I was reading the obituary of the late and great Sir Christopher Lee this past week (The Times, Friday 12 June), who had a 70 year career on screen and made more than 300 films. One of his best known roles was Dracula, a role which he played 10 times.
In doing so I was reminded of a Freakonomics podcast called ‘what can vampires teach us about economics’ (October 2014), a light-hearted, yet oddly fascinating look at how we can turn relationships with vampires and the undead into advantages in society.
In memory of the iconic role of Dracula I thought it only my duty to ponder the link between vampires, and the ‘undead’as a whole, and what they can teach us about leadership.
Everyone fears a vampire
You may not be sucking people’s blood in a literal sense, but you may be sucking the life out of your co-workers each day. Treating your colleagues with a lack of respect or using a top-down leadership approach could lower morale and erode trust.
Promote open conversations and build relationships – put those fangs away!
Be a visual leader
Vampires are well known for having no reflection and living ‘in the shadows’.
Make yourself a visual leader, whether via webcam or being in the office regularly. People like to chat face-to-face and you may be working hard, but from my experience a lack of ‘visual presence’ can make others question what you are achieving and distance you from the highs and lows of office life day-to-day.
It’s amazing what you overhear or the conversations you can have when you are in the same room as your colleagues.
Need blood? Let’s chat about it and find a solution
Listen to your team’s needs and wants.
The Freakonomics podcast touched on the subject of the desire for blood – a possible solution is to stop the killing of innocent victims by selling vampires blood. Providing them with the one thing they need; if they don’t get it from you, they will certainly find it elsewhere.
Your team may not want blood, but they do have needs and wants that need satisfying. Understand your team and what each individual values. It may surprise you, not everyone is motivated by money. They may want career progression or a new challenge.
Satisfying you team’s needs will make the team and organisation more successful, it will reduce staff turnover and prevent bad habits from affecting the business (i.e. boredom and therefore shirking from tasks…or attacks to the neck!).
Vampires are the epitome of power dressing
Vampires dress to impress, the chances are they will get a job over the zombies and werewolves of this world. We may not deliberately judge rotting skin and hairy feet, but they are hard to ignore.
Dressing well also boosts your confidence – so shave those feet and grab your suit!
Werewolves work as a team and vampires work solo: try both and the art of delegation
There are times when we are more productive working alone, there are also times when team work or delegating tasks are a better option. I hear so many people say ‘I could get it the job done so much quicker myself, so I didn’t delegate’.
Think about the best use of your time and that this may be a great development opportunity for someone else. You are doing them a favour by providing a new challenge, teaching them a new skill and believing in their abilities. You are also doing yourself a favour by honouring your own time.
The ‘unknown’ causes panic
The fear of things unknown can cause mass hysteria, widespread gossip and for people to draw their own conclusions. Are you creating your own zombie apocalypse by not communicating effectively during times of change, addressing individual’s concerns and being transparent? There needs to be trust and communication is the key.
I am going to end this lighter look at leadership with something Sir Christopher Lee said, ‘I decided to make Dracula more believable and sympathetic’ (The Times, 12 June 2015) – it sounds like Dracula would make a great leader after all!
I had an interesting question asked in my master’s degree this week. How much responsibility should a company take in managing their employee’s careers? In an ever changing society, where people are now wanting careers and not just a job it’s important for managers to help their employees grow, but should they be the driver?
Quast (2014) looks at the research by Phoenix University and EdAssist. 71% of employees say that employers should provide job opportunities and career paths; whilst 85% of employers say it’s the employee’s responsibility to identify job opportunities and career paths. This lack of alignment can cause huge problems. Employees & employers need to have open discussions around desires and expectations.
I personally think you need to drive your own career, with a manager’s support. Below are a couple of steps you might find useful to help drive your career.
Step 1 – What do you Want?
First of all what makes you tick? Where do you want to be heading? Only you can decide what career you want. This is probably the toughest question of all. Sit down one weekend and just map out in your ideal world what you would be doing, what would the role look like and how you can get there.
Step 2 – Tell People What you Want, Find out Options
You’re not alone if you are nervous or uncomfortable about talking to your manager about career progression – 44.8% of UK workers feel the same! If you have a good manager they will understand and want to help you achieve your goals. Talking about career progression isn’t having all the answers now, but knowing that you are growing and moving in the right direction. A company needs to support you in this if they want to keep hold of you. If your manager is aware of what you are thinking, they can look out for opportunities when having meetings with other managers.
Step 3 – Keep on Track
It’s so easy to go off track! Make sure you put your goals around growth and progression into your quarterly performance appraisal. This will help you stay on track, and help communication around your career aspirations.
As a millennial, I’ve grown into a world where people expect things to be dealt with quickly, and they want as much information as they can get in the process. Just look at Domino’s pizza tracker. Why just wait for your pizza, when you can check when it’s being prepped, in the oven, and out for delivery?
