Harvard Business Press has just published the HBR Guide to Coaching Your Employees, and I'm proud to be one of the co-authors. My contributions include the book's introduction, Coaching Is Leading, as well as Giving Feedback that Sticks and Help People Help Themselves, on self-coaching (a topic I'll discuss at greater length in my forthcoming book.)
While I'm clearly not an objective reviewer, over the years I've found HBR's compilations to be tremendously valuable resources, and I believe this Guide lives up to that standard. HBR organized an talented lineup of contributors, and I feel honored to be among them. If you need proof, here's the Table of Contents:
HBR Guide to Coaching Your Employees
Introduction: Coaching is Leading by Ed Batista
Section 1: How to Coach Your Employees
1. Cultivate the Mind-Set and Skills to Coach Effectively by Candice Frankovelgia
2. Using Brain Science to Get the Best from Your People by Edward M. Hallowell, MD
3. You Need a Coaching Plan
4. Giving Feedback That Sticks by Ed Batista
5. Tailor Your Coaching to People’s Learning Styles by David A. Kolb and Kay Peterson
6. How to Coach People in 15 Minutes a Day by Daisy Wademan Dowling
7. Deep Smarts by Dorothy Leonard and Walter Swap
8. Help People Help Themselves by Ed Batista
Section 2: How to Customize Your Coaching
9. The Young and the Clueless by Kerry A. Bunker, Kathy E. Kram, and Sharon Ting
10. Saving Your Rookie Managers from Themselves by Carol A. Walker
11. Coaching Your Stars, Steadies, and Strugglers by Jim Grinnell
Thanks to Tim Sullivan for asking me to get involved and to Lisa Burrell for her tremendous insights and patience as an editor. And thanks to my students and colleagues at Stanford and my clients in private practice--everything I've learned about coaching derives from my work with them, and I'm continually grateful for the opportunity to have worked alongside them.
A Stanford MBA I know who's managing at a large tech company wants to encourage her team to give and receive feedback more effectively, and she asked for my advice.
Leaders need to bear in mind four principles when it comes to promoting feedback (and better communication in general):
We all need to feel a sense of safety, trust and intimacy before we're ready to give and receive truly candid feedback. As leaders we need to foster the development of these qualities at every step of the way in the process of promoting fuller communication. Note that this does not mean avoiding confrontation or only offering support and comfort. It does mean being highly attuned to people's readiness for a challenge and their emotional state in a given interaction. Only keen attention and deep empathy will allow us to know when sufficient safety exists, and then we can take some risks to support learning and growth.
We often think that "better feedback" really means "honest criticism," but that's just half the story. The other half is providing truly meaningful positive feedback, which is all too often absent in most organizations. You can't have one without the other, but so many obstacles prevent us from offering and accepting positive feedback. We worry it will sound insincere. We worry it is insincere. We worry it will will make us look like suckups. We worry it will make us seem weak. And since we don't do it very often, we're not very good at it. But as psychologist John Gottman has noted in his study of long-term relationships, in the most successful ones the ratio of positive to negative interactions is 5:1. So we need to start practicing.
Trainings and workshops can create space for people to be open to new ideas and experiment with new ways of communicating, but the next day everyone goes back to the real world. You have to integrate the behaviors you want into your team's daily routines in order to normalize those behaviors within the organization's culture. If "feedback" is something out-of-the-ordinary that only happens at unusual times (such as a performance review, or when something's gone wrong), it'll never really be an organic part of the organizational culture. It has to show up in everyday life--on a walk down the hallway, at the end of a meeting, over a cup of coffee.
4. Personal Accountability
As leaders who want to promote a feedback-rich culture, we have to walk the talk every day. Our teams will take their cues from us as to what's acceptable, and if we don't take some risks in this area, they never will. Why should they? This doesn't mean we're going to get it right all the time--if we're taking some meaningful risks, then by definition we'll make some mistakes. The key is to fail forward and view those mistakes as essential learning opportunities. Let those around us know that we trying to get better at this, too, and ask for their input on how we're doing.
