The Dark Side of Passion at Work

It's not my work, it's my passion at work

Being passionate about one’s work is widely recognized as one of the most desirable aspects of employment. To be rewarded, not by external means such as money or promotions, but rather by appeal to the intrinsic value of meaningful work is the ultimate state of work motivation. On Maslow’s pyramid this equates to the pinnacle of motivation known as “self-actualization.” Everything is beautiful when one enjoys complete passion at work. Right?

Not necessarily, according to recent studies.

There is a dark side to the experience of being highly passionate about one’s work. Maybe you’ve experienced it – or exploited it.

The phenomenon is called “legitimization of passion exploitation” and it falls under the broad umbrella of cognitive dissonance, or rationalization. It occurs when some unsavory or demeaning task is handed to an employee because they are so passionate about their work that they won’t be bothered. Examples include being asked (forced) to work extra hours without pay, or to carry out undesirable tasks that have no legitimate relationship to the worker’s job. In the boss’ mind these are trivial matters because the passionate worker is so motivated, they would do just about anything simply out of their “love” for their work.

From a phenomenological standpoint, it can be readily apparent to a passionate employee when they are being “overused,” but it’s unknown to the boss who imposes such demands. As mentioned, cognitive dissonance results in the boss thinking to themselves, “They love their work so much, they will be glad to work a few extra hours” or “they’ll appreciate coming to another team dinner this evening,” etc.

So, while passionate work may be arguably the greatest reward for people at work, it also can have a downside.

How do we handle this?

The most direct means is to make the boss aware that their explicit, or implicit demands that aren’t fair or aren’t part of the worker’s job are, in fact abusive, if not as psychologically harmful as some of the more obviously exploitative behaviors (e.g., sexual harassment, exposure to extremely dangerous conditions, bullying, etc.). This could be accomplished as simply as by educating the boss about the potential for legitimization of passion exploitation as a form of abuse of power but may require more intensive intervention if the “bias” (it’s not technically a psychological bias) is deeply ingrained in their behavior or world view.

Alternatively, the worker could – or need -- be the point of intervention. In this case the employee who is being exploited for their passion may first have to overcome their own possible biases that also can serve to justify the exceptional requests. Passionate employees oftentimes volunteer for various “extraordinary” tasks because they too justify the behavior in the name of their own passion. But this isn’t always the case.

Once one notices that they are being exploited by a presumably caring, but blinded boss, they need to “unblind” the boss in a way that doesn’t do more harm than good. This can be difficult since the boss is not consciously aware of their exploitative behavior and there may even be a longstanding precedent in which the exploited employee willingly – cheerfully – submits to the excessive demands. Ideally, a third party, such as a coach or HR, could broach the topic between employee and boss. But not everyone, mostly no one, has the benefit of a trained third party so ready to intervene.

For the passionate employee, the greatest hurdle is to get over the impression that anything is justified in the line of their ‘beloved’ work. Sometimes even great jobs ask too much of employees. And this is where the intervention begins; noticing that one is being exploited and that it isn’t right. It’s far more difficult for the employee to remedy the situation than the boss or via a third party, but it isn’t impossible.

In cases where a third party is unavailable or inappropriate (some boss’ would rather be addressed directly by the employee than to be made aware by a coach or HR) the employee should first remember that they are likely perceived in a positive light by their boss. In addition, this type of exploitation isn’t deliberately demeaning or pejorative. The employee just needs to find the right way to bring up the issue without causing undue harm, i.e., embarrassment by accusation. This will require tact and diplomacy on the part of the employee.

The first issue is timing: when should the employee bring up the perception that they are being ‘overused’? Generally, the best time to bring up sensitive issues is when emotions are balanced. It’s not wise to mention that you’re being overworked when your boss is under a lot of pressure. Instead, the employee should wait for a time when both they and their boss are “psychologically removed” from the behavior or situation to minimize reflexive, defensive reactions. Both the employee and boss should be in a neutral frame of mind where it comes to the given exploitative situation. A particularly good time would be when the boss asks for feedback. This doesn’t mean they won’t be upset by the accusation, but they’re presumably prepared for some corrective encouragement.

If you, the exploited one, must bring the issue up, be sure to do so in a private meeting with your boss. Face to face is best, then via voice/teleconference if face to face isn’t practical. The least favorable means are via the written word. Email or notes (or even worse, tweets) are much less personal or intimate and miss the sensitivity of being more “present.” Traditional advice on giving negative feedback applies in this situation. Try starting with what you appreciate most about your boss or your job and then delicately introducing the one thing that would make your boss or your job even better. When positioned as an extension of something positive, negative feedback is more palatable.

There are other means of guarding against or remedying exploitation of passion, but the main point is that it happens and that it isn’t intended to be exploitative. While not on level ground with child labor or blatant abuse of power, passionate employees can be victims of the very work for which they are so passionate.

Do you know of anyone who is experiencing passion exploitation at work? You probably do and it isn’t “just okay.” Step in or step up to this subtle, but real form of abuse and right a wrong that many don’t see.

Running on my high school cross country team taught me these 2 lessons about performance and leadership

Lessons from cross country about performance and leadership

We weren’t very good as a team, but we had two individuals who were extraordinary runners, and they regularly took first and second place at our cross country meets. For one of our meets I didn’t compete due to a minor injury. It turns out this injury was something of a “twist of fate” as it gave me the opportunity to actually see Fred and Mark, our star runners, finish a race and teach me the first of two lessons about performance leadership:

Lesson 1: Performance excellence can create the illusion of leadership – you have to understand the “how” beneath performance to tell the difference

As I watched on, Fred and Mark crossed the finish line first and second, respectively, and with impressive times. Even more impressive was the way they finished. What I saw that day is not only stamped in my memory, it relates to many subsequent “races” I’ve been in or witnessed since then.

Here’s a little more of my story in support of Leadership Lesson 1:

Fred was our great star and he always finished first in our practices and races. He held the record time for our school and won the state competition. Mark was nearly as good, and we counted on him to take second place leading the rest of us, and our opponents’ runners, to the finish line. If this was all you knew about Fred and Mark, you might consider them to be roughly equal in terms of their running performance. But as you also may suspect, you’d be wrong. Mark was an altogether different kind of runner.

Unlike the rest of us who dutifully trained under the direction of Coach Dan, Mark never practiced. In fact, Mark wasn’t even on the cross country team except for the days of our races. Coach Dan would simply “tap” him on race day, and for reasons the rest of us never knew, (our guess was that it had to do with PE credits) Mark would just show up at the starting line and run. He was remarkable for his “fresh off the couch” ability to regularly finish second behind “Fast Freddy.” But I didn’t know how he did it until I had the opportunity to see him finish the race that day I didn’t run.

