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By The Numbers

Workplace Survey, Findings

1.Workers are struggling to work effectively. 

When focus is compromised in pursuit of Collaboration, neither works well.

2. Effective workplaces balance focus and collaboration. 

Workplaces designed to enable collaboration without sacrificing employees’ ability to focus are more successful.

3. Choice drives performance and innovation. 

Employers who provide a spectrum of choices for when and where to work are seen as more innovative and have higher-performing employees.


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One thing that makes organizations dysfunctional is that bosses so often lack self-awareness. They're out of touch with their effect on their people and not in tune with what it feels like to work for them.

No one is immune to blind spots, of course. But bosses are particularly vulnerable. It's enough that they must often navigate massive change and cope with stressful situations every day. But add to this the overpowering belief that many bosses shoulder: "I should have all the answers, I should know what to do, and I should be able to handle challenges alone." For many, the need to be right becomes much stronger than the need to be effective. And only the most confident leaders are willing to surround themselves with people who will point out what they're doing wrong—and be rewarded for their honesty. More often, everyone is forced to endure the boss' weaknesses in silence.  Here are three of the biggest, and most deeply human, forces conspiring to make people in charge so clueless.



1.Bosses are, like everyone, self-deluding. All human beings tend to be poor judges of their own actions and accomplishments. We suffer from "self-enhancement bias," whereby we believe we are "better than the rest" and have a hard time accepting or remembering any evidence to the contrary. For example, a research performed by Cornell's David Dunning and his colleagues shows that it is the most deeply incompetent people who make the most inflated self-assessments. Bosses are not immune to this. It turns out that followers, peers, superiors, and customers consistently provide better information about a boss's strengths, weaknesses, and quirks than the boss him or herself. This showed up in a study of naval officers, where peer ratings were found to be good predictors of which officers would receive early promotions — but self-evaluations did not. Fancy yourself as the rare boss who sees yourself as others do? Beware: most people are confident that they make more accurate self-assessments than their peers. Unfortunately, that's just another form of self-aggrandizement.


2.Bosses are naturally heedless of subordinates. When someone is put in a position of power, subordinate members of the group watch that individual very closely for any sign of a shift in behaviour or mood. But usually the attention is not reciprocated. To the contrary, the leader turns remarkably oblivious to what the underlings do, and instead, attends to personal needs and desires — and to the next rung of the hierarchy, focusing on what the next higher boss is saying and doing. This combination of over-attentive subordinates and inattentive bosses are "the toxic tandem." As Princeton psychologist Susan Fiske discovered in her workplace research: "Secretaries know more about their bosses than vice versa; graduate students know more about their advisors than vice versa." Fiske suggests this happens because, "People pay attention to those who control their outcomes. In an effort to predict and possibly influence what is going to happen to them, people gather information about those with power."


3.Bosses are insulated from reality. As Jeff Pfeffer and Robert Sutton reported in Hard Facts, extensive research proves that people routinely "shoot the messenger." Bearers of bad news, even when they are not responsible for it in any sense, tend to be blamed and to have negative feelings directed toward them; the result is the "Mum Effect": subordinates with good survival instincts soften bad news to make it sound better, or avoid passing it along to their bosses at all. Therefore, in a steep hierarchy it is a happier and happier story that reaches the top ranks. The most disturbing example came courtesy of physics Nobel Laureate Richard Feynman after his investigation of the 1986 explosion of the space shuttle Challenger. He said he'd asked a group of engineers to estimate the probability that the shuttle's main engine would fail, and their estimates ranged from 1-in-200 to 1-in-300. But when he asked the head of NASA to make the failure-rate estimate, the answer he got was 1-in-100,000. Feynman pointed to this as an illustration of managerial isolation from reality, a problem he believed to be rampant throughout NASA.


When you consider just these three tendencies, you begin to appreciate how easy it is to be a terrible boss. At the same time, you glimpse one of the keys to leading well. A hallmark of good bosses — those bosses who get stellar performance from their teams while displaying great humanity — is that they are highly cognizant of these dangers. They realize their followers watch, analyze, and react to just about everything they say and do. And they devote real energy to reading expressions, noting behaviours, and making constant adjustments to help their people think independently and express themselves without reservation.


The best bosses are people who realize that they are prone to suffering blind spots about themselves, their colleagues, and problems in the organization — and who work doggedly to overcome them.