Category Archives: Career Advice

The Three Gifts of Bad Leadership

“All I want for Christmas is a new job!” my friend exclaimed as I sat down next to her at the coffee shop. She had called me 30 minutes ago, asking to see me before she had a complete mental breakdown.

“What has your boss done this time?” I asked.

“She yelled at me again in a staff meeting! I asked about her priorities for the next fiscal year, and she bit my head off! I just wanted to know what we are doing in the next few months. For the last year, we just seem to be drifting around. It’s so frustrating!”

“How did the rest of the team react?” I asked before taking a drink of coffee. I knew the answer before she began to talk.

“They just sat there trying not to look at me. Just blank expressions on their faces.” She slumped in her seat. “What’s wrong with her?”

“She’s giving you the three gifts of bad leadership,” I said. “Just in time for the holiday season.”

“What does that mean?”

“All bad leaders give out the same three gifts. When you receive all three gifts, you know it’s time to leave. Or, unless the leader takes the gifts back.”

I took another drink and continued. “The first gift is distrust. Distrust is a gift bag full of glass shards. If trust is the lifeblood of an organization, the distrust gift gives you a thousand cuts that slowly bleeds the trust out of teams and organizations.”

“No one trusts anyone in my office! My boss and teammates throw me under the bus so much, they’ve installed a bus stop in my office!” She laughed at her own joke. “What’s the next gift?” asked my friend.

“Psychological danger. You’ve heard about psychological safety, which is closely related to trust. If you have a psychologically safe office, people are willing to try new things and develop while knowing that your team and your boss have your back.”

“That’s not my office,” my friend sighed. “My boss even has a coffee cup that says, ‘Failure is not an option.’ Oh, she says she loves innovation. But, at the first mistake, she will shut you down!”

I shook my head. “Hence the second gift of psychological danger. Psychological danger is a closed gift bag that shakes and growls at you as you come closer to it. People are in constant fear of attack from that gift.”

I then pulled out an envelope from my backpack and wrote on the front before sealing it and handing it to my friend.

“It says Vision.’ What’s this about?” she asked.

“Open it.”

“There’s nothing in here.”

“Exactly! A lack of vision is the third gift. Despite all of the training and advice given to new leaders, bad leaders consistently ignore the necessity of having a vision. Or their vision is just a bunch of clichés that sound profound.”

“Like, ‘failure is not an option,’” offered my friend.

“Right! A good vision is inspirational and paints a picture of the future of the organization. People know where they are going and how to get there. When your boss reacted so violently to your question about her vision, she was giving you the third gift because she has no vision to give you. You said the emperor has no clothes. And, in a climate of distrust and psychological danger, she didn’t want to appear naked in front of her team.”

My friend sat up straight in her chair. “What should I do?”

“Usually, I suggest seeing what you can do to send the gifts back. Maybe have a frank talk with your boss if you think she can grow. But, given that this has been a while and it appears that your boss isn’t going to improve, I suggest getting out before the three gifts damage you.”

“OK! I will start my job search today. But, how do I avoid winding up with another boss who gives out the same three gifts?’

The Google has numerous articles on spotting bad bosses during interviews,” I said. “When they ask you if you have any questions during the interview, ask what their vision is for the organization. If they don’t have a clear vision that can be easily communicated, I would have serious concerns about taking a job there. That’s my first sign that the other gifts of bad leadership may soon follow.”

“Thank you! This has been great!” She smiled. “How did you discover these three gifts?”

“Observing bad leaders in action. Bad leaders act in a variety of ways. Still, they always seem to have the same effects on their people and organizations. Just remember that if you move into a leadership position, don’t re-gift these three gifts to your people.”

Learning from Success So That You Keep On Succeeding

It was in my second year of being a Presidential Management Intern when I was feeling somewhat cocky after a string of successful projects. So, when I met with my boss for our weekly status meeting, I was casually leaning back in my chair, just radiating gloat. That is when he leaned forward and said, “you are only as good as your last project. What have you done for me lately?”

It was that advice that has guided me ever since. It is effortless in the euphoria surrounding the triumph of solving a difficult problem or pulling off the near-impossible project to not spend the time questioning just why you succeeded. To do so seems to diminish the success and even doubting that you did succeed. An objective review of how you succeeded will help you in continuing to achieve.

When we succeed, we can become victims of three biases, according to Gino and Pisano (April 2011). There is the attribution bias in which we overestimate how our knowledge and actions contributed to the success. We downplay any external factors that could have just made us more fortunate. The second bias is when we become overconfident in our abilities as we tackle the next challenge. The third bias (and which I believe is most important) is that we don’t ask why we succeeded because the success is proof enough.

Gino and Pisano (April 2011) recount a study in which students were given a set of math problems to complete. When the students submitted their answers, they were only told if they had the answer right or wrong. The students were given time to reflect before they were given a second set of math problems. The second set was designed so a critical concept in the first set of problems was needed to solve the second set. The students who successfully solved the first set of problems generally spent much less time reflecting before they started on the second set of problems. Thus, many of these students failed to find the answer to the second set of problems. Reflection, whether the student succeeded or not, is the key to continuing to succeed.

Sign that says people fail forward to success.