The next days’ newspaper would report that Fred and Mark had finished first and second, yet their excellence still couldn’t carry the home team to victory. Here, the article would go on, was the reliable, “dynamic duo of running talent.” Sure, they were dynamic alright, but based on my witness to their performance, they certainly were no “duo of running talent.” They weren’t the same, not even close.

Here’s what I actually saw that the paper didn’t get:

Crossing the finish line first, and once again breaking the school record, Fred ran as he did from the start, his pace graceful and his face relaxed, he wasn’t even sweating. Then came Mark. Unlike Fred, who looked as if he were running through daisy fields in some halcyon dream, Mark looked like he was about to be run down by a bear. His stride was broken, his mouth wide open gasping for air as he grasped his stomach. Immediately after crossing the finish line, Mark bent over and yaked. (This wasn’t a one-time event for him as I would later learn.)

What could possibly explain the striking contrast in their finish? The “picture” would lead to very different assumptions regarding where they finished – certainly not close to each other. I don’t know for sure, but I have a pretty good guess now that the way they finished didn’t have to do with their shoes.

Fred was the prototypical elite runner. He was both strong and enduring. Mark, on the other hand, was just enduring. Fred ran without strain. Mark ran in denial of pain.

So, what’s this got to do with work?

Like the differences between Fred and Mark from my high school cross country team, I’ve also observed two types of people at work: Some, like Fred, excel by virtue of performance competence, others, like Mark, merely “finish well” by means of sheer grit. In terms of results, the two are of similar measure, but underneath, these two types are made of different stuff.

Taking a purely practical view as employer, you might ask what difference this really makes, they both get outstanding results.

Not so fast.

Despite all appearances to the contrary, cross country is a team sport. Great as Fred and Mark were, they didn’t make the team any better – I think they made us worse. Fred made races seem easy and Mark made them seem near deadly. Neither example served to motivate the rest of us. We were a team only on paper – and one that always lost.

But that’s not where the story ends.

The next year we got a new coach, Coach Mike, and he was as different from Coach Dan as Mark was from Fred, both of whom left the team – Fred by way of graduation and Mark by absence of conscription. Despite the loss of these two great individuals from the lineup, our team as a whole began to get good. In fact, within two years’ time we won our league’s championship tournament. It didn’t have anything to do with the strength of any one or two individuals on the team. It had to do with our coach. More specifically, it had to do Coach Mike and WHO he was as a person. It only helped that he could run.

What was the difference between Coach Dan and Coach Mike?

My first coach, Coach Dan, used to send us out for practice on a circular route of roads around school. But this low (no?) involvement coaching style began to change when he discovered that some of the team (except Fred and me, ahem) were taking short cuts. So he put us in the team van, drove straight away from school and dropped us off seven miles out. When a concerned whistleblower (i.e., parent) reported some of us for hitchhiking, Coach Dan doubled went into dragnet mode trailing us like a homecoming chaperone in that van as he chain-smoked his way through a pack of Marlboros. But hey, he wasn’t all “police state” – he did occasionally offer smokes to the rest of us. (This was Richmond, VA after all, home of Phillip Morris.)

When Coach Mike took over from Coach Dan (supposedly for medical reasons) things got worse at “practice.” Instead of supervising us from the van, Coach Mike actually ran with us. We didn’t like him from the start. And we not-too-secretly conspired to get a new coach. But coach Mike didn’t quit. It was us who quit. We quit trying to cut corners and hide behind others’ coattails.

In time, we began to accept Coach Mike’s “running with the pack” style of coaching. On the rare day that Coach Mike cancelled practice for something silly like final exams, we would STILL run full a full ten or more miles without him. We wanted to keep up with Coach Mike, who was a champion runner in college, and eventually we could. (Now I know he was holding back.) We began to win meets and even tournaments. And unlike Fred or Mark, none of us was truly exceptional. Which brings me to my second leadership lesson from my high school cross country team:

Lesson 2: Great coaches have no favorites, they run with the “middle of the pack.”

To his credit, Coach Dan was a great recruiter who could source scarce talent – he did identify and enlist Mark from the school hallway. But Mark never joined the team. And the team never won meets, much less tournaments.

Coach Mike, on the other hand, was a great leader who inspired his team to want to win by his present and personal example. And the team was proud above its individuals.

In their own ways, both Coach Dan and Coach Mike were technically good at their “jobs.” But Coach Dan’s strong recruiting could not make up for his bad example while Coach Mike’s mediocre class of runners were won over – and over won – by his authentic leadership.

Final Lap: In the hectic race of work and life, people don’t win by command or by being in front of others. They win by “running with the pack” and truly being with the people.

In life, work and play, it really is best to, "Be like Mike."

10 common challenges with performance appraisals and how to fix them

Performance appraisals (PAs) require a lot of attention, and they get it. The problem is they never seem to get enough. For most organizations PA comes around once a year. And every year questions arise regarding the process – many of them quite familiar to Talent Management, “Should we use a 4-pt scale or a 5-pt scale?” It’s déjà vu all over again. It can make even the most skilled talent management professional begin to question their decisions.

Should we use a 4-pt scale or a 5-pt scale?

Here I’ve listed 10 of the most common challenges that arise when rolling out a PA process along with a response template based on affirmation, negation and a potentiality better way. They will be familiar to you. But when viewed outside of your own sandbox they can be amusing in a “rubber necking” sort of way. Additionally, they can reassure you that you’re not stuck in some talent management “do loop.”

