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April 20, 2006

Personal Leadership at Work

Session Highlights by Vijay.

Prasad reminded everyone that this was an auspicious time of the year according to several faiths--New Year in South India, Easter, and Passover.

Jay started the check-in with an interesting quote: "The way out is the way through."

One of the participants shared his frustration of dealing with the federal tax bureaucracy. The clerk refused to accept the old version of his tax ID form even though it looked the same as the new version.

Another participant talked about her annual performance review, where she was ranked in the top few percent of the group, yet her salary increase was not commensurate with her ranking. Her discussion with her manager was not fruitful, and became rather uncomfortable. She wondered how the company/manager would motivate their best employees.

The last check-in was by a participant who is having difficulty working with a couple of his co-workers. Sometimes when he feels challenged (or "attacked") by them, he has an impulse to respond in kind.

The theme that emerged from these check-ins was how to interact with people at work (and elsewhere), especially in a �conflict of interest� situation.

Understanding Roles:

Prasad started by saying that the first step in any interaction is to appreciate where the other person is coming from. Each of us has a certain role to play and we know what is expected of us in that role. As long as things happen within well-defined boundaries, we do well. But when something gets outside these boundaries, we may become uncomfortable. For example, the clerk in the tax office deals with hundreds of forms. He doesn't know the difference between the old version and the new version of every form. Perhaps, by insisting on the new version of the tax ID form, he was simply trying to prevent a bigger problem later.

Similarly, performance and salary review of staff is a normal role of a manager. Up to a point, the salary discussion/debate between an employee and her manager is a "normal conflict" in their professional roles. (This is somewhat akin to the fundamental conflict of interest between a buyer and a seller: buyer tries to negotiate the lowest price while the seller seeks the highest price}. But stretching the debate beyond a certain point may become an irritation at a personal level (conflict--> arguments--> stubbornness--> rigidity--> irritation). As an alternative, the employee could ask her manager what he would do if he thought that his own salary was too low. (It was noted, e.g., that the salary range in any job grade is relatively narrow. So a grade increase could be one of the options.)

Every organization has a structure and a culture under which employees pursue their individual goals while simultaneously working towards organizational goals. When two employees have a conflict at individual ("me," "my") level, they have to rise to a higher ("our," "organizational") level to find common ground.

Personal Leadership:

You can deal with many conflict of interest situations more effectively by changing your own approach, i.e., through personal leadership. Note that change is interactive--changes in your approach will impact how others respond, and vice versa. Some key components of personal leadership are: identifying and leveraging the positive qualities in others, keeping yourself open to new possibilities, and responding to uncomfortable situations with maturity.

In a conflict, when you feel attacked or threatened, your brain downshifts to the primeval (reptile) response of "fight or flight." In this "low gear," the brain cannot choose a very mature response. In a modern company environment, this fight/flight response often takes the form of an unkind/intellectual repartee motivated by one-upmanship.

An effective way to avoid this counter-productive instinct is to consciously create a brief time gap between action (perceived attack) and reaction (your response). This time gap could be as little as ten seconds. This gap allows the brain to shift from the automated fight/flight response (low) gear to a more mature response (high) gear. Note that this real-time act of personal leadership does not require knowing or doing a specific thing. It simply requires an attitude change. An appropriate specific response will naturally emerge once the brain is given an opportunity to shift to high gear.

Posted by Ragu at April 20, 2006 10:20 AM