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Why “Achievement” is About More Than Short-Term Gains

 

Maintaining the competency of Achievement Orientation as a leader is complicated on many levels. One aspect is the time period in which achievement is being evaluated. Many businesses operate in very short transactional windows, and this challenges a leader’s ability to balance his or her personal drive with the needs of the organization as a whole.

Balancing sales and cash flow concerns with a longer view toward developing people is another reality of business – one that undermines the inner wisdom of many managers because it’s tough to do both at the same time.

Here’s how this played out in my leadership experience.

Many years ago, I was in a financial management position charged with bringing a business case to corporate headquarters for a fifteen million dollar capital equipment request. It involved significant changes in manufacturing tooling, was mildly controversial due to its scale, and was not easy for senior management to approve. There were competing needs across the company, so we not only had to believe in this program ourselves, but make a compelling case to senior management.

At the time, I managed a financial operations department of twelve employees, all but one of who were extremely busy. The one who wasn’t extremely busy was the newest on our team, new to the company and the least experienced. Should I take an experienced person off another equally important project to assure success here, or give the new guy a chance to learn something – yet risk a screw-up as a consequence? This is a question that managers face every day. It is a question that brings with it feelings of anxiety and self-doubt, and the added question of whether this will be the decision that torpedoes your own career.

To the risk-averse, it is generally an easy decision; pick the best person to do the job and get on with it. An alternative might be to pick the least experienced and micro-manage them to a successful outcome in order to maintain a sense of control. After brief deliberation, I chose a third path based in part on my awareness that my job would be easier, and in the long run the company healthier, if I viewed my responsibility to be in service of the organization as a whole, not just to myself and my career.

Taking calculated risks is part of how the competency of Achievement Orientation played out in my mind.

We had about four weeks until the presentation, so I called in the less experienced analyst and discussed with him what was needed for the business evaluation and presentation, who he could go to in manufacturing and engineering to get necessary information, and the stylistic approach required by headquarters for capital equipment requests. He said he understood what was required and we agreed to get back together to review his work in two weeks to make sure he was on the right track.

When we met again, he appeared to be moving in the right direction, though I pointed out that he’d made far too many assumptions in areas where the data was available, and that those gaps would be exploited by those with competing needs who wanted to scuttle our request. He seemed to understand and agreed to get the necessary data, incorporate it into his evaluation and we agreed to reconvene in ten days having tightened up those gaps. I wasn’t feeling good after this meeting. I wondered if he understood the importance of the project. He said all the right things, but I felt a distinct unease. Based on this feeling, I made an important decision: not to alleviate my feeling by either taking over the project or assigning it to another analyst but to commit to his growth.

 

I knew that in the worst case, with the information he’d have gathered by the following week I could pull something together to take to headquarters, but at this point I committed to a larger vision.

Two days before I was scheduled to fly to headquarters, we met to review his work. I was disappointed. He hadn’t gotten verification of his assumptions, and he hadn’t corroborated engineers’ hearsay. In a week we had hardly gained any ground. I was angry. Anger is both a constructive and a destructive emotion when used by a leader – it can motivate and commands attention, or it can undermine the individual and their authority. I told him that he needed to get focused. We had a day and a half and I didn’t care if he had to call the Chairman of the Board, the CEO or the Plant Manager himself, but I needed him to be at the airport the following day at 6am with the presentation as planned and the supporting data as required. No excuses.

At 5:45am the following morning he met me at the airport.

This was before the days of TSA and security checks when you could actually meet people at the airport at your gate to transfer documents. When I looked the presentation over, I saw that he’d done the work and done it well. He looked tired but satisfied, like he knew he’d just fully joined the team. I felt the same thing, that he’d fully joined the team. At that moment I knew my decision was the right one despite my earlier concerns. My boss told me that later that day he’d seen this analyst in the cafeteria and said, “You look like hell, what happened to you?” His response? “I had to stay up all night to get the business case done, but it was my own fault.” When my boss shared that with me I felt certain that I’d made the proper decision for the organization as a whole, and vowed to myself to choose that path whenever possible.

It is difficult to make decisions that may take months or years to manifest when we live in a world in which decisions are measured in days and weeks. The essence of good leadership is knowing how to balance those short and long-term gains.

Recommended Reading:

Achievement Orientation

Our new primer series is written by Daniel Goleman and fellow thought leaders in the field of Emotional Intelligence and research. The following are available now: Emotional Self-Awareness, Emotional Self-Control, Adaptability, and Achievement Orientation, with new releases monthly throughout 2017.