  1. Should individuals rate themselves?
    1. Absolutely – including self ratings helps to calibrate evaluations between individuals and their boss; can provide information the boss doesn’t have; gives employees a voice in the process
    2. No way – some bosses will agree with the employee for the sake of peace; some bosses will adopt the employee’s rating out of laziness; it’s the boss’ call and they shouldn’t be bothered with predictably lenient self ratings
    3. How about we… – have employees rate themselves but without numbers to minimize trivial arguments over decimals, be clear about how their ratings will be used, hold bosses accountable for final ratings
  2. Should others be included in the rating?
    1. Absolutely – bosses aren’t the only stakeholder, other perspectives matter enough to solicit
    2. No way – bosses over-depend on or hide behind others’ ratings; creates a burden for some raters who have to rate many employees
    3. How about we… – communicate that others may be relevant to review, have bosses informally solicit others’ feedback but hold the boss accountable for final ratings
  3. Should we include objective results?
    1. Absolutely – objective results avoid problems with rater judgment; personal goals should align with organization goals; the specificity helps to motivate; they help distinguish busy versus productive employees
    2. No way – objective measures are difficult to attribute exclusively to the employee; objective targets can bring about counterproductive work behavior whereby the end justifies the means; objective goals can be difficult to identify for some employees; bosses can legitimately disagree with objective results and shouldn’t be forced to agree with a given metric
    3. How about we… – include objective evaluations along with behavioral evaluations for jobs where clear cause and effect exists between employee behavior and valued organization results; do so with full transparency
  4. Our strategic plan changed, should we change what gets evaluated?
    1. Absolutely – change happens, it’s more important to be relevant than consistent
    2. No way – changing targets mid-year is confusing, makes us look unsure and ignores what was once important
    3. How about we… – design the process to accommodate reasonable changes in performance standards at the organization level but not as a “one-off” for isolated individuals; consider mid-term evaluations for material changes in goals that still leave adequate time for review
  5. Should we use a common anniversary date?
    1. Absolutely – it improves calibration to rate everyone at the same time; improves consistency and communication across individuals
    2. No way – results for everyone don’t happen at the same time or on cue, it’s important to be timely with reviews; it takes time to get results, everyone should be given the same amount of time under review – including new hires
    3. How about we… – use common anniversary dates but supplement them with mid-term evaluations; recognize other talent processes such as succession planning in the performance appraisal cycle
  6. Should we use PA results for merit reviews?
    1. Absolutely – performance and compensation need to be clearly and formally linked; a separate process for merit review is inefficient and may be discordant
    2. No way – puts too much weight on internal equity without consideration of labor markets; some will use ratings to effect pay changes on their own terms instead of accurately appraising performance
    3. How about we… – use PA results as one source of input to merit reviews but not the sole determinant; ensure feedback providers understand exactly how merit and performance relate to each other
  7. Should we “fix” rater results that are clearly inaccurate?
    1. Absolutely – a fair process requires consistency of reviews between raters and justifies corrections
    2. No way – raters need to have the final say in their evaluations and should be the author of any changes
    3. How about we… – use rater training and procedural checks throughout the process to minimize outlier evaluations; communicate any changes to bosses and the broader review team
  8. Should we use an even number of performance gradations?
    1. Absolutely – it pushes raters “off the fence” of favoring mid-scale evaluations that don’t differentiate between employees
    2. No way – normal distributions do predict “average” ratings; it upsets raters not to have a midpoint evaluation when they are the ones giving the feedback
    3. How about we… – use an odd numbered scale for performance reviews where feedback is generally expected and bosses need the organizations’ confidence and support, use an evenly anchored scale for succession planning to generate differentiation for a process that doesn’t carry the same feedback responsibility
  9. Should we do succession planning and performance appraisals at the same time?
    1. Absolutely – performance and potential are necessarily linked, besides the ratings would be redundant; using one process is more efficient
    2. No way – PA ratings need to be based on past performance whereas succession planning ratings need to reflect projections, asking raters to do both at the same time is confounding
    3. How about we… – maintain distinct processes for PA and succession planning but openly reference each with the other when calibrating ratings between raters (this simplifies both tasks while maintaining independence)
  10. Should we use any and all available data?
    1. Absolutely – the more input available to final evaluations the better
    2. No way – some data comes at the expense to ethical standards and privacy
    3. How about we… – ensure that whatever data used for evaluation is well known and generally accepted as reasonable by those being rated; do not pry into private lives outside of work or spy on employees by incorporating any- and everything that could be measured; Overreaching is tempting in our “more is better” world but attitudes differ significantly between employee and employer about what’s fair for review. Performance appraisals don’t like surprises.

Performance appraisals don’t like surprises.

The most important thing that must be done with performance appraisals is to clarify and communicate exactly what will happen, when and to whom. The process must be well understood by everyone and it’s good practice to solicit and include input from organization members. Beyond being fair and professional, you must be perceived as fair and professional for the system to work as expected. And this isn’t a “one off” or isolated effort. It’s important to keep in mind that you very well may be repeating the show in the future so don’t act like you’ll never have to cross the same bridge again. Individuals will remember how they’ve been treated and aren’t typically shy about sharing this with you and others – performance appraisals get a lot of bad press.

As mentioned, no system is perfect, and these “fixes” won’t apply or work in every situation. They are offered as my recommendations based on an abstract, hypothetical model of performance appraisal. Specifics will largely depend on exactly why you have a PA process in the first place.

Performance appraisals are delicate, far-reaching and highly sensitive processes. A “little mistake” can have serious consequences. The referenced concerns have been posed as something of a “mock list.” They are not intended as prescription. Individual results will vary but the basic principles should translate to various situations.

Be safe and true.

How to tell if someone should NOT be your coach

Unhappy male coachee listening to an executive coach give advice. Frustrated client holding a hand to his face.

Coaching has become very popular as organizations face an increasing need for individuals (or groups) to learn and grow more substantially and quickly than ever. Based on favorable if scarce evidence supporting the effectiveness of coaching not presented here, coaching should be given serious consideration as a key component of any organization’s talent management strategy. But, as is the case with anything powerful, you have to be careful with coaching engagements, or you can get hurt – badly. Because there is no "one best way" to coaching, there’s considerable risk of engaging the wrong person as a coach. And I'll be the first to say you can’t judge a coach by their title (or solely based on published credentials). The best of well-intended sponsors/buyers/users of coaching services are at risk of making a mistake before the coach even gets started. Here, I share some of the key ways for you to know when someone should NOT be your coach.

  1. They overlook ethical matters. This may seem obvious, but it’s much more complicated -- and risky -- than most think. Ethical issues abound in any situation where personal assessments are made, but they’re especially prevalent in coaching. Key questions must be addressed: What’s in-bounds/out-of-bounds? How will data be collected and shared? What happens next?

Coaching is extraordinarily powerful with rightfully high expectations since it isn’t cheap. There’s a lot of pressure that can lead to shortcuts or, kindly put, bad judgment. But individual and organizational “lives” are at stake. You need to engage someone well-versed in the substantial ethical issues that are a part of all coaching engagements – however formal.

