Management Mindset. Bring life to your business and your business to life
Story about mindset
Have you seen a nervous child learning to ride a bike? They’re in a park with nothing around but a single tree. The parent shouts, “Don’t hit the tree.” They hit the tree. Yes once upon a time this child was me. Maybe it was you. Saying don’t hit the tree sounds right but what happens is that we can barely do anything but stare at the tree. It’s like there’s this irresistible force drawing us towards the tree. You hit what you’re looking at. But that’s ok — because we’ve moved on right? I’ve got (a little) better at riding my bike but work surrounds us with things that can go wrong. Don’t be late, don’t lose the account, don’t make a mistake. Our default behaviours that are meant to protect us are sabotaging our work and our managing. Mindset is a fixed mental attitude that predetermines a person’s responses to and interpretations of situations. To create a better workplace, we need awareness of our mindset when we manage our employees. Are you the voice in your own head saying don’t hit the tree? Are you the voice in your employees head saying don’t hit the tree?
Mindset for business
I’m a recovering accountant. I understand that talking about things like mindset as a management technique can seem unconventional. I’m not a fan of unsubstantiated hocus pocus, I’m too analytical and sceptical for that. So I only believe in things that I know work. And the reason I bring up mindset is because affects every management technique. Having the wrong mindset blocks bosses from management success because they see problems in the solutions. And the wrong mindset is also the source of a lot of personal distress.
The problem with business is that it’s analytical and risk adverse. This drives a mindset of focussing on problems instead of solutions. This negative mindset results in inaction and slow decay. The negative mindset is de-motivating for your employees. And for you personally when you are thinking about what can go wrong, you are operating in a place of fear. Your fight or flight system is activated. This is causing work stress. To change from a negative, reactive state to a positive, proactive state, you first need to become aware of your mindset.
Why we have to be aware of our natural tendencies
The reason why we tend to a negative mindset is that we evolved to spot danger. We are incredibly attuned to risk. Physiologically, the flight or fight response is a powerful survival instinct. And it’s not just our primitive brain systems — the basis of man’s intelligence is the prefrontal cortex. This is where we do human things like predicting the future and planning in advance. In business this is a sought after skill. What we call smart people are analytical and good at pattern recognition. In the DISC behaviour model these are usually the people with High C tendencies. These are typically your accountants, engineers, IT experts etc. People who don’t like to get things wrong. So because of evolution and training we become good at spotting errors. We are good at predicting what could go wrong.
The source of this fear is from a good place, the result is not
Anxiety around change comes from not wanting to disappoint people. This could be not wanting to disappoint your boss, other colleagues, shareholders, customers, family or even yourself. Personally I think this is a good thing because it shows that you care and have pride in your work. I don’t believe that we should stop wanting to be better. My goal is to bring your awareness to the dangers of a fear fixation becoming a self fulfilling prophecy. Because fear of failure is the most common fear that slows down progress towards your goals.
Risk avoidance is the dominant corporate culture and the innovator’s dilemma abhors change
Unfortunately our evolutionary tendencies and training are further reinforced by corporate culture. Company structures, operating procedures, cultures and incentive programs reinforce this risk aversion. The innovator’s dilemma means that established companies avoid innovation that risks destroying their businesses. The classic example is Kodak Camera company. At their peak they employed over 50 000 people. They they had the lead in the camera business and then the digital camera came along. Even when it was clear that the digital photography would destroy their business, Kodak was unable to adapt because of vested interests. This happens everywhere. This is the reason why record companies were not the ones that invented online music. It’s why bookstores didn’t invent Amazon. In short people become more focussed on trying to protect what they have against the new, instead of moving with the times. But it’s not just big, market leading companies — this law of behavior applies equally to people and specifically to you as a boss. Aversion to change means that managers can get stuck like the proverbial frog in the pot. Failing to be a better boss because of fear of failure. Staying in a slowly warming pot and only taking action when you reach crisis point.
This mindset destroys employee motivation and reduces innovation and creativity
The point of this discussion is to talk about mindset and your success but I have to make a quick detour and talk about how your mindset can affect your employees. It’s entirely uninspiring to hang around someone who can only see negatives and potential problems. Bosses say they want employees who are creative, solve their own problems and take ownership for their work. But doing something new requires taking a risk. Finding a solution means taking a chance on something that won’t work. Being risk averse, focussing on negatives, punishing failure kills the positive behaviours you want as a boss. Your employees don’t take a chance on fixing their own problems because they have been trained to avoid mistakes. A critical mindset creates a negative work atmosphere. Your management behaviours are literally creating fear in your employees. And nothing sucks energy and motivation out of a room like a dose of negativity. So the question to ask yourself is are you the person shouting “Don’t hit the tree?” That’s one reason why regular performance feedback doesn’t work. That’s why in Inspiring Performance Communication I show you how to solve problems from a positive perspective. Ok that is the detour over because we also need to talk about how a critical mindset can affect your health…
Mindset is bad for your health
When you operate with a critical mindset and when you worry about what may go wrong, you are operating in a low level state of fear. It’s not quite the same level of stress as when your boss calls you into the office for a serious talking to. But it is a constant level of stress. Biologically what’s happening is you are producing stress hormones cortisol and adrenalin. This pushes your blood pressure up, raises your blood sugar and suppresses your immune system! Digestion stops. Your heart is under strain. You’re tense — you know those knots in your shoulders. When you’re tense you’re not breathing properly. And if you’re in a worry state then you’re not going to be operating from a place of confidence either. IMO this is why analytical people are not good at projecting confidence.
This is why being a boss causes anxiety. Risk aversion builds anxiety and long term can lead to depression
Being a boss is stressful. On an average day when things go well or when you are resilient it may not affect you at all. But these effects build up over time. And on a bad day, what is usually a minor inconvenience can turn into an insurmountable obstacle. Feeling helpless is a major cause of depression. The other thing that people do when they’re anxious is they eat comfort food.
