge.  Celebration doesn’t mean you should throw a party for every small accomplishment.  But it does mean that every small accomplishment should be recognized allowing each person to absorb a moment of pride.

The change proposition is a circular event.  Trust strengthens (both ways) with each success and builds for the next project.  The next roadmap becomes clearer and your team becomes more willing to move forward on faith.  And everyone learns that change is not daunting as they celebrate progress.  With each cycle your team picks up speed, momentum, and efficiency and your pursuits become easier.

People really aren’t so hard, if you begin with the realization that it really is all about people.  Everyone has plans and everyone has ideas.  Everyone has great products and services.  But in reality, nothing changes until people change.  You need to mobilize your team in order to deliver change.  You need to gain their trust, show them the plan, and create a perpetual cycle of success for your team and for yourself.  There are many other business psychology issues you’ll have to learn to become a great Street Smart Leader.  But if you can disentangle the bonds of misery among your team, you will witness a remarkable proliferation in your A-Team’s accomplishments.  Business is easy – People are hard… Until you realize it is the people who take flight that change the world.

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 There are few evils which contend in destroying a Culture’s Soul more than Workplace Drama.  This wicked fiend slithers throughout an organization leaving a trail of overwhelmed, frustrated and resentful people.  Rapidly, processes break down, tasks cease to be completed, and everyone is exhausted.  The fun, the pop, the trust of a team is supplanted with a focus stealing chaos that consumes the team’s lifeblood.  Many managers living with Workplace Drama are easily confounded and can lose faith in their passion.  Their Vision becomes clouded and they begin to give up the cause.

Dealing with Workplace Drama is one of the least rewarding parts of being a Leader. It has the potential to suck the life out of you, and to eradicate your motivation.  Often it leaves mangers wondering: “Why did I choose this career?” “I just don’t get it. What is everyone’s problem? Why can’t they just do their work? It’s like dealing with children.”

Occasionally people need to blow off some steam.  They huddle around the water-cooler sounding off about a particular boss or co-worker.  Mostly it is momentary harmless banter.  The water-cooler tête-à-tête provides an outlet or release which can be healthy venting in measured doses.  But when the line is crossed and your team becomes stirred up, immobilized, upset, unhappy and otherwise dysfunctional, you have a calamity on your hands.    The culprits will begin to withhold information, manipulate situations, steal ideas, or act helpless so that others will come to their aid and give them extra help. Individuals are depicted as fools or villains and all of a sudden, everything is a big deal to the point of exhaustion. Everything is elevated to crisis proportions.  And your boss is looking at you and wondering why you can’t keep your team “under control”.

Workplace Drama must be eradicated immediately before its malignancy spreads.  Unimpeded, Workplace Drama will scathe productivity and foster a detrimental effect on accuracy and quality.  It will dissect a Team’s unity and become the focus of their work activities and priorities.  Those directly involved in the drama will take their “eye off of the ball” and induce costly mistakes.  This time waster, founded in bad behavior, prevents everyone from being great.  It reduces everything you are trying to build.  Unless you are prepared and equipped to contend with Workplace Drama, it will draw you into it as well and denigrate your standing as a Leader.  As usual everyone knows the score, and they are waiting.  Waiting to see what you are going to do about it.

Let’s start off by gaining a basic understanding of Workplace Drama.  Believe it or not the Drama is a predictable plot with predefined roles.  The moves of the “Game” are always the same.  In 1968 Stephen Karpman developed the Drama Triangle as a psychological and social model of human interaction in transactional analysis.  Karpman’s Triangle conjectures three habitual role-plays which drama seekers adopt:

● The Victim – The person who is treated or accepts the role of being vulnerable

Victim’s Moto – “I’m Blameless”             Victim’s Need – Love

● The Persecutor – The person who pressures, coerces, or persecutes the Victim

Persecutor’s Moto – “I’m Right”              Persecutor’s Need – Power

● The Rescuer – The person who intervenes; ostensibly wishing to help the situation or underdog

Rescuer’s Moto – “I’m Good”                   Rescuer’s Need – Acceptance

The Victim appears depressed, fearful, needy, having low self-esteem and looking for help or answers from others.  The Victim’s nemesis, the Persecutor, finger points, finds fault, has angry outbursts, a lack of compassion, clams perfection and judges others.    And the Rescuer demonstrates controlling tendencies, giving unwanted advice, over-extending, taking on other people’s problems while trying to be the hero.

Karpman explains a game of “con” and “hook” setting off a “switch” and finally the “payoff”.  The moves continue as the drama progresses.  In this Drama Triangle the players act out an unstable and emotionally competitive “mind game” which generates misery and discomfort for each other.  The covert purpose for each ‘player’ is to get their unspoken (and frequently unconscious) psychological wishes and needs met in a manner they feel justified, without having to acknowledge the broader dysfunction or harm done in the situation as a whole

Important in Karpman’s observations is the occurrence of the players frequently switching roles as the game progresses.  The drama plays out with the protagonist starting off in one of the three main roles: Rescuer, Persecutor, or Victim, with the other principal player (the antagonist) in one of the other roles. As the drama game progresses the two players move around the triangle switching roles, so that for example the victim turns on the rescuer, or the rescuer switches to persecuting.  Perhaps the victim goes on the offensive and begins to persecute the persecutor who then becomes the victim.  And it goes round and round.  That is, until you step up and do something about it.