  1. They get the role wrong. An executive coach is NOT;

a. Colleague – Your coach (by “your coach,” I mean the coach you engage) may be someone from within your organization, but they shouldn’t work directly with the coachee. It’s hard for a coachee to confide in someone that’s already close enough to have preconceptions or may affect the coachee’s fate “back on the job.” Using a colleague as coach has its place, but I advise against it for the majority of situations. A number of bad outcomes can occur for both coach and coachee when the two already work together.

b. Vendor – Assessment tools, for example, are a big part of coaching. Your coach shouldn’t be indefensibly partial about what assessments or other “coachware” they use. There’s more than one personality test, believe me. Check twice if the coach markets their tools exclusively. You want someone who knows a range of tools and how they work (i.e., their psychometrics).

c. TrainerCorporate trainers are specifically skilled at building and transferring new skills. While this may be a part of what an effective coach does, it’s rarely the “main course.” The coaching context simply isn’t right for a blog-standard training approach. For example, coaches build closer (i.e., deeper trusting) relationships based on coachee-centered discourse and need. (But note mistake 2d, immediately below)

d. Friend – Your coach isn’t meant to be or become the coachee’s friend, but this is a significant risk in with considerable “gray area.” A coach is expected to be friendly (i.e., “nice”), in fact this is key to building a trusting relationship, but boundaries MUST BE established and maintained between the two. Beyond the professional conflict that can arise when coach and coachee become close friends, the potential exists for much more serious ethical conflicts with life-changing psychological and legal consequences. Because of the highly sensitive interpersonal dynamic that emerges when self-disclosure to an authority figure is involved, the stage is set for transference. This is a catastrophic – about as bad as it gets. Any inappropriate relations must be managed swiftly and surely. If there’s any suspicion that an inappropriate relationship is forming, you should end the coaching engagement. Immediately! Full stop. This is no time to be bashful. {Respecting all caution, it is okay, even expected, for your coach to use friendly behavior. But they must not cross ethical boundaries that are much more critical for a coach than they are for others, e.g., a colleague (but they are important here, too.}

e. Boss – Again, bosses (possibly, you) aren’t excluded from coaching, they’re actually expected to coach. But bosses need to “stay in their lane.” In all likelihood the boss has had a role in the calling for the need of a coach in the first place. Boss’ never get the same story that an outsider can. I hope the reasons are obvious.

f. Short-order cook – Your coach shouldn’t be overly concerned with accommodating the coachee’s every need. Here again, the temptation of the coach is to give what is asked for, after all, that’s service, right? Wrong. What a coachee wants isn’t always what they need, in fact it’s exceptional when it is. A good coach knows when to accommodate, when to resist and when to suggest otherwise. They must maintain control of the relationship.

g. Subject matter expert (SME) – A coach is not an expert in the specific, technical/functional aspects of the coachee’s current or future job. That’s what a mentor is, and the skillsets are very different. Mentors impart organizational wisdom and job-related instruction. Coaches work with the coachee to evoke more general insights and lay plans for action and follow-up.

h. Messenger – This is a BIG one. (and shouldn't be 'h') It’s imperative that the coach not only be able to make an accurate assessment, they must be permitted to do so. Using a coach to provide feedback is cowardly and ineffective. On a personally relevant note, coaching as a profession and trade is tainted by this unsavory tactic. Don’t do this. At minimum, it will destroy trust.

  1. They didn’t adequately address objectivity.

A common challenge when engaging a coach is insuring objectivity. A good coach can’t be influenced by demands, information or circumstances. Being objective isn’t necessarily about having unrelated, or no prior involvement with the coaching party (i.e., coachee, sponsor, others involved) – it’s about being able to set aside circumstantial information when necessary for the good of a professional engagement. It’s being a trusted expert.

Beyond being objective, the coach must be perceived as objective. As I’ve mentioned, it isn’t impossible, but it is rare, to find a coach- and role-appropriate level of objectivity when considering internal coaches. But internal coaches frequently have too much history with the coachee for to be adequately insulated from the organization’s dynamics. The type of relationship an internal coach builds is almost always different from that of an external coach; the reason is objectivity.

When I have worked as an internal consultant, I’ve never taken on the role of executive coach – with one exception. That was a job in which I practically worked as an outside consultant and had no exposure to the coachee. The likelihood of a conflict of interest jeopardizing objectivity is especially risky for folks in HR. You can’t expect a coachee to share their deepest work-related concerns when they know, or think, that their “confidante” is about to run off and determine their pay. Even though conflicts are a risk for external coaches, handling deeply sensitive and personal discussions is one of the main tasks of the coach and vital to building trust.

{Oftentimes a coach does have a say in the coachee’s fate. In these cases, it’s imperative to respect boundaries and to have a comprehensive coaching agreement in place. The coachee needs to know and formally agree what they’re getting into.}

  1. They didn’t engage an expert in coaching. Coaching requires a plethora of specialized skills. SOME of these include:
    • Executive assessment
    • Psychometrics
    • Individual counseling
    • Leadership development
    • Ethical matters of individual assessment, specifically in organizations
    • Learning and development
    • Organization behavior
    • Organization development and effectiveness
    • Succession planning

This is just a partial list and doctoral degrees are conferred for each of these requirements. Every coaching engagement is unique and requires the coach to adapt in ways that optimize the engagement. True experts are more than a “one horse show” and can adjust seamlessly and effectively.

All of these mistakes need to be avoided in order for a professional and trusted coach-coachee engagement to exist. Without any one of these, it may be more than a professional lapse of judgment - you could have a real crisis on your hands.

...Thought you should know…

Leadership in Crises: Remembering 9/11

On the anniversary of a life-, and world-changing disaster, I’ve prepared a list of leadership qualities undoubtedly demonstrated on that fateful day in 2001. Like any earth-shaking crisis, memories of where we were and how we felt are vivid for those alive and witness to the tragedy. However, the specific behaviors of the many heroes of that day and event are probably not as vivid for you. Details blur with the overwhelming fear and flood of emotion. This is truly the way that day should be remembered, in our souls – not our heads. But there are notable actions that should be tucked into our memories. Behaviors that saved lives and souls.

This essay is devoted to the heroism of those selfless men and women who paid the ultimate price to save others. May they be forever remembered.

A definition of leadership

One definition of leadership is that leaders reduce uncertainty. This is especially true in crises or disasters. Strong leadership is of paramount importance through crises where lives are at risk and nothing is dependable. No disaster plan can fully prepare for either the particulars or gravity of a catastrophic event. Regrettably, crises and disasters of natural or manmade nature are becoming more common. It’s not a matter of if one will be impacted, but when. As such, leadership through crisis should be a part of every leader’s skillset.

Guidelines and toolkits for managing through disasters have been developed by humanitarian agencies – and they have made a substantial, positive impact. However, as the relatively “obvious” aspects of disasters (infrastructure, rescues, command centers, etc.) these have received more attention than deeper wounds. I’m not against the need for water and shelter, but the psychological impact of such catastrophes can be life-long and warrants improvement. In fact, psychologists have already addressed the psychological factors most prevalent in crises. Here I specifically address some of the primary psychological considerations for leadership in crises. (Note: This is NOT an exhaustive list. There is evidence supporting these behaviors, but this is a guide, not a prescription.)