More resources on feedback and communication:
Photo by Ana Karenina. Yay Flickr and Creative Commons.
You're interested in working with an executive coach--but how do you find one? And once you've identified some options, how do you choose the coach who's right for you? I had to answer these questions just once: In 2001 a mentor on my board advised me to get a coach, and I turned immediately to one of my best professors from business school, Mary Ann Huckabay, who maintained a coaching practice in addition to teaching (and who's still my coach today).
But I'm well aware that most people don't have someone like Mary Ann in their lives, and I talk regularly with prospective clients who've never worked with a coach before and don't know how to determine whether I'll be a good fit for their needs. So with some inspiration from a tweet, here's a simple set of guidelines:
Step One: How to FIND a Coach
This is actually the easy part: Ask people you trust and respect if they've worked with a coach. If they have--and they had a good experience--they'll be eager to refer you. The amount of time you'll need to dedicate to this step will depend on your industry, your role and your location. (So if you're a tech CEO in San Francisco, this should take about 10 minutes.)
If you're getting referrals from trusted members of your network who've worked directly with that coach, you don't need a large number of options--3 is sufficient. If you're getting referrals from friends of friends or from people who haven't worked directly with that coach, get a few more.
The key here is simply taking the initiative to ask. While coaching is an increasingly common experience, it will always be a very personal one. In most places coaching has come to be seen as a perk for high-potentials or an investment in one's own development, rather than as a corrective measure for underperformance, so few people have a sense of shame or embarrassment about seeing a coach. But coaching still involves intimate conversations about meaningful topics, and while we're happy to discuss these experiences with trusted friends and colleagues, we don't typically bring them up unless we're asked.
Step Two: How to CHOOSE a Coach
This is the harder part--but it's still not that difficult. If you have a large number of referrals, you may want to do some pre-screening, but I'd avoid ruling coaches out purely on the basis of factors such as industry background or certification. A good coach doesn't need to know much--if anything--about your field or your organization to do a great job. And the very best and most experienced coaches I know aren't certified--coaching training and certification programs offer many benefits, but their function is not to screen out unqualified coaches.
Once you have a manageable number, contact each coach directly. Most coaches will be willing to talk with you to determine whether it's a mutual fit before committing to a formal engagement. I wouldn't expect to meet in person--in my own experience, it's simply too time-consuming to sit down with prospective clients. But I would expect to have a 30- to 60-minute phone call during which you and the coach can essentially interview each other in order to understand your goals for coaching and their approach to the process.
Ultimately the most important factor in choosing a coach will be your subjective judgment. The most impeccable credentials and decades of experience are meaningless if a coach doesn't feel right to you. And a lack of credentials or minimal experience are similarly meaningless if someone does feel right.
Below are ten sets of questions related to different aspects of coaching that you might find useful when talking to potential coaches. Some of these questions should be posed to the coach directly during your conversation, while others are intended for your personal reflection afterwards. I wouldn't use it as a checklist and try to address each and every question during the call, but rather as a pre-conversation guide to help you determine the factors that are most important to you.
If you've read this far, you might also be interested in my other posts on coaching, particularly Coaching and the Cult of Done, Dan Oestreich Interviews Me, Coaching Is A Journey or In Defense of Normal (A Coaching Manifesto), as well as my post on Harvard Business Review's report on executive coaching.
Getting a coach was one of the best things I've ever done, and I hope you have a similarly rewarding experience. Good luck in your search!
Photo by Vincent Lock. Yay Flickr and Creative Commons.
The Inside-Out Effect: A Practical Guide to Transformational Leadership, by Behnam Tabrizi and Michael Terrell, was published earlier this year, and I was particularly eager to read it because (full disclosure) Michael and I have worked together at Stanford, and I consider him a good friend.
