Category Archives: Steve Yacovelli

Flexing Your Leadership Courage

By Dr. Steve Yacovelli

Steve Yacovelli-leadership courage

Remember in The Wizard of Oz how the Cowardly Lion—when he got to see the Wizard—was like, “What? I already had courage? WTH?” It was kind of not cool that the Wizard made the poor guy goes all the way through that drama, only to say, “That gift you want? You already got it!” Well, leadership courage is a lot like that. Often when leaders ask, “How can I get more courageous in my leadership?” the answer is—like the Lion—you already got this; just tap into that which you already have.

At its core, it’s easiest to think of courage as that adrenaline-filled action hero that you see in the movies or when you’re home Netflixing and chillin’. Amazon warriors like Wonder Woman, death-facing young wizards like Harry Potter, countless soldiers and sailors entering the massive battle to win the war: you see these images in media and get an idea of what “courage” is supposed to be. But if you’re not a Navy SEAL or a wand-wielding wizard or an immortal Amazonian princess, you’re in luck! Courageous leadership doesn’t require you to be any of those. But—by nature of being in that leadership role within your organization—there’s a strong argument that you already have some semblance of courage up your sleeve. The challenge is to build and harness that courage to be even more effective as a leader.

When you think about being courageous in the workplace, even if you’re being your bravest self, there’s still a lot of factors that can prevent you from being your most courageous (and effective) leadership self. Time and again, these are the top three “courage-inhibitors” that tend to come up for many leaders:

Leadership courage here is to be OK with failing, with being perceived as that outsider for the sake of doing better work, benefiting your team members and organization. Click To Tweet

1. The Challenge of Fear

If you were to ask around, you’d likely find that a lack of courage and abundance of complacency in the workplace comes down to one simple thing: fear. When you think about this in the business context it can be broken down into two subtypes: (A) Fear of (Perceived or Actual) Failure, and (B) Fear of Feeling Like an Outsider.

With Fear “A,” you tend to strive for perfectionism, where the idea of submitting anything less than perfect could alter the opinion of a boss or trusted ally. Typically, most folks want their best foot forward; they want to be seen as a rock star performer. Anything less is deemed a failure (even if your “C” work is on par with some others’ “A” work!).

But Fear “B” comes from a more personal place, where challenging the status quo may make you feel like an outsider within your own workplace. At some point in your career, you’ve likely had that feeling before (or maybe you currently do). It’s not fun, it’s alienating, and, for some, it’s a feeling they don’t want to ever feel again.

So, in a work context, this desire to avoid the feeling of being the “other” leads you to be compliant, even if in your core you know the idea at hand really needs to be challenged for the good of the organization. Having leadership courage here is to be OK with failing, being OK with being perceived as that outsider for the sake of doing better work, benefiting your team members or moving your organization forward.

2. The Challenge of Assumptions (or “Filling in the Blanks”)

As humans, it’s common to fill in the gaps when presented with a situation where all the data isn’t available. It’s easy to connect the dots between one problem and the next, even when the two aren’t related, without taking the time to examine your own approach. It’s how humans are wired.

When you think of this in the context of courage, you’re either avoiding truly understanding the situation, or you’re scared (back to fear again!) to dive deeper into the truth of the situation. Having leadership courage means lifting up those rocks and seeing what’s underneath. Lack of courage here is making assumptions about the situation without knowing all the information.

3. The Challenge of Being Locked into Current Behaviors  

Let’s talk about change for a minute. Here’s a little secret you probably already know: most people don’t like change. On a fundamental level, change is a really awesome idea: it’s fresh and new, it expands horizons, it allows for innovation and to have new experiences. In the workplace context, you initiate change so that the organization can grow and prosper. But the hard truth?

The vast majority of people hate change. Why? Well, on one hand (at an unconscious level) humans don’t like to change because it hits a part of our brain that likes safety and security. As our cave-ancestors survived and grew as a species, they (like us) were wired to be fearful of changes. Engaging in something new could lead to a dangerous situation. 

Now, flash forward to today: you’re still wired like this in changing situations. When most people engage in change, it leads to an unsettling feeling of vulnerability. On the other hand, your conscious self doesn’t like change because it’s difficult. There’s a tendency to simply get used to situations and know how to act and adjust to them, even if the situation isn’t ideal.

