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How to Tune In to the Unspoken Rules of an Organization

women leaders meeting and shaking hands, unspoken rules in an organization

 

Organizational Awareness is a competency that falls under the domain of Social Awareness, and is one of the twelve learnable capabilities included in the Leadership Competency Model developed by Daniel Goleman and Richard Boyatzis. This competency is empirically linked to leadership performance, and present in leaders with an understanding of the complex relationships and intricacies of their workplace environments, including:

  • The values and culture
  • Social networks
  • Informal structures and processes
  • Unspoken rules

Leaders with strength in Organizational Awareness will be conscious of the roles played by relationships, influence, and authority within their organization as well. The leaders I interviewed as part of my study on the impact of mindfulness on leadership effectiveness were able to demonstrate an understanding of these important factors. They also reported having developed a gradually increasing capacity for Organizational Awareness over time, a process they said was enhanced by mindfulness practice.

Developing Organizational Awareness

Your goal should be to build an accurate picture of how and why your organization functions so that you minimize your risk of unintentionally misaligning with the values.

Time spent on this type of development can also help with other competencies such as empathy, influence, and teamwork. This is because Organizational Awareness requires you to collect information about others that can contribute to your ability to more effectively attune to their needs. This form of development requires specific types of social interaction, which will help to expand your social networks and build stronger relationships.

To expand your capacity for this, spend time on both reflection and interaction with others in order to develop and test theories about your workplace. These activities should include:

  • Analysis of what organizational factors may have contributed to an event
  • Obtaining input on your conclusions from a diverse group of coworkers
  • Incorporating what you know about your organizations’ culture when making decisions
  • Managing your behavior to ensure alignment with unspoken rules

These activities will also require you to spend more time with coworkers in other departments. This provides you with access to new information contributing to a greater ability to understand the needs of others and the larger value system of your organization. Time spent on these activates also creates an opportunity to develop more meaningful relationships. At every step in this process it is worthwhile to ask questions that help you learn about the needs, day-to-day activities, and personal interests of coworkers. This creates formal and informal channels for gathering information, and cultivates trusting relationships.

Assessing your beliefs about what leadership is, and how leaders function within organizations is important as well.

Many people, including those in leadership roles, have conflicting and inaccurate beliefs about these topics. These beliefs are heavily influenced by the cultures that we grew up in, and are often not supported by research. A great way to enhance your understanding of leadership is to read the book Indispensable by Harvard Business Professor Gautam Mukunda. It explores core beliefs about leadership through in-depth, historical analysis of famous leaders. This story-based approach is highly informative, and makes many potentially confusing concepts accessible to a much larger audience. The primer on Organizational Awareness is another great resource for further understanding and practical skills for developing this competency.

Recommended reading:

For more examples of Organizational Awareness in action, see Coaching Leaders to Value and Manage Their Organizational Webs.

Organizational awareness primerOur new primer series is written by Daniel Goleman and fellow thought leaders in the field of Emotional Intelligence and research. See our latest release: Organizational Awareness: A Primer for more insights on how this applies in leadership.

Additional primers so far include:

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Coaching Leaders to Value and Manage Their Organizational Webs

 

DeLea is like a spider, aware of even the most subtle vibrations across her web.   She is able to predict how emotional energy will travel across her organizational web of stakeholders when she makes a leadership decision.

When one of her senior managers denies her proposal to implement a progressive reading practice in her school, she positively engages her powerful allies across her web to build support for the new practice.  Meanwhile, she re-engages her manager at the level of values and beliefs that she knows they both hold dear.  As a result, the no turns into an enthusiastic yes in weeks.  On her own team, DeLea meets individually with key influencers about the new practice to hear their point of view and subtly appeal to what they value.  When it comes time to formally make her pitch to her team, many strong voices in the room voice their enthusiastic support.   Weeks later when DeLea hears secondhand about a veteran teacher voicing frustration about the practice in the staff lounge, she knows exactly which teachers, support staff, and parents to engage to head off a potential setback. She also engages the teacher in question with the just-right blend of affirmation and high-candor feedback to begin shifting his resistance.

