Setting Boundaries at Work

While I (Dr. Cloud) was consulting with one of the biggest companies in North America, an employee told me, “We would be so much better off if my boss would set better boundaries on what goes on with individuals on our team. He plays the ‘nice guy’ role too much, and as a result, the team suffers.” Surprisingly, a lack of confrontation goes in the other direction as well. One vice president told me something I hear often as a consultant: “I wish my people would come clean with me. I wish they would tell me what they really think. I wish they would be more open and direct. But they are scared to do that.” If you are like most people, you spend a lot of your life at work. Work is a place with many possibilities for stress, conflict, risk, and loss. It is a place where you put in the best of who you are. You are serving, and at times sacrificing, trying to please, and also establishing friendships on the teams with whom you work. So it naturally follows that you can experience some emotionally trying times there. In addition, you have a job to do. Sometimes,... Continue Reading »

Are You Ridiculously in Charge as a Leader?

Recently I (Dr. Cloud) was discussing personnel issues with a CEO. I asked him why he thought those problems were there. He talked about some reasons, most of which had to do with the various players involved, and also the “constellations” of a few teams. But then I asked him a simple question. “And why is that?” I asked. “What do you mean? I think it is the reasons I just said.” “I know the reasons you said, but why do those reasons exist?” I continued. “I don’t get it. What do you mean?” he asked further. “Who is the leader? Who is in charge of the culture? Who is in charge of the ways that it is working, the fact that all of that exists?” I pushed. He just looked at me, and nodded. “I am,” he said. “So what kind of culture would you like?” I asked. “What kind of culture would drive the business forward if you had it?” When he thought about that, he looked upward, lost in thought for a moment. Then he got out of the “problem-speak” mode, and I could see a shift in his energy as a new vision of a different... Continue Reading »

How to Regain Positive Momentum in the Midst of Negative Circumstances

I (Dr. Cloud) was addressing an organization in the aftermath of a financial meltdown. We discussed why so many people were feeling down, defeated, and unable to perform at the levels they were used to. (It is amazing how just knowing that there is a reason for why you feel the way you do can be helpful. I wanted them to know that they weren’t crazy.) But then, I heard the words that I never want to hear… “So, what you are telling us is that we are basically screwed,” an attendee said. “We are just going to feel this way until the economy is different. This is just the new normal.” “Yes, you are right,” I said. “This has become the new normal. And that is exactly your problem.” “What do you mean?” she asked. “Your creative drives, the energy that you summon to go out and win, have shut down,” I said. “You feel that since you can’t control the economy, you can’t control anything. And now that you have been feeling that way for a while, your brain has tricked you into thinking that that is the way it really is, that there is nothing you can... Continue Reading »

Feedback Is the “Breakfast of Champions”

Business management expert Ken Blanchard says that feedback is the “breakfast of champions.” Indeed, learning how we are doing and how to do better are keys to great performance. In fact, the best performance situations are when we are getting the most immediate feedback, which is from the task itself, as flow researcher Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has found. The problem tends to occur at the moment when we actually get the feedback, either from other people or from the outcomes themselves. That is when our leadership character shows itself. While Blanchard gets it exactly right about the kind of breakfast we need, truth is that not everyone has the same appetite for breakfast. Some people wake up and really want it, while it makes others sick to their stomachs. Some are allergic to feedback. They set boundaries against constructive criticism. Brain research shows that feedback can do funny things to us if we see it as a danger or a put-down. We go into the “moving away” or “moving against” mode of fight-or-flight. The brain gets biochemically goofy. That is why you see people get so defensive and go to great lengths to fight any feedback. But remember, fight-or-flight only comes when... Continue Reading »

Nice Guys Don’t Finish Last

The Power of the Other

I (Dr. Cloud) had a very interesting conversation recently with a leader who accomplishes a lot and is very driven and effective. I have always been a fan of his work. We were working on a project together, and he made a reference to a particular work habit of his, logging almost every thought he has about his work into a very complicated matrix in a journal, and I asked him about it. Nothing wrong with carrying a little book around and jotting down good ideas when they come. But this was much more; it was obsessive. He said, “I think it’s probably part of my anxiety disorder.” I inquired more, and he told me that he had been managing a significant anxiety disorder for some time and had relied on a number of tricks and habits to keep it in check. As I listened, I couldn’t help being moved by how much effort it must cost and how distressing it must be for him to manage this condition. I also couldn’t help wondering how much better his life and work could be if he didn’t have to do all that. The psychologist in me had to speak up. “So,... Continue Reading »

