managing relationships

Women and Leadership. Too nice? Too bossy?

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women_calculator_desk_1600_wht_7996Leaving aside the whole issue of women on FTSE100 boards and the Norwegian “Golden Skirts” have women finally cracked the glass ceiling?

Well according to Herminia Ibarra and her colleagues, writing in the September 2013 HBR, persistent gender bias disrupts the learning process of becoming a leader.

They are talking about what they call “second generation gender bias“. Not direct discrimination but things like the paucity of role models for women, career paths and jobs that have become entrenched with a gender bias, and women’s lack of access to sponsors and networks.

They also talk about the double binds facing women. In most cultures leadership is associated with masculinity. The ideal leader, like the ideal man, is decisive, assertive, and independent. Women, on the other hand, are expected to be nice, caretaking, and unselfish.

Research shows that female leaders who excel in traditional male domains are viewed as competent but less likeable than their male counterparts. Yet research shows that female CEOs are trusted more than male ones and can add real value to teams.

Behaviours that suggest self-confidence or assertiveness in men often appear arrogant or abrasive in women. Female leaders who adopt a feminine approach to their work may be liked but not respected. They are seen as too emotional to make tough decisions and too soft to be strong leaders.

Yet research carried out by Zenger and Folkman in 2011 on over 7,000 executives using 360 degree feedback, showed that women were rated higher than men at every managerial level. However the higher in the hierarchy you went the more men there were. So were companies promoting the right people?

They used 16 competencies in their research, which they had identified as being the most important in terms of overall leadership effectiveness.

These were:

  1. Takes initiative
  2. Practices self-development
  3. Drives for results
  4. Develops others
  5. Inspires and motivates others
  6. Builds relationships
  7. Collaboration
  8. Teamwork
  9. Establishes stretch goals
  10. Champions change
  11. Solves problems and analyses issues
  12. Communicates powerfully and prolifically
  13. Connects the group to the outside world
  14. Innovates
  15. Technical or professional expertise
  16. Develops strategic perspective

Comparing mean scores for men and women the women scored significantly (statistically) higher than the men on 12 of the 16 traits – and not just the ones that women are known to be better at. They scored the same as men on connecting to the outside world, innovating, and technical or professional expertise.

The only trait where men scored higher was on developing a strategic perspective.

So what’s to be done? Ibarra and her colleagues don’t suggest anything dramatically new or innovative.

Progressing to leadership positions means leaving behind your old professional identity and learning new skills (have a look at Charan’s pipeline model).

That can be scary so having supportive mechanisms in place such as providing leadership programmes, mentoring and coaching (and I find in my coaching that women are less defensive and often respond better than men), and providing a support group or a safe space – perhaps an action learning group – can make a real difference.

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Emotionally Intelligent Leadership

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Emotionally Intelligent LeadershipI first posted this in 2010 after coming across a great article on Emotional Intelligence by Dan Bobinski in Management Issues.

He maintained that 2/3 of the difference between average and top performers is due to EI and that in senior positions it accounts for 80% of the difference. Which seems a good reason for managers and leaders to work at developing or enhancing their EI levels.

And so he set out a 10 step plan to help them do just that, starting with the idea that we should stop thinking about good and bad personality and think of people as just being different. And that different isn’t the same as difficult, it’s just that people haven’t learnt how to deal with differences. 

Since Goleman popularised the term emotional intelligence 20 years ago it has become massive (When I googled the term in 2010 I  got almost 3 million hits. Today I got over 7 million). Interestingly when he first described EI it had 5 elements but once he became involved with HAY/McBer it evolved into the classic 4-box model much beloved by consultants. The 4 boxes can be generically described as Self Awareness; Self Control; Awareness of Others; and Managing Relationships.

Self-awareness is generally agreed to be the starting point in developing EI and also in developing leadership skills. In a report published by the Work Foundation in 2010, Penny Tankin said: “Outstanding leaders focus on people. Instead of seeing people as one of many priorities, they put the emphasis on people issues first“. And the Institute for Leadership & Management (ILM), which obviously has an interest in developing leaders, agrees with the report that developing leaders is possible but difficult.