Isabel, a leader at another school, is like a fly caught in a web.  She skillfully builds the schedule and transition protocols for her school’s extended day program makeover.  However, it never occurs to her to question how people will feel about the new program.  She never asks anyone for feedback or shares any details about the plan until unveiling it in a Friday staff meeting. On Monday she is surprised to hear gossip about how she treats people and how arrogant she is to just ”take over” the extended day program.   Hurt and disoriented, Isabel just didn’t see this coming, and she feels like she’s been ambushed.   Isabel has a new appreciation for those who say that leadership is a lonely path.

What separates DeLea and Isabel is organizational awareness. 

DeLea values her team’s emotional energy.  She reads people, trusts her gut, and actively seeks information about people’s beliefs before she acts.   Isabel doesn’t value her team’s emotional energy and so does none of the things that DeLea does to guide her actions.

How do you teach Isabel to be like DeLea?

The first step is to build Isabel’s awareness that the web exists, and that her success depends on her understanding how it works.  Expect resistance!  Leaders who aren’t aware of the web and don’t value it tend to believe that small interactions don’t matter, and that people won’t find out about what they say behind closed doors.

Some take a values stand against caring about the web.  They won’t stoop to paying attention to gossip.  People should just be adults and get over their own emotional reactions.   These leaders need help seeing the impact of the web on their ability to meet their goals.  Coaches can help leaders to unpack their webs by digging deep into a current or past challenge.  Isabel and I drew a web of relationships on a big piece of butcher paper on her wall.  We named the key players and interest groups on her team, and how they connected to each other.  We thought about each person or group individually in terms of what they valued, their relationships, and their power to either support or challenge progress toward Isabel’s goal.  As we worked, Isabel began to see how her actions created dissonance for her people, and how their reactions were actually consistent with what they valued. Isabel’s biggest a-ha: their actions are predictable!  Her resistance melted away as she began to see the power in predicting her team’s reactions and proactively engaging to avoid being ambushed.

Isabel and I then applied the web to moving forward towards her goal.  We began by identifying her supporters.  She was unpleasantly surprised to realize how few she had.  From there we identified which people or groups were most likely to become supporters with some effective engagement from Isabel.

The key to getting that engagement was Isabel’s ability to figure out what these people valued, and what they needed from her. 

One person valued his standing on the team.  He needed an apology, and to be consulted on the new model.   Another group worried about the impact of the new approach on families.  They needed Isabel to affirm this worry and collaborate with them to find a solution.  Isabel had no idea what several people or groups needed, and realized that she needed to go find out.

Next, we focused on the people in the web who were actively resisting the new system.  I supported Isabel to build some empathy for these people””to see the noble story they were likely telling themselves that justified their actions.  Then I helped her understand the tactics these folks were using to influence other stakeholders across the web.  Again, Isabel had to figure out what these people needed from her to move from resistance to motivation, or at least compliance.

As she brainstormed, Isabel was building new appreciation for the range of influencing strategies she needed to embrace to get her organizational web behind her initiative.

By the time we were done, Isabel had created a complex visual representation of her stakeholders and their values, power, and relationships.  While this was all done in the context of her after-school system, Isabel realized that she could apply most of this map””reactively or proactively””to other leadership challenges.  We continued to use this map, or create new ones, over time as Isabel continued to build her organizational awareness.   Happily, she is no longer the fly caught in her web, and is on her way to becoming the spider.

Recommended reading:

Organizational awareness primerOur new primer series is written by Daniel Goleman, George Pitagorsky, and fellow thought leaders in the field of Emotional Intelligence and research. See our latest release: Organizational Awareness: A Primer for more insights on how this applies in leadership.

Additional primers so far include:

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Organizational Awareness in Action

What does it look like when a leader is skilled in the Organizational Awareness Competency? Here are some examples I’ve seen in my work as a consultant and technology executive.

