Leadership in the Face of Terror

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I’m not here to stand on my soapbox about the mass shooting in Christchurch. The horrific nature of what these individuals did, and the weariness of repeating the cycle of post-shooting events, is enough to put you into a deep depression about the way the world is going.

However, if there has been one bright spot in these incredibly dark days, it has been the confident and powerful response of New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Already renowned for being the second world leader to give birth while in office, Ardern’s response to the shooting has been hope-inspiring, and a model for leaders of all kinds to follow during times of crisis.

While what we are talking about here is a global crisis of the worst degree, it’s important to remember that these aspects of leadership response to crisis apply to leaders of all kinds, in all types of organizations.

Composure: As one of the world’s most peaceful countries, New Zealand is often seen as a beacon for safety in an increasingly dangerous and divided world. It’s easy to think that Prime Minister Ardern would have never imagined that her term would include being at the centre of such internationally relevant events. This accentuates the immense composure that she has shown throughout the aftermath, portraying class and strength at every public moment.

While many people see the public outbursts of sports coaches, or the power-through-retaliation of other world leaders under crisis, Ardern’s composure has shown how great leadership can display strength without inflaming a situation.

Compassion: Whatever you want to classify these attacks as, hatred for difference must be mentioned. An alternate timeline, with a less graceful response from Ardern, could have easily let to further alienation of New Zealand’s Muslim community. Instead, she showed compassion towards the Islamic faith, showing up in a hijab to the funerals and prayer services that followed.

That one simple gesture became an inspiration to many women in New Zealand, who followed suit and wore hijabs as a sign of everyone, regardless of faith, coming together in support for the Muslim community.

Immediacy: Ardern’s response was also categorized by its stunning immediacy, and the efficiency with which she moved to prevent any future mass shootings. Just days after the attack, she moved to ban semi-automatics and assault rifles, with great conviction and assertiveness.

This showed forethought in a time when many gun-control opponents often try to redirect the conversation from guns to mental health, and a respect for what is really the ultimate purpose of a leader: keeping the people safe.

Most business leaders will never have to respond to a crisis that involves national security, firearms legislation, and global media coverage. However, we can all take a page out of Jacinda Ardern’s book when it comes to her demeanour during the crisis, and the composure, compassion, and immediacy with which she handled it.

The next time you find yourself in charge of the response to a workplace crisis, reflect on Jacinda Ardern’s response, and the importance of composure, compassion and immediacy.

Employee Engagement: Beyond Beer, Wings, and Bowling

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Every reputable company should understand the importance of company culture. The way you communicate your company’s values, vision, belief system, habits, and employee treatment mirrors your company’s culture and captures the essence of your business.

In today’s competitive marketplace, employee engagement has emerged as a critical factor for business success, and is observed as a direct result of the company’s core culture, i.e., its attitude towards the employees it hires. The employee equation of your workplace is simple: if your employees aren’t happy, your business will suffer.

According to Gallup’s 2013 study on the State of the Global Workplace, “only 13% of employees worldwide are engaged at work” which translates to just one in eight employees contributing to their organizational goals or outcomes. The study further notes a staggering 63% of employees who altogether lack motivation in their workplace. Gallup concludes that “people spend a substantial part of their lives working,” meaning that “the quality of their workplace experience is inevitably reflected in the quality of their lives.”

Employees Need More

Organizing team building activities like a karaoke night, wings, beer, or poker tournaments generally sounds fun, but they don’t cut it anymore. These days, we have a highly disengaged workforce because people aren’t satisfied. They need to feel like their work is valued and that they are a part of a team they can trust and rely on. A sense of security plays a huge role.

No one wants to feel threatened for communicating their thoughts differently than others, asking for their rightfully-earned benefits, or feeling ridiculed for having a different approach to work than their colleagues. Soft skills are taking dominance in the workplace, and smart leaders are embracing tolerance, inclusion, and understanding as their core leadership mottos.

Encourage Two-Way Communication

Airbnb has managed to create a fantastic company culture due to its unrelenting belief in honest, two-way communication. As one of the owners, Levy, explained, “our rule of thumb is that nobody should hear about anything externally until we’ve told them internally.” The company organizes bi-weekly world meetings outside of San Francisco and joins everyone on a live stream.

Every new movement within the company is distributed broadly, and “people really appreciate knowing what we’re talking about, asking questions, and sharing thoughts and ideas.” Levy further noted, "that stems from our communication philosophy that we want to have an honest, open and two-way dialogue between everyone in the company." Similarly to Airbnb, Google and Apple encourage the same type of communication that lets the employees in on everything going on within the company, treating them more as “partners in crime” than “regular employees.”

Build Your Culture Through Belonging

The modern office should no longer cultivate nor encourage the climate of employee fear, dissatisfaction, and frustration. Like Bill Gates put it, “...leaders will be those who empower others.” No matter how fun a workplace you build, if your people don’t feel like a part of your business structure or aren’t comfortable around people they work with, they’ll create cliques that will further lead to the deterioration of your office structure.

Introducing mindfulness, awareness, and understanding in the workplace before organizing a joint field trip to the nearby amusement park could be the way to go.

Rethink the Concept of “Employee Engagement”

In the words of Josh Bersin, “the days of the annual engagement survey are slowly coming to an end, to be replaced by a much more holistic, integrated, and real-time approach to measuring and driving high levels of employee commitment and passion.” Hopefully, things are gradually moving towards understanding the importance of employee happiness and working to build a supportive environment that will make them feel safe and wanted.