So, how do we best learn from success? We should celebrate success but also examine the causes of success. For every project, we should hold a systematic review. Gino and Pisano (April 2011) give the example of Pixar’s review process. Even though Pixar has had eleven hit animated films in a row, the company still goes through an exhaustive review process. The purpose of the review process is to determine what made the film successful and how to repeat that success.

Another point to remember is to investigate the feedback thoroughly. Was it immediate or at least can be connected to the actions taken? Is the feedback an accurate indicator of success or just a random event that looks like a successful outcome? Feedback is an important concept, and I explore it in greater detail in this discussion posting.

Two final points. First, “[r]ecognize that replication is not learning” (Gino and Pisano, April 2011). Blindly following the same formula again and again can suddenly turn against us as the nature of the problem changes, and what worked before doesn’t work now. And, second, we should always experiment. We can continually improve how we do something. Plus, we can create variations on our actions that may not apply to the current situation but can apply to a challenge.

Failure is a great teacher, but so is a success. Learning from our successes will keep us from becoming “one-hit wonders” and give us the string of successful “hits” to be “rock stars.”

Reference:

Pino, F., & Pisano, G.P. (April 2011). Why leaders don’t learn from success. Harvard Business Review. 68-74.

The OODA Loop and Developing Your Career

I am making good progress on my latest book. In an earlier blog post, I described my book as a career development guide for the new age of artificial intelligence and cognitive automation. As old jobs fall away, new jobs that can’t be imagined today will be well-established in the later years of the 2020s.

The major challenge for the job hunter is finding these new jobs. My career book is the first to use the OODA Loop in career development. The OODA (Observe – Orient – Decide – Act) Loop was developed by a brilliant, maverick U.S. fighter pilot. Colonel John Boyd’s work has been adopted by the U.S. Army and was used successfully in the first Iraqi War.

OODA Loop Diagram

The OODA Loop concept has been adopted in strategic business management and even political campaigning. The OODA Loop looks simple, but it has an underlying sophistication that makes it powerful.

In the first part, Observe, a person (or entity) takes stock of the immediate environment and stimulus. After observing the environment and stimulus, the person then orients their self so they can decide (third step) and take action (fourth step). An OODA Loop can be completed in seconds or take months, depending on the situation.

In my forthcoming book, I use the OODA Loop to help the job seeker understand the rapidly-evolving career environment and determine how to orient their self to take advantage of emerging opportunities. Effectively performing the first two steps will help the job seeker make good decisions and take powerful actions to thrive in the new world of work.

What to Do When Your Boss is Jealous of You

When I met my friend for lunch, I could tell she was upset. She had started a new job over a year ago, and everything was going well. Many happy emails about her great work projects and the way her boss kept praising her work. Recently, the emails stopped. Then, a short email asking if I could meet for lunch.

I told her my job was going well and about the exciting projects I was working. She sighed and said that she had worked on some great projects but, was suddenly taken off all the projects. She was now relegated to tedious administrative tasks while her boss continually criticized her about her performance. Her boss used to love my friend’s work but, for the last six months, my friend couldn’t seem to do anything right.

I think I knew what was going on, but, I wanted to check further. So, I asked my friend if:

1. She suddenly had limited access to her boss.

2. Her boss stopped praising her in front of co-workers.

3. Her boss doesn’t respect her opinion anymore.

4. Any communications to higher-ups needed to go through her boss.

5. She was told by her boss not to speak at public events or people in other departments.

6. Her boss no longer talks about developing her.

7. Other managers seem to shun her.

My friend was amazed at how I knew all this was happening. I couldn’t claim credit because I had read about these signs from a 2017 Forbes article by Liz Ryan. Ms. Ryan wrote about how some bosses can become “spooked by a too-competent or too-confident subordinate for almost any reason — and once that happens, they will try to make your life miserable!”

Laptop screen showing "Do More."

Ms. Ryan explains that it takes little for a boss to become jealous of a successful subordinate. Just one successful presentation to senior management or success with a highly visible project is enough to scare your immediate supervisor.

“What do I do?” asked my friend.

Unfortunately, Ms. Ryan advises a stealth job search. Once your boss sees you as a threat, it will be impossible to convince him or her you are not. Staying will only damage your morale and your reputation for excellence.

While you are job searching, make sure that you are doing your best at even the most menial tasks assigned to you. Also, try to find objective evaluations of your work, such as customer reviews and sympathetic co-workers that you trust. Another way of keeping your morale up is to be active in professional associations and volunteer work. What you are trying to do is minimize any impact your boss’s opinion will have on you and any future employers.

“So, what do I say when they asked me why I left my previous job?”

Tell the truth; you wanted opportunities to develop yourself. Emphasize the accomplishments from your previous job and how these accomplishments encouraged to you grow your skills and abilities. Talk about how you used your work with the professional organization and volunteer groups to prepare you for your next move.

Above all: do not criticize your former boss. True that your former boss mistreated you by being jealous, but that is his or her problem and not yours. If you want to think about this way, your old boss was paying you a compliment by being jealous. A strange compliment but, think positive.

As I told my friend, it is not fair that being good at your job can lead to jealousy by your boss. However, this may be a lucky break for you because you will most likely find a better job. And a better boss who appreciates you and your talents.