You might have heard the old adage: “The devil you know versus the devil you don’t,” meaning that we as humans tend to be OK with even bad situations/bosses/friends/ relationships/etc. because we know where we stand in this context. Some people don’t like change so much that they’d sooner stay in a bad situation because it’s familiar rather than make a move to newness. So, whether unconscious or conscious, for most people change is hard! It takes courage to try something new, something different, and individual resilience to keep at it when it doesn’t work perfectly the first time.

As a leader, courage should be the bedrock that’s your foundation—the courage to challenge the status quo, and to be your authentic and effective self in front of the world. It’s a super power that every leader has within them: it’s just a matter of avoiding the three “courage-inhibitors” and channeling that courage just like the not-so-Cowardly Lion did.

Dr. Steve Yacovelli (“The Gay Leadership Dude”) is Owner & Principal of TopDog Learning Group, LLC, a learning and development, leadership, change management, and diversity and consulting firm based in Orlando, FL, USA, with affiliates across the globe. With over twenty-five years’ experience, Steve is a rare breed that understands the power of using academic theory and applying it to the “real” world for better results. His latest book, Pride Leadership: Strategies for the LGBTQ+ Leader to be the King or Queen of their Jungle came out June 2019.

Positive Thinking at Work: Not Being a “Glass Half-Fool”

By: Steve Yacovelli, Ed.D.

Steve Yacovelli-Be Positive

So many people in the modern workplace try to operate from a glass-half-full mindset. But these days it’s getting tougher to see that glass of (insert your beverage of choice) as being half-full versus half-empty. There’s so much negativity in the world today, so much polarization, so many 24/7 news outlets that need something to pull our eyeballs and get our clicks. It gets exhausting looking at your Twitter feed, Facebook wall, your Instagram pics, or tuning into the evening news and seeing/hearing so much “downer fodder.”

There’s a heap of studies out in the world that show that negativity—specifically negative thoughts—can greatly impact your physical and mental well-being. From lowering your immune system to impacting your ability to focus to creating severe depression, chronic negativity can be a disaster for us humans. Studies show time and again that those who have a more positive view of the world tend to be more resilient or “bounce back” in the face of changing times—especially negative times.

Even in those more terrible-horrible-no good-very bad-days (the title of a great children’s book, FYI), if you force yourself to see the good things that happened (“I had good luck driving home today!” “My co-workers acknowledged I did awesome on that project!” “They had pork roll in the office cafeteria today!”) you tend to see the broader world in a more “silver lining” kinda way (more on this later).

So, what can you do to remain a bit more positive at work, and not just build up your Teflon-coating to the negativity in the world but combat it by sending out some good ol’ positive vibes? Here are five ideas you can apply today to help shape your view of the world to be a bit more positive:

1. Keep a “What-Went-Well” Journal

At the end of your day, open up a note app on your phone and identify five things that went well for you during that day and why. This could be things big (“promotion!”) or small (“found a parking spot!”), but force yourself to think of five. Why? On some days it’s pretty easy to find the things that went well.

However, when you have that rough day at work, but still force yourself to find five good things, that’s when the magic happens. Neuroscientists have found that—by doing this exercise over the course of about 2-3 months—you actually begin to rewire your brain to see things more positively. Try it and see if it works for you.

2. Notice the Negative and Positive People in Your Professional Life

Become more aware of the types of energy that coworkers around you tend to emit. Sure: everyone has those “off” days where they’re teetering on the more negative side, but for most folks, their true disposition is pretty consistent. Listen to what your colleagues say, watch what they do, and see what they post on social media. Then, try to be around those who are more “sunny” versus more “cloudy.” Emotions are contagious, so choose your company wisely so you’re catching the good rays versus the clouds.

You cannot control everything that happens to you in this crazy world, but you can indeed control how you react to it. Click To Tweet

3. Limit Your Daily Exposure to Social Media and News

Similar to #2, reflect on how much social media you’re being exposed to and what types. Also, be aware of the news stations / programs you tend to listen to or watch and understand their own bias level or level of objectivity (on both sides of the spectrum). Be mindful of the concept of “confirmation bias” (where we tend to surround ourselves with those who support our world view, adding fuel to our personal flames), and honestly reflect on how you consume those Tweets, Facebook, and Instagram posts.

Have an addiction to social media? Look for apps or built-in smartphone features that limit the number of minutes you can socialize online.

4. Understand Control vs. Influence vs. No Control

In any situation at work, think about the actions you can control, what you can’t directly control but can influence, and those things where you have zero control or influence over. It’s like a three-ring bullseye (where the center is your control area and the outer ring is what you have no control over, the middle the influence part).

