"You've got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em, know when to walk away, know when to run."
The message in the lyrics popularized by Kenny Rogers is clear: There is a secret to knowing when enough is enough. This classic card game advice highlights the growing tension in the minds of employees fueling the great resignation. A recent Gallup survey revealed an alarming trend. More than 50% of US employees are quietly quitting, and 18% are actively disengaged. You hate the lack of clear expectations and feedback. You think finding a work-life balance is out of reach. You believe career growth opportunities are woefully inadequate. No leader or company culture is perfect, but when do you take action or walk away? Here are a few tips for wisely choosing when to take action, three battles worth having, and giving critical feedback you won't regret.
How to wisely choose your workplace battles
It's normal to experience difficult situations in life and at work. But you can't fight every battle. There is a fine line between being a problem solver and being the problem. Here are three points to discern the difference.
Control vs. Concern: It helps to understand the difference between your circle of control and your circle of concern. The circle of control includes things you care about and can actually control, and your circle of concern contains stuff you care about but have very limited to no control over. If the challenge is with something outside your circle of control, the first step you take needs to build your influence over the situation. You will be more likely to be successful with battles in your circle of control.
Solution vs. Problem: Next, you want to ensure a constructive solution. Awareness of the challenge is the beginning of taking action, but awareness alone isn't all that helpful. You can build political capital by being seen as someone with a solution vs. someone with a problem. Who wants to be around someone that always has a problem?
Small Scale vs. Large Scale: Adopt a mindset of experimentation. Large-scale fixes are slow and more difficult. Identify experiments that can be tested and modified based on what you learn. Also, find early adopters. It is not essential to have everyone on board initially, so start small, where there is the least resistance to the change.
3 Workplace battles worth having
Notice I am not implying three reasons you should quit. Let me be very clear; it is important in difficult situations to keep your focus on why. You want to look for reasons to do something difficult rather than look for reasons to avoid a challenge.
Battle #1: Toxic Culture
Company culture is the one thing that influences every aspect of a business. It directly impacts organizational success, employees, customers, and communities. An organization's underlying cultural values affect employees' behaviors and decisions.
A recent study by MIT Sloan identified that a toxic organizational culture is more than ten times stronger of an influence on employee attrition than pay. Sadly, the effects of a toxic culture extend beyond the workplace. Employees working in a toxic workplace report experiencing decreased well-being and increased work-family conflict.
Detoxing the company culture begins with being the change you want to see in the world. Often bad leadership habits trickle down and become acceptable ways of behaving. Model good behavior and ask for feedback from followers about what you do that bothers them.
Second, actively architect and manage the workplace culture. Hire and fire employees to create and reinforce the desired company culture. Teach leaders and employees through stories about how they should respond in different situations and the costs of tolerating toxicity. Reinforce and communicate the importance of trust and teamwork. Reward employees that live the desired culture. Measure company results and the preferred company culture.
Battle #2: Leadership & Organizational Entropy
In our ever-changing world, there are many theories but few laws. Entropy is a fundamental concept governing life and work. Entropy is defined as disorder and randomness in a natural system - the second law in thermodynamics states that, left unchecked, entropy increases with time in closed systems. Leaders with closed minds and organizations closed to new ideas quickly fall behind and become obsolete.
One proven way to battle against workplace entropy is for leaders and organizations to continually develop and evolve at a pace consistent with the change in our exacting world.
The bad habits of leadership that we have all witnessed or engaged in are not destiny. One of the greatest myths I encounter in coaching leaders and business owners is that their current reality reflects a permanent reality. We don't stay the same. Even passions and proficiency can change. You can learn how to apply proven solutions to create life-changing leadership habits.
Battle #3: Transactional Leadership
Leadership is a relationship, and people are the most significant resources within an organization. Transactional leadership is centered around a paradigm in which leaders give employees something they want in exchange for getting something in return. Transactional leaders approach the workplace with the belief that most workers are not self-motivated and require structure, instruction, and monitoring to achieve organizational goals correctly and on time.
Compelling evidence indicates that leadership moderates company performance and results. Controlled studies involving leaders across different markets have found a positive correlation between the leader's effectiveness and employee retention, sales, margin, labor costs, and net profit.
Contemporary employees are looking for leaders that possess the following characteristics:
listening to self and others
healing self and others
stewardship of other's needs
commitment to development
As the adage goes, what got us here will not get us there, and it is vital for today's leaders to learn more about new emerging leadership styles and theories. Servant leadership, transformational leadership, authentic leadership, and spiritual leadership are four new emerging leadership styles and theories gaining increased attention globally and stand in stark contrast to transactional leadership.
Have you ever wondered if you are a servant leader? Maybe you already understand the basic concepts but are unclear on how servant leadership differs from other contemporary leadership styles. This Servant Leadership Style Checker answers these questions and provides your Servant Leadership Style Score. The benefits of a servant leadership style are evident to followers, teams, and organizations.
Giving critical feedback, you won't regret
Masters of critical feedback create a gap between action and response to choose what conversation matters most. Like a ship approaching an iceberg, what alerts a leader of a potential problem is often what is seen, but what lies below the surface presents the most incredible opportunity to be addressed.
"Don't let the truth run faster than love." Erwin McManus
Regardless of leadership level or amount of experience, all leaders struggle with the tension of being vulnerable or not. When receiving critical feedback, followers want to know their leader cares about them. But, concerns about managing perceptions can keep leaders from showing vulnerability. And when leaders are guarded, it promotes distrust.
To identify your tendency—to be vulnerable in difficult conversations —take the following free five-question quiz and learn your vulnerability leadership score.
Fail to plan and plan to fail. To avoid regret, your communication plan should include checking personal motivation, vision, and perspective (MVP) before giving critical feedback.
Motivation. Is your motivation about caring for others first? Or is your motivation to be right? Reasons for a conversation matter. It is less likely that the conversation will lead to positive changes without a positive reason.
Vision. How do you see the result of the conversation going? Is it the best of what might? Or is what you see a list of all the things that could go wrong? When you anticipate a positive step in the journey, it provides a sense of purpose and direction to inspire your best and achieve success.
Perspective. When the lens through which you perceive the difficult conversation is off, your results will turn out poorly. Is your paradigm for the difficult conversation that real transparent conversation will provide the best foundation for a healthy culture and your relationship? Or is your perspective that it is best to avoid difficult conversations because you need to manage your image?
The truth is there is a lot you can learn when you don't walk away. It is in these difficult conversations that you can grow, and good things can happen.
Where are you tempted to walk away or run? Why are you going to take action? What is at stake if you do or don't?
Bartell, R. (2011). Before the call: The communication playbook. Hudson House.
Brown, B. (2022). The power of vulnerability: Teachings of authenticity, connection, and courage.
Grenny, J., Patterson, K., McMillan, R., Switzler, A., & Gregory, E. (2021). Crucial conversations. McGraw-Hill Education.
Harter, J. (2022). Is quiet quitting real? Gallup.
Hayes, J. (2008). Workplace conflict and how businesses can harness it to thrive. CPP Global Human Capital Report.
Spears, L. C. (1998). Servant-leadership. Executive Excellence, 15(7), 11.