This speed, and thirst for information, is transposed onto complaints and problems. According to a Lithium-commissioned study by Millward Brown Digital, survey, 72 percent of people expect a response to a Twitter complaint to a company in less than an hour.
To make sure I’m always ready with a response when someone complains, I like to remind myself of “The Five A’s to Dealing With Problems”. They provide a simple process that I can follow to connect with the disgruntled person in front of me, make them feel better about the issue, and then actually do something about it there and then.
Acknowledge the problem – try to really understand why someone is complaining. Stop listening to them complain, and start hearing what the issue actually is.
Apologize – you can directly apologise if there’s something that you’ve done wrong; or you can make the apology generic. Try: “I’m sorry that you feel that way”. Either way, the apology needs to be genuine. “Don’t ruin an apology with an excuse”. Don’t apologise, and then say “…but”.
Analyze the issue –find the cause of the problem. Complaints contain insight, so listen to the feedback – it should be part of the solution, not part of the problem. If you’re still not clear what remedy the person stood in front of you is looking for, involve them in your resolution decision-making – use questions such as: “What do you think would be fair?”
Act – tell them what you are going to do about the problem. If it’s an obvious solution, you might be able to tell them there and then. However, sometimes it’s not as simple – if that’s the case, we can still provide an immediate response just by being up front and honest – if you need to get someone else’s input, explain that, and then give them an idea of when you might be able to give them a solution.
Appreciate the situation – check in with the person that complained, and invite their feedback to verify that you have solved the problem. Even if it is obvious that the situation has been corrected; the fact that you care enough to follow up makes people feel valued.
I use these “Five A’s” as a tool to building trust and effective relationships with, and ensure that no one is left with an unresolved problem. They provide a valuable insight into continuous improvement, by inviting feedback – and then people know you’ll take the feedback on board and do something about it. It’s a useful skill to have in your leadership portfolio – because, even with the best intentions – your team members won’t be happy all of the time. If they know that you’re willing to listen to their problem, apologise if you haven’t achieved and accept your own mistakes (or at least acknowledge how their feeling about things and empathize), and then take action on it – they can know that they can come to you with problems; and you’ll continually be able to grow and develop and take the feedback on board to improve.
That, or you could just buy your team pizza. I’ve just checked on my app, and mine’s “Out for Delivery”….
Jemma Garraghan is a Project Manager for EMEA at The Ken Blanchard Companies, and can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org
I was talking with a group of individuals at my running club and one of the ladies said, ‘isn’t it strange how you feel you can run faster when you’ve tied your shoelaces tighter’.
Other runners mentioned feeling increased performance after a decent warm up, pre-race rituals or times when a ritual abandoned before a run left them feeling heavy legged and lethargic.
So I was interested to read a column in Runners World (May 2015) by Sam Murphy on placebos. She mentioned a study by the University of Glasgow where volunteers injected what they were told was a new drug that mimicked a banned substance that boosted endurance. The performance of the runners over a 3K distance increased by 1.2% (9.7 seconds) and they perceived their effort to be lower. It turns out the volunteers were injecting a saline solution, providing zero benefits to their performance.
I have also heard similar examples of people with terminal illnesses who, when given a placebo, improved dramatically. Their symptoms decreased and some seemingly made miraculous recoveries. When they found out they were taking a dummy drug their symptoms returned.
This got me thinking about how our minds work and the effect this has on our performance, both in the sporting world but also in the world of work. I certainly feel my concentration decreases at work without a morning coffee, but would I have still had the same level of performance if someone switched my coffee for a decaff without telling me?
So, is it then possible to train the brain to make you believe you can perform at an optimum level every day? I think it is.
About a year ago Lily Guthrie, Office of the Future Executive Assistant at the Ken Blanchard Companies, provided a group of us with a virtual session on ‘Creating Healthy Habits’. This was mainly focused on habit forming activities in order to keep fit, eat well and increase the health and alertness of your brain. Applying this concept to your work day would also provide structure and your brain will believe these habits are fundamental to good performance.
If you always have a healthy breakfast, keep water by your desk and write a ‘to do’ list every morning before even opening your emails would this fundamentally increase your productivity? Possibly it would, as you are hydrated, won’t be hungry and are organised.
It could also be said that these habits make you feel more productive too – it’s a little placebo at the start of your day. Without these daily habits you might not feel you are working optimally, but with these habits you feel you have started the day as you should and are ready to face any challenges that lie ahead.
I would challenge yourself to think about your ‘best’ days; when do you feel in control, creative, productive and organised? This could mean recording in a diary or somewhere on your computer what you did each day and how you felt. Make your own placebo – take the best parts of your week and make them a reality every day.
Lisa is the EMEA Client Services Manager at the Ken Blanchard Companies. The Client Services Team specialise in delivery; Project Management, Learning Services (virtual learning and online assessments) and Staffing (trainer allocation).