The ILM’s then Chief Executive Penny de Valk said: ” A lot of it is about becoming more self-aware. You need to be much more conscious of the clues you use both verbally and in gestures. … a lot of coaching now teaches this kind of thing“. Tankin agrees and adds that psychometric profiling will give an insight into what people are like and any areas for improvement and that; “a lot of these things can be learned from feedback from others“.

As a coaching psychologist this is music to my ears as I regularly use psychometric tools such a the MBTI and Firo to help clients become more self-aware – followed up by 180 and/or 360 feedback.

At the time I was originally posted this, Gordon Brown was apparently demonstrating his lack of self-awareness, and empathy if it comes to that. You may remember that he called someone who disagreed with him a bigot (see Bobinski’s proposition that different can be seen as difficult to deal with), and then blamed everyone but himself for the outcome of his petulant outburst. PS GB later accepted the blame for what happened, presumably after discussing the matter with his PR advisors.

Surprising many people, Gordon Brown showed a more human side with his resignation speech even admitting that he had frailties. There is some aspect of his personality which stops that being part of his public persona – perhaps his need to be in control (which then allegedly unravels under stress). Good leaders know that occasionally it pays to selectively admit to weaknesses.

Originally posted in 2010 on SGANDA (this has been edited)

Smile! 

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Trying to influence or establish contact with people by smiling only works with sociable people, according to research at Stanford University (2002).

Their brains respond and react with positive emotions but smiling has no impact on negative people, introverts, or those more neurotic.

The more extraverted you are, the more you allow yourself to be infected by the other person’s smile.

People make judgements based on your appearance in 1/10 of a second or less, to know whether or not they like you or think you are trustworthy. But after a couple of seconds they are distracted by what you say or do anyway.

Research by UK psychologists for Comic Relief in 2003 found big variations in the way people responded to smiles. In Edinburgh only 4% responded but in Bristol 70% smiled back (Birmingham was 31%). NB Smiling responses probably depend on the setting and the context.

Women smile more than men but it is discounted more as it is expected. 30 years ago researchers thought it was because of status differences between men and women but it may be more about relieving anxiety. Generally men only smile to be sociable.

Smiling is good for you as it lowers your heart rate and improves you immune system eg happier people resist catching colds better than unhappy people.

Cultural differences need to be taken into account too eg in former Soviet Union countries the older generation tend not to smile at strangers, even in shops and customer service settings (Russia, Ukraine, Czech Republic, Lithuania).

There is also a cost to smiling when you are required to do it for your job. Emotional Labour, the so-called “have a nice day syndrome”, is the cost of appearing happy and reasonable no matter how you really feel. Having to fake it for your job eg in medical settings, teaching and call centres, can make you feel exhausted, detached from other people and your own feelings, and can eventually lead to job dissatisfaction. If you want to see how good you are at detecting fake smiles go to: http://www.bbc.co.uk/science/humanbody/mind/surveys/smiles/index.shtml

Regulating empathy in this way is taking management control a step further than requiring staff to behave in certain ways. “You can’t force people to smile, they have to be satisfied with their lives, their jobs and their performance” said the HR Manager at IKEA, Russia.

There are things organisations could do:

  • Recruit extroverts who are generally more optimistic and positive
  • Give people who aren’t, role models to emulate (introverts can learn how to behave in extrovert ways)
  • Help people to get into positive moods through visualisation or by remembering positive events
  • Give people satisfying jobs to do!

If you need an incentive to smile it also looks like people who smile may live longer. http://bps-research-digest.blogspot.com/2010/06/say-cheese-big-smilers-in-photos-are.html

It seems dimples are in fashion (influenced by Cheryl Cole) and a “dimpleplasty” operation – cutting a hole in your cheek and stitching it to your muscles – is now all the rage. The problem is that, unlike real dimples which disappear when you stop smiling, your grin is permanent and as Carol Midgley in the Times magazine says, it might be awkward having a permanent grin when your neighbour tells you the dog has just died.

First posted 2010

Stress now the norm in USA

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Americans are now so used to their worst fears coming true that they are actually feeling less stressed. The national “stress level” has dropped to 5.2 from 6.2 (on a scale of 1 to 10) since 2007.

