Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Can you say NO to your boss?

What have the deaths of 18 month old twins and a murder-suicide got to do with saying no to your boss?

Quite a lot if you ask yourself - how could this happen?

Some years ago, the twins died, apparently from malnutrition, and their bodies left in their cots for over a week. The alarm was raised only when their 11 year old sibling noticed the smell.

The murder-suicide happened after the perpetrator mailed a stream of letters to the media warning of his intention.

Another example - surveillance camera footage from China showed a two year old knocked over and dying on the road. 18 people passed this child before anyone stopped to do anything to help.

And in Connecticut, USA in a similar horrible incident a 78 year old man was left lying in the road after being hit by a car, ignored by bystanders and motorists alike. It made me giddy with disbelief to watch it.
What was your reaction to those stories?

Mine was - didn't the neighbors notice anything? Why didn't the media do something? What were people thinking to leave the any injured child or a paralyzed man lying helplessly on the road? These were my thoughts but the critical question is, would they have translated into any action on my part? On your part?

The Power of Fear

Let's consider some other situations.For example:
  • What do you do when you hear the alarm go off in a neighboring property? Do you call the police or choose not to get involved? An Australian 000 operator - that's emergency services like 999 (UK), 911 (USA), 111 (NZ) - said on the local radio that the majority of calls to 000 about burglar alarms were not concerns that a robbery might be taking place but complaints about the noise!
  • What would you do if you suspected that your brother or sister might be dealing in drugs?
  • Why do you put off having that important conversation with your spouse about the spiraling credit card debt?
  • Why do you put off having that important conversation with your spouse about what's happening to your relationship?
And at work:
  • What would you do if you saw your manager instructing staff to ‘cut corners', putting employees' safety at risk to reduce costs?
  • What would you do if you saw a fellow employee falsely trading in foreign exchange options - to the tune of $118 million dollars and getting a performance bonus of over $100, 000 for his work? (This was what happened in 2005 at NAB.)
  • What would you do if your managers were both ignoring potentially catastrophic warnings from you and other engineers about the dangers of launching a spacecraft on a really cold day and failing to adequately report these technical concerns to their superiors? Click here if you want to know where this happened.
  • What would you do if you strongly suspected that your most successful salesperson was sexually harassing a colleague but no formal complaint had been made?
  • What would you do if your boss asked you to do something that was:

    1. Ethically but not legally wrong? 
    2. Against the best interests of the shareholders
    3. Contrary to the strategic direction of the company?
    4. Didn't contribute to the strategic direction of the company
    5. Required you to work such long hours (for the 4th week in a row) that your family life was beginning to fracture?

Are we callous? Or are we afraid?

Have you, have we, lost confidence in our ability to get involved, to tackle the really difficult situations in our lives? What holds us back?

Are we fearful and therefore so protective of our self-interest that we don't step in when we should because we are concerned for the consequences?

How prepared are we to accept responsibility for what goes on in our own lives and in our community, our workplace?

Our ‘almonds' (amygdalae) have a lot to answer for. When we find ourselves in such situations, The Almond Effect® mobilizes and propels us toward actions that ensure our ‘survival'. But how many of the examples I have given truly put us in physical harm's way?

Most of them, and particularly the work ones, raise questions about our values and our ethics and how far we are prepared to confront our fears to act? How comfortable are you living with the knowledge that you did not act.

If you find yourself saying: ‘I should have...', then it's time to think and focus some more on what held you back.

The impact of fear on company culture

Clearly these are conversations that go to the core of who we are and what our companies stand for. But they are hard questions. I wonder if such courageous conversations had been held and resolved, would the outcomes have avoided the corporate collapses like HIH, Enron, WorldCom, Global Crossing, Qwest, Dynegy, CMS Energy, Tyco, Peregrine, Sunbeam, Baptist Foundation of Arizona?

Would employees, shareholders and all the other stakeholders have been spared not only financial devastation but also the very high personal and professional cost?

Most of these companies were destroyed by a culture of unethical conduct, greed and dishonesty. But surely not everyone in these companies subscribed to these cultures? So why didn't they speak up? Or did they just leave?

Tips for saying no to the boss

Standing up for yourself, your company, your department, your team or even for the best interests of the boss themselves, can be hard. There is a good chance it will set off The Almond Effect® just thinking about it!

So there are a number of components to the preparation to be able to do it.

The first is to manage your own reactions. That's where STAR comes in.

STOP - Catch your fears. What is it you are feeling? How is it going to express itself? Blushing, stuttering, passivity, anger? What emotions could you be dealing with when you speak up?

THINK - Why am I feeling this way? What in the past history of my dealings with this boss, or any boss, has caused me to experience these emotions? Where did they come from? Are the situations the same? What's different? What were the consequences then? What would be the consequences now?

ACT - Prepare yourself. There are many ways you can do this. For example, rehearsing, visualizing, and calming exercises. For resources for more ideas click here.
REWIRE - When you've had the conversation with your boss, whichever way it went, talk it over with your mentor, coach, partner, friend -anyone who can help you analysis what worked, what didn't, and what you would do differently in future.

And write it down somewhere so the next time you want to say ‘no' to the boss, The Almond Effect® won't get in your way.

Managing upwards - a free guide for you

In addition to STAR, the most effective way to be able to say ‘no' to the boss and keep your career and yourself intact are to:
  • build your credibility
  • earn the respect of your boss
  • understand where, when and how they like to hear ‘no'
For more information and a short PowerPoint I've prepared that gives more information on how to do this, click here.

Managing your fears - an essential work and life skill

Identifying and managing our fears has major ramifications for the way in which we live our lives - far beyond how we respond to a shadow in a dark lane or a noise in the grass.

And managing our fears in the workplace is an essential success factor both in the short and long term. Step one is to recognize when our fears are holding us back. Step two is to do something about it.
Please feel free to forward this to a colleague

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