Communicating to Different Interests

One leader at an international financial institution understood the importance of communicating in a way that addressed the needs of different people in the organization. Each group has its own interests and “language.”

As the executive sponsor for a critical program, he realized that he needed to communicate to a wide array of players, each with their own perspective.

He crafted a message to the board of directors, considering their need for a high-level summary, the ability to delve into details as they saw fit, and a focus on profits and impact on the organization’s strategy. He crafted another communication for the shareholders of the company, considering their interests. Then, he addressed the nuances needed to communicate with the news media, the organization’s executives, leadership at the next levels, and the technologists, clerks, administrators, and other people doing the day-to-day operational activities needed to make the program a success.

Each communication was a true reflection of the program, though, at a level of detail, in a medium and language that was tailored to each role and highlighted issues and concerns relevant to each group.

A leader with organizational awareness uses his or her understanding of the nature of the relationships, hierarchies, and decision-making processes to communicate more effectively.

This leader knew that he was more likely to get buy-in from the various groups and individuals because he communicated in a way that resonated with them. He understood their values and how they made decisions. Buy-in then got him the funding he needed and gave him the ability to manage expectations in a more effective way. Therefore, he could be more successful and respected as a leader. That respect translated into greater effectiveness.

Communication is one primary element of organizational awareness.  Another is the ability to take a systems and process view of the organization.  The effective leader is able, on a day-to-day level, to resolve issues by focusing on their causes. This requires recognizing that those causes are rooted in the organization’s structure, policies, procedures and processes. Leaders skilled at organizational awareness have a greater sense of the bigger picture.  They see issues in the context of the complex interactions among departments, individuals and competing values in play.

Navigating Change  

As a consultant, I worked on a project with an international bank to reengineer the process they used to provide large-scale commercial loans to their clients. The bank’s leadership wanted a more automated system better control the bank’s global credit exposure. The organization dynamics we needed to deal with related to the business process as well as the information technology organization and its involvement.

There were a main IT department was responsible for technology applications for the bank’s central office and relatively autonomous  IT departments in outlying regions –  Europe, Asia, and Latin America. That meant there were siloed groups processing and managing credit related data in different ways.

Organizational awareness enabled us to see the potential for communication and decision-making difficulties between those different players in the IT world.

The bank’s leadership of the recognized that there were large personality and political differences between the IT departments and that it was impossible to reconcile those differences in the short-term. So, we crafted a solution that removed the program from the IT world and put it into a newly organized Product Management office. That office would  define, design and manage the program and coordinate the efforts of all other departments, including the IT departments, and vendors involved.   . The IT organizations were doing a great job individually, but coordination among them was contentious.

The product designers crafted an architecture that enabled continued autonomy among the groups, minimizing change in other business areas, while getting the desired result – comprehensive and accurate data that reflected the global exposure to families of companies, countries and industries.  The IT folks could focus on what they do best, and we took the communication and coordination challenges off their hands.

The use of organizational awareness here prevented what could have been a failed program.  Getting the IT silos to work together to design a new system to replace their existing systems would have taken years of tedious effort and a super-human facilitator.  It is likely that compromises among the IT groups, known for vying with one another for control and influence, would have been sub-optimal. By Understanding the character and the different interests of each department, leaders created a solution that was embraced by all, and resulted in a cost effective, timely outcome.

Recommended reading:

Organizational awareness primerOur new primer series is written by Daniel Goleman, George Pitagorsky, and fellow thought leaders in the field of Emotional Intelligence and research. See our latest release: Organizational Awareness: A Primer for more insights on how this applies in leadership.

Additional primers so far include:

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Team Norms and Emotional Intelligence

team norms

 

I’m a strong believer in the importance of what we expect of one another in a team. And I’m not alone, as much of my research has focused on finding the distinctions that define the best teams. What my colleagues and I have found is that norms – or shared expectations – are the universal elements that identify high-performing teams.

Every group has norms, whether they’re developed consciously or not. A great example is: Do we start on time or do we wait for latecomers? Is it okay to show up late? Norms vary from group to group, and depend on what’s agreed upon by all involved.

