Saturday, October 26, 2013

Management to Motherhood: Tough Love

I'd consider myself a nice person. While that generally makes me pleasant to be around (I hope!), it can get in the way of giving feedback effectively. For the sake of my team members' feelings, I can sugarcoat how they are doing, and then they don't have a clear sense of what they are doing well or not so well.

Every person receives feedback differently.
I know some who jump to change at the first mention of the possibility they are doing something sub-par. I know others who rationalize all critical feedback - they blame the situation and won't admit that they are less than perfect. It's important to keep in mind how the individual will respond when crafting your not-so-happy message.

Giving feedback on specific incidents that happened is only the start. If they take it well and are more careful in the future, you'll never have to mention it again. If, on the other hand, they don't get the message and continue with the same behavior, (first, you've gotta make sure you tell them clearly what you expect without sugar coating!) then it may be time for some tough love.

If they mess up once in a while, you correct and continue on. Once the behavior is repeated over and over though, it becomes a pattern which will need a harder stance to break. Tough love is the method of showing how much you care for a person by holding them to a standard that they haven't consistently reached in the past. It's not being mean. You can coach them through it. You need to be unrelenting though - leave no allowance for slipping back to old behavior. Continue to bring up the mistake every time you see it happen, as soon as you see it happen. It'll be somewhat of a Pavlov's dogs thing - instead of hearing the feedback directly from you afterwards, they will start to remember it beforehand and will (hopefully!) correct themselves.

Tough love takes work...
both on your part and on the part of the person you're helping improve. It's called "tough" for a reason.  You have to be watchful and outspoken with the feedback, even if it's uncomfortable to give. The person may not like you for it as they are constantly being told they are doing things wrong, but if they have respect for you and understand the negative impact their behavior has on others, overall they should be able to see that you're looking out for their best interest and trying to help them grow.

It's like being a personal trainer.
There's lots of struggle to motivate the trainee to put in the effort, but ultimately there's a goal, and it's your job to help them reach it despite their groans and complaints. You're by their side, holding them to the number of reps they need to do, encouraging them to keep going, but never coddling or lowering your expectations. They may feel exhausted and inadequate, but they know it'll help them achieve that goal. At the end, they will be so much stronger and self-confident - precisely because it wasn't easy but they made it anyway.

Being the nice person I am, I have a tendency to give everyone the benefit of the doubt. Unless they show signs of struggling or the problem really starts to affect others, I let it go. But the key to NOT having to give tough love is to address and correct things right away. I get myself in situations where I'm responding to a raging fire because I didn't pay attention when it was just a small flame.

The first time I had to use tough love, I was a camp counselor for a cabin of 9-year-olds.
First, I was surprised at how caddy and cliquey the girls were already - I didn't realize I'd have to deal with almost-teenagers! There were three girls in particular who decided they were the "popular girls." They always sat together, excluded others from their group, and whispered about and laughed at other girls. One day, I finally had enough. I was angry at the way another girl was put done by their comments, so I told them (a little forcefully) they were not allowed to sit together at meals anymore. Their smiles quickly melted as they tried to hold back tears. My heart was breaking for these three - I didn't like to see them hurt, but I also knew how much they were hurting others and would continue to hurt them if I didn't intervene.

That night, the whole camp got together to watch a movie. Walking over to the big cabin, all three of these girls wanted to walk beside me and hold my hand. When we settled in for the movie, they really looked like lost puppies hoping I would give them a smile - no caddiness, just a desire to please at any opportunity. I had one of these girl sitting on each side of me, and the third on my lap. This was definitely not the reaction I was expecting. Instead of becoming sullen or resentful, they were more willing to listen and wanted to be good.

The next morning at breakfast, they took seats next to each other, slyly glancing me to see if I'd notice. I restated that they were not to sit together, and they moved to be interspersed among the rest of the girls. That meal was a little awkward, since they had to talk to girls outside their "clique", but I had a profound sense of relief. I could also tell that the other girls were glad of the change. Those three girls continued to hang out in their group, but they were much nicer to the other girls, and I never had problems again.