Leadership Needs in Major Disasters

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a useful framework for “need triage” in major disasters. For most, it’s only during life-changing crises that we are reduced to the most basic of human needs – physiological. For others, this stage of need is chronic. While there are similarities between event-based need states of decimation and chronic need states, the differences are greater. Chronic crises are not the topic here.

The physiological needs characterizing the most fundamental stage of Maslow’s model are clearly the most important and urgent. These define life or death. The immediate treatment for these needs is more about survival than psychological well-being. Psychological factors are absolutely present at this stage, but I do not address them here. These are better for clinicians, both medical and psychological, to address. Leadership is less in demand when biological survival is at risk.

Unlike physiological needs, safety needs are not as easily addressed, and their remediation is not as clear. Psychological security and health are obviously challenged in times of crisis, but we are much less prepared or effective in properly attending to them as the vital, observable and relatively quickly addressed physiological needs. These aren’t overlooked, but the means of dealing with matters of psychological nature is complex, frequently requiring scarce, specialized services that require more time.

Beyond medical or serious clinical needs, leadership is paramount to allay fear and promote psychological safety. The behaviors most effective in times of crisis are not completely different from those typical of comprehensive leadership, but the situation calls for very different use.

In no particular order, the following leadership competencies are recognized by psychologists with additions from myself as being especially important when guiding an organization, or any group or person, through major crisis.

  • Resilience – You’ve heard it, “Put the oxygen mask on yourself first.” No amount of preparation or resolve will work if you don’t. Do whatever it takes to insure or regain your physical and mental well-being. You will attract attention like never before, and it will be remembered. Every move should say “I have control.”
  • Decisiveness – Crises are no time for a census. Decisions must be taken with speed and confidence. These times call for a more concentrated, reassuring source of power that people expect from their authorities.
  • Integrity – Here I mean consistency of behavior more than moral integrity. In a crisis people’s ability to process information is dramatically curtailed. It’s important to send consistent, even predictable, messaging (via action and word) to make things as easy to understand as possible. Radical changes in direction can add to the psychological challenges already at work. Hold the line, as it’s said.
  • Clear direction – As stress limits psychological well-being and functioning, guidance must be provided at a more granular level. The environment is threatening and unfamiliar; step-by-step guidance is frequently necessary.
  • Justice – It is critical that leaders enforce and maintain equitable treatment through crises. Similar to integrity, human expectations of fairness and consistency should be met with just behavior. Together, acting with integrity and justice conveys a reassuring message of control over the situation.
  • Inclusion – This does not negate the need for authoritative control but does temper it. By including others, some who will disagree, a leader entertains a broader set of options. This is important to avoid potentially erroneous “self-generated validity of thinking” and builds acceptance with key constituents.
  • Compassion – This isn’t the time to get “mushy” but subtle acts that stem from a mindset of compassion are especially noticeable among the victims of disasters – and they benefit from it.
  • Presence – Here I mean just show up. The adage, “misery loves company,” bears merit when disaster strikes. If you were not directly impacted by the disaster, go to it. Nothing is as reassuring as “being there” for someone.

There are many more that could be included, and I could have been more efficient via a shorter list. It may not be perfect, but perfection isn’t my goal.

These simply represent a list of potential use to us all, hopefully well before necessary.

Psychology is clear: We’re not.

Beautiful, mysterious woman. What is she thinking? Who is she? Industrial Organizational Psychology knows.

Perspective.

In a word, that’s as close as it gets to a synonym for psychology – at least the type I practice. Many may debate, “It’s too narrow”, or, “It’s too broad.” But that’s their perspective. {Don’t you hate clever, contrived?}

Here’s mine.

Everything we “know” (i.e., that which we perceive via our senses or cognitive processes), is psychological. Some represent psychology with a lens metaphor.  I.e., “We perceive the world through the ‘lens of psychology.’” Not bad as metaphors go, but definitely not good.

In the movie, “A Beautiful Mind” (based on the book by Sylvia Nasar), Dr. Rosen, a psychiatrist, attempts to convince and calm a defiant and skeptical, John Nash, who Dr. Rosen believes to be psychotic.

Rosen: You can’t reason your way out of this!
Nash: Why not? Why can’t I?
Rosen: Because your mind is where the problem is in the first place!

Psychology is not only the “lens” through which our viewpoint of the world passes, it’s all the “stuff” on either side of the lens as well. And that “stuff” is passing through as many other lenses as there are viewers. Your experience of the color red may be quite different from mine. Who knows? The “truth” doesn’t simply sit on one or the other side of the lens. What’s “right” is simply what’s generally accepted (i.e., conventional), not some absolute “truth.” Essentially, we choose to agree even though we don’t know if we’re agreeing on the same thing or not.

No, it isn’t 3am as I write. And I’m not cross-validating a Ken Kesey experiment. But I can see how I may have complicated things trying to “fix” a flawed metaphor. (I can hear a former colleague’s corrosive – whoa, I mean, "corrective," no, no, "constructive" -- feedback, “Don’t let great be the enemy of good.”)

Backing up.

We all make the error of John Nash. We all believe that we have some control over our mind, as surely as we do our behavior. Both beliefs are delusions. No matter how much you think you really do “know” or “control” your mind or behavior, it’s DEFINITELY less than you think.

Don’t believe me?

Try verbalizing how you tie your shoes. Can you do this in less time than it takes you to actually tie them? Didn’t think so. The reason is because you just don’t think about it when you're tying your shoes, even though you’ve done it thousands of times. (Actually, that’s precisely WHY you can’t explain it.)

Free throws are anything BUT free.

In psychology we have a very innovative term for behavior so routine it's as if it was automatic; like tying our shoes. The term is, “Automatic.” Automatic behavior falls into the category of “unconsciousness” but it's not the same. The difference between the two is that automatic thought (behavior) can be accessed (with effort), while unconscious thoughts or behaviors, can NOT. When we don’t notice anything about some behavior until it’s actively brought to our attention (e.g., a tangled knot, or a deliberate request – like my question), that’s automatic behavior. We CAN get to it. But when we do, we don't perform as well as when we let it lie. (Think "buzzer beaters" vs. "free throws." Free throws are anything BUT free. (Ask Shaq).

When asked, people underestimate the percentage of time they spend on “autopilot.” SIGNIFICANTLY. For example, while you’ve been reading this, how many times have you swallowed? You don’t know. But if I had told you beforehand that I would ask this now, you could answer.

At any given time, we’re aware of a mere speck in the spectrum of what’s sensible. And it goes beyond simple attention, but that’s another flavor of psychology.

Let's add just one more "flavor" to our model of perception: We tend to believe we know ourselves better than others do. Sometimes, yes. But mostly when it serves our need to be sensible or valued. When it comes to the "unvarnished truth?" ..., out goes self-accuracy.

