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Tue, May 8, 2012

Talent Strategies

#SHRM12 Preview: Reality-Based Leadership — Ditch the Drama, Restore Sanity at Work and Turn Excuses Into Results

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HR professionals must become willing to admit that the ways in which they have taught leaders to lead over the years is simply not working, argues Cy Wakeman. In her session at the SHRM national conference in Atlanta this year, she will explain how HR pros can help bring peace, sanity and results back to the workplace. We spoke to her recently about what it takes to ditch the office drama.

What do you mean by Reality-Based Leadership?

Reality Based Leadership is a revolutionary new model of leadership for ditching the drama, restoring sanity to the workplace, and turning excuses into results. Reality Based Leaders work to “bullet proof” their people rather than spending their time, energy and resources trying to create the perfect circumstances or environment for their people, hoping their employees will engage. They quickly recognize and radically accept the reality of their situations and efficiently channel their (and others’) energy toward optimizing results. Better yet, they learn to anticipate changes and capitalize on them as opportunities – without drama or defensiveness.

Reality Based Leaders work to bulletproof their people so that they can succeed in any circumstances, rather than attempting to ensure that circumstances are perfect. They focus on changing the way people see their circumstances – their mindsets – so that they can impact their own circumstances. When employees desire clarity, they work to develop employees’ ability to succeed in ambiguity. When employees request certainty, they work to facilitate employees to develop the ability to become comfortable with being uncomfortable – always working to build one’s capacity and capability rather than working to make the employee’s life easier. A very counter-intuitive approach.

Many people would probably just assume some level of drama is normal in the workplace. How do we know when it’s crossed the line?

I believe that any drama is too much! Businesses have become intolerant of waste and are taking drastic efforts to increase throughput and eliminate waste. It would be a rare leadership team that boldly asserted that some waste is just part of doing business and was therefore off the table to be accepted as inevitable.

When you come to truly understand drama as the chosen activity of an employee which is self-created and totally preventable – part of a bad or ineffective mental process you can begin to see that drama is actually a huge source of waste in most businesses – interestingly enough, waste that has not yet been targeted for elimination in the many efforts underway in organizations to “lean” up processes, cut costs, and increase efficiency.

Our research indicates that the average employee spend two hours a day investing their energy into drama rather than conserving that energy and using it to fuel efforts that create value. To make matters worse, a single hour of drama, takes away three times the value from performance. The belief that drama is just a cost of doing business or a normal part of the workday when people are involved is eroding our competiveness in our markets and is perhaps the ultimate sacred cow – protecting wasteful uses of energy and resources.

To make matters worse, drama isn’t a force imposed upon our talent but an output of talent who respond to reality by creating stories and subsequent emotions based upon judgments and assumptions, not evidence. We push our workforce to be deeply rooted in evidence when we improve processes but all our relationships to be grounded in anecdotal thinking, supposition, assignment of motive and all kinds of non-fact based beliefs.

Innovation naturally happens when the mind is not cluttered with story, suffering and drama. When employees are fact based, simply ditch the drama, they free up their faculties and minds to be used instead to create, improve, innovate. So innovation is not something to teach your employees or develop in them, it is their natural condition when led to eliminate drama from their mental processing so that they can free up their mental resources to arrive at breakthrough solutions.

Instead of using their mental and emotional resources and eventually their physical energy to focus on the past, what has already happened, blame and judgment, creating their own suffering, drama free employees focus on the future and action they can personally take to impact reality. Quite simply an employer needs to decide if they would like to pay for drama, self-imposed suffering, focus on the past, judgment and inaction or if they would like to fund their talent to add value by quickly sizing up reality, conserving energy that could be invested in drama and instead move quickly to use their energy for actions that can add value and impact reality creating future results.

So any drama is an expenditure that should not be condoned, protected or even accepted – it is completely optional and leaders would be wise to target this source of waste next in their teams.

What role can HR play in bringing peace at work?

HR needs to focus on restoring sanity to the workplace and peace will be the by-product. I am a firm believer in the fact that we must revisit and challenge a great deal of what we have been taught as HR and leadership “gospel.” Frustrated leaders are finding that many of the approaches that have been endorsed by many, are working for few and it is time to admit it and change it.

Three key places for HR to begin their clean up our practices and restore sanity to the workplace is to admit that our approach to engagement is broken, that much of our advice to leaders such as “Keep an open door policy” is hurting, not helping and that our focus is on managing and measuring flawed concepts such as performance. HR needs to focus on hardwiring accountability throughout the work place, as it is the true driver of results and peace at work.

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