Where are you spending the vast amount of your energy? The middle? The outer ring? Too many people dump their energy into that “control” ring when really they have no control, thus wasting their time and energy.

Sometimes the best thing you can do to stay positive is to pull an Elsa from “Frozen” and “let it go,” which is easier said than done for some but much more helpful to your physical and mental health in the long run.

5. Ask Yourself: “What’s the Worst that Can Happen?”

In any stressful situation: stop, take a breath, and put things into a greater context. Ask yourself, “What’s the worst that can happen if …” and insert your current focus here (like, “… if I’m late for work this morning”). This helps put situations in the right perspective and context, helps avoid negativity, and allows you to embrace the positive of what you’re doing. Chances are you get yourself worked up even when “the worst that can happen” really isn’t all that bad.

Being more positive takes practice for many people. And yes: acknowledge that things can get crummy at times. Ultimately, you cannot control everything that happens to you in this crazy world, but you can indeed control how you react to it. Take the challenge to be that glass-half-full kinda person (and not a half-fool), and help others be a little more half-full, too.

Dr. Steve Yacovelli, (“The Gay Leadership Dude”) is Owner & Principal of TopDog Learning Group, LLC, a learning and development, leadership, change management, and diversity and consulting firm based in Orlando, FL, USA, with affiliates across the globe. With over twenty-five years’ experience, Steve is a rare breed that understands the power of using academic theory and applying it to the “real” world for better results. His latest book, Pride Leadership: Strategies for the LGBTQ+ Leader to be the King or Queen of their Jungle came out June 2019. www.topdoglearning.biz.

Identifying and Mitigating Unconscious Bias in Yourself and in Your Workplace

By Dr. Steve Yacovelli

Steve Yacovelli- Unconscious Bias in your workplace

Three fun facts: First, studies show that resumes with “white” sounding names (like “Greg”) were 50 percent more likely to get a callback for an interview by potential employers than a more stereotypically African-American sounding names (like “Jamal”), even when the resumes were identical aside from the name. Second, brunette and redhead women’s salaries are approximately 7 percent less than their blonde counterparts. And third, most 60 percent of corporate CEOs are over six-foot-tall; a large disproportion compared to the fact that less than 15 percent of American men are over this height.  In a popular political television show, one character says, “Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln. Tall men make great presidents.”

What do these three factoids have in common? They are examples of what is called “unconscious bias,” and actions are taken because of those unconscious or hidden biases. But what specifically are these hidden or unconscious biases, and more importantly how can you start to manage them so you’re making the right decisions in your workplace and our world? Let’s explore… 

What is “Unconscious Bias”?

Hidden or unconscious bias is the preference for or against a person, thing, or group held at an unconscious level. This means you don’t even realize your mind is holding onto this bias of, say, that person on the phone who is speaking English as a second language, or that effeminate man in front of you at the restaurant who isn’t what you were taught as “masculine.” In contrast, an overt—or explicit—bias is an attitude or prejudice that one endorses at a conscious level; it’s obvious and blatant.

Research on hidden bias shows that, regardless of the best intentions, most people hold deep-seated resistance to the “difference” of others, whether that difference is defined by evident factors as race, gender, ethnicity, age, or physical characteristics, or more subtle ones such as background, personality type, experiences, or even sexual orientation. But bias can also exist in a positive sense: you may favor your family, your community, and people with whom you feel a connection based on shared characteristics or experiences (like people who work for the same company or went to the same university as you).

These hidden biases aren’t purposely or consciously created; they are products of your brain’s self-generated definition of normal, acceptable or positive, and they are shaped by many factors: from past experiences to your local or cultural environment, to the influence of social community and the impressions from media. You don’t consciously create these definitions of “normal” versus “different,” “good” versus “bad,” or “acceptable” versus “unacceptable.” In fact, conscious and unconscious biases are often divergent; your hidden biases may exist in spite of our sincere desire to be bias-free and in direct contradiction of the attitudes you believe you have.

Why Do We Have These Biases?

Well, we can blame having an unconscious bias on our cave-ancestors. Back in the day, a cave-person had to quickly decide if the big-furry-sharp-toothed-animal at the cave-door was friend or foe; and those quick ascertains of safety were processed in their cave-brains. Science has shown that we receive 11 million bits of information every moment, but we can only consciously process forty bits of data at any time. How do we manage that 99.9999996 percent gap? Through our unconscious brains. So, as humans, it is perfectly natural for us to create these “cognitive shortcuts” to help us be safe and survive and manage all this data input.

