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The Importance of Boundaries

In his book Give And Take, Adam Grant describes three types of people [1]:

  • Givers: Those people who give with no thought of reward or reciprocity;
  • Matchers: Those who will only give if they feel they will get something back in return;
  • Takers: Those who take and do not give back.

Grant points out, according to his research, the style that is the least successful are the Givers. Takers can take advantage of Givers’ generosity. Givers may also burn themselves out by giving too much.

So, who are the most successful people?

Also Givers.

Givers thrive when the following conditions are met:

  • When they are sheltered from burnout;
  • They work in a culture where giving and asking for help are encouraged; and
  • The Takers have been weeded out.

I believe another important aspect is appropriate.

Boundaries.

You cannot give to everyone.

It is still possible to give, with no thought of reward, within carefully defined and managed boundaries. Understand what you can achieve and what you can’t and realise that it’s vital to look after yourself if you want to be able to keep giving over the long term.

If you’re asked for something and you can’t help, be honest. Tell the person who’s asked you’re unable to help them. Then point them in the direction of someone who can. That way, at least you’re still giving in the best way possible.


[1] Grant points out that we all have Giving, Matching and Taking traits and will behave with a mix of the styles over the course of our lives. We do, however, have a predominant style that aligns with one of the three.

Become a Chief Storytelling Officer.

For thousands of years, we have communicated with each other through stories. We’ve told stories about our history, our successes and our failures.

Leaders need to take on the role of storyteller. I think they should become the Chief Storytelling Officer.

As the Chief Storytelling Officer, the leader looks for real and valid stories connecting the work their people do with the higher purpose of the organisation. Why does this matter? Because one of the basic psychological needs that motivate humans to do great work is a sense of purpose. A feeling that what they are doing matters.

Adam Grant, the author of Give and Take and creator of the WorkLife podcast, describes a call centre in the United States. The call centre operators had the thankless task of making cold calls to seek donations to support disadvantaged students. Performance in the call centre was flat, and morale was low. As you can imagine, making multiple calls every day asking for money can be a difficult job psychologically, especially when the rejection rate is high.

Then the manager of the call centre had an idea. He found two of the disadvantaged students who had benefited from the fund and asked them to come into the call centre and meet with the phone operators. They revealed how they had received a good education and achieve success, all because of the money the operators had elicited from donors.

Performance and morale in the call centre improved when the operators could see what they were doing was making a difference.

Closer to home, I recently worked with a leader looking to motivate his team of data analysts. He embraced the role of Chief Storytelling Officer. He showed the team how the numbers they crunched formed the basis of a report that positively changed the way the company interacted with its customers. Showing those data analysts the results energised them for the next task.

Many people work for us, with us or around us that may not be able to make the connections between what they do and a more significant positive outcome. Often, this is because they are too close to their work and are unable to see the longer-term effects.

As leaders, we can provide people meaning to the work they do through real and valid stories and motivate them to perform at their best.


Yes. Competitors Can Collaborate.

Yesterday I wrote about the concept of competing with your own team.

Today, I want to take it one step further and talk about how competitors can collaborate.

As it happened, yesterday I listened to Andy Penn, CEO of Telstra, address the National Press Club.  He was discussing the future of the telecommunications industry in Australia.

One aspect addressed was the issue of cybercrime. What resonated for me was when he talked about working with the industry, including his competitors, and the Government to combat this threat: 

“The only way to look at cyber is as a team. Large enterprises, small enterprises, medium business, Government, we all have shared platforms, common customers, and we’re all the target of the same attacks. We all, therefore, play a role in keeping Australian’s safe. It’s a shared accountability. It’s not a competition. If one party loses, we all lose. As the online landscape continues to expand, we cannot afford to operate in silos, and we must work together.”

– Andy Penn, National Press Club Address, 31 July 2019

There is any number of ways for competitors to work with one another.  They just need to find common ground, which is an essential first step. That requires us to look at our competitors as having something to contribute rather than as a foe to be vanquished.

