What’s a flash bulb?
What’s a Flash Bulb?
Tonight I was having dinner with my girlfriend and her kids who range in age from 9 to 18. Somehow the word flashbulb came up and the 9 year old asked ‘what’s a flashbulb’? I tried to describe to him what it was and how it was used, and it got me thinking about how and when we teach the people who work for us.
So I thought I’d talk about the ways in which we correct behavior when we witness our ‘apprentices’ doing things like not listening to understand, forcing their will on team members, insulting anyone (I’ll always assume this was not purposeful since if it was purposeful that person would not be my apprentice), or not showing emotional intelligence.
I suppose there are many way to address these issues. I’ll focus on the way I prefer, and the way my last boss acted. So… in my last job my team leader had 3 assistants who were also my bosses (yes it’s quite bothersome having 4 bosses in case you were wondering!) They are at various stages in their development, and so they each made the usual mistakes given their level of competency and experience.
My team leader would allow them to make those mistakes with us no matter what the circumstances or consequences. He would then talk to them privately, and tell them how he felt about their actions. My experience was that the assistants might or might not come back around to make amends and set things right (more often than not they would fail to follow through with this). I cannot say exactly what the assistants learned from this process, since most of the time they did not talk to us about their behavior and how they felt about it in hindsight. The damage remained behind and eventually resentments built up in the people who worked for them (yes I was one of them). I did speak to my team leader about this course of action and attempted to influence him to change, however I made little progress.
The way I have learned to address these issues is a bit different. Having held pretty much every position in the chain of command at that workplace, I came to understand the long term damage done when leaders fail to admit their mistakes and make amends (I had to learn this lesson the hard way). Morale is negatively affected, and this of course leads to to all sorts of problems that take a long time to sort out and correct.
When I witness one of my assistants failing to listen, or allowing their emotions to affect how they deal with team members, I step in right then and there. I DO NOT belittle or reprimand my assistant, however I do my best to step in as mediator. My goal is to minimize or eliminate any long term damage to team moral and to the relationships on the team. I’ll give you a ‘for instance’ or two…
I’ve been in team meetings where my assistant has acted as if questions from team members were keeping him from telling them how to fix an issue, and started to shut the team members down. In fact, I felt those questions were not only allowing the whole group to feel like they could ask any questions needed to be sure they understood what was going on, but also after one question led to another, the group was actually coming up with a better idea than the original one my assistant and I came up with! I stepped in and said that I was also a bit confused (even though I wasn’t, I felt that if one person stated that they were confused then the odds were good that several more were probably confused too!) I brought down the level of emotion in the room, and didn’t allow the process to go on until every one felt heard.
That process kept us from getting to several agenda items that day, and… having team members leaving the meeting feeling heard, my assistant witnessing a good example of what to do when this happens in a meeting, and no one waking away carrying resentments was well worth the price! My assistant and I later talked privately about the process and what he might be able to do differently next time
The other example that comes to mind was when my assistant and I were talking to a new team member. From this team member’s work history and what he promised in the interview we had high expectations for him, however we were not seeing that. We pulled him off the floor and sat down to have a pretty casual talk about his experience of our workplace so far, and our experience of him. For whatever reason the team member was defensive and argumentative. This assistant was not showing emotional intelligence and started to react to the team member’s emotions. I tried to give him some clues as to how he was acting and how the team member might be feeling, however he was too caught up in his reaction to pick up on them.
So again I stepped in and brought everything back to the beginning. It turns out the team members was tired (we caught him near the end of his shift) and he didn’t really ‘hear’ us the first time around when we described how we simply wanted to talk about how things were working out from each of our perspectives. He was also worried about one of his kids, and we would have found that our had we done a better job of making our way into the conversation. We talked for a bit longer just to be sure we were all feeling good about leaving the conversation to the next day (earlier in his shift) and you can bet we were sure to check in and see how he was feeling about his personal issues before getting into our work concerns. Following this path I avoided an emotional blow up that would certainly have taken some time to fix (If indeed it could be really fixed).
Again I spoke privately to that assistant about what we could have done differently. I asked him to read (or listen to) either Primal Leadership or Working with Emotional Intelligence (offering to purchase it for him) over the next few weeks. As he read the book we made time to talk about what he was getting out of it, and I offered some of the hard lessons I hard learned along with what I got out of reading about Emotional Intelligence.
To wrap up, I feel very strongly that interceding and fixing small issues, while providing a good example for my ‘apprentices’ is the better way to go.
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I’d also like to share a link to a blog post I liked. One of the things that earned me a ton of team member respect while I was a Store Team Leader at Whole Foods Market was simply cleaning up spills and messes when I saw them. Instead of grabbing an hourly team member I would grab a mop and clean it up… really easy and quick, and for some reason team members LOVE to see the boss with a mop in his/her hand! Try it!