The important thing about norms is that they regulate all behavior in teams. They regulate at the systems level. Many team researchers make the mistake of thinking that changing behavior in the team is about changing individual behavior. Building the individual emotional intelligence of team members is fabulous and it helps. However, once you enter a team where the norms don’t support your emotionally intelligent behavior, you’re more likely to conform to those norms than act otherwise. If rudeness is a norm, cutting people off, showing up late, that will emerge.

The way to impact a group’s performance is to impact the group’s norms. I explored this topic with Daniel Goleman in Crucial Competence, as a way to complement the many facets of building emotional and social leadership.

My colleagues and I have studied the norms of high-performing teams and found that the best teams periodically step back and reflect on their process. They take time to say, “How are we doing? Are we being too nice? Are we arguing too much? Are people getting supported? What do we need to work on?” This is essentially the group equivalent of the first key competence in individual emotional intelligence, self-awareness.

Where do norms of high-performing teams come from?

We had a hypothesis that an emotionally intelligent leader is more likely to develop emotionally intelligent norms in their team. A graduate student of mine when I was in the faculty at Case Western, Elizabeth Stubbs Koman, had contacts in the military, and she wanted to test the team norms and the emotional intelligence of leaders. She found a wonderful sample of air crew teams and maintenance teams, 81 teams that included 422 people. She first studied the team leader’s emotional intelligence using the Emotional and Social Competency Inventory in a 360-degree survey. We got anonymous ratings on the leaders. Then, she administered our survey that measures the group emotional intelligence norms. She also had the outcome data for these teams, the military’s objective measures of performance.

What she found was exactly what we predicted:

The team leader’s emotional intelligence didn’t predict the performance of the team, BUT it did predict the emergence of the emotionally intelligent team norms.

And, the team norms then predicted the performance. The way the leader’s emotional intelligence mattered was in shaping the norms, dynamics, and reality of the team, which in turn, led to higher performance.

Consider how this applies to your team, whether you are a leader or not. Play your part in cultivating positive team norms, garnering agreement, and speaking up when norms become counterproductive. Over time you’ll find this creates efficiency and cohesion among all of the team members.

Recommended Reading:

Our new primer series is written by Daniel Goleman, Vanessa Druskat, and fellow thought leaders in the field of Emotional Intelligence and research. The following are available now:

Emotional Self-Awareness, Emotional Self-Control, Adaptability,  Achievement Orientation, and Positive Outlook.

For more in-depth insights, see the Crucial Competence video series, and Team Emotional Intelligence.

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Manage Expectations to Get Everyone on the Same Page

managing-expectations

Have you ever worked with others without first making sure each person knew what everyone else expected? Without agreement about what is supposed to be delivered, by when, for how much, and by whom, you often experience unnecessary pain. Managing expectations””influencing the beliefs people have about something being the case in the future””avoids the pain and increases the likelihood of success. What do I mean by pain? Here’s an example.

Who Expects What?

The marketing team of a small software company planned a short video promoting their new app. Lisa drafted a script, then sent it for review by others in the firm. After review and editing, AJ would create visuals needed to accompany the script. AJ had arranged for a videographer to film the piece and actors to play the parts.

On the day of the final script deadline, the managers reviewing the script told Lisa they wouldn’t deliver their input until the next week. Frustrated, Lisa sent a message to the team about the delay.

Almost immediately, Lisa’s phone rang. She picked up the call and heard AJ yelling, “That’s unacceptable! We’re shooting the piece next week. We’ll miss the app release!”

Everyone Has Expectations

Whenever a group works together, each person has expectations, whether they’re explicitly stated or not. With the promo video plan, roles were defined and deadlines were set. What wasn’t considered was uncertainty. Did the script reviewers understand the need for a hard-and-fast deadline? AJ certainly did.

Managing expectations is something we all do every day in real-world situations. The goal is to manage expectations to achieve success in whatever you do.

What Is Success?