According to the American Psychological Association people still worry about money, work and relationships but have got used to waking up at 0300 worrying.

This is the new normal according to the American Institute of Stress. All the fears expressed in 2007, when the property bubble burst, have since come true for many people so people are now discounting them. (This is similar in a way to people who are pessimistic and therefore more mentally prepared for bad news).

And now it seems there are generational differences in the way people react to and deal with stress. People under 32 were less stressed about money than their parents but people over 50 saw time running out for them to recover their nest eggs. Younger people say they are more stressed about sex and relationships whereas over-40s are more chilled out about those things.

It is generally recognised that stress is on the increase and that it affects men as well as women.

How do you make adults behave better at work?

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Make sure there are reminders of children there.

Researchers at the Centre for Ethics at Harvard have found that when people worked in the presence of children’s toys or reminders of children or if they engaged in children’s activities or if there was a creche on site they behaved more ethically and in more pro-social ways.

In laboratory experiments participants in a child-related environment cheated less at games, were more generous, and in word games chose more virtuous words than those in a normal setting.

In the real world they found that companies which had 5 or more day-care centres, nurseries or kindergartens within a 2 mile radius of their HQ gave significantly more to charities.

The researchers think that being in the vicinity of children or being reminded of children aged up to 9 years of age – and maybe their presumed innocence – makes people behave better.

They suggest using coloured fonts in e-mails or having children’s music in the lifts. Thinking about it you could have crayons instead of flip chart markers and encourage people to have family pictures of children in their cubicles. Perhaps more primary colours?

They are now interested to see if the same effect would apply to diversity and reducing discrimination. They also admit there is a dark side in marketing where they found children being used to market soda, in cigarette adverts, shaving products and fast food. Think Ronald McDonald!

Source: HBR September 2011

Charisma can be measured – and taught

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Researchers at MIT claim they can now measure charisma with 87% accuracy.

I’ve posted on charisma before; “Leadership, charisma and NVC” and earlier asking the question; “Have you got charisma?“.

But this research on social signals moves it a step forward.

Researchers Pentland and Olguin fitted executives at a party with recording devices that captured social signals eg tone of voice, gesticulation, and proximity to other people. 5 days later the same executives presented business plans to a panel of judges in a contest.

Without reading the plans or hearing the pitches Pentland accurately forecast the winners based on the data collected at the party.

The researchers have used this kind of data before in accurately predicting the outcome of salary negotiations and who would survive in the well-known NASA “plane crash role-playing” game.

They use the biological term, “honest signals“, to describe the non-verbal cues that social species use to coordinate themselves – gestures, expressions, tone etc. (language is perhaps 50,000 years old but long before that species communicated and worked together to survive using non-verbal signals).  The honest signals are the ones that cause changes in the receiver of the signal. So if you are happy it rubs off on other people.

They have confirmed that more successful people are more energetic, talk more, and listen more. They spend more face-to-face time with others (this is really important – perhaps 2.5 times as important to success as having additional data), pick up cues, and draw people out, Similar in many ways to the emotional intelligence models.

So it’s not just what they project but what they elicit which makes them charismatic.

They also believe that by using this knowledge they could decrease stress, increase job satisfaction and improve productivity (they believe that they could improve productivity by 10% just by re-arranging the work environment so that people can interact more).

Source: HBR January/February 2010

Updated 9 November 2011: Charismatic behaviours can also be taught. Research has shown that charismatic behaviours include use of body language (NVC), moral conviction and using metaphor.

Now a team at the University of Lausanne has taken 34 managers and given them a 360 feedback survey on their charisma and leader-like qualities.

The Four Agreements – shamanic emotional intelligence?

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Looking through my library of books on personal and organisational development I came across my copy of The 4 agreements: Practical guide to Personal Freedom (Toltec wisdom), and remembered when I first read it 10 years ago.

I had completed my NLP training and was interested in shamanic belief systems including Hawaiian Huna (now being used to assist soldiers with PTSD as part of a UK version of the wounded warrior programme).