For more in-depth insights, see the Crucial Competence video series!

Emotional-Self-Control

Emotional Self-Control: A Leader’s Perspective on Staying Cool Under Pressure

 

According to Daniel Goleman, Emotional Self-Control is “the ability to keep your disruptive emotions and impulses in check, to maintain your effectiveness under stressful or even hostile conditions… staying clear-headed and calm.”

Self-management and control are necessary components of the leader’s tool kit. It’s not so much about trying to muzzle yourself as it is about understanding your role as a leader.

Here’s how Emotional Self-Control emerged in my experience:

Years ago, as a newly minted manager at IBM, I was blessed with an insight into what this means both for the organization and myself. I was promoted to management because I was good at doing things. It’s the same in every business where I’ve worked. Generally, those who are the best at doing the work get recognized and when there is a need for managers they are selected because of their ability as “doer’s.”

In my case, I took over a financial planning department at an IBM semi-conductor plant in Essex, Vermont. The manager I replaced was a hard and dedicated worker, often putting in fifty to sixty hours a week; however, his work was largely transactional, and reactive. We did as we were told under his management and took few risks. Having taken over his department, I found myself sitting at my desk one evening wondering what I was supposed to do and trying to understand exactly what it meant to manage and lead a department of skilled financial analysts, some with far more experience than me.

I could feel the beginnings of panic, a tightening in my chest and a strong feeling that I should be doing something. But what? As I sat with my feelings, I suddenly understood. My job wasn’t at all what I thought it was. My job was to hold the anxiety for my department, for my team.

What does it mean to “hold the anxiety?”

Holding the anxiety involves engaging your Emotional Self-Awareness and Emotional Self-Control so that you can see the difference between your “doer” self and your “being” self. When you don’t have the ability to “do,” your anxiety can increase and you may feel motivated not to feel your feelings, but to push them on to your employees and co-workers. This can manifest itself in many forms. Micromanagement or other controlling behaviors are often at the top of the list. It is easy to rationalize our behaviors. But consider an alternative approach: if you choose to allow your anxiety and fear to take over and you micromanage or control your team, you miss the opportunity to develop your own self-awareness and effectiveness as a leader, and also miss out on the opportunity to develop a trusting relationship with your team. You may never really see what great work they can do, instead believing they need you to make decisions for them. They will then wait for your direction before making decisions and moving forward because they don’t feel trusted. But developing decision-making abilities in others is key to good leadership.

In “holding the anxiety,” you create space for them to learn and grow and ultimately increase the capacity of your team.

Applying Emotional Self-Control in the real world

It is a very delicate balance. Those above you in the hierarchy may be acting out their own anxieties from various pressures. This is where Emotional Self-Awareness and Self-Control are critical. You can listen to what your boss wants, feel the feelings you have, hold them, and then calmly talk to your team about what needs to be done and engage them in creating the proper result by listening, guiding, coaching, and leading.

Always take a moment to allow yourself to simply “be” and connect with your self-awareness, but don’t project it onto the team. You won’t always be successful. Sometimes we do project, but when you do if you can own it and recognize your projection you will continue to build a trusting relationship with your team and demonstrate your true strengths as a leader.

Fear is a motivational and destructive force in business. No one wants to fail. If we can understand and own our own fears and not project them on others, we will discover that engaged team members are far more creative and productive than frightened ones.

Victor Morrison has diverse management experience, including Financial Operations Manager for IBM, CFO of Finance for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, CEO of Elan Ski and Snowboard Company for North America, President of American Flatbread, and recently as CEO of Dr. Hauschka Skin Care for the US and Mexico. Victor also works locally as a management consultant, focusing on sustainable business strategy development and executive management coaching. Victor has also been an occasional Adjunct Business Professor in Green Mountain College’s Sustainable MBA Program, teaching classes in People Management, Sustainable Business Strategy, and Finance.  

Recommended Reading:

Interested in learning more about how to apply these concepts at work? Our newly released Primers provide a concise overview of the Emotional and Social Intelligence Leadership Competencies of Emotional Self-Awareness and Emotional Self-Control, as well as an overview of the Emotional and Social Intelligence Leadership Competency Model itself.

The Primers are created by Emotional Intelligence author Daniel Goleman, with several fellow thought leaders in the field of emotional intelligence, leadership development, and research, including Richard Boyatzis, Vanessa Druskat, Richard J. Davidson, and George Kohlrieser.