The kicker is in a question made famous in my era by the rock band, “The Who.”

Who the f*ck are you?

Seriously, who are you? {sorry to paraphrase; I can't scream-sing}

A.  The you that you “know?”
B.  The you that they “know?”
C.  Both A and B.

If you answered, "C," you’re more likely to be right than not. “A” may be your identity, but “B” is your reputation. And "C" requires perspective. (If you’re wondering why I left out, “D. None of the above,” that’s a great question, better for a topic outside the realm of this article.)

A day in Chris’ life:

Subject: “They just don’t get it.”
Chris: “What do you mean?”
Subject: “I’ve explained X a hundred times and they still don’t do it right.”
Chris: “Are you sure it’s X they don’t understand?”
Subject: “You mean, maybe they don’t understand me?”
Chris: “Well, ... could be half of it.”
Subject: “What’s the other half?”
Chris:

Over 80% of my job is providing perspective; helping folks to see themselves from a “different pair of shoes” or in comparison to a larger group of folks similar to them (i.e., via norms).

And, “No,” I didn’t forget to add the last line for Chris. You already know the answer.

Like a lens to a lens, I don’t clear everything up. My aim is to provide better perspective, not perfect vision in a murky world of psychological errors, both known and unknown; accidental or deliberate.

From Robert Burns’ poem, “To a Louse,”

O wad some Pow'r the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!

One doesn’t need to be, "some Pow'r", to do powerful things. My "giftie" is the perspective I provide from disciplined study and well-tried experience.

Which "who" matters most to you?

To close, I refer you back to "a day in Chris' life" and ask, "Which “who” matters most to you?"

{Hint: “Would you rather be right? Or influential?”}

Can’t we all just get along?

Two masks staring at each other. Can we get along?

Nope. No matter how much we want or pray for peace; how much we want the yelling on cable news networks to cease; or how badly we want to end acts of violence taking place in our schools, we must recognize that aggressive behavior is hardwired in our DNA. We can’t “all just get along?”

As social animals, humans have immutable, instinctual, irrepressible needs: the need to bond with others “get along” and the need to dominate, or “get ahead” relative to others. That’s simply the way it is. We will ALWAYS relate to other humans in these instinctive ways. Even your most revered saint is subject to this reality. And you most definitely are, too.

The ONLY people apparently exempt from both of these needs are, in psychological terms, “crazy,” “nut jobs,” “whackos,” etc. Apparently, I say, because an argument could be made that they are labeled, “abnormal” for the very reason that they don’t have both needs met.

The “sticky wicket” here is how we define, “get ahead.” Here’s my crack at it.

The pivotal criteria between hippies who’d “like to buy the world a Coke” and cowboys who take evil-doers and “hang ‘em high” hinge on intent and intensity.

We can all identify with the good old rivalry of game-based competition (good intent, strong intensity), and the trivial “rounding errors” in tax returns (bad intent, low intensity). {I’ve only heard about these.}

A simple taxonomy of "getting ahead."

The table, below, depicts one of the oldest, but strongest, means of influence due to its simplicity - even if a bit inadequate. (Hey, I’m a fan of tales of “ducks and bunnies.”) ANYWAY, in this case two variables (Intent and Intensity), each with two values (good/bad, high/low), are put together. Alas; the classic 2 x 2.

 

A simple taxonomy of "getting ahead."

 

The labels in the grid are mine, but others would work just as well.  (However, if you disagree, you’re wrong. AND bad! – JK*)

BUT...

“BOHICA” (I really shouldn’t say what this acronym represents, so I won’t say that it ends with, Here It Comes Again.)

“Intent” is particularly squirrely. It’s hard to ascertain the intent of someone else: "I did this for you, not me." (hmm) “I didn’t mean to eat all of the ice cream.” (Not hard). And what if the act of intent affords no value to the one in question, “Yes, I drank all your champagne, but I didn’t enjoy it.” (Guilt by confession)

What isn’t so slippery: Few (sane) people proudly parade the image of being “Hostile.” Most don’t even like the idea of being “Mischievous.” We don’t like (allow?) the possibility to arise from our unconscious identity that we may be "bad." The more intense our point of view, the less we like (allow?) it to be anything but affirmative and decisive. "From now to eternity, I will NEVER vote for a ...."

Distinguishing good and bad is subjective. (Note the ‘wiggle’ room here) For the most part, our interpretation calmly flows with the “river of the rest.” For example, “You shouldn't interrupt someone in mid speech.” (That is, unless they NEVER shut up or are an insufferable boor.) “Going with the flow” isn’t infallible. We can believe we’re absolutely good and right, but somehow do unthinkable harm. Many egregious atrocities have been committed in the vortex of popular thinking (e.g., slavery).

Some will take umbrage with my admittedly loose, but intentionally illustrated sense of right and wrong. “God determines what’s right and wrong.” I can hear from some. “Yes,” I respond, "She does." "But..." our operational legal and moral systems are primarily determined by the populous. And, yes, they may be right or wrong about what’s right or wrong. (Huh?)

Anyway, the point I want to make has little to do with defining what’s right or wrong regarding guns, freedom of speech, whatever you like. I simply intend to give credence to the point that sometimes, some times, good people do bad things. I have my own opinions regarding what’s right or wrong, but who cares?

If you accept the conundrum that good people can do bad things, then the conflict between the person and their behavior must be addressed - more realistically, reconciled. Otherwise we have a bad person. And we don't like this answer. So, we in effect, invoke the moral(feeling)/rational(thinking) equivalent of a psychological “get out of jail free” card.

Cognitive dissonance.

Cognitive dissonance. The “slight of mind” that allows us to sleep knowing that we held our nose and voted for ____. OMG.

Cognitive dissonance. It's what you’d guess; mental conflict or disagreement. Cognitive dissonance looms large wherever disagreement lurks.

Take the maelstrom of shootings in US schools. Some say easy access to weapons is at fault,  yet the same people may have guns themselves, or at least want others to have them. Others believe that inadequate defense mechanisms are a weak link in our free society, thus allowing such tragedy. Furthermore, arming trained people with guns in schools is a good start to confronting these horrific maladies.

Who’s right? Who’s wrong? Obviously, the answer depends on who you ask. But both points of view, intensely debated, are staunchly justified by those who hold them.

Cognitive dissonance.

A singular event, with the same information available to all, is fiercely contested. Both “sides” have no doubt that they are right; the other side, dreadfully - dangerously, wrong.

How does this happen?

Cognitive dissonance.

Allow me to walk you through the examples of two potential cognitive processes regarding the two most polarizing points of view on gun control. For illustrative purposes, I’m going to make them super simple and extraordinarily extreme. I am NOT going to try to make them “good.” I speak for NO ONE here. I’m just making a point. Here goes...