But in 2019 we aren’t cave-folk, and that wiring sometimes goes against what we want our “auto systems” to work for the most part. Think about you at work: do you want your cave-wiring impulsively taking over who you should work with, the feelings you have toward hiring someone, or defining how you act towards a new co-worker or customer? No, you don’t. You want to have your conscious brains be prevalent, and that’s not always easy to do. But it’s something you should do.

Working on your unconscious base won’t just make your workplace more inclusive and successful, but it will go far to personally build trust between you and others, and that makes the world just a little bit better. Click To Tweet

“Micro inequities” & Why They Matter in our Workplace

OK: you’re at work and someone says to you, “For a woman, I’m really surprised how well you accomplished that task. Nice job.” Some would call this a back-handed compliment: a compliment that’s really an insult. The better term for this is a “micro inequity.” These are unconscious biases that come to life where people act or say things that “tip the hand” on their respective (most likely unconscious) biases. 

Why does it matter for you to identify and mitigate these microinequities in your workplace? For several reasons actually:

  • Micro inequities are a form of punishment for being different and occur in the context of work without regard to performance or merit.
  • Micro inequities undermine the effectiveness of the recipient.
  • Micro inequities take up workplace time and energy and undermine interpersonal trust and relationships.

Studies have found that over 71 percent of the workforce has experienced some form of workplace incivility or microinequity in the last five years. Incivility is evidenced by disrespectful behavior (Zauderer, 2002). What happened to these folks? According to this study:

  • 28 percent lost work time avoiding the instigator of the incivility/microinequity
  • 53 percent lost time worrying about the incident/future interactions
  • 37 percent believed their commitment at work declined
  • 22 percent have decreased their effort at work
  • 10 percent decreased the amount of time that they spent at work
  • 12 percent actually changed jobs to avoid the instigator

How Can We Start to Mitigate our Hidden Biases and Limit our “Micro inequities”? 

So, what do you do about this managing this unconscious, cave-selves? The first step is accepting that you DO have unconscious bias and become aware of the ones you specifically hold. One of the best ways you can start to explore what unconscious biases you have is through Project Implicit, or the Implicit-Association Test (IAT). The IAT is a free online assessment that will measure the strength of your hidden bias between various groups. Check it out—in a safe and judgment-free way—see what hidden biases you may have. https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/

Second, share and discuss the concept of “unconscious bias” with others in your workplace. Share the Project Implicit website with them. Talk (if you’re comfortable) what the results you had on the site. Encourage co-workers to hold each other accountable when those unconscious biases turn into microinequities.

Third, look at the bigger picture within your workplace. What are the biases that exist within your organization, and how can you start to challenge them. For example, look at your organization’s hiring practices. Does it tend to hire the same types of people or recruit from the same places? Are your marketing messages pretty non-inclusive? Are your customers or clients similar in demographic make-up? Think about your typically business practices and think as a team to ensure your collective unconscious biases aren’t impacting your business success.

Closing

So, we all harbor and exhibit an unconscious bias to some extent. And that’s OK; that simply means we’re human. But it’s taking that step to identify which biases we have, take steps to “debias” ourselves, share that action with others, and really look at how we do business that is the key to change. Doing this won’t just make your workplace more inclusive and successful, but it will go far to personally build trust between you and others, and that makes the world just a little bit better.

(source: Zauderer, D. (2002). “Workplace Incivility and the Management of Human Capital.” Public Manager, Vol. 31, p.36-43.)

Dr. Steve Yacovelli (“The Gay Leadership Dude”) is the Owner & Principal of TopDog Learning Group, LLC, a learning and development, leadership, change management, and diversity and consulting firm based in Orlando, FL, USA, with affiliates across the globe. With over twenty-five years’ experience, Steve is a rare breed that understands the power of using academic theory and applying it to the “real” world for better results. His latest book, Pride Leadership: Strategies for the LGBTQ+ Leader to be the King or Queen of their Jungle came out June 2019. www.topdoglearnign.biz .

The Top 6 Leadership Competencies Everyone Should Know & Grow

By Dr. Steve Yacovelli

If you turn to most organizations—including your own—you’ll likely be able to list out the “core values” that anyone within the workplace should embody. Look in the break room, on the annual performance appraisal, or maybe on some cool tchotchke given out at an annual workplace event; you’ll see things like “integrity,” “teamwork,” and “customer focus” listed. This is the social contract that anyone working for that organization should abide by.
Regardless of what your organizational values are, it’s showing time again—especially in today’s modern workplace—that Thehave an awesome handle on most of them.