Imagine what you could achieve if you were to work with your competitors towards a common goal.


Are You Competing With Your Own Team?

Competitive people have a desire to win. On the surface, you might not think there is anything wrong with that. But what if the person they are competing with is someone in the same company or organisation?

This happens more often than you realise.  

  • If there is a culture that recognises individual performance, there will be competitiveness;
  • If there are rewards or bonuses for getting higher sales figures, there will be competitiveness;
  • If the company promotes the person who gets the best results, there will be competitiveness.

The competitive person sits across the table from the people they are ‘competing with’ and says, “I need to be better than you.”  This approach promotes an adversarial relationship which may not encourage cooperation or collaboration.

The culture will have a part to play in this. The system may be set up to promote it. You may not be in a position to change the system.  You may not be able to have a significant impact on the culture. If, however, you find yourself thinking competitively, a simple mindset shift can help you move into a better space.

Rather than say, “I need to be better than you,” shift your frame of mind to, “What can I learn from you?”  This perspective will put you into a growth mindset rather than an adversarial one. It will offer you opportunities to work with your team rather than against one another, and it will promote relationship building rather than competition.


Control vs Influence

A myth I often dispel with clients is that we have control over people. We don’t. The only person we have limited control over is ourselves. We can control what we say and what we do. To a limited extent, we can control how we think.

We cannot, however, control others.

“But, I can control what my people do at work”, I hear you say.

No. That’s influence.

We can influence through punishment and reward. However, in his book Drive, Dan Pink discusses how the carrot and stick as a method of motivation is no longer viable. It works ok when people are doing routine, mundane and repetitive tasks, however, as soon as the job requires any type of cognitive effort, it becomes less effective.

People are capable of assessing whether they are motivated by the promise of reward or the fear of sanction. They then choose if they work or not. If the reward means nothing to them, or they don’t mind the consequences, they may decide not to complete the assigned work.

It’s their choice.

We can also influence through referent power the power that people believe we have through the position of our authority or the respect they have for us. Or, we can influence through our relationships. People will do things because they know us because we have built a relationship with them.

Again, it’s their choice.

If we want to get the most from people, we need to understand what motivates them. We all want to be treated like human beings so, spending some time understanding our people’s human motivations can help you build that relationship with them, and thus, your influence.


“It’s Time To Learn A Few New Jokes”

In 2012, the University of Melbourne Centre for Ethical Studies produced a report entitled Resilience: Women’s Fit Functioning and Growth at Work: Indicators and Predictors. At the time it was published as part of the Gender Equality Project.

The report aimed to:

“analyse indicators that are typically considered when assessing gender diversity strategies and then analyse the personal and organisational factors that predict these different outcomes.” [1]

The report is detailed, comprehensive and made five recommendations for improving gender equality in organisations.

Of these five recommendations, there was one that resonated for me quite strongly. Recommendation number 4 read as follows:

“Target low-level sexism through a range of strategies, such as a “no just joking” policy.”

In the discussion of this recommendation [2], the paper highlights how low-level sexism through jokes makes women feel uncomfortable and that they do not belong or are not welcome.  When challenged, perpetrators of this behaviour would respond by saying they were “just joking” as if this made their behaviour acceptable because it was just a bit of fun with no harm intended.

The problem is there is harm committed.

Firstly, this kind of behaviour creates a “stereotype threat” which increases the potential for bias (perceived or real, conscious or non-conscious) in those making the jokes. 

Secondly, the study found, there are negative impacts on women’s health and retention. Retention is important because when women leave an organisation, they take away the unique skill sets they offer as individuals, and this impacts the capability of the organisation.

It would seem, on the surface, a straightforward idea to create a “no just joking policy”. The report recommends the simple act of an apology, when challenged, should be enough to resolve this behaviour at a low level before it escalates.

I will leave the final comment on this matter to the report writers:

“…the point needs to be made that the loss of one source of humour is not the death of humour. It merely indicates that it is time to learn a few new jokes.”


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