The Secret Ingredients to Stellar Performance

Jack Nicklaus is the greatest golfer the world has ever known. His record of major wins is unsurpassed, even years after his last victory. Winning eighteen major tournaments is a record that is likely to stand for a long time. For those of you who are not golfers, that is the equivalent of more Super Bowls, World Series, heavyweight championships, tennis Grand Slams, or any other sports crown won by a single person or team. If you’re not a sports person, just call it the Oscars and think Katharine Hepburn. Of all of his feats, one stands out to me (Dr. Henry Cloud). It was in the 1972 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. On the seventeenth hole, he faced what he described as a howling wind, a 218-yard shot, and a three-stroke lead, which on a hole like that could quickly disappear. What happened? He hit the shot. The ball hit the flagstick and fell a few inches from the hole. Birdie! And a locked-up U.S. Open victory. (Google it. You will watch it several times.) In a career spanning so many years and so many victories, why does that one shot stand out to me above all others? Here’s the rest of the story. Nicklaus has described what happened in that historic moment.... Continue Reading »

The #1 Reason Why People Hate Change

One of the most important boundaries that people have to establish is against the tendency to put off changes that they know need to be made. If you think about it, much “waiting” and putting off changes has nothing to do with “getting more information,” or “waiting until we get finished with a, b, or c.” Obviously, it’s essential to gather data and do analysis, but many people allow too much lag time between knowing and doing. I (Dr. Cloud) remember once when I had a decision to make regarding a significant investment. I had been reluctant to green light the deal because it was in an area that I was less familiar with than I wanted to be. The truth, however, was that my advisers were experts in this arena, and I really did trust their opinions. Still, I was putting it off. Finally one of them, the lead investor, called me. “We have to go forward now or it is not going to happen,” he said. “What are you going to do?” “I want to talk to David first about some more balance sheet issues, and then I will let you know,” I said. “What specific information do... Continue Reading »

This One Belief Can Predict Success

It was the Fourth of July and I (Dr. Cloud) was at a celebration that included a memorial “paddle out” on surfboards in the Pacific Ocean to honor and remember my brother-in-law, Mark. He was a Navy SEAL, a great American, husband, father, hero, brother, and a friend. Mark died on a mission in Iraq in 2008. My ten-year-old daughter Olivia, wanted to participate in the paddle-out to honor her uncle. So, we borrowed a surfboard and began to walk out to the beach where the surfers were gathering, with me carrying the board. I was excited for her to take part in honoring her uncle Mark and was inspired by her fearlessness in wanting to paddle way out into the ocean with all the adults. She did just great and when we came back to the beach we hugged. She was very proud and thankful for her uncle Mark and we spent a moment talking about all of it before everyone gathered their things to make the long walk back up the hillside to the main event. Everyone, that is, except Olivia and a few other people who had decided to go back into the ocean and catch some... Continue Reading »

Why Leaders Need to Set Boundaries in the Workplace

What do boundaries for leaders look like at work? They are made up of two essential things: what you create and what you allow. A “boundary” is a property line. It defines where your property begins and ends. If you think about your home, on your property, you can define what is going to happen there, and what is not. As a leader in the workplace, you are in charge of the vision, the people you invite in, what the goals and purposes are going to be, what behavior is going to be allowed and what isn’t. Leaders build and allow the culture. You set the agenda, and you make the rules. And what you find there, you own. It is your creation or your allowances that have made it be. Simply stated, the leaders’ boundaries define and shape what is going to be and what isn’t. In the end, as a leader, you are always going to get a combination of two things: what you create and what you allow. I (Dr. Cloud) was leading an offsite for a health care company recently about a range of leadership issues, and the director of HR asked a key question. “So,... Continue Reading »

Praise and Reward Problems that Lead to Entitlement

We sometimes reward (through actions) and praise (through words) our spouses, employees, children, and friends in ways that can actually harm them, even though it feels good at the time because it seems so positive. But what seems positive is not always what is best. A pizza slice or two is positive — but four can cause problems. These unwise reward/praise approaches, although well intentioned, create bad fruit. Remember — these are patterns, not isolated events. Doing these things every now and then would be all right, but when they become trends, they risk fostering attitudes of entitlement. Praising What Takes No Effort Rewards and praise are most effective when they focus on an achievement that took time and energy. Most of the time, when praise is at its most effective, that achievement would involve a person’s character or internal makeup. To repeatedly praise a little girl for being pretty puts her in a bind. What she hears is, What gets me loved is something I can’t do much about. She also hears, My inside isn’t important, just my outside. We all know people, especially women, who have received that sort of treatment. What happens to many of them as... Continue Reading »