Friday, February 19, 2016

leadership as a stochastic art

In light of a busy day (and having been sick last week), I thought I would dig out a past blog written in April of 2010...enjoy!

This weekend I finished an awesome book entitled Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work by Matthew Crawford. Crawford has his PhD in Political Philosophy from the University of Chicago - and presently owns and runs a motorcycle repair shop in Richmond, VA. Without going too deeply into his ideology of the work ethic, suffice it to say that I have a whole new respect for the plumber and carpenter who come to my home to repair that which I cannot - or chose not to. To "rank" certain vocations, or to give them names such as blue collar and white collar, does injustice to everyone and creates a society that is often less than fully functional.

That being said (and I do encourge you to read the book), Crawford speaks about the stochastic arts, referring to Aristotle who wrote, "it does not belong to medicine to produce health, but only to promote it as much as possible..." The doctor (or mechanic, in Crawford's world) deals with failure every day becasue they are only FIXING, never building or creating. They fix things not of their own making. Crawford writes, "Because the stochastic arts diagnose and fix thing that are variable, complex, and not of our own making, and therefore not fully knowable, they require a certain disposition toward the thing you are trying to fix. This disposition is at once cognitve and moral. Getting it right demands that you be attentive in the way of a conversation rather than assertive in the way of a demonstration" (p. 82).

Consider leadership as a stochastic art. Leaders lead people, none of whom they have created. Leaders lead organizations, few of which they have created. Leaders influence people, all of whom have their own worldview and understanding of how life should function. Leaders work to make change happen, all the while wondering how others will respond to that change. Leaders see a different future for their organization, a future which can only be achieved through changes in people, all of whom the leader has not created or made. People and organizations are, in Crawford's words, variable and complex...they are not fully knowable...they react on their own...they react differently in different situations...leaders cannot produce change, they can only promote it.

So consider what it means for a leader to be "attentive in the way of a conversation rather than assertive in the way of a demonstration." Skills needed to do this include listening, asking good questions, collaborating, inviting different voices to the table, observing, believing one might be wrong from time to time, letting others take the lead, being transparent, being optimistic, showing empathy, and working to develop others. As you watch other leaders (and yourself) over these next few days, see how many times these people engage in demonstration rather than conversation. When you observe one or the other, ask yourself why that happened that way - and what you can do to promote a change of behavior in that other person...or in the organization...or in yourself. If you catch yourself demonstrating rather than conversing, stop and apologize to the other person, and see if you can exhibit behavior which is more conversational than demonstrative. 

Friday, February 5, 2016

are you happy?

Are you happy?  Seems like such a simple question, yet when asked whether or not one is happy, my guess is that people may find a hard time responding quickly.  What is it that constitutes being happy?  Should someone expect to be happy?  Does that mean more than feeling happy at the moment?  And just precisely how happy should someone be in order to declare that they are, in fact, happy?

In a recent conversation with a friend, he told me about some of his employees that were unhappy and had no problem expressing that unhappiness to him on a regular basis.  As we talked about this, it struck us that if someone is truly unhappy in their job, and expresses that unhappiness frequently over time, they should think about leaving or retiring.  Not only does that unhappiness affect them, it affects those around them and often will show up in their job performance.  This type of unhappiness goes deeper than feeling disgruntled about a decision or two...this is unhappiness that pervades one's outlook on the organization and seems to be a part of their thought patterns and discussions over a period of time.

So what can leaders and managers do to identify unhappiness...and what can be done for those who truly are unhappy?  Here are a few thoughts:

  • listen for comments that tend to be negative over an extended period of time.  Organizations need people who question decisions made from time to time...organizations do not need people who are consistently critical of most decisions made.
  • question your assumptions about someones seemingly unhappiness.  Perhaps you are just catching them on a bad day or two, or you have just have been in the line of their fire recently.  Ask them what they mean and to clarify their understanding of the situation. 
  • sometimes unhappiness comes from situations outside of the workplace.  Offer to listen, provide resources through the employee assistance program, and give them time to get through the external situation.
  • ask the person if they are happy or not.  They will probably be taken back by the question, so give them time to figure out their may even want to give them to the next day to come back with an answer.  Just be sure to follow up.
  • ask their co-workers whether or not they believe this individual is unhappy.  If several people observe this pattern of behavior, perhaps others can intervene and ask what is going on.
  • engage this person in a job performance review.  Often unhappiness comes from uncertainty, and a good performance review can reduce that stress.  Be sure to include their outward unhappiness as a part of that review.
  • do not be afraid to confront the situation.  Unhappiness breeds more unhappiness, and the work of the organization begins to suffer.  Be very clear what it is that you are observing, the changes you expect to happen, and the consequences if changes do not occur.
  • do not let people wear their unhappiness as  badge of honor.  Often the unhappy person sees the role of curmudgeon as their right and responsibility to the organization.  Last time I looked, there was no job description on the organizational chart that has an official place for crabby and unhappy people.
  • do all you can to help them change their disposition.  The organization needs people who are happy and satisfied in their work...your role as leaders and manager is to help that become a reality for all employees.
Finally, if one chooses to remain unhappy, it is up to the leaders and manager to help that person move on to other roles in other organizations.  No one can make someone else happy, so if someone chooses to remain in this state, they need to leave the organization and find a place where they can either a) be happy in their calling or b) share their unhappiness with another organization (and preferably a competitor).