Behind Performance Adjectives Series: Narcissistic

He is a Narcissist.  Can you fix him?

When I hear the word Fix I usually have to fight a smile.  Not a smile because something is funny, but a smile because that comment implies  people are like machines, and with a replacement part, some oil, and maybe a few ball bearings (for you Fletch fans) and they are good to go.  It is not that simple.

First, when a heavy label like narcissist is thrown out there, the first step is to get to what people mean by simply responding – “That is a big word that can mean lots of things.  Tell me a little bit more about what you  are seeing.”  If you look in Wikipedia here are some of the descriptors for narcissism:

  • An obvious self-focus in interpersonal exchanges.
  • Problems in sustaining satisfying relationships
  • Haughty body language
  • Vulnerability to shame rather than guilt

With such a range, it is critical to clarify what people are seeing first.

Secondly, realize that chronic mental illness is present in <6% of the population, and in any year 28-30% experience a mental or addictive disorder.  (see my past post:  Nobody Behaves Well In The Corner)  If you think someone has a mental illness, it is probably only temporary and there is probably a good explanation if you have the time to explore it and understand it.

Finally, if you have the time, a tool like the Birkman can help put words around what they are feeling (or missing) because the stress behaviors the Birkman identifies are often the exact things that lead people to believe that someone is a narcissist.  Here is an example of two stress behaviors under Challenge, which describes our self-imposed demands for achievement.

  • Too critical and demanding of self an others
  • Feels inadequate, fears failure

A slow recovery for a normal company results in the same phenomenon as a fast growing company – do more with less.  That tension creates stress with people by itself, then throw in life (death, divorce, job loss) and we have recipe for lots of behaviors that get labels like narcissistic, crazy, or nuts.

Step one is not Fix it.  Step one is just to get it on the table to better understand it.  Tools like the Birkman help that conversation.


Assessments for Individuals – How they stack up

This is a series of extra discussions around an upcoming trU Tips related to using assessments in your business.  It will come out next week.  If you are interested in receiving this special trU Tips, please sign up for the mailing list here

All assessments are not created equal.  Here is a document I published that summarizes my opinion of nine assessment tools that I have used or taken in my career.  Most of the big ones are covered, and I have excluded 360 tools because that is a whole different topic.  The right tool for your depends on what you want to accomplish,  your budget, and several other factors. 

Here is a summary of some of my recommendations.

Leadership Transitions?  The tool I use in my practice is the Birkman Method.  It’s unique approach for measuring differentiating between usual behaviors and needs is unique, and the stress behaviors that it identifies when needs are not met.  It is a very powerful tool for transitions and also can easily be used for performance issues and career coaching.  It is the best that I have found, but probably more important is the process involved in assessing risks and priorities.  I have recently been introduced to an onboarding assessment that looks more at organizational factors vs personal style that is very powerful.  More to come on this. . .

Team Development? I use Birkman, and as a result it is the tool that I would use with clients.  The tool that I really like in this area is the Kolbe because of how it summarizes energy for a team and presents it back.  There are many drawbacks to using the Kolbe that I highlight in my matrix, but it creates a great conversation within a team.

Fun Team Development/Team Building?  I have used StrengthsFinder with over 400 people and over a dozen teams.  It is inexpensive and can offer insight into a variety of career or job related questions.  For the money, I would recommend it or DiSC® because of the cost and ease of access to experts if there was a desire to use it across an organization.

Any opinions?  I would welcome them and sharing of tools that I might have overlooked.  trU Tips 18 will be out tomorrow focused on this issue.  Sign up here if you would like to hear more.

Assessments: 4 Traps and 1 Truth

This is a series of extra discussions around an upcoming trU Tips related to using assessments in your business.  It will come out next week.  If you are interested in receiving this special trU Tips, please sign up for the mailing list here.

I am a big fan of using assessments (personality profiles like DiSC, Myers-Briggs, Birkman Method, etc.)  in business.  In working in and around dozens of start-ups/growth organizations, I see the pace and amount of work hindering the time needed to really get to know someone through a selection process.  Assessments do not replace that time, but help to start meaningful conversations around cultural fit, manageability, and onboarding that will be valuable.

There is the trap of being sold a solution vs making a good buying decision based on your situation and resources, so here are some things I have learned about the use of assessments in business.

Trap 1:  It will fix your selection issues: By nature, leaders want things fixed yesterday.  The biggest fix you can apply to your selection process is time and purposeful discussion to make sure you are getting the right person and actually leading the process as the hiring manager.  Assessments, used consistently for a period of time (6 months) will start to help, but it is not a quick fix.  It is an expensive band aid for a leader being too busy to talk to new people.

Trap 2:  Eventually you can do it yourself and you will not need me: True about 10% of the time.  For a very simple tool like DiSC yes, but plan on paying training $ every 1-2 years as your expert moves to other roles or gets busy.  Remember that to become an expert it takes 30+ assessments and doing them regularly (5-10 a month).  Much of the ‘expertise’ is also built from watching people work over a 1-2 year period after taking the assessment.  Some tools are so complex that it probably takes longer/more frequent work to be an expert.

Trap 3:  Ours is the best: It is important to believe that to sell things, and you will hear lots of great reasons to buy any tool.  In trU Tips #18 I will address ways to be a great buyer vs being sold on a solution that does not work.  If you are feeling the pain of a weak selection process, it is easy to buy the confidence of a good salesperson.