So now that you realize this is a game with predetermined roles and routines, you can stop the insanity before it demolishes your team.  Your first move is a preemptive strike.  You need to firmly set the expectation in every team member’s mind that you will not tolerate “Drama”.  This should be one of your compulsory attributes for being on the A Team.  It should be discussed in Company Meetings, Team Meetings and Individual Counseling Sessions.  Make it crystal clear that you have a “No Tolerance” policy towards Workplace Drama.  Openly denounce gossip and backstabbing as inexcusable actions.  And let it be known the perpetrators, regardless of the drama role they choose, will be dealt with with severely.

Next identify your Drama Queens (or Kings).  These are those in your organization who reveal a penchant towards adopting one of the three drama roles.  In fact, they may even go further and want or need to play out the roles.  The drama queen may be a neurotic and self-centered perfectionist.  Often they are considered to be exceptionally talented, but this is not always the case.  A drama queen may be jealous or envious of others, which can make any personal failings even more painful and trigger irrational thoughts of revenge.  In a drama queen’s world, people can be either with her or against her; there are no stages in between.  The Drama Queen or King collects followers with similar proclivities and initially holds court to entertain while attempting to pull them into the game.

While a drama queen might find her forceful personality and manipulation skills useful in some situations, her inability to control her emotions and to form meaningful relationships creates a liability for you if left unchecked.  Watch your drama queens and kings for sign of instigation.  Understand the situations that will launch them into action and anticipate their play.  By thinking ahead of these divas, you will be able to control the outbreak when it happens.

In managing a drama situation, begin by ensuring you are not a participant in the drama.  Check yourself against the roles and objectively remove your emotions from game-play.  Karpman’s theory states that if you play one role, you eventually play them all. But here is the biggest eye opener of all. If you are in the midst of interpersonal challenges and you still can’t identify your part, then you are in the middle of the triangle, and that is called denial.  Know that you stand on firm ground as a Tough Leader, and you can act with integrity and authority.

Once the game is on, commence your counter attack by bringing the entire Team together.  They too, have been witness to what is going on and know far more than you about the situation.  In your meeting, treat the group as a whole.  Do not deal with the drama players specifically.  Re-establish your “No Drama” expectations and restate your no tolerance policy.  Show your dissatisfaction with the lack of teamwork in solving the current situation (without going into the details).  Reinforce to everyone that time and money is being wasted with destructive personal agendas.

Now pay attention. One of your drama players is going to try and put their issues on the table to justify them.  Your Victim is going to start off with, “Well, I just don’t think its fair when…” or your Persecutor is going to start with a direct attack or your Rescuer is going to try and make peace.  You know the game and you’re ready for it.  They are trying to drag you into it.  Now shut them down hard!  Firmly state that you are not going to get into the details of the situation.  Instead, the Team is going to reaffirm rules of behavior to go forward with.  Make clear the Team’s need for functionality is your priority and not an individual’s claim on righteousness.  Then lead the Team in developing “Rules of Engagement” for the Team.  Write them on the board for everyone to see.  Facilitate a healthy outcome by focusing on principles of respect and honesty.   Specifically discuss and agree as to how conflict situations will be handled going forward.  Starting now!  Usually they determine to first try and work out a problem directly between themselves and then elevate to management if this does not work.  You need to make sure the result is that they talk with the person they are having the problem with or they talk to you.  They are not allowed to talk to anyone else regarding their complaint.  Stress this rule!

You would think in our current world of tolerance, collaboration, and “can’t we all just get along” philosophy that this would be the end of it all and everyone would go back to work and progress.  Not even close.  In fact, I don’t ever remember one of these meetings working out.  So why did you go through all of that?  Because, remember, it is game and you are playing.  The meeting was you move to set up the final play.  Your winning play!  You didn’t take sides, you didn’t mediate, you didn’t get emotional, and most importantly you didn’t join the drama game.  All you did was establish proper standards for conduct.  After all, the issue at hand is distinct from the bad conduct of Workplace Drama.  Now sit back and watch for a few weeks.  One of your drama players will recidivate.

It is time for you to pounce into action.  Now you set up a meeting with the offender.  Get ready.  They will come armed to plead their case on the merits.  As they embark on their reasoning, let them know you are aware of the situation and you are handling it.  But this is not the purpose of the meeting.  You want to talk to them about their unacceptable conduct.  They are disregarding the company’s “No Drama” policy, they are breaking the Team “Rules of Engagement”, and they are a problem to you.  Acknowledge the difficulties they are having with the situation or the person, but reiterate the proper way to deal with those problems is not through divisive backroom games.

Look them straight in the eye.  Are you ready to win this game they want to play?  Tell them directly and honestly that they will lose their job if they do not put an end to the drama.  Let them know that if they continue to threaten the culture, productivity, and teamwork of your Team you are going to fire them.  Explain this is not a time sensitive issue and you expect their attitude and behavior to change starting tomorrow.  End your session by reinforcing their value to the organization and your hope that they will take your honest warning seriously.  Check Mate!  Whatever path they choose to take, you have eliminated them as a drama player.  And everyone else watched you fortify a key value of the company.

Workplace Drama can steal your company’s soul and dishearten your personal drive.  It damages everyone associated with it and renders poor performance results.  In the end it drives a stake through the culture and any ability to have fun.  A Street Smart Leader shuts down the drama game, sets the tone of personal accountability, respect, choice, and principled behavior in the organization and work culture.  He protects the value of trust which allows people to grow and excel.