“Guns are easily obtained and pose deadly force. If we eliminate guns, we’ll eliminate the problem.”

“Guns are our most effective defense in crises like these. By equipping our schools with guns, we’ll eliminate the problem.”

Both positions invoke cognitive dissonance because both are debatable and, moreover, both are obviously ignorant (as written). Note: we also don’t like to think of ourselves as “ignorant.”

Advocates for eliminating guns want to protect our schools by taking away the weapon of deadly force (guns), but know that two guns are better as long as one gun exists. (Unless they have complete trust in the wielder of the first gun.)

Advocates for the right to bear arms (guns) want to protect our schools by inserting the powerful weapon on site as defense, but know that guns carry risk. And more guns create more risk.

Now. Simmer down. The message is intended to make a point, not a point of view.

I say that both sides “know” these things, but that doesn’t mean they acknowledge them. This is where the BIG BUT comes in.

"Sure. Guns offer powerful protection, BUT at what risk to have so many; in our schools?"

"Sure. Guns pose risk and the more guns, the more risk, BUT at what cost do we allow armed attackers access to unarmed schools?"

When you hear someone pivot on a “BUT” they’re invoking cognitive dissonance.

It’s all about the BUT. When you hear someone pivot on a “BUT” they’re invoking cognitive dissonance. They’re creating a way to hold two conflicting beliefs (one, probably suppressed and unconscious) at the same time.

Cognitive dissonance allows both of these positions to ‘jump’ over the line between good and bad intent

Again. This article is not about gun control. The references are used only to make my point because it’s divisive. Both sides have intense beliefs. Both sides have valid points. Both sides have flaws. Cognitive dissonance allows both of these positions to ‘jump’ over the line between good and bad intent (or at least position one’s self in “the good box.”)

Wake up. We can’t. We won’t. Not gonna happen. We'll never, "all just get along."

We’ll never "all just get along." In virtually all cases, cognitive dissonance justifies our unpopular (among some) position by giving us an “out” of the bad box.

BUT,

If we open our eyes and see this from a higher perspective, perhaps we’ll see some common intent – even if our “logic” differs.

Worth a try?

*JK= Just Kidding. That's text speak I'm using. Cool, huh?

This simple hack* will reduce stress and improve health

Smiley face to reduce your stress

Most {known} psychological research confirms what people already know. Yep. Most psychological research could receive the “No-duh”  vs. the “Nobel” award. Beyond the obvious, others are obtuse. Good luck with their titles, less the method (that consumes most of the article. But sometimes something else happens. Here, I share a study, well done AND revealing; useful for everyday application. This research yields a simple exercise that, if done, WILL reduce stress and improve your health.

I’ve offered tips to manage mood and to reduce stress before: 3 (easy) office tips to enhance your influence, 3 Surprising Motivation Killers and a couple more. But I must confess that these “tips” are mostly the result of personal experience or general knowledge acquired from multiple sources.

This is different. Or as Dorothy so astutely mentions to Toto in The Wizard of Oz, “… we’re not in Kansas anymore.” (Scariest movie I’ve ever seen…)

Although most research reveals the obvious, what’s surprising is what we do (or don’t do) with this obvious information. Just to check me, I bet you can’t think of three things off the top of your head that would make you or someone else a better person.

You did, didn’t you? (smirk)

No kidding: Why haven’t you done them? If you have, why aren’t you still doing them?

You’re probably wondering, “why is Chris shooting himself in the foot?” It kinda sounds like he’s “giving up” his own profession; “psychological research is unsurprising and insignificant.”

Not quite.

One doesn’t fold with a straight flush, and I wouldn’t with a pair of aces (or would I?). I’ve come too far (and learned too much) to give in now.

Most of you will see through my thinly veiled attempt to entice and titillate as an effort to stir up your emotions. (Not sorry)

Beyond the sarcasm, pointing this out to you is making you even more emotional, even a bit demeaned. (Still, not sorry)

There’s an old saying in psychology, “All’s fair that changes behavior the way we want.” (Well, that’s what it should say.)

No. I’m no martyr. Not at all. I’m “the Fool.”

Here, I re-present one of many findings from I-O psychology that, if applied, would help so many. But it’s buried in an academic journal that few will notice. (I won’t mention it’s not even a journal of psychology, but that’s another story.)

Per Issac Newton, … “a body at rest remains at rest unless acted upon by a force.”

Transferring to psychology, human-kind is a pretty big, “body.” Consider this, “the force.”

What follows is solid I-O psychology research with implications that can really make a difference.

Now that I hope to have gained your attention, here’s the simple activity that will make you happier and healthier:

At the end of every day, write down three (3) good things that happened and why they did.

That’s it. Easy as Pi. (What does that mean, anyway?)

Really?

Yes, that’s it. Record and reflect on three good things that happened. Your spirits will lift and your blood pressure will drop. You can reduce stress. Measure it.

Bono, Glomb, Shen, Kim and Koch. 2013. “Building Positive Resources: Effects of Positive Events and Positive Reflection on Work Stress and Health.” Academy of Management Journal, 56: 1601-1627.

Don’t get me started on why this isn’t published in a journal known for PSYCHOLOGY!

Just get on with it. Prove me wrong.

  • Yes. I am cool because I used the word “hack” vs. “tactic.”

“Opposites attract” or “Birds of a feather flock together”?

"Where is the love?"

Do “Opposites attract” or “Birds of a feather flock together”? This is a VERY popular question around the world with nearly as many “answers” as your “know it all” colleague. It’s a topic I’ve addressed before; the way things are going, I’ll address it again.

What’s up?

Sometimes a question is more revealing than its answer. This is one of those times.

So, rather than rushing to answer the question, I want to address it first. Specifically, I take up the question based solely on my experience in industrial/organizational psychology.

Two factors tell of its significance and a third factor implies its specific relevance to me:

It’s frequency. This may be the most frequent question I get in my work. It didn’t used to be, but lately it’s been coming up more and more, usually in group engagements.

The context. Factory floors, delivery trucks, board rooms, basically any place where people perform work is where my work is done. Do these seem like the kind of places folks would bring up a question about romantic relationships? Not to me; at least not initially.

The rise of personality. When I started in my profession, personality was just beginning to re-emerge as a credible concept after a 40 year moratorium. Today, personality is everywhere. And it’s a very large part of what I do every day. When I address a group on the topic of character assessment, I know I will get this question regarding personality’s influence in romantic relationships.

Still, I NEVER bring up the topic with my clients (who aren’t asking for romantic advice). Regardless of the connection to personality, the question seems out of place to my primary job – or at least it used to.