Then I came across this book and I was so impressed with it I wrote my first review, and the first review for the book, on Amazon; ” … my initial reading confirmed that here was a powerful tool for anyone wanting a framework for personal change. Even before I’d finished reading it I used the four agreements as a model to contract with a group of new headteachers on a personal development workshop. The model was really well received and provided a robust underpinning for everything we did so successfully that weekend.” 50 other reviewers have since added to this with over 80% giving it a 5 star rating.

In The Four Agreements shamanic teacher and healer Don Michael Ruiz exposes self-limiting beliefs and presents a simple, yet effective code of personal conduct learned from his Toltec ancestors. The four agreements are these:

  1. Be impeccable with your word – Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid speaking against yourself or gossiping about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.
  2. Don’t take anything personally – Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be a victim.
  3. Don’t make assumptions – Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.
  4. Always do your best – Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse and regret.

Although he is drawing on Toltec esoteric tradition his ideas are recognisable in modern therapy or coaching. He talks about domestication (=socialisation) and belief systems, about self-limiting beliefs and self-criticism (the inner judge), and about being a victim.

He likens the belief system, judge, and victim to having a parasite sucking away your energy. He also uses modern analogies. For example he likens gossip mongers to computer hackers who install a virus in your head which makes the gossip contagious.

And the role of the shamanic warrior – and this is true throughout the American continent from Canada to Argentina (and probably in parts of Asia too) – is to fight all this. The decision to adopt the 4 agreements is a declaration of war to regain your freedom from the parasite. To be free to be yourself and express yourself.

But breaking old agreements is like breaking from an addiction that we have been domesticated to accept, possibly since childhood, so it is hard work. You can start by first facing all your fears one by one. Secondly, by stopping feeding the parasite and fuelling the emotions that come from fear through gaining control of our emotions. (There is a story I remember about a native American shaman who was asked to help someone who said he had two dogs on his shoulders. One was telling him good things and the other one bad things. The shaman simply asked him which one he was feeding.)

To become a warrior you must have awareness and self-control: and you will recognise these skills as competencies in the emotional intelligence model. Yet the Toltecs pre-dated the Aztecs  and were around at the time of the Norman conquest here in Britain. And there are earlier ideas too. Lao Tzu, the chinese contemporary of Confucius and who wrote the Tao said:

  • Knowing others is intelligence
  • Knowing yourself is true wisdom
  • Mastering others is strength
  • Mastering yourself is true power

It seems there are some universal truths about how humans can learn to be the best they can be which have been around for a very long time..


Social skills important but not the whole story

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More (real) school friends = more earning power (maybe) Did you know that the more friends a child has at school, the more they will probably earn later in life? A study by Essex University published last year shows that for each extra friend a pupil had at school, their salary 35 years later was 2% higher. The research adds to growing evidence that social skills – and not simply how well you did at school or university – are vital to success later on in life. Professor Steve Pudney, of the Institute … Read More

via Mike the Psych’s Blog with permission

How to be happier 

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Despite what England fans might feel right now football competitions can make you happy. But only in the short-term – and only if you are the host country. And even that doesn’t make you as happy as a good marriage.

Married people are happier than single people (of course it could be that happy people get married more easily).

And the 30% improvement in happiness due to being married even counteracts all the negative affects of unemployment but don’t get divorced (the two worst life events are losing a spouse and unemployment).

There are some differences between the sexes and between age groups. For example women look less happy but angrier than they are, whereas men look less angry and happier than they are. Probably because we have cultural expectations that women should be happier than men and men angrier than women and we notice when people display behaviour counter to that norm.

Older people focus more on positive aspects of goods and services because they focus more on emotional goals than young adults.(See “What makes you Happy”). Optimism is associated with happiness, good physical and mental health and longevity. Conversely when we are stressed it lowers our immune system so we are more likely to become ill. Middle aged people who are happy have fewer physical symptoms of diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.

Extraverts are happier than Introverts because they spend more time doing enjoyable things. But introverts who are asked to behave as extroverts can be even happier than real extroverts. And we are attracted to happy people because we think we will give good genes to our children.

Happiness IS NOT associated with: wealth (once basic needs are met), education, high IQ, youth (20-24 year olds are more depressed than 65-74 year olds) and watching TV more than 3 hours a day – especially watching soaps.

