February 20, 2014

Office Politics… A Victim's story

My first real encounter with office politics was on my first contract job as a HSE champion for a multinational FCMG company. I come from a country with many tribes and diverse cultures and the sad truth is tribalism is quite common in the workplace regardless of literacy levels. It didn't takes long to understand that people from the boss' tribe felt entitled and considered themselves untouchable. Frequent conversations in various dialect were also quite common; something I felt was highly unprofessional. The consequence was clear divides in the workforce and even though we had one boss, employees who weren't from his tribe did not feel confident about fair treatment and would rather confide in a manager who was from their tribe. In the event that there was any misunderstanding between two people from different tribes, sides were easily taken regardless of who was right or wrong. When I started at the company, older employees from my tribe would try to converse in my dialect but I would always respond in English. They expected me to join their 'crew' and would attempt to involve me in gossip about other people from different tribes and make derogatory remarks about them but it never sat well with me. Little did I know that this was not going to make me any less susceptible to biased treatment. In my 18 months with the organization, I was heavily involved in getting the site certified for ISO HSE compliance and worked my behind off to ensure we got certified. My hard work was evident to all and I was commended by management for a job well done. Now, by the completion time of my contract, the company was hiring permanent staff and I was recommended for a permanent role by my line manager so were the other ladies who started at the same time I did. To cut a long story short, they got jobs and I didn't simply because their line manager, our boss and them all come from the same tribe. It had nothing to do with merit because they failed the aptitude tests and were not high performers but were offered jobs simply because the boss felt he was safer with them on his team and not a young chap from another tribe with potential for great things. He deemed me a threat and I ended up leaving with a feeling of bitterness and disappointment. However, the effect this had on me was eventually a good one. In my next job where I had a team of 20 people reporting to me at any point in time, I was determined to ensure no one felt the way I did. Many times workers from my tribe who are used to a tribalistic society would attempt to initiate conversations in our dialect about their colleagues and often expected me to favor them in task delegation and other site matters but I would immediately shut them down. Soon it was clear what my stance was. Everyone would be treated fairly regardless do where they came from. It earned me the respect of my team especially from older members from other tribes who were upset I was there in the first place. Soon they trusted me and offered their wisdom and support because I refused to be influenced by the negative way of the majority. It was a proud victory moment. A leader's values are his/her most important assets. He must be steadfast even in the face of strong opposition for what he believes. He may not always win but he will feel like a winner regardless. Say no to office politics!

Surprise of the Week!

I love sports! and have been an ardent fan of various sports like football and basketball. I have watched and played from an early age so naturally, I was shocked to hear that all of the shouting, ordering and "hair-dryer" treatments i've observed on the tele or received in real life was not coaching.

The session on coaching was an eye-opener for me with respect to the approach of guiding as opposed to offering or suggesting solutions. I can clearly understand how this approach is much more effective because it encourages the coachee's independence, develops their ability to solve their own problems as well as aids development of new leaders.

In my opinion, highly essential to being a good coach is the development of this skill/approach. However, this is easier said than done, as discovered during the session but I know now a good coach is one who has the ability to cause the coachee to dig deep and apply themselves.

February 14, 2014

Leadership and "Love

The concept of "Love" and Leadership was raised during the reflection session. Not romantic type of love as Mr. Paul tried to clarify earlier on yesterday but a genuine concern for well-being of followership. In the context of an organization for Instance there the psychological contract is only fulfilled when the employee feels the team leader or boss as the case may be is accessible, easy to talk to and genuinely interested in their welfare. The leader is more likely to get performance levels over and above mere compliance only if the overall well-being of the employee is ensured. Now some might argue that there should be a line between work and personal life and i agree to some extent but the truth is, the average individual spends roughly 60% (dont quote me) of their life working so there is bound to be some overlap. The ability of leaders to use discretion to provide mental and emotional support is highly essential. To do this effectively, power distance between leaders and followers should be very low. For Instance, if you work at Virgin, you can be sure that if you sent an email directly to Richard Branson about any issues you have in the workplace or ideas, you would get a response. This is true for all levels of staff even cleaners at the offices and airports. That is his way of showing his employess that he is more than willing to see to their needs and ensure that they are satisifed in their given roles. The result is their unwavering loyalty and committment to acheiving set outcomes.

Some companies also look after employees by providing benefits such as healthcare, pensions, scholarship schemes, professional trainings, counselling etc. On this note, I strongly believe in non-monetary reward systems. Organizations tend to throw money at people who are performing exceptionally well but money is not everything. Some employees value things like more time with family, flexible working hours, recognition, support from the organizations for their charities as rewards for outstanding performance. Leadership involves taking all of these into consideration to ensure overall well-being of employees and sustainable high performance

Lastly, I think Paul's concept of the feedback sandwich is genius! Only a leader who understands that he must say what he must say but should also watch how he says it could have come up with this approach. Caring for employees does not mean you loose the ability to discipline them. Even the Bible says "Spare the Child and Spoil the Rod" I think that genuine concern for a person's growth makes you obligated to provide constructive criticism and be firm when need be. It all about the delivery method.

February 11, 2014

Madiba Led by Example

Interesting discussions I had with other members of my team this afternoon. For two hours we exchanged views on who a leader is and what he/she represents. As we canvassed different definitions of leadership by distinguished scholars who we had no reason to doubt, we gradually confirmed the general consensus; A leader must have influence, be visionary in order to give direction, driven towards goals amongst others.

However, one thing struck me as quite odd. Not one of these definitions did justice to the fact that a leader must be an example to those he/she aims to lead. Put even more simply "Practice what you preach". A very good example of this type of leader (in my opinion) would be the Late Dr. Nelson Mandela. His uncanny ability to reconcile people from various divides and put an end to apartheid in South Africa would not have been possible had he not set the example of embracing peace amongst all races. His presidential and personal staff were both black and white; something that was frowned upon. Maybe even called foolish for "dining with the enemy". He also came under pressure to disband a South African Rugby Team that had just one black player but decided to give them his full support by showing up at their first game. This caused the whole nation to show massive support for the team. The team ended up winning the tournament against all odds and there was a rare feeling of unity in the nation. R.I.P Madiba

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  • Valid questions you have raised Klaudiusz. Truly a large amount of interaction is required to unders… by Gabriel on this entry
  • That's very interesting, as for your second point, rewarding your employees with something other tha… by Klaudiusz Czapski on this entry

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