The Inside-Out Effect offers a set of tools and techniques that support personal growth and development, with a focus on professional fulfillment and effectiveness. Woven throughout are first-person perspectives from Michael and Behnam on their own journeys that give the book a warm, conversational feel.
Michael and Behnam call their organizing principle Know-Be-Lead: First, know yourself more fully and at a deeper level. Then be that fuller self by setting goals and taking steps to effect change where needed. Finally, lead others authentically by helping them to know and be their fuller selves in turn. The book introduces tools and techniques to support each phase of the process, often discussing the behavioral research or psychological principles that explain why they work.
Starting with Know, Michael and Behnam note that "The first step toward greater self-awareness is clarifying who you are not," [p 38], and they discuss the concept of "identity pitfalls": We can deceive ourselves into thinking that our stories about ourselves, our appearances, our thoughts and emotions constitute our identities, when they're merely fleeting or superficial aspects. Michael and Behnam cite Eckhart Tolle's concept of the ego as an "illusory sense of identity," and while I'm ambivalent about Tolle as a contemporary spiritual figure, I fully agree that we can take the most trivial parts of our selves and treat them as if they were the most important--a theme echoed by writers from Seneca to David Foster Wallace.
Having begun the process of understanding who we're not, Michael and Behnam move on to exploring who we are. They recommend a range of tools, from personality diagnostics to journaling and meditation, aimed at helping us find the sweet spot that exists at the intersection of our strengths, our sources of meaning, and our sources of joy. Then they walk through the process of defining our values and pulling all this data together into a Calling-Vision Statement, "a guide for the actions you take...a map for how you will show up in every one of your interactions." [p 101]
One cautionary note on personality diagnostics: While Michael and Behnam write thoughtfully about their personal experiences with the MBTI and the Enneagram, and there are coaches I respect who use these tools extensively, they're subject to misinterpretation and misuse. Tools like this can serve as helpful starting points in seeking to understand ourselves, but I believe we need to assess their results with care and healthy skepticism.
The Be section of the book focuses on identifying goals and effecting change, ranging from small steps that will allow us to feel more fulfilled in our current lives to large-scale, fundamental transformations. Michael and Behnam recognize that while goals can be powerful motivators, they can also generate anxiety. While small changes may feel within our capabilities, we may doubt whether they'll make a meaningful difference. And while we may feel the need to make big changes in our lives, we may also worry that it's too late to do so--or that the financial impact of such changes will be unacceptable. Michael and Behnam discuss research from a number of sources that provides a helpful context within which we can wrestle with these concerns and reach our own conclusions.
In their chapter on change, Michael and Behnam focus on the importance of emotion and ritual, referencing Jonathan Haidt's "Elephant and Rider" metaphor to describe our emotional and rational dimensions. Sustainable change occurs when we both 1) provide the "rider"--our rational, analytical consciousness--with a clear "map" in the form of accurate data about ourselves and specific, written goals, and 2) spur the "elephant"--our emotions--in the right direction through a motivating vision, peer support, and tools such as visualization, energy management and action triggers.
The book's concluding Lead section addresses the importance of authenticity and emotional intelligence in leading others, and a final chapter emphasizes the importance of mindset, celebrating milestones and victories and the ongoing process of self-renewal.
While I recommend The Inside-Out Effect, I do think it could be stronger in a few areas. There are passages where Michael and Behnam quickly touch on a topic that warrants further exploration. For example, in their chapter on change, they note the importance of self-compassion when we fail to accomplish our goals, and in their chapter on leadership they mention the value of standing up for one's beliefs even when it's difficult. These are complex dilemmas that come up frequently in my work with clients and students--and in my own life--and there are no simple solutions. I certainly don't expect Michael and Behnam to provide ready-made answers, but a deeper discussion of these challenges would be helpful.
