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What keeps leaders awake at night?

Stand a chance to win one hardcover copy of Nicole Lipkin's book, "What Keeps Leaders Up At Night". See bottom for more information...

Dr. Nicole Lipkin is an experienced clinical and business psychologist who hired a young woman named Hope to manage routine tasks in a group psychology practice. Soon, the doctor realised that her new employee’s work was not up to scratch. Hope’s failings cost the doctor and her practice both heartburn and money. Despite her experience, Lipkin found she could neither fire Hope nor resolve the various issues. She recognised that it was her personal failings that caused sleepless nights and this impelled her to examine the human psyche to help leaders understand and manage their emotions and their organization. This resulted in her book, What Keeps Leaders Up At Night. Far from being earth-shattering in its conclusions, this nonetheless uncovers common leadership blindspots, including poor communication, fractious group dynamics and even stress. She found that these keep leaders awake at night:

1. I'm a good boss, so why do I act like a bad one?

2. Why don't people heed my sage advice?

3. Why do I lose my cool in hot situations?

4. Why does a good fight sometimes turn bad?

5. Why can ambition sabotage success?

6. Why do people resist change?

7. Why do good teams go bad?

8. What causes a star to fade?

Let's dive a little deeper into each of these...

I am a good boss, so why do I act like a bad one?

Assuming for a moment that you know you are indeed a good leader, then what would make you act like a bad one? According to Lipkin, there are three reasons why we may act like a bad one: (1) we may be too busy to care, either because we are swamped by our own work or issues, or we are just too tired to bother; or (2) we may be too proud to see other ways, believing that we know it all and our way is the best - and only - way; or (3) we may be too afraid to lose (Singapore's favourite), not wanting to accept that we are wrong, and trying to force others to capitulate. So basically, when you fail to look at different perspectives, and you fail to understand your people's points of view, and you fail to listen to what others are saying, you become this tyrant, despite your best intentions.

Why don't people heed my sage advice?

When someone refuses to heed your advice, ask yourself two things: (1) "Do I really understand what is happening?" and (2) "Am I helping more than hindering?" Many a times, a leader might jump in and offer a solution without listening to all the facts, or by layering his own false assumptions on the situation. And sometimes, there is already a plan to get things going, and your advice may hinder more than help. So when you find people ignoring your suggestions, or advice, take a step back and understand where that is coming from. And know this - if your people are ignoring EVERYTHING you are saying, it means that you have already lost their respect. This should keep you awake at night, because if you don't do anything to change this, you not only lose your people, but you lose your right to lead.

Why do I lose my cool in hot situations?

Okay, this one's quite common, and I am not sure that many people will lose sleep over this. But it can be quite acrimonious if someone loses his/her cool in public. That is not okay! So why do we lose our cool? Many a times, we lose our cool over situations where the other party should not have done whatever was done - either by mistake, by dereliction or even by stupidity. But two wrongs never - ever - made a right, and losing your cool only shows how little you can control your emotion. So, whenever you feel that you are about to lose your cool, take a deep breath and keep your mouth shut. And when the feeling to pulverise the person has ebbed, then say something intelligent. Now the next best thing - and this is really a very distant next - is when you lose your cool, to apologise sincerely, and promise not to do it again. We do lose our cool sometimes, but how we recover from it is as important as not losing it in the first place!

Why does a good fight sometimes turn bad?

Conflict is not always a bad thing - it has the ability to sharpen the saw for some. Certainly, the organisation can uncover what's not really working, especially in the HR department, and then create solutions to overcome them. But they can, very often, turn bad, and the conflict can degenerate into rivalries, into camps and split the organisation apart. This is what leaders must work to overcome. Good referees are required, and an open and inclusive communication will ensure that matters don't boil over. One crucial thing that leaders must avoid is personalising the fight. The minute one party makes this a personal issue, and take things as an attack on the person, then the situation will degenerate. If that happens, stop the fight! There is no point in trying to prove your point when others are trying to pit one person against the other. Sometimes, being a good leader is allowing the other party to win, even when they don't deserve to do so.

Why can ambition sabotage success?

Because people's significance is tied into this, that's why. When ambition is coupled with a "win-at-all-costs" attitude, the person will not work towards team success, if team success will not lead towards individual success. Yet this is one of the best opportunities to show great leadership - to help the person channel the passion and energy towards doing good for the organisation. This requires the leader to effectively engage the person, to help the person link team success with individual success, and to map the path towards positive self-development.

Why do people resist change?

Actually, people don't resist change - they resist the uncertainty that change brings. So instead of lamenting that people don't "buy in" to the change imperative, it is easier to help them down the new path. Acknowledge that the future might not be clear, but also remind them that doing nothing is also unclear. So, better the path that can at least give them a shot at redemption rather than staying on one that will lead them to condemnation. Then map the path for them, using strong images to paint the destination. Combined with a good story, firing up the emotions to overcome the "fight or flight" inertia, a leader can effectively bring the group past the fear of uncertainty, and embrace change.

Why do good teams go bad?

According to Lipkin, people go from totally engaged to seriously deflated because of a breach of what is called "psychological contract". That is the belief of the mutual obligations of the leader and the follower. A person will very quickly become disengaged when there is a breach which could come from a violation of trust, actions that lack honesty and integrity, behaviours that violate ethics or the law, broken promises, assignments that intrude on personal time and work/life integration. As if that is not enough, once there is a disengaged person, he/she can infect the whole team through emotional contagion. This is when negative emotions spread virally, and destroys even resilient teams. It is for this reason that leaders must first and foremost, act with utmost integrity. Carry out every promise, even if it becomes increasingly difficult to do so. And if that promise cannot be delivered through unforeseen circumstances, be quick to explain the situation, and try to make it better through some other positive action. Next, the leader must quickly halt the contagion by isolating the person or the situation. Re-establish the psychological contract, and make that contract whole again. If you as the leader is clueless to what is happening on the ground, you will quickly find yourself a general with no troops.

What causes a star to fade?

We have already discussed the breach of psychological contract, and this will very quickly smother a star. In addition, job descriptions and expectations that are ill-defined, environments or cultures that are difficult and depressing; when leaders drastically alter the deal and don't behave or act the way they promised they would; and worst of all, when they micromanage, will all suck the life out of our stars. Leaders must acknowledge their contribution to their stars' burn out, and if they see signs that their lustre is waning - and the signs are very clear - decline in communication, productivity, performance, workplace safety, loyalty and retention, organisational citizenship behaviours, and the overall bottom line - then they should worry and lose sleep, because if they don't actively change this, they can say goodbye to their stars, and with them, even more people.

So what keeps you awake at night?

I am sure that if you faced some of these situations, you too might be kept awake at night. However, with GREAT leadership, you can not only overcome these problems, but also pre-empt them.

And why not share with us what leadership issues keep YOU awake at night and stand a chance to win yourself one of three hardcover copies of Dr Nicole Lipkin's book "What Keeps Leaders Up At Night" worth $33 (offer ends 20 Aug 2016)? Simply click on the button below and answer the simple question (worldwide delivery!)

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