From leading change to providing constructive feedback, Michael Papanek’s insightful articles provide powerful yet practical ideas to help you achieve your goals, build resiliency into your organization, and continue to improve your own leadership.

Dealing with Abrasive Leadership: Change is Possible!

We have all worked with an abrasive or “toxic” manager, and as an executive coach, I am often helping my clients “deal with” a difficult manager they work for, or working directly with the manager others find abrasive and difficult.

I have a love-hate relationship with these situations because I am attracted to the opportunity to show real value and change that will improve people’s lives at work, yet challenged by the difficulty of making a positive impact on a situation others have failed to change. Continue reading “Dealing with Abrasive Leadership: Change is Possible!”

Four Strategies for Navigating the J Curve of Change

J-Curve-karl-albrecht1Anyone who has implemented a change is familiar with an early phase that tends to come right after “launching” the change. This is supposed to be an exciting time, yet sometimes no one seems happy: not the executive sponsors, not the change team and not the impacted stakeholders. You thought everyone had bought-into the vision and was excited about the change! What happened?

What is happening to you is not the end of the world and does not have to be the end of your project (or career). Continue reading “Four Strategies for Navigating the J Curve of Change”

Bad News Does Not Improve with Age: How to know when to speak up

reefingOne of the key challenges of teamwork and leadership is when to bring up items of concern and when not to.  Should you give the feedback or just let it go?  Point out the problem you see (that no one else seems to) or “be supportive” (and see what happens)?  One obviously can’t bring up every issue that might be a problem, but in my experience, people tend not to address items that truly need to be brought up. As a result, the issue in most organizations is not too much discussion of difficult issues: it’s that there isn’t enough. We know that silence kills: very bad things can happen when people remain mute. Continue reading “Bad News Does Not Improve with Age: How to know when to speak up”

In Defense of Brainstorming

Open_Narrow_closeBrainstorming’s highest value is not in producing the greatest number of ideas, but in (1) generating creative and innovate ideas, and (2) creating ownership for implementing those ideas.

Marc Andreessen’s “Quote of the Week” last week was “Why brainstorming is a bad idea.” Andreessen quoted Frans Johansson’s book, The Medici Effect:

“…In 1958…psychologists let groups of four people brainstorm about the practical benefits or difficulties that would arise if everyone had an extra thumb on each hand after next year. These people were called “real groups” since they actually brainstormed together. Next, the researchers let “virtual groups” of four people generate ideas around the “thumb problem”, but they had to brainstorm individually, in separate rooms. The researchers combined the answers they received from each [virtual group] individual and eliminated redundancies… They then compared the performance between real groups and virtual groups…

To their surprise, the researchers found that virtual groups, where people brainstormed individually, generated nearly twice as many ideas as the real groups. Continue reading “In Defense of Brainstorming”

No, He’s Not Crazy, Mean, or Stupid: Understanding Others’ Difficult Behavior

As part of a large organizational change effort, a client of mine (“John”) was having a lot of trouble working with an external consultant (“Robert”) who was hired to assist with some technical aspects of the change initiative*. The client, who is a senior leader in the organization and had worked there for many years, thought that the consultant was arrogant, pushy, disrespectful and power-hungry.

“He really annoys me”, John told me.   “Robert seems to have no respect for the fact that we have all been here for years and do know what we are doing.  Yes, we have made some mistakes, and yes, we need to change, but who does he think he is?   He is so condescending in his emails and other communications to us!  All he cares about is looking important to the CEO, as if we were not the ones who will make any changes actually happen.   I want our transformation to succeed, but frankly I would rather see Robert fail. He tries to pressure me to do what he wants and has even cut me out of key meetings with the executive team.  He wants to be the big boss?  Well, I promise you, I will be here long after he is gone.” Continue reading “No, He’s Not Crazy, Mean, or Stupid: Understanding Others’ Difficult Behavior”

Hearing the Hardest Feedback

Copenhagen-200x300Sometimes the most important feedback is the hardest for us to hear. I have learned a simple way to give difficult feedback to someone who is defensive or resisting.

How can you say such a thing!

My wife and I have been very happily married for over 25 years but have also had our challenging times. Many years ago my wife and I were meeting with a marriage counselor and my wife was giving me some feedback, which I was rejecting as totally unreasonable and unfounded. Not only was I getting feedback that I thought seemed incorrect, but I was also hurt emotionally by the feedback.  I was defensive because I felt the feedback implied that I was not a good father and a husband. I was actively resisting (“how could you say such a thing about me!”) and we were getting nowhere.

