Academia meets workplace reality

SCNetwork members discuss Catherine Connelly and Kristyn Scott’s presentations

Academia meets workplace reality


Jan van der Hoop: That people share information selectively as a way to manage and control power (to consolidate their own and deprive others of it) is not new or surprising. The annals of human history are replete with examples of information sharing as means of control over others (#fakenews).

That cynicism towards a supervisor or an organization shapes perceptions, erodes trust, is hard on a relationship and is therefore bad for business is likewise hardly newsworthy.

Academic research confirms what seems intuitively true. What a relief.

Once again, the theme that underpins the conversation about both sets of research is that the best antidote to bad behaviours and corrosive mindsets is strong, courageous, people-focused leadership that promotes trust, open dialogue (especially around sensitive or difficult issues) and inclusion. Huh, didn’t see that coming.

Why is healthy, hands-on, courageous, engaged (and engaging) leadership so rare? And where are all the role models — surely, they exist today?

Paul Pittman: What an appropriate title for this session: Academia meets reality.

The conclusions of both presentations — knowledge hiding by Catherine Connelly and organizational cynicism by Kristyn Scott — assumed a set of circumstances, explored the consequences and then the remedies.

What concerned me with both was the short shrift given to why people concealed information and why people were cynical before jumping straight into correcting those traits.

Secondly and contextually, both of the reactions to dealing with these behaviours need to be appropriate to the degree that they exist.

This is an unfair criticism because with any presentation of this length, there just isn’t time to explore all of the research. As HR leaders, I felt there was more to take away from this than the quick fix.

Both behaviours were characterized for want of a better description as some type of personality dysfunction when they may well be the (misguided) expression of genuine concerns about an organization and its culture.

The remedies should then depend upon their extent and calibrated to whether this is an isolated outbreak or an epidemic.

Where does criticism turn into cynicism, and when does it fall into the definition of bad behaviour? As a supervisor, I seek out the left-fielder to figure out how badly I got it wrong.

Healthy cynicism can be a desirable quality in at least one person in the team. Far worse: The disingenuous taking healthy slugs from the Kool-Aid.

Last month, we were encouraged to focus on including those who are different.

What we are finding is that, in some way, we are all different and here are a few more differences that we need to consider as we go about the hoeing and tilling of leadership.

It’s another reminder that we are all different, with our own traits, just like everyone else.

Deal with it.

Sandi Channing: “Academia” gives us an understanding of what is going on in people’s minds and how they operate in an organizational setting.

“Reality” gives us the challenge of using this knowledge to get the best out of our employees. Knowledge and experience — both important to our growth as leaders.

Both presentations dealt with relationships within organizations. They highlight that employees have certain values and beliefs that affect relationships and, therefore, productivity and results.

As Jan said, “Strong, courageous, people-focused leadership that promotes trust, open dialogue (especially around sensitive or difficult issues) and inclusion” is the answer with which I agree, academically speaking.

In reality, I wonder if we are looking for perfection in our leaders.

With every new buzzword, concept and flavour of the month, we often shift direction and try to incorporate the new.

Instead, what if we recognized and appreciated our leadership strengths? What if we remained cognizant of our areas of opportunity but zeroed in only on the one or two we feel we could most impact and that would have the most impact?

What if we stopped trying so hard to be everything to everyone, recognizing that our leadership style will not be for everyone? 

The reality is leaders can have different styles and strengths and, despite these differences, can be equally effective. And, sometimes, just like in our personal lives, we connect with some employees and not with others — there’s nothing wrong with that.

It’s not a reflection of success or failure, just reality. The fact that not all employees thrive under our leadership style should not be a surprise nor should it mean we aren’t good leaders. 

I’m not advocating that we rest on our laurels — we can always improve — just that we be kinder to ourselves. Know what we do well and build on those strengths. Know what is hurting us the most and focus on those. Be cognizant of the strengths a diverse team brings and use those strengths. 

Learn, grow and develop in our leadership styles but remember academia represents perfection and we represent reality.

In reality, we don’t expect perfection from our employees so why do we expect it from us?

Pittman: Well said, Sandi. Leaders, know thyself.

Leaders are like golf: There is no perfect, we are who we are.

Leadership strength, however, lies perhaps in recognizing your own personality preferences, biases and leanings, being able to identify those types of personality you may be drawn to and self-correcting.

Maybe successful leadership is the ability to “connect” with team members more times than not, and to connect each of them by identifying the “simpatico” or where the “opposites” might attract.

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