How Do You Smell?


“Behave so the aroma of your actions
may enhance the general sweetness of the atmosphere.”
Thoreau

Your attitude’s like the aroma of your heart.
If your attitude stinks, your heart’s not right.
(Coach Mitchell – Facing the Giants)

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The sense of smell can trigger strong memories.  Catching a whiff of certain scents can make one wax nostalgic and take us back to our past.  When I smell vinegar, I think back and remember coloring Easter eggs when I was a child as well as with my own kids.  The smell of freshly mown hay takes me back to summers in my teens working on a farm.  Nobody likes environments that smell bad.  In addition, research suggests that we remember those environments more vividly.

Scientifically speaking, all this has to do with the olfactory and its strong input into the amygdala, an almond shaped mass within the temporal lobe of our brains.  As it turns out, smell connects with the emotional and memory parts of the brain.  That’s why memories associated with smell tend to spark strong emotions and make us nostalgic.  Research done at Boston College a few years back found that negative emotions enhance memory accuracy more than positive emotions.  In those cases where a smell spurs negative emotions, bad smells = bad memories.  In other words, we remember the bad stuff better.

Bad Leadership Stinks

Lately, I’ve read numerous articles on the state of employee engagement nation-wide.  Most cited the prevalence of toxic work environments, low employee engagement and bad bosses.  Comments accompanying the articles included many statements like, “I think I used to work there” and “that was my last boss”.  Research by Modern Survey and Gallup shows employee engagement at about 13% of the workforce nationwide and worldwide respectively.  It would appear that the state of leadership in the U. S. stinks.  In addition, that’s what most people relate to because we all have clearer recollections of the bad work environments and bad bosses we’ve had.  What I find most troubling about all the articles/blogs published monthly about the poor state of management/leadership is they all agree how it needs to improve.  However, nothing seems to change.

This past March, Modern Survey also learned that currently, the top six areas of importance to employees are:                                                                                                                             

·       The organization is headed in the right direction

·       Employees can grow and develop

·       Employees can derive personal accomplishment from work

·       The organization’s values guide behavior

·       The organization treats employees well

·       Employees have confidence in the future of the organization

Five out of six of the above areas are subject to leadership’s influence.  Leadership sets the direction and instills confidence in the organization, facilitates employee growth, development and treatment presumably all guided by the organization’s values.  Essentially leadership sets the tone for any organization.  Personal accomplishment pertains more to the individual but a bad boss can dampen those feelings.  Given the current state of employee engagement, leaders apparently aren’t paying attention to what matters to employees.  If it looks like poor leadership, sounds like poor leadership and smells like poor leadership then guess what…it probably is.

What Kind of Scents Does Your Leadership Style Make?

I’ll venture to guess that good managers become good leaders.  In the article Why Good Managers Are So Rare  on The Harvard Business Review Blog Network, authors Beck & Harter cite that only 10% of managers are “naturals”.  Another 20% exhibit “some characteristics of managerial talent” provided their companies implement coaching and developmental plans for them (italics mine).  Therefore, if I read this correctly, few are “born” great managers and a few more can be “made” good managers.  How many folks decide to “be” bad managers?  I did not have a mentor when I became a manager and I’d guess most of you didn’t either.  We mostly went about learning to manage on our own.  Whether through nature or nurture, any managerial success would seem to correlate to support for every new manager.  Given the above stats, management isn’t rising to the occasion and leadership isn’t helping.

The decision to support new managers so they are successful rests with leadership.  By extension, and with a good succession plan, managers could become the next leaders.  If we cannot help managers learn to manage well, how can we expect them to learn to lead?  They need training and mentoring to manage successfully and lead with vision.

In another article on the HBR Blog Network titled Three Differences Between Managers and Leaders by Vineet Nayar, he states that managers control people, count value and create circles of power.  In contrast, he says leaders lead people, create value and create circles of influence.  He goes on to say that, the quickest way to figure out if you’re a manager or a leader “is to count the number of people outside your reporting hierarchy who come to you for advice.  The more that do, the more likely it is that you are perceived to be a leader.” 

The decision to become a good or great manager/leaderrests with each of us regardless of the support we receive.  How many of have put in the effort to become a better manager or leader?  How many of us truly want to take on what it requires to be a great leader?  It takes a lot of work.  Moreover, it should be.  Much like making the decision to exercise helps us get stronger and healthier, making the decision to improve our management or leadership style will help us be better managers and leaders.  Both decisions and the acts that follow may also cause us to smell.  Nevertheless, if we freshen up afterwards (learn from our miscues) we won’t stink.  Which individuals become great leaders remains to be seen.  However, we can all be better leaders.  Those of us who currently lead should also focus on stronger support for new managers and leaders. 

When you hold a meeting, give direction, deliver feedback or speak to inspire, what aroma remains with your employees?  Make the decision to leave them with some good scents and good memories.  More on this next month. 

Here to serve,

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John Duba

Next month:  Leadership a Sore Spot, Manager a Pain?   Put Some ICE On It.

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