The breakthrough

The breakthrough came when the counselor asked me “Michael, is there any chance that some small, tiny, little part of this just might sometimes be true”?

This highly qualified question turned out to be a very effective frame because it allowed me to acknowledge just some of the feedback. I was able to acknowledge it without having to agree to a larger premise that I thought was wrong and an insult to my value as a human being (OK, I can get a bit dramatic). I acknowledged that while I disagreed with most of what I was hearing, in some small way this feedback just might have some validity to it. Continue reading “Hearing the Hardest Feedback”

Five Steps to Giving Feedback

CampingBigBasin05-001-300x225Feedback is the oil in the engine of teamwork: keep it flowing and the engine can operate at a high level with no damage, let it dry up and your engine could seize up or fail completely, potentially beyond repair.

While most leaders would agree with this analogy, most do not ensure that regular feedback is a part of their organization’s culture. They miss an easy way to make performance improvements, improve morale and develop employees. Feedback is avoided for many reasons: fear of an emotional reaction, fear of retaliation, or the lack of a strategy for having the conversation. The problem is, the issue that is driving a need for feedback will not go away on its own, but tends to get worse until the person cannot stand it anymore. This leads to “drive-by” feedback: a quick hit of why you are driving me crazy, then a quick escape. On the receiving side, even employees who want to improve fear having to defend themselves or agree to something they do not really believe.

The solution lies in leadership modeling of feedback, and the use of some simple but powerful guidelines for giving, or better yet, exchanging, feedback. Continue reading “Five Steps to Giving Feedback”

Signs of Progress: Removing the Stop Signs in Your Organization

OaklandHills-300x225In the Dutch Province of Makkinga, motorists drive around uninhibited by signs instructing them to stop, yield, or merge. They don’t have any parking meters to feed, red zones to avoid, or yellow lines to follow. Makkinga — as well as some other small towns in Denmark, England, Germany, and Belgium — are participating in a project implemented by the European Union to increase socially responsible behavior on the road. Proponents of this new lawlessness have a motto: “Unsafe is safe.” The thesis is that an unmarked intersection forces motorists to slow down and communicate with other drivers in order to proceed.

Traffic planners for a town of 45,000 in the Netherlands enforce only two rules: “Yield to the right” and “Get in someone’s way and you’ll be towed.” They report that the number of accidents there has drastically declined. One German borough is even ripping up its sidewalks and asphalt streets and replacing everything with cobblestones. The mayor doesn’t want any division between pedestrians and motorists, in hopes that each will become more aware of the other and make for safer streets. What’s at work in the EU is the ultimate in accountability. Anybody’s road trip is now a Shared Responsibility for Success.

To achieve success, drivers (and leaders) must focus not just on results, but on rules of the road (process), and the way people treat each other (relationship). Continue reading “Signs of Progress: Removing the Stop Signs in Your Organization”

Driving Success? Try Fewer Controls.

Prague1-300x225Wired Science follows up a story on which this blog commented several months ago. Accidents have dropped by nearly half on a London street where traffic signs, guard rails, and road lines were removed. The reason?

“The drivers slow to gauge the intentions of crossing bicyclists and walkers. Negotiations over right-of-way are made through fleeting eye contact. Remarkably, traffic moves smoothly around the circle with hardly a brake screeching, horn honking, or obscene gesture. . .”

Accidents dropped by 44 percent, compared to a 17.5 percent drop across the city. Today the scheme’s champion, councillor Daniel Moylan, said it would be copied nationwide. . . “It is about re-establishing eye contact between road users. They are now looking at each other instead of just signs.”

As we posted previously, reducing road signs tends to boost drivers’ spirit of collaboration. Continue reading “Driving Success? Try Fewer Controls.”

Bells, Whistles, and iPhones: Successful Collaboration In the Blur of Technology & Tools

The business world is awash in technologies and tools that promise to enable us to work smarter, faster, more productively, and with more people — whether they’re colleagues across the company or around the world. Many new technologies are pegged as collaboration solutions or communications tools — like video and web conferencing, instant messaging, file sharing software, and others. Others are in a class of newer marvels that are broadly referred to as social networking applications — including wikis, forums, virtual team rooms, blogs, and more.

With all these new technologies at the ready, all we need to do is “get on line” and collaboration just happens, right? Not exactly — in fact, not by a long shot for many teams and work groups that still struggle with productivity, effectiveness, or plain old getting things done. Continue reading “Bells, Whistles, and iPhones: Successful Collaboration In the Blur of Technology & Tools”