Summer camp was a great experience for me as a counselor, and I think it did wonders for the girls who attended. They learn and grow in new ways - some overcome a fear of swimming or heights, others find their stride caring for and riding horses, and they all interact with new friends and adult supervisors. Although I didn't go to a typical summer camp when I was growing up, I definitely recommend it!

Camp canoe formation

Tough love in the workplace isn't much different.
By the time someone enters the workplace, they should know basic courtesy and work ethic. But work is very different from school, which is all they may know. Some make the transition smoothly, while others don't pick up on the "obvious" behaviors you're need in an office. One of the main things I see new workers struggle to understand is setting deadlines for themselves. In school, a teacher or professor clearly states the expectations for a paper, homework assignment, or test, and gives a due date for each one. In the workplace, there aren't always hard deadlines - a lot of things are "as you have time" or "get it done soon".

I had one particular team member who didn't take these seriously, and after 6 months, he had delayed other people from completing their work and didn't have much to show for himself. We had a hard conversation about when people expect those things to get done and what the consequences of putting them off were. He drastically changed the way he approached each new nebulous assignment, and a year later, he is a star employee. By resetting that expectation and forcing him to track each task in a spreadsheet along with his own due dates for each, he got into the habit of approaching each timeline by thinking about when other people needed him to finish his task. It took additional time for him to keep a spreadsheet of all his responsibilities, and it took time out of my day reviewing it and talking through it with him.

After a month of this detailed management, I had confidence that he had turned things around, and I quit overseeing his spreadsheet. He kept using it, as he found it to be a great tool to manage his tasks. Over time, he changed the format of the spreadsheet and implemented a different system, but he hasn't had problems with deadlines since. As a side consequence, he trusts me more because I helped him overcome a stumbling block and didn't mince words as I gave feedback and tracked his progress. He has much more confidence in his work and shows amazing drive to complete every task that comes his way in a timely manner.

Tough love works, whether for employees, weight-loss attendees, friends, or children.
It relies on an already-established relationship of trust, and it helps improve problem areas and more firmly establishes that trust. It's hard work for both people, but the payoff is outstanding! God won't relent in His ideals for us, but He never stops showing us love. Shouldn't we do the same for each other?

St. Peter's Basilica

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Complex Moral Formulas

While pursuing an engineer degree, I took a lot of courses where we derived mathematical formulas. We took simple pieces of information that we knew were true and put them together in a new way that revealed a new fact. Looking at this complicated formula on its own, you couldn't intuitively tell it was true. We only knew for sure because we had just spent half an hour stepping through it logically.

Once we established the formula, we then used it to solve complicated problems. These formulas became the basic building blocks upon which we learned more and more complex information. They helped us to understand the world better and then to take the next step and make the world better, through new inventions, more efficient systems, better designs, and whole new fields of study. This is the role of the engineer: to creatively apply current knowledge to new situations, improving the world as we go.

As we continued in our studies, we took for granted the formulas we were using. We relied on them heavily but didn't give a second thought to their validity. The improvements we were able to make wouldn't have been possible without them, and yet we didn't pay much attention to where they originated.

Aren't the formulas of our faith the same way?

We know what the Church says about lots of moral topics, our formulas or "rules" of our faith. But where did they originate?

Deep thought has been put into each moral area, all originating from simple truths that we can understand. Over centuries, many people have thought through these truths, building upon them to come up with the moral standards that we live by (or know the Church says and yet choose not to live by). Understanding the background and basic facts that go into these teachings help give meaning to the formulas.

For example:
  • All human being have dignity and worth.
  • Depriving an innocent person of life is a crime against their dignity and worth.
  • A new person comes into existence at the time of conception, when they possess a soul and all the genetic material needed to be an individual.
These simple statements were considered together and resulted in the Church's teaching that abortion is wrong. The Church will not waiver because the facts combine logically to give us this formula.

Taking a step back to consider the thought and logic that went into each complex teaching, we can come to understand the formulas better. Once we internalize them, along with their derivation, we can use them with increased appreciation, sharing the Church's truths with more conviction. We will not only understand our faith better, but also make our faith stronger and the world better. We can apply these truths to the situations around us, leaving the world a better place.

We can all be engineers for the Church.