“But I’m Not a Leader!”

You may be thinking, “Wait a minute: you say ‘leader,’ but I’m not a leader.” Shenanigans! A “leader” really is anyone who needs to influence and, well, lead within the organization. That could be a department head leading a corporate function, a project manager leading a team to accomplish a goal, an individual contributor with no formal leadership authority but still needs to get their stuff done—everyone within today’s workplace is indeed a leader one way or another.

In short: if you’re in a work situation where you need to interact with co-workers, bosses, direct reports, or customers, then guess what, friend? Congrats … you’re a leader!

Why These Six Competencies?

There’s been a lot conversation about what are “the right” competencies that someone serious about their own leadership development should focus on. But when you look at the field, the latest books on the topic, and what experts “out there” are focusing their energy, it’s really these six:

  • Being Authentic
  • Having Leadership Courage
  • Leveraging Empathy
  • Using Inclusive Communication
  • Building Relationships
  • Shaping Culture

What’s interesting about the six areas is that they are very intertwined. For example: being your authentic self as a leader requires having courage; building relationships requires effective communication skills, etc. So, while we’re looking at these six leadership competencies one at a time, they really wonderfully interconnect to make up the whole leadership you.

Let’s explore these Top Six.

1. Being Authentic

A smart leader is one who’s authentic: they conduct business as their true selves (and not just a company “talking head”), they are truthful, and have self-awareness of their skills and abilities; they know what they bring to the table as well as where they lack competence. Nothing erodes trust (your ultimate goal as a leader) by being insincere and fake. Authentic leaders are genuine.

2. Having Leadership Courage

Leadership courage isn’t that action hero kind of courage, but it’s being brave enough to do the right thing, even if it’s against the majority (or your bosses or customers). Having courage allows you to not get stuck in a rut, but to try new things, be innovative, have those more challenging conversations, ask “why are we doing it this way?” and be able to speak up and put yourself out there.

3. Leveraging Empathy

A leader who leverages empathy puts themselves in other people’s shoes. They think about situations from not just their own position but that of the other person. Smart leaders know that emotions and logic both play a part in the modern workplace, and they are open to listening and learning about the context of others within their team.

Effective communication leading to leadership success. Click To Tweet

4. Inclusive Communication

So much can be said about effective communication leading to leadership success, but let’s focus on just one aspect: effective listening. Smart leaders who engage in effective listening show respect and that they are paying attention to the speaker. Leveraging effective listening allows team members to not just be heard but feel that you as the leader are present and paying attention. As the saying goes you do have two ears and one mouth for a reason—you should be listening twice as much as you speak.

5. Building Relationships

Psst: Here’s a big, giant, crazy secret: building relationships leads to leadership success. It’s not to say the other leadership competencies aren’t important, but if you focus on building relationships using some of the other competencies here (like effective communication and being authentic), you can accomplish anything. Work gets done when you leverage your relationships (and doing so builds trust … there’s that “t” word again).

6. Shaping Culture

As a smart leader, you’ll want to shape and influence your organizational culture for the better (this is sometimes called “change management”). How can you do this? Through ensuring the six parts of a true change management program are in place:

  • mobilize an active and visible executive sponsor (that could be you!)
  • dedicate someone(s) to manage the change process
  • apply a structured approach and process to the change
  • engage with team members and encourage their participation, communicate frequently and openly
  • integrate and engage with effective project management best practices.

Closing

Being a smart and effective leader isn’t easy, and there’s so much you can do to either start or continue to grow as a leader. But, by focusing on these six competencies as a starting point, you will not only “amp up” your own leadership effectiveness, but you’ll also improve the performance of those around you and your organization. And—added bonus—that makes the workplace just a little more enjoyable for everyone. Now that you know, go grow.

Dr. Steve Yacovelli (“The Gay Leadership Dude”) is Owner & Principal of TopDog Learning Group, LLC, a learning and development, leadership, change management, and diversity and consulting firm based in Orlando, FL, USA, with affiliates across the globe. With over twenty-five years’ experience, Steve is a rare breed that understands the power of using academic theory and applying it to the “real” world for better results. His latest book, Pride Leadership: Strategies for the LGBTQ+ Leader to be the King or Queen of their Jungle is available June 2019. www.topdoglearning.biz.