Category Archives: Culture

Capturing the Human Spirit

Many employees are cynical, apathetic, disillusioned with their work. This is a sad truth of the workplace.

What is also true, though, is that none of us want to feel that way about our employment. We would all rather be motivated than unmotivated, rather be fired up about the work we do than indifferent.

Given that human beings have a fundamental desire to be engaged at the level of the spirit, the question leaders must ask themselves is not Why aren’t these employees engaged? but What elements of my workplace culture are preventing them from being engaged?

We have previously explored how leaders can inadvertently create the very behaviors —hostility, insubordination, apathy, indifference, etc. — they most dislike in employees, through the unintended consequences of their own leadership actions and choices.

But I’m not a tyrant, many might think to themselves. I’m not a bully. I’m one of the nice guys.

This is likely true. We have found they majority of the leaders we have worked with to be sincere and well-meaning people.

Yet it is undeniable that leaders may praise employees’ accomplishments, ask after their families, and remember their birthdays, yet still hold mental models — say, that that employees will not work unless supplied with external reasons to do so — that generate counterproductive and even destructive workplace dynamics.

The crux of the issue, it can be seen, lies in the below-the-line mental models that leaders hold. Do they — do you, as a leader – believe that the average human being can find work a source of satisfaction? That most employees have the capacity to exercise a relatively high degree of imagination, ingenuity, and creativity in the solution of organizational problems? That even frontline employees seek a sense of meaning and accomplishment in their work?

Such questions are far from mere abstractions, for fundamental views about human nature determine, in large part, the culture any leader builds in his or her human system. And that, in turn, shapes the behaviors and choices of the employees functioning in that culture.

The base of knowledge about human behavior in the workplace is not new. And if truth be told, few of its principles are particularly surprising or revolutionary. Just as studies on diet and health regularly emphasize a few well-known concepts—eat more fruits and vegetables, get more exercise— findings on the health and effectiveness of human interactions have been remarkably consistent.

Rather than seeking new answers, then, it seems we would be far better served by holding the mirror up to our beliefs, and considering how closely they match the accumulated body of proven and dependable principles.

Put simply, reflecting on what we truly believe—our theories-in-use, not just our espoused theories—is imperative in capturing the human spirit and developing the human potential of those around us.

What Motivates People? (2 of 3)

We previously explored research that Frederick Herzberg did on primary sources of workplace motivation —  things like achievement, recognition, work itself, responsibility, and growth and development. These findings are valuable in themselves, but Herzberg didn’t stop there. He also asked employees to describe times they had been particularly dissatisfied, uninterested, and unengaged in their work.… Continue Reading

Motivation, Culture and “Bad Attitude” Employees

Almost nothing is more frequently lamented in management circles than “bad attitude” employees, those people it seems nothing can be done with. It’s true that few workplace dynamics are harder to address than antagonism, apathy and hostility. But rarely mentioned is the role that sincere and well-meaning leaders can play in creating such “bad attitude”… Continue Reading

Employees, Donkeys, and Getting Things Done

In some ways, motivation is less complicated than one might imagine. Involving people in decisions that impact them, recognizing the value of their contributions, giving them opportunities to assume responsibility in meaningful ways — study after study has shown the importance of factors like these. Yet countless workplaces fail to supply such sources of motivation.… Continue Reading

Capturing the Human Spirit

Leadership is a 100 percent human undertaking. Systems are populated by people. Policies are embraced or rejected by people. Plans are enacted or ignored by people.  And because of this, effective leadership hinges on a leader’s ability to access the talent, enhance the capacity, and develop the potential of people. But what are these human… Continue Reading

Perceptions, Authority, and Perceptions of Authority

Managers today often perceive relatively little hierarchical “distance” between them and their subordinates. Yes, they might shoulder certain responsibilities and make the final call in certain situations. But they generally see themselves as part of the team. That perception, though, is in many ways a consequence of the very authority they hold (and their subordinates… Continue Reading

The Wake of Leadership

Employee ownership, commitment, loyalty and initiative are key to any outstanding organization.  But astute leaders know that such qualities are too important to be left to chance. They must be woven into the fabric of workplace functioning. They must, in other words, be made a part of organizational culture. Take a moment to think about… Continue Reading

Guest Blog: Involvement and the Thinking and Judgement of Others

I have recently been using the Hanging the Mirror: The Discipline of Reflective Leadership in my leadership coaching and consulting work. After reading the book at my suggestion, a leader in one of my client organizations had the self-awareness and courage to tell me that he believed he was doing a poor job in the… Continue Reading

One Question to a Healthier Workplace Environment

In our years of consulting work, we have conducted numerous organizational assessments. In that work, we have found that one question reveals more about  an organization’s culture than almost any other. The answer employees give to it often tell us all we need to know about the workplace they face. The question has to do… Continue Reading

Intentionally Shaping Culture or Just Hoping for the Best?

Much is made of workplace culture and the effect it can have on organization dynamics, functioning and performance. But what about when culture is overlooked or ignored? What happens then? One way we have tried to help the leaders we work with is to imagine culture as a leader’s back yard. With attention and effort,… Continue Reading

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