Michael and Behman are scrupulous about citing their references, and I appreciate their generous acknowledgment of the work of others who've influenced their thinking. That said, there are a few works that appear frequently in the text or the footnotes, such as Chip and Dan Heath's Switch and Steve Jobs' 2005 Commencement address at Stanford, and while those works are clearly top-shelf influences, seeing them crop up multiple times felt somewhat repetitive.
These issues aside, The Inside-Out Effect is a great resource for anyone looking for a straightforward, actionable set of tools to make change easier, ranging from modest behavioral goals to a large-scale professional transition. While I've been transparent about my friendship with Michael in this review, I've also been candid with my criticism, so I feel completely objective in encouraging you to buy the book (or get the app!)
One of my favorite sources of inspiration is Oblique Strategies, first created by Peter Schmidt and Brian Eno in 1975. It's a set of 103 cards, each bearing a short, cryptic instruction or question, such as "Use 'unqualified' people" or "Go outside. Shut the door" or "Is it finished?"
There are an endless number of ways to use Oblique Strategies, the most obvious being to simply draw a card and see what it inspires you to do. I like using it with groups as a way to introduce some randomness into the experience. Here's a simple game for a group discussion:
1) Deal three cards to each person.
2) Everyone reviews their cards and then keeps one card for themselves, passes one card to the person on their left, and discards the remaining card.
3) Everyone now has two cards, one they chose for themselves and one chosen for them.
4) What do these cards make us think about? Talk to the group about one (or both) of them. (The provocative content of the cards and the framing of a "game" gives people permission to go places they might not otherwise.)
I have the 5th edition of the cards, "slightly revised" in 2001, which you can buy directly from Brian Eno for £30 ($45.33 at today's exchange rate). You can also sometimes find used 5th edition decks on Amazon for a reasonable price, but older editions are insanely expensive collector's items.
There are also Oblique Strategies apps, and while I don't find them as useful as the physical cards, they're certainly more convenient to lug around. A free iOS app is currently available, but I'm told that it always shows the cards in the same order, which defeats the purpose.
Another free iOS app, "Oblique Cards," that shows the cards in random order was developed by Viktor Kelemen, but Apple tells me it's no longer available in the U.S. Too bad.
Photo of Peter Schmidt and Brian Eno © Ritva Saarikko.
Self-coaching is the process of guiding our growth and development, particularly through periods of transition, in both the professional and personal realms. (As an executive coach, I focus on helping clients address issues related to professional fulfillment and effectiveness, but the dynamic interplay of our professional and personal lives means that each sphere affects the other, and we can’t look at one in isolation.)
Our Coaching Team
Self-coaching is a self-directed activity, but not a solitary one. We may ask colleagues, friends, family and even professional coaches to be members of our “coaching team.” Some of these coaching relationships will be long-lasting and wide-ranging, while others will be brief and address a single issue; what connects them is the meaning we derive from each conversation and how we apply that learning in an overarching framework.
How We See Ourselves
Self-coaching starts with our attitude toward ourselves: How do we see ourselves? Effective self-coaching involves seeing ourselves as a work-in-progress, being open to learning and change, and adopting a mindset that supports this perspective. This attitude toward ourselves is the foundation for all self-coaching, and our ability to make effective use of any self-coaching tools rests upon it.
Self-coaching also involves an ongoing process of reflection. We need to view our lives as an ongoing exercise in experiential learning, and we need to obtain the necessary critical distance to be able to observe and reflect upon our experiences, while also fully inhabiting those experiences in the moment. The precise steps we take in this process will look different for each of us, and they will vary over time, but it’s critical to regularly engage ourselves in conversation and to develop the habitual practices that support this reflection.
An important product of this reflection is increased self-awareness, by which I mean both a heightened in-the-moment perception of how we respond to various situations and a deeper understanding over time of who we are as individuals. Our immediate perception of our physical and emotional responses to situations is often blunted--it’s only in retrospect that we fully understand what we were feeling. Honing this in-the-moment awareness of our responses allows us to expand the range of options available to us and to make choices that will best support our goals in any given situation.