Risk avoidance, blocks growth
When you are trying not to make a mistake, your decisions will center on avoiding risk, protecting what you have. This is not always a bad thing but the point of this exercise is to bring awareness about what you are doing and to recognise when it is a problem. When you’re head is full of risk, there is no space for ideas about growth. When you are minimising losses you can’t also maximise your upside. This will hold you back from creating a great work environment.
Start with Mindfulness
The first step to operating on a higher level of consciousness is becoming aware of your monkey mind. This is about becoming aware of when you are in a state of fear that is holding you back from taking the action that is better for you. So taking the example of performance communication for a minor employee performance issue. Like it or not, as a boss you are responsible for what your employees do. If your employees aren’t performing it’s your responsibility and no-one elses to help them. Without awareness what happens is something like:
- Denial: It’s a minor thing — I’ll wait to see if it’s really an issue before doing anything
- Avoidance: Last time I spoke about performance with them it was horrible. This is a small issue, It’s not worth it
- Delaying: Now’s not the right time, I’ll save it for their performance review
- Not willing to do what is necessary because it’s unpopular: It’s a minor issue, I don’t want to seem like a nit picker
- Blame: They just don’t care, that’s their fault and I can’t change that
- Distraction: I’m too busy with my own work to fix this. Why can’t people manage themselves so I can do my own work
- Fixation on the past: They always do this, I’m going to call them into my office and give them a grilling
And this performance issue is stressing you because when your staff do something wrong, you get that horrible feeling of realisation. Your stomach tightens and your mood darkens. You start thinking things like:
“I can’t believe what they’ve done, this is so frustrating. Now I have to fix this myself on the weekend. I wish they would take more care. What on earth were they thinking?”
Awareness isn’t about immediately reprogramming your thoughts because that’s just not natural. Awareness is a gradual awakening. Awareness is having those negative thoughts that normally lead to excuses and inaction but being aware that those thoughts are holding you back. Because then you can choose to do something about it. And over time you can choose to change your mindset and think different thoughts. And when you change your thoughts you can change your actions. You can change from the same old actions that aren’t working to new ways of doing things that do work. Awareness allows you to wake up and find a better way. When you have those negative thoughts that cause you stress and anxiety be aware that your employees performance is stressing you out. Because then you can choose to deal with the stress instead of experience it. This is how awareness starts you on the path to solving your employee performance problems. And this is how awareness let’s you control your stress.
Mindfulness is the path to positive solutions
But it goes further. Because if you can move yourself into an even higher level of consciousness then you can operate from a place of positivity instead of negativity. Traditional performance communication is negative, stressful, time consuming, ineffective. It’s something unpleasant that you have to do. Instead you can move towards a more positive approach to dealing with the problem. Instead of punishing your employees for past behaviour see this as an opportunity for improvement in the future. I like businesses with lots of obvious problems because I know that I can make a massive change by fixing a few things. Focus on what can go right, instead of what can go wrong. Awareness lets you move from being passive and reactive to being proactive. Awareness moves you from problem solver to innovative leader.
Solution: Replace the question you have: Use what could go right instead
What do you do? Instead of asking the question, “what can go wrong?” Start asking: “What can go right?” Don’t worry — I don’t believe in putting your head in the sand and ignoring those great big flashing danger signs. Go ahead and talk about the dangers but follow it up with a “and what can we do about it?” Or a “If this happens, how difficult is it to fix…” Or a “Is this an important thing that we need to focus on or should we spend our time on something else” Or “Compared to not doing it, is it still worthwhile?” OR “Can we test the water, before diving in without losing momentum?” In short my quote is “Don’t see problems in your solutions, see solutions in your problems.”
This calls for bold leadership
Being brave is not the absence of fear but being afraid and deciding to act. As an analytical type I understand why we fit into these default behaviour patterns. And being analytical is my strength. I know that I will be more effective by using my strengths than trying to build on weaknesses. I totally understand that in any business, making mistakes is expensive. In turn I expect my own employees to exercise caution. So I’m not advocating that we should stop planning and stop being careful. I’m saying that strength comes from awareness. With every strength there is a mirror weakness. Some people are the reverse. They are far too action oriented and will have more success with a little thought. Be aware if your default behaviours are undermining your own success and happiness. By all means spend time making contingency plans but like all things use moderation.
Often managers don’t act because they have had a bad prior experience
And I also understand that the reason why managers don’t act is because of prior bad experiences. They’ve tried performance management and it didn’t work. They tried delegation and ended up with a bad job. They’ve tried developing their employees but found that it sucked up too much time. What I can share with you is that there’s nothing wrong with performance feedback, delegation or developing your employees. In fact these are very good things. But they can easily go wrong. People are complex. Managing is hard. When you do the right thing and it doesn’t work, this isn’t a sign to stop doing the right thing. It’s a sign to try a different way of doing the right thing. If people don’t listen to your performance communication, don’t stop talking to your employees about performance. Because that’s giving up! That’s not the answer, it’s the path down the spiral to a place that you don’t want to go. The solution is to work out how to communicate to your employees so that they listen to you and do what you ask.
I have to finish here with a quote attributed to that great man Ghandi:
“Watch your thoughts; they become your words.
Watch your words; they become your actions.
Watch your actions; they become your habits.
Watch your habits; they become your character.
Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.”
Become aware if your employee performance is causing you management pain. Become aware if your critical mindset is creating limiting beliefs. The first step to any change is awareness of where you are so you can choose a better way. Instead of avoiding the tree, find your path. Instead of being the boss who says “no”, lead by helping your employees to find their own path.
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