Why me?

Here’s why I suppose I get this question:

  1. Character (personality) counts at work.
  2. Character counts in romantic relationships.
  3. Matters that count (i.e., character) persist and influence behavior across contexts (e.g., work/non-work). Furthermore, character is my expertise. It really shouldn’t be a surprise that I become a human lightning rod for this question when talking “personality”.

Now to provide support for my logic.

Continue reading ““Opposites attract” or “Birds of a feather flock together”?”

7 ways to protect your job from technology

Robotic claw grabbing businessman

The machines are coming (oh my!). But what’s new? Machines have been coming since the invention of the wheel. Over time, machines have changed the way work is done, frequently allowing fewer people to do more, or, taking “share of labor”. For the most part, the emergence of machines, and technology in general, has been incremental. It’s also focused on the most routine and arduous jobs for now. So, workers have had time to adopt new skills to stay ahead of the changing workforce demands. But the pace of machine evolution has been accelerating at a compounding rate and workers are more than beginning to get scared. Here I present seven evidence-backed ways to protect your job from technology.

Technological innovation has been changing in at least three ways:

  1. Rate: Despite misuse and interpretation, Moore’s law does model the increasing rate of change in computer capacity. Moore predicted that the technology underpinning the processing speed of computers would double every 18 months. Illustrations abound depicting his predictions of accelerated change.

Moore's law diagram
Moore’s Law – Logarithmic Plot

  1. Volatility: Disruptions, or rapid and radical developments in technology, have become more common. In essence, new technology can “go viral”, infusing and dispersing itself with surprising speed and impact. Digital cameras took film quite quickly.
  1. Magnitude: When globalization hit the scene, entire components of our workforce went away (pun intended). Call centers made the early moves with manufacturing and programing soon to follow.

Change plays right into people’s psychological weak spots.

The Perfect Storm

Three aspects of change unnerve people:

  1. Rate – As speed increases, accuracy decreases. If you want to really “excite” someone at work, pull out a stopwatch.
  1. Volatility – People do NOT like unpredictability, and that’s what disruptions create. Note the fate of network TV when digital cable came along. What happens when a new “system” is suddenly turned on in an organization? Better have a contingency plan.
  1. Magnitude – The bigger the change, the lower the likelihood that folks can, or will, adapt. Outsourcing and globalization did not really change jobs, it gave them to someone else. This has attracted the biggest reaction so far.

Note the pattern: Change plays right into people’s psychological weak spots.

Control and Trust are Crucial

These are the cornerstones of psychological health. When it comes right down to it, the most basic question we face has two answers: “I’m okay” and “I’m not okay”. Control and trust determine the answer for any situation. If you have neither, run! Most times you will have one or both.

So, what can you do to “weather the technological storm?” In short,

Focus on what you can control.

Here I list seven ways that you can protect your job from technology. As I write, I realize, though, that these steps are really more about protecting yourself from technology more so than your job. Either way, I hope at least one suggestion gives you an actionable idea.

  1. Seek to understand and predict where technology is going in your work. The better you can do this, the more time you have to ‘get ready’ for the change. Levy and Murnane (2004) devised a simple matrix to answer the question: “What tasks do machines do better than people?”

Protect your job from technology: Levy and Murnane's matrix showing routine vs. non-routine and manual vs. cognitive quadrants
Levy & Murnane (2004) Matrix of Automation

A) Routine jobs are easiest for machines and the first at risk:

i.  Manual routine jobs like stamping “received” on a brief are at high risk.

ii. Cognitive routine jobs like proofreading also are at high risk.

B) Non-routine jobs are more challenging for machines:

i.  Manual non-routine jobs like stocking groceries are at less risk.

ii. Cognitive non-routine jobs like writing novels are at the least risk.

Consider your job from this framework. Be prepared to move up (toward cognitive skills like solving problems) and/or right (toward non-routine skills like repairing machines).

… the likelihood {is} that you will be joined by technology, not replaced by it

  1. Understand what’s really happening or likely to happen as technology enters your work.

A) Is my job being replaced by a machine, or complemented with one? Most researchers and experience point to the likelihood that you will be joined by technology, not replaced by it (at least not as a first ‘move’). Learn how to work with the new technology and show that you like it. (Remember, someone with more authority than you probably brought it in).

B) If you’re highly skilled, you’re likely to be first in demand when new technology arrives. Your knowledge and expertise will be used to coach and train others. But this won’t last forever. Keep your eye out for new challenges.

C) If you’re less skilled, you will be more valuable after the technology has been around long enough for the trainers to move on. Keep the faith.

  1. If you lead others, communicate frequently about when and how technology will be used; position the resources necessary to educate and train the workforce to succeed.

A) You have control to build and support capability in the workforce.

B) How you communicate and address concerns will raise the level of trust.

  1. If you hire people, pay attention to their expertise and ability to deal with change.

A) Flexibility will be vital for all in order to adapt to our changing world.

B) Experts will be necessary to lead and embed technology changes.

  1. Consider the following job families, scientifically predicted as “least likely to be automated in the next 20 years” (Frey and Osborne, 2013). Even if you’re well into your career, there’s a good chance you can better secure your job by improving your social intelligence. (Robots aren’t good at jobs that depend on people skills – especially those requiring social intelligence).

Protect your job from technology: Frey and Osborne's table depicting bottlenecks to automation
Frey and Osborne (2013) – Bottlenecks to Automation

  1. Craft your work. As machines, or those who use them, eat their way into the social, political, educational and financial world, we consumers can exercise choice in our purchasing power. Just like some now are willing to pay a premium for products made in the USA, in the future the same will happen for “Made by hand” (and not just cigars). Seek to incorporate your personal brand in your work. The more labor-of-love, “crafted” works will stand out from the machine made stuff like the old, unvarnished desk does from the one finely polished on “Antiques Road Show”.
  1. Be nice to people. Research is clear that being liked at work (specifically, by your boss) results in better reviews (Longenecker, 1986). (If this sounds political, it is; but the same research also reveals a positive relationship between being liked and being good – seems to fit). Robots may be able to say “please” and “thank you”, and even do the job better, technically speaking. But they’ll never gain the authentic trust that you as a person uniquely can. Even as babies, we’re able to distinguish the most subtle facial expressions. Smile with your heart.

Take comfort accepting that your job is more likely to change than to disappear.

Yes, machines and robots and artificial intelligence are coming. Worrying won’t get you anywhere. Take comfort accepting that your job is more likely to change than to disappear. If you continue to expand and sharpen your skills, particularly those specified, above, you can relax — for a while!

My hope is that this article allays some of the ‘doomsday’ concerns raised by fear mongering media under the title: “Will a Machine take my Job?”