Create a Homogeneous Environment

Titles do matter, but do they matter more than the employees themselves? It is not uncommon for the title-chasing enthusiasts to climb up the corporate ladder faster than the others, leaving “the less enthusiastic” employees behind and, in doing so, creating a very uncomfortable work environment.

Big companies might want to consider eliminating official titles to encourage their unlimited creativity and commitment. "The minute people start talking about job titles, or are more interested in equity over changing the world through connecting people …, we know that they are probably barking up the wrong tree," said Levy of Airbnb.

Create a Culture of Fandom

The founder of Apple, Steve Jobs, created a culture of fandom, turning it into possibly the best employment strategy ever. Honestly, who would make a better employee for your company than an admiring fan? Add company discounts, gifts and other company-related goodies handed out to the employees for free, and you get a group of enthusiastic and encouraged employees who are over the moon to come to work.

Focus on Employee Encouragement and Development

At Virgin Group, Sir Richard Branson encourages an atmosphere of positivity and employee encouragement: “I have always believed that the way you treat your employees is the way they will treat your customers and that people flourish when they are praised.” Apple also focuses on their employees’ contribution (i.e., the number of projects they’ve worked on) rather than the longevity of their employment at the firm, encouraging them to feel like part of the Apple family.

It is no surprise that engaged employees are fostering customer loyalty, promoting retention and improving organizational performance. The more involved they are, the more likely they are to put in the extra effort. To keep your employees happy and turn your business into a thriving unit, make employee engagement your business imperative.


Simone Brown is a performance coach who helps leaders and teams increase productivity. Her approach is grounded in  behavioural and brain-based strategies. She believes success isn’t just about talents and smarts, it’s about the development of emotional intelligence. Simone is also a speaker, and talks about topics such as emotional intelligence, millennials, and the importance of purpose.

Toxic Employees: How to Detect and Deal with Them

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Charles interrupts Anne during her presentation and makes a snarky remark. The next day when Anne enters the lunch room he stops mid-sentence, and the people he is talking to go silent. As soon as Anne makes her coffee and leaves, she hears him whispering and snickering with co-workers.

No matter what form they take, you can be 100% certain that toxic employees are affecting your organization’s performance?

A study in a Forbes article,  indicates that rude employees and workplace incivility costs companies about $14,000 per employee due to lost productivity and work time.

If you’re in a positon of leadership and not paying close attention to this problem, you’re actively hindering the success of your company.

The first step to addressing this issue is detecting the people that are killing your workplace culture and probably causing the good ones to question if they’re working in the right organization.  

The bully

If you think that bullies only exist in schools, you’re wrong. In fact, according to research by Dr. Judy Blando from the University of Phoenix, 75% of employees surveyed had been affected by workplace bullying, whether as a target or a witness.

The bully isn’t always the scariest person on the team; in fact, they can come off as charismatic. The bullies in your office are the ones making fun of others. Some of them do it lightheartedly because they’re trying to get a laugh.

Then there are the worse kind of office bullies; they're the ones who corner others, make them feel bad, feed on their insecurities, and manipulate them to do their work for them.

The whiner

Employees should be encouraged to have a voice to share their concerns and grievances. It's ok to stand up for what is right; however, there's a difference between speaking up against something that is wrong and whining about something you personally don't like.

The whiner has to let everyone know when they’re unhappy about something. They may not agree with a policy or don’t like the new software everyone is expected to transition too. Whiners complain in the hopes that they find someone to agree with them so that they can be miserable together.

The yeller

Not every organization has yellers; the ones that do will tell you they’re no fun. They’re the ones who lose their temper easily. They shout at co-workers or even at people they’re on the phone with. They sometimes get away with it by claiming they’re “just having a bad day.”

Whether they’ve got something going on in their personal lives or they just lose it under stressful situations, it’s still uncomfortable for the people who have to witness their breakdowns.

The slacker

There’s nothing wrong with taking a break occasionally; in fact, it’s good for productivity. But imagine someone who looks like their breaks last longer than the actual time they work. These are the ones surfing the net all day or hanging out in the break room shooting the breeze. The reason these people are toxic is that their laziness can be infectious.

The gossipmonger

The gossipmonger is one of the most toxic of the bunch. Some gossip for giggles, while others do it to manipulate colleagues. Gossipmongers are the ones who treat the office like a soap opera, injecting drama and intrigue in everything for their own entertainment.

Gossipmongers thrive on attention and are constantly looking for anyone to exchange dirt with. While some of the stuff they say is true, there’s never a good reason why people in the office need to know about other’s private business.

Dealing with Toxic Employees

Before you confront a toxic employee, establish their pattern of behavior and document instances when their behavior has negatively impacted others.

Everyone has a story. And as irritating and poisonous as the toxic employee is, they have one too. Some people might not be self-aware. The ones who are willing to acknowledge their actions and express willingness to change, are the ones worth having a second conversation with.

Dylan Minor, an assistant professor at the Kellogg School of Management, tells Harvard Business Review, “A manager can use this information to coach the person, or suggest resources to help address the root of the problem.”

If an employee is coachable, help them work through the behaviours holding them, and others back. Make sure their intention is honest though.

Someone who wants to change just to save their job (and reputation) isn’t changing for the right reasons. Make sure it’s because they believe in self-improvement . If they’re a high performer, you might consider hiring a coach to help them with a plan for improvement.

In situations where the toxic employee has already been called out for their behavior and they still haven’t demonstrated willingness to change, it’s time to show them the door.

The cost of onboarding a new employee might cross your mind but think about the cost of not letting them go. You could end up losing your star-performers if your company culture isn’t healthy.