Success is measured in how well you satisfy the people who have a stake in your performance. You satisfy them by setting and meeting rational and meaningful expectations – your own and those of all of the stakeholders. Managing expectations relies on blending a crisp analytical approach with the interpersonal skills needed to negotiate win-win understandings of the vision. Vision is just another term for expectations. The vision isn’t limited to just the nuts-and-bolts of what, when and how much, it includes the process to get to it – are people happy? Are relationships healthy? Is there a productive, sustainable flow?

Expectations Involve More Than Calm, Rational Thought

When expectations are not satisfied, the disappointment and discord can be disturbing and difficult to manage. When setting expectations, conflicts arise.

Interpersonal skills are crucial to effective expectations management. That’s why my new book, Managing Expectations: A Mindful Approach to Achieving Success, combines detailed information about both the process of expectations management and the use of mindfulness as a foundation for the relationship and communications management needed to set expectations and adjust them as reality dawns. I’ll talk more about mindfulness in future posts. For now, Mindfulness is purposely paying attention to the present moment.

How Do You Manage Expectations?

Expectations management is a five-step process to make sure that expectations are:

  • Rational – Can it be done given real world conditions?
  • Meaningful – Will it improve things – make more money, increase quality, make life better for the people involved, etc.? In other words, why do it?
  • Mutually understood – Do all the people involved have the same understanding of goals, objectives, and prevailing conditions?
  • Accepted by all those with a stake in the work – Does everyone agree that it can and should be done?

The five steps in the Expectations Management Cycle are:

  • Set expectations by eliciting and discussing objectives with key stakeholders
  • Plan the process that will achieve the objectives
  • Perform the work in accordance with the plan
  • Assess performance to determine if it is progressing according to plan and to determine if the plan is still accurate and realistic
  • Adapt to the current circumstances by making changes to the plan so you can maintain realistic expectations

Your Takeaway:

Do you and your teams suffer from unmanaged expectations? If you do and you are tired of avoidable arguments, disappointments, and complaints, then commit to action. Make sure you take the time and effort to set mutually understood, rational expectations before you deliver your results. Expectations set direction and are the criteria for measuring success.

Managing expectations is an essential component of project planning, and is most effective when done right at the beginning.

Learn more about managing expectations with mindfulness and strategy in my new book: Managing Expectations: A Mindful Approach to Achieving Success.

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Two Key Skills for High-Performance Leadership

high performing leader presenting to colleagues at a work meeting

What does it take to be a high-performing leader? Emotional Intelligence author Daniel Goleman explored this question with George Kohlrieser, Professor of Leadership and Organizational Behavior at IMD, while they discussed emotional intelligence and leadership.

Their conversation centered on the twelve emotional intelligence competencies many organizations recognize as being essential for effective leadership. Each competency focuses on a specific aspect of self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, or relationship management.

Positive Outlook is a competency in the self-management domain. During their conversation, Professor Kohlrieser stressed the importance of positivity, saying leaders must be able to find and convey to others what is positive in any situation. Dr. Goleman described research that highlights ways leaders can learn to be more positive. Here is a brief section of that conversation:

If there is one constant in life and the work world, it is change. Along with being positive, effective leaders must be able to adjust to the changes they face each day. In this brief video clip, George Kohlrieser talks about positivity as an essential precursor to another emotional intelligence competency, Adaptability.

Positive Outlook and Adaptability are just two of the twelve emotional intelligence competencies of leaders who perform better than their peers. Research shows that leaders who score high in six or more of the emotional intelligence competencies are better able to create the conditions needed to improve performance in the groups they lead.

Oftentimes the result isn’t just better performance, but happier and less stressed teams. And who doesn’t want that?

Want to learn more about leadership and emotional intelligence?

Crucial Competence: Building Emotional and Social Leadership is a series of video conversations between Daniel Goleman and his colleagues, including Richard Boyatzis, Richard Davidson, Vanessa Druskat, and George Kohlrieser.