Over time this heightened perception contributes to a deeper understanding of ourselves. We learn more about our tendencies and preferences, and patterns in our behavior (with certain people, in certain settings, at certain moments) begin to reveal themselves. We can then capitalize on these patterns, exploiting those that work to our advantage and challenging (or avoiding) those that work to our disadvantage.
At some level self-coaching is all about change. Changing how we spend our time so we're more fulfilled, and changing our behavior so we're more effective. Doing more of what's working in our lives, and doing less of--or stopping entirely--what's not working. We may even want to change the direction of our lives in a more comprehensive way, and all large changes result from a series of smaller ones.
Action and Inaction
Change is rarely easy, but the self-awareness noted above can make the process much easier. Heightened self-awareness allows us to make different choices, both in the moment and over time. In the moment, we can act--or we can refrain from action. In situations where we might tend to lean back (for example, to avoid a conflict, or to shrug off work that seems difficult, rather than be limited by our pre-existing mental models and beliefs about ourselves, we can step forward and act.
Alternatively, in situations where we might tend to react compulsively or reflexively (for example, when we’re angry or stressed), rather than blindly obey our impulses, we can slow things down and act with greater care...or do nothing at all. Collectively, these interventions take the form of momentary, tactical acts of what we might call self-regulation, and taken as a whole they comprise a larger, strategic process of self-management.
Our interest in self-coaching efforts is often driven by a set of goals. A goal may be highly detailed, a target we want to hit or an accomplishment we hope to achieve, or it can merely be a general direction we want to move toward. There’s extensive research going back decades on the power of goals to motivate action (and, under the right conditions, superior performance), but in recent years additional findings have highlighted the downside of goals.
They’re such powerful motivators they can actually lead us to act against our larger self-interest. We achieve a goal, but at a cost we regret; or we achieve a goal, but in the process the experience loses its savor and is no longer enjoyable; or we achieve a goal, but we fail to see the big picture and miss out on a more important or meaningful accomplishment. While clarity about our goals may be essential if we want to achieve them, it’s also worth asking whether our goals are the right goals and whether they may have any counter-productive side-effects.
Values and Vision
Our self-coaching efforts occur within a context defined by our personal values and our vision for ourselves. If self-coaching is a sequence of steps to help us effect positive change in our lives, then our values and our vision are the source of meaning and purpose in our lives, the underlying rationale for the changes we seek to make.
It's not necessary--or even desirable--to fully define our values and vision at the very start of the self-coaching process. These are large, complex topics that take time and effort to address, and at the beginning of a change effort it may be more important to simplify: Break things down into components, build momentum with small victories, and scale up as needed. But a sense of overall direction is still important, and we need to make time at regular intervals to pull up and observe our progress from a higher perspective.
Accepting ourselves is ultimately one of the most important aspects of self-coaching. While a desire for change may initiate our self-coaching efforts, an inability to accept and love ourselves--right now, as we are, with all our flaws and foibles intact--condemns us to an endless cycle of dissatisfaction. The most profound coaching imaginable can't overcome this obstacle, and we ultimately need to validate ourselves.
I'm not suggesting that the self is the only source of validation. Any number of external factors contribute to this desired outcome, from healthy relationships to sufficient social status and material rewards, and in their absence the work of self-acceptance will be more difficult. But no amount of external validation will ever be enough until we're able to accept and love ourselves.
Photo by swanksalot. Yay Flickr and Creative Commons.
This week I had the privilege of working with a management team on their communication and interpersonal dynamics, and a modified version of my slide deck is above. I've added banners to a number of the slides that link to posts and other resources with further information. Many thanks to the team for inviting me to join them!
