Category Archives: Connection & Engagement
If you think of a manure-laden farm, the picture you derive is probably unpleasant. The sight of dirty brown fields may be bad enough, but the awful odor that emanates will linger with you for quite some time.
Yet farmers put up with the gross and smelly substance because of the benefits it provides. However there are good and bad manures, and the wisest farmers know that bad manure can be toxic and harmful to plants, animals, and people associated with the farm.
As leaders, we need to discern the difference between good and bad manure. Manure in it’s very nature is waste, cast-off, an unpleasant by-product. Yet in it’s purest form, good manure is rich and will allow people to grow and flourish in a very healthy way.
Some examples of bad manure in your organization may be:
- Unchecked negativity and toxic behavior
- Unrealistic goals and timeframes
- Restricted resources that prevent tasks from being accomplished
- Deliberate sabotage to prove power or advance agendas
- Politics that derail the missions
- Behaviors and procedures that are not congruent to the core values
As stated above, good manure can be healthy and allow people to thrive and blossom in ways that cannot be done without it. Think for a moment on these issues and what good benefits can be derived:
- Ripple effects from toxic team or leadership leaving (pruning)
- Goals that stretch people beyond what they perceive as their limits (growing)
- Limited resources (due to financial or procurement constraints) that challenge people to be creative and innovative (moderating)
- Threat of competition and loss of business and/or market share (urgency)
- Company expansion that brings in new staff and fosters internal competition (flourishing)
- Openness of budget challenges that allow staff to find new ways to generate revenue and contain costs (sharing)
As leaders we need to do everything we can to not hamper progress and growth in our people and organization. But we cannot keep them in an incubator free from any harm or disease – the reality of the world does not afford that. By managing the type of fertilizer that is spread across our teams, we can foster a rich and healthier growth in our people.
Picture the following scenario:
An employee dislikes a situation and complains to one of their leaders. That leader goes to other party and asks only enough to confirm the first story is somewhat true, and orders that party to do such and such an action to correct.
The interaction then leaves that other party frustrated that their side of the story is not heard, or discounted because of the weight of the first person to bring a relative issue up. Instances like this tend to start from people who are the squeaky wheels, looking to gain favor, attention, and outcomes to their liking. Incidents like this give credibility to the old and true Proverb:
“The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him” – King Solomon
As leaders we can be quick and decisive to address issues. Yet when those issues arise from the squeaky wheels we can have tendencies to cater to their whims for various reasons:
- We don’t want to confront them
- They disrupt and we want things to quiet down
- They have the wool pulled over our eyes
- They cast perceived urgencies
- They challenge our leadership so we bow to their pressure
Do you allow squeaky wheels to squeak in your ear too much? Do they have your ear because they squeak too much? Do non-squeaky wheels get the same attention? Do we enable squeaky wheels to squeak louder, and squelch those that don’t make noise but have otherwise legitimate and pressing needs?
Squeaky wheel employees distort the Pareto (80/20 rule) by making them the top 1% and directing more than their share of our attention. For example, Jeffrey A. Fox says we should be spending 90% of our time with our best employees. A squeaky wheel may not be our best or even top 20% performer, but absorb more than 20% of our attention. This disproportionate hijacking of time and resources allows the squeaky wheel to continue their behavior and take away from others in need.
Dealing with squeaky wheels is a balancing act. There are 2 approaches that must be used to prevent them from disrupting your team and organization.
First, understand who the squeaky wheel is. Their behavior may be a result of many variables both good and bad, such as:
- Low esteem
- Plea for help
- Covering for impropriety
- Sucking up
- Making them look better than others
- Insecurity in their job
Once the squeaky wheel is understood, then the following various actions can be put into play:
- Set clear behavioral expectations
- Ask questions, always get the 306-degree facts
- Give support
- Listen better, ask probing questions
- Be objective and take yourself out of the equation
- Take corrective action if behavior gets abused or disruptive
- Keep the focus balanced on other staff
When a squeaky wheel knows what is expected, they tend to quiet down. Just like any behavior, when the desired result is accomplished, the behavior continues. When their real needs are met without lending credibility to their disruption, they change course and learn to work with the newer expectations. But when they have ill motives, knowing their behavior will not get them their preferred response will most likely box them in and change, especially if you are honest with them and work towards a better expectation of behavior.
Don’t let the squeaky wheel(s) in your organization drive you crazy. Meet their needs and set boundaries to create a more supportive culture for all.
Scripture taken from the English Standard Version, Proverbs 18:17
Many leaders have either one of three approaches to influence people to perform certain behaviors.
They either Assume, Ask, or Affirm. And based on how they use these can yield a variety of differing results from their people.
Approaches that Assume will either:
- Assume ill intent or poor performance
- Observe without all the facts
- Believe once told the training is complete
- Can be presumptuous
- Closely associate with top-down, “do as I tell you” managing styles
- Deter trust form your people
- Alienate engagement and connection
Some creative ways to use Positive Assumption:
- Assume good intent
- Trust people want to generally do a good job
- Know that people are willing to learn and grow
- Believe your people want to share the vision
Asking approaches vary in these ways:
- Asking to find fault
- Coupling with a condescending or condemning tone
- Impersonal if phrased incorrectly
- Puts people on the defensive
- Hides true motives of the question
An effective leader Asks in these ways:
- Prefaces questions with reasons and transparency
- Asks as a favor, not a command
- Inquires for understanding and facts, not dirt
- Asks to fill a need, not carry out a duty
The Affirming leadership approach has these challenges:
- Being too nice and not talking straight
- Leading people to not face reality of course correction
- Can give false sense of security and lead to complacency for entire teams and organizations
It’s best to couple the Affirming approach in the following ways:
- Trusting in the right values and vision that align with the core
- Believing in the skills and abilities of the individual(s)
- Confirm shared vision and goals
- Recognize clear understanding so all parties on the same page
- Lead others to the feeling of accomplishment during the process
While there are many camps that prefer one way or the other, it all comes down to approach and dynamics from the leader. Any style, managed poorly, can have an adverse effect. But with the right understanding of your people and how to influence up, you can use virtually any approach to a positive effect while keeping intact the mutual respect and drive for your teams.