Leadership: The Power of Emotional Intelligence is a collection of Daniel Goleman’s writings filled with advice for leaders on using emotional intelligence to enhance their performance.

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What Hiring Managers Want vs. What Recent Graduates Have

Daniel Goleman’s Harvard Business Review articles have been helping develop leadership skills up to the C-suite for decades. As the class of 2016 begins to enter the workforce, these highly acclaimed articles remain as relevant now as ever before.

What is it employers look for when hiring recent graduates? What Makes a Leader: Why Emotional Intelligence Matters is a collection of Dr. Goleman’s writings designed to explain the components of emotional intelligence and why they matter at work.

Recent Grads: What Makes a Leader?

Recent research by the Hay Group surveyed business leaders and recent graduates based in India, the U.S., and China. More than three-quarters of managers reported that entry-level workers and recent grads are not ready for their jobs.

According to the Hay Group, recent graduates often lack “soft skills” unrelated to their technical or cognitive abilities. These skills include key emotional intelligence (EI) abilities such as self-awareness, self-regulation, empathy and social skills.

Dr. Goleman’s article “What Makes a Leader” continues to be one of Harvard Business Review‘s best-selling articles. First published in 1998, Dr. Goleman’s message has resonated with people across all walks of life: what distinguishes outstanding leaders is emotional intelligence.

“What Makes a Leader” was just the beginning of Dr. Goleman’s writings about emotional intelligence in HBR. His next HBR article, “Leadership that Gets Results,” summarized the data from Hay Group on leadership styles that build on EI abilities and their impact on the emotional climate of organizations.

More Than Sound has reprinted “What Makes a Leader” and “Leadership that Gets Results” in a collection of Dr. Goleman’s writings, including three additional HBR articles, pieces about the importance of focus for leaders, and other recent brief articles.

What Makes a Leader: Why Emotional Intelligence Matters is available in affordable print and e-book formats, is a compact volume that delivers a wealth of insight and timely information for leaders young and old.

From Daniel Goleman’s Introduction to What Makes a Leader: Why Emotional Intelligence Matters

“This collection of my writing on leadership and EI – mainly articles I’ve written in the Harvard Business Review – reflects how my thinking has evolved. When I wrote Emotional Intelligence in the mid-1990s, I included a short chapter, called “Managing with Heart,” that made the simple argument that leaders need strengths in emotional intelligence. This, at the time, was a new and rather radical idea. That chapter, to my surprise, got lots of attention, particularly from people in management.

As I looked into the data on leadership and EI for my next book, Working with Emotional Intelligence, I became even more convinced. I took advantage of my training back in graduate school from David McClelland, who at the time was a pioneer in the method known as ”˜competence modeling,’ which allows a systematic analysis of the specific strengths that make someone in a given role an outstanding performer. When I did a rough analysis of close to 200 such models from a wide range of organizations, I found that the large majority of competencies that distinguished the best leaders were based on EI, not IQ.

That caught the eye of editors at the Harvard Business Review, who asked me to write an article summarizing this. Called ”˜What Makes a Leader,’ that article is the first chapter of this book. My next HBR article, ”˜Leadership that Gets Results’ – the second chapter here – summarized data from Hay Group on leadership styles that build on EI abilities, and their varying impacts on emotional climate of the organization.

As I looked more deeply at the new findings from neuroscience on the dynamics of relationships – and what that meant for the drivers of excellence and high-impact relationships – I again wrote for HBR. Those articles, too, are included in this book. My most recent thinking has shifted frameworks to explore how a leader’s focus matters for effectiveness. The chapter ”˜The Leader’s Triple Focus’ summarizes sections on leadership from my book Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence. And, the final chapter, written for a magazine (by coincidence called Focus) published by Egon Zehnder International, reflects on the ethical dimension of leadership. I’ve also included several of my blogs, placed after the relevant chapters, that either further delve into the topic or complement it. These first appeared, for the most part, on LinkedIn; some are from HBR.com.

I hope my reflections gathered here will help you along the way in your own leadership journey.”