Many of my coaching clients and former students face challenges in their work environment--conflicts with colleagues, intense pressure to succeed, various forms of dysfunction in the culture. But many of these people are leaders who have some ability to change that culture (and, in some cases, who bear responsibility for creating it). What if you're not in a position to change the culture? And what if it's not just a dysfunctional environment but a toxic one?
I've talked recently with several people in this situation--they're new to the organization, senior enough to interact with top leadership (for better and for worse), but junior enough that their ability to drive change is limited. Not all of their organizations are truly toxic, but they're all less-than-healthy environments. Some common themes from these conversations, work with past clients, and my own experience with dysfunctional cultures suggest a set of survival strategies:
1) Serenity Now!
Reinhold Niebuhr's Serenity Prayer is a cliché because it's true, and the quickest way to burn out in a dysfunctional environment is to fail to recognize what can't be changed. A less quick, but equally certain, path to burnout is to passively accept all dysfunction and make no effort to bring about change. It's essential to chart a path between these unhealthy alternatives, and to do this we have to take some manageable risks to determine what we can and can't change: Start small and scale up.
In a truly toxic environment--one that's dysfunctional by design--meaningful change is nearly impossible because the dysfunction is working to someone's benefit. But even when we can't change a single thing in our environment, we can still control how we respond. I don't mean to compare a toxic workplace to a concentration camp, but I'm reminded that Viktor Frankl, who was in Auschwitz while Niebuhr was composing his prayer, wrote in Man's Search for Meaning, "When we are no longer able to change a situation...we are challenged to change ourselves." [p 115]
One of the hallmarks of a dysfunctional environment is its ability to trigger a threat response, and when we can't change the organization (or leave it), we need to develop the ability to remain calm in the face of these triggers, to regulate our negative emotions effectively when we're triggered, and to find healthy and efficient ways to de-escalate those emotions. (And coaching can help.)
2) Boundaries, Boundaries, Boundaries
Dysfunctional organizations have a boundless appetite for employees' time and do nothing to encourage people to stop working. (Truly toxic cultures actively induce feelings of guilt at the mere suggestion that a healthy life might include activities other than work.)
The dilemma is that most professionals actively collude in these dynamics. I'm certainly a workaholic, albeit a happy one, and almost all of my clients are as well. We love our work--even when we struggle with our jobs--and the idea of "work/life balance" strikes us as undesirable even if it were attainable.
A solution lies in the power of boundaries--a concept I find much more useful and actionable than "balance." Because we're so driven to work--and because even the best organizations will exploit this drive--it's up to us to prevent work from taking over our lives, and good boundaries are the only way to make this possible. As my former colleague Michael Gilbert wrote in 2008,
Boundaries keep things in their place. Balance suggests the same amount of two things on either side of a scale. Boundaries keep one of those things from oozing past the edge of its platter and taking over the other side... Just as functional membranes (letting the right things through and keeping the wrong things out) facilitate the healthy interaction of the cells of our bodies, so do functional personal boundaries facilitate the healthy interaction of the various parts of our lives. Bad boundaries lead to either being overwhelmed or withdrawal. Good boundaries lead to wholeness and synergy.
Good boundaries are even more important when we're working in a dysfunctional or toxic environment. We need physical boundaries that allow us to create distance between us and our work (which includes not only the office itself but also all our professional tools and artifacts--laptops, tablets, phones, papers, everything.)
We need temporal boundaries that allow us to spend time undisturbed by work obligations. Note that I'm talking not about balance but about boundaries; the amount of undisturbed time we can create for ourselves will vary--and may be quite small--but what matters is that we create and maintain a functional boundary around that time.
And we need psychic boundaries that allow us to stop thinking about work so that we can actually make effective use of the boundaries noted about. (I'm not suggesting this is easy--quite the contrary. As I've noted before, not thinking about something is difficult, particularly when we're stressed or distracted.)