But it IS associated with: religion (although it may be the community rather than the belief), having lots of friends, and drinking in moderation (compared to teetotallers).

We are not evolved to be happy all the time otherwise we would have nothing to strive for. However 50% of happiness may be due to our genes compared to les than 10% due to our circumstances. We may have a set point or range of happiness to which we return after experiencing ups and downs. So like the football example, winning the lottery may not make us happy forever.

According to Martin Seligman – the inspiration for positive psychology – we can raise our happiness levels by enjoying life’s experiences more eg by savouring sensual experiences, by becoming more engaged with life and by finding ways of making our lives more meaningful.

Sonja Lyubomirsky, author of “The How of Happiness: a practical guide to getting the life you want“, suggests the following programme to raise your levels of happiness:

  • Count your blessings – keep a gratitude journal each week of 3-5 things
  • Practise being kind – both randomly and systematically
  • Savour life’s joys
  • Thank a mentor
  • Learn to forgive
  • Invest time and energy in friends and family – these are more important than work to your happiness.
  • Take care of your body and health
  • Develop strategies for coping with stress and hardship – having a strong belief system helps.

Updated 2 July 2010: Catherine Bennett in the weekend’s Observer (27 June 2010) took a rather cynical view in her piece; “Phew. At last we can ignore the gurus peddling happiness“. Clearly not impressed by the wave of optimism being generated at a time of world-wide problems and austerity at home. She refers to the Movement for Happiness and its founder Lord Layard who said; “… as our society has become richer, our happiness has not risen in step. Despite ever greater affluence, our lives are increasingly stressful. This paradox requires a radical rethink of our lifestyles and our goals”.

Conceding that the strategies proposed by happiness enthusiasts are neither complicated or expensive she also quotes the GREAT approach (advocated by the New Economics Foundation). GREAT stands for: Giving, Relating to others, Exercising the body, Attending to the world around, and Teaching yourself something fresh – but she wonders what good they are to people who have just lost their jobs or never had one.

Well I know that exercise is the best form of anti-depressant, relating to others might help develop networks and reduce self-obsessing, and keeping up-to-date and learning a new skill is a good way to get a new job. Maybe we should just ignore the journalists peddling negativity?


What makes you happy?

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What makes you happy? Just how happy are you with your lot? There is good scientific evidence that if you want to spend money to be happy spend it on experiences not goods. Go out for a meal, to the theatre. learn pole-dancing, take a holiday. Then share it by telling other people about it. And longer term it really is better to give than receive. And if you don’t have the money then carrying out 5 non-financial acts of kindness in a single day (not spread out over ti … Read More

via Mike the Psych’s Blog with permission

So many “friends” yet still lonely?

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So many “friends” yet still lonely?Many people are re-examining their relationship with the social networking site Facebook – the site that keeps on sharing. Or over-sharing according to Time Magazine this month (“Facebook – friends without borders”). Some time this month Facebook will officially log its 500 millionth active citizen – a bigger population than the USA. Not bad for an idea, dreamt up just over 6 years ago by Harvard unde … Read More

via Mike the Psych’s Blog with permission

What doesn’t kill you, makes you?

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Could a little adversity help you to become better adjusted as an adult?

Studies at the University of California have shown that when children respond to hostility or bullying, whether face-to-face or on-line, in kind they are liked more and earn more respect from their classmates and teachers according to a report in The Times.

Whilst not pleasant experiences the children remembered them more vividly than friendly events. Trying to placate your enemy doesn’t seem to pay whereas giving as good as you got earned higher ratings for maturity and social competence.

No-one is saying it is a good thing to have a lot of people hostile to you, and children no-one disliked were the best adjusted, but the research suggests that rather than ignoring bullies or people who dislike you, or trying to placate them, or even being completely unaware of them, it is better to confront them.

Similar results have been found by researchers at Strathclyde University. Children who are good at standing up to bullies, whether for themselves or others, are better at resolving problems without conflict, are more emotionally literate, and better at taking other people’s perspective. In other words they display the emotional intelligence skills of self-awareness, self-control, empathy, and managing relationships.