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Infectious Diseases October 28, 2009

Posted by Chuck Musciano in Leadership, Random Musings.
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Many years ago, I worked with a group of software developers who were situated in a typical cube farm.  One day, a woman came to work clearly not feeling well.  As the morning progressed, her conditioned worsened, punctuated with repeated trips to the restroom.

Her cube neighbor was concerned that she might be carrying some infectious disease.  Sure enough, as time went by, he began to feel sick himself.  Soon he was running to the restroom as well, and by the end of the day they had both gone home.

It turns out that she was suffering from a bad bout of morning sickness.  Her coworker, it seemed, had contracted the rarest of all airborne maladies, psychosomatic male pregnancy.

While pregnancy is tough to catch at work, other diseases spread easily.  While diseases can usually be treated and disposed of, other infections can be much tougher.  These kinds of infections include attitude, ethics, and courtesy.

People tend to mirror those around them.  If the workplace is a sad, depressing, miserable place, everyone in it will be sad, miserable, and depressed.  Happy, upbeat, pleasant places create happy, upbeat, pleasant people.  The prevalent mood spreads quickly, one way or the other.

As leaders, we have tremendous control over what is in the air.  Our attitude sets the tone for the team.  We need to choose our attitude carefully, because it will be mimicked, consciously or unconsciously, by those around us.  While maintaining a continuously Pollyannish approach isn’t going to fool anyone, genuine confident enthusiasm is a good thing.

We also need to be sensitive to the “carriers” in the group, both good and bad.  Every group has a few people whose genuine positive spirit is always a welcome breath of fresh air.  Their approach lifts every project, enhances every meeting, and brightens your day.  These people are treasures and you need to specifically praise them for their good effect on the team.

Conversely, every group has a few Eeyores.  These people find the cloud around every silver lining, know exactly why every good idea will fail, and seem to find ways to bring even the happiest person down.  These people can be fatal to your organization.  Oddly, many of these people have excellent technical skills, so we overlook their attitude to take advantage of their ability.  We make excuses for their behavior, hoping that their technical contributions outweigh their social impact. You can do that in the short term, but you cannot tolerate it for long.  A person is a whole package, and attitude problems are no more or less serious than technical or ethical ones.

As leaders, we need to remove the infectious bad attitudes from our group and allow the good attitudes to more easily spread. Who are you infecting today?

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Your Attitude Is A Choice March 25, 2008

Posted by Chuck Musciano in Leadership.
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As leaders, everything we do is scrutinized. How we do everything we do is cataloged and noted. Our demeanor is infectious and our whole organization will adopt our attitude, good or bad.

For passionate leaders, this is a problem. Passion usually cuts both ways: passionately optimistic, and passionately perturbed. We want our people to be passionate, but we want to infect them with the right kind of passion.

One of the coaching points I have with new managers is the concept that they must choose their attitude, every day. Their choice influences their people, whose ability to execute ultimately decides the fate of the manager.

At work (and in all of life) there is an ebb and flow of good and bad. Our natural emotions will oscillate as a result. As leaders, we must consciously choose to suppress the negative emotions and emphasize the positive, without regard to our personal feelings at the time. This is not to say that we must adopt a Pollyannish approach to every problem at work. Instead, we must project controlled optimism even in the face of difficult odds or troublesome problems. If you believe a problem can be solved (and you better, or you’ve got other issues to deal with), you need to dwell on the solution, not on the effects of the problem. This gets your people focusing on the solution instead of wallowing in self-pity and fear.

Some leaders love to wail about things in public, going on about the difficulties being faced and the unfairness of it all. These people aren’t leaders; they are whiners. They love the attention of being pitied and seek the sympathy of their audience. Pity and sympathy may make you feel good, but they never solved a problem.

If you really need to explore the negative aspects of a problem, do it in private with a few trusted peers. You must have an accurate handle on the challenges you face, and you can only do that by honestly assessing how deep a hole you may be in. That assessment is done behind closed doors. When the door opens, you choose how to carry yourself. Good leaders choose to be strong, optimistic, and positive.

In troubled times, the team looks to the leader for direction, both subtle and overt. Your chosen attitude will spell the difference between success and failure for you and your team. Choose wisely.