3) Find Validation Elsewhere
A hallmark of a dysfunctional organization is a failure to fully recognize and validate peoples' contributions. (A truly toxic culture goes a step further and actively invalidates its members.) The challenge this poses for people like my clients and students (and for me) is that we're accustomed to performing well and being recognized for it, and when we find ourselves in an environment where this equation no longer holds, we can be slow to adapt. We assume that if we just work a little harder, do just a little better, we'll eventually be recognized for our efforts.
But this mindset is a trap--the dysfunctional organization isn't going to change, and the longer it takes us to accept this, the more we strive in vain for validation that won't be forthcoming. This dynamic can be particularly acute in elite institutions such as highly competitive schools or desirable companies. Membership in these institutions boosts our status, but our awareness that membership can be revoked creates a sense of status anxiety that makes us strive even harder.
The key is ensuring that we're being validated elsewhere in our lives. We need to be fully seen and acknowledged by people whose opinions matter to us and who are in a position to recognize our contributions. This involves not only cultivating those relationships, of course, but also being direct about asking for positive feedback--a step that many of us find daunting. And ultimately it means validating ourselves, recognizing that even when external validation is forthcoming it's inevitably insufficient as a sustainable source of happiness and fulfillment.
4) Adopt a Growth Mindset...
...and remember the fundamental attribution error. A dysfunctional organization views setbacks as the result of employees' inadequacies while failing to consider situational factors, resulting in a lack of safety and a paralyzing aversion to risk. (A truly toxic organization actively seeks to shift blame for setbacks from high-status leaders to lower-status employees, no matter who's truly at fault.)
Research by Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck suggests that a "growth mindset" is a critical source of strength and resilience:
In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them. They also believe that talent alone creates success—without effort. They're wrong.
In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.
By adopting a growth mindset, we're better able to maintain a sense of equanimity in the face of mistakes and setbacks. This isn't to suggest that we ignore our failings; on the contrary, a growth mindset allows us to devote more attention to our mistakes and learn from them more thoroughly wihout becoming obsessed or paralyzed by them.
The challenge in a dysfunctional culture is that the organization won't accept blame for any setbacks, even--and especially--when the culture itself is a contributing factor. So it's essential not to collude in this process and to remember the fundamental attribution error, a widespread cognitive bias that I first learned in business school from the outstanding Roberto Fernandez as:
Ascribing causality to personal characteristics when causality actually lies with the situation.
While it's important to take responsibility for our own contributions to an organizational setback, it's equally important to recognize the situational factors at play. By integrating this perspective with a growth mindset, we can act accountably and with integrity without undermining ourselves.
5) Speak Up
Finally, when we're struggling in a dysfunctional culture, we need to talk about it with someone; we need to speak up. I'm fully aware that speaking up often involves some risk, but so does staying silent. And the benefits of speaking up are manifold. When we speak up to a colleague, we create a safe space for ourselves within the organization, even if it's just a temporary one, and we may identify a long-term ally.
And by speaking up to anyone at all, even someone outside the organization, we accomplish two key steps: First, we affirm our right to tell our story, even if it upsets the conventional narrative. Particularly when we're enmeshed in a dysfunctional culture in an elite institution, there can be a large gap between the way our life appears to others and the way it feels to us, and it's important not to let the image disconfirm our actual experience.
Second, by speaking up we remind ourselves that we have agency and choice, even if it may not feel like it at times, and taking the small step of telling our story encourages us to take larger, bolder steps from there. We might feel emboldened to make some changes within our sphere of influence. We might seek to expand our influence by talking more directly and candidly with those around us. We might even decide to exercise our choice to leave.
If you're working in a dysfunctional environment and you found this post helpful, you might want to explore my posts on self-coaching. They're not intended to replace the experience of working with a personal coach, but my hope is that they help people who are working with a coach get even more out of the experience and provide people who lack the opportunity to work with a coach with a framework for a self-directed experience. (Note that they're also very much a work-in-progress that I'll continue to update.)
Photo by John Morgan. Yay Flickr and Creative Commons.