Trap 4:  You can also use it to help teams, leaders in transition, and other high risk/value (ROI) situations: Kind of true, but see Trap 2.  To make any action plan stick, will take outside coaching/consulting for 3-6 months after any session.  Probably worth it for leadership groups, but those costs should be part of the ROI discussion from the beginning.  The second mini-trap is thinking the HR leader can be this person.  They are too busy, too close to these people, and often not wired for this kind of work.

Truth:  It is better than nothing: This will not be part of a sales pitch, and since Brad Smart in his book Topgrading put the cost of a bad leadership hire at 14.6x annual earnings, making one better choice will probably help.  This will likely not appear in the sales presentation you receive (Imagine the tag line:  Your hiring process will suck less if you use this assessment 🙂 ), but it is the truth.

Do you have any other traps or tips to add based on your experience?

Choices. (career and talent management)


It is the word that sums up the goal for our own career development and what every person (young or old) works for.  It is also the goal of helping people find success in their role (called talent management) and in our organizations.  When I sit down with clients or friends to talk through development of leaders or managing a change initiative (especially when jobs are going to change) – my mind and questions wander back to the lens I always use to analyze their talent management habits or change plans:  How effectively is their plan creating a conversation?

Ultimately for people to buy into and successfully help your organization get to a different place, there are four questions they(we) need to bring to the conversation.  This is what makes talent management / change management personal.trUYou: our model for developing self-awareness

  1. What do I know about me?  (here is a link to my model for this – trUYou™)
  2. How do my talents, skills, experience and needs match my role and the roles I am looking at?
  3. Can I work for the person leading this group?  How do I feel about the list of tasks I am being asked to ship?
  4. Am I willing to help them be successful, regardless of my answer to question 3?

This Friday I am doing a key note address for a Junior Achievement Job Shadow Day.  I use 3 different size bikes (that students will ride) and cash to drive home a point – you have choices to make.  It is not always an easy journey, but it has some great rewards.  Here are videos I posted of one of my presentations.  Part 1    Part 2    Part 3

Funny thing – if I were to stand up in front of a bunch of seasoned professionals, I would give the same speech.  It is one of those messages that needs to be learned/relearned throughout our professional lives.

Choices are good.

Leadership: The Power (And Trap) Of Non-Verbals

We have been studying nonverbal communications in class and it is interesting how you can tell what people are thinking by their actions – especially when they are inconsistent with their words.  Is it important for leaders to know this?

I received this note from a leader who also loves to learn.  It reminded me of a couple of things:

  1. 60-70% of our communication is non-verbal 
  2. Great communicators have mastered non-verbal cues
  3. Stress behaviors for leaders (according the the Birkman Method) often shows up as us sending the wrong nonverbal signals

My big concern about teaching leaders how to read non-verbal signs is that we fail to teach them the skills needed to use it to have a great conversation about how a person really feels.

It is a slippery slope if we start taking a nonverbal cue as their statement.  Imagine the power of a leader saying “I heard you say you supported the decision, but I sense that support is not 100%.  What % would most accurately gauge your support? . . . . “ 

Understanding non-verbals gives leaders/individuals a tool to know when to hit pause in a conversation and allow someone space to share what they are thinking/feeling. 

My admission (I am supposed to be skilled at this) – Today I read a nonverbal (watery eyes) cue and my interpretation was someone is done reviewing their Birkman results after a 90 minute discussion.  They had absorbed all they could in one sitting. When I shared that perception it turns out it was allergies, and that launched us into 15 minutes of great conversation.  I was wrong, and I am glad I found out before I unilaterally shut the conversation down.

Read them – yes.  But remember that it is a cue to keep talking / listening.

Quick trU Tips: 4 Destructive Myths

I read a great blog posting today from Tony Schwartz on the HBR site around destructive myths that are too often norms with leaders.  Here are the highlights and a link to the actual post.  I have added links to some studies I have seen that support some of his assertions.

Tip for leaders:  This list might make for a good discussion with leadership teams or groups of high potentials.  Some seed questions might be:

  1. Do you agree or disagree?
  2. How do we see any of these in practice at our organization?
  3. Which one are you most guilty of? 
  4. Over the next month, which one are you going to focus on personally to make it go away?  What is your commitment/plan?

Four Destructive Myths Most Companies Still Live By

1.  Multitasking is critical in a world of infinite demand.

  • Here is a link to the Stanford study that challenges the assertion that multi-tasking is possible and a more effective way of working.  link

2.  A little bit of anxiety helps us perform better.

  • There is always an A-Ha moment when I review the Birkman Method results, and it is generally around the stress behaviors that result when needs are not met.  Anxiety often = Stress, and leading from a point of stress can be very destructive on others / organizations.

3.  Creativity is genetically inherited, and it’s impossible to teach.

4.   The best way to get more work done is to work longer hours.

  • Be careful taking this article into your CEO’s office and demanding a nap room. 🙂  There is some support for resting along the way vs just working long hours.  link

Here is a link to the full post on the Harvard Business Review website.  Check it out.

5 Habits To Build a Trust Savings Account

Lots is made about telling the truth.  As a parent of four children I vividly remember several occassions using the parent-ism “We are not leaving this room until someone tells me who . . . . . .  “.  It is amazing what can happen and nobody remembers how or why.  Maybe a pick your battles posting should be in the queue somewhere. 🙂

People want leaders to tell them the truth.  In this economic downturn I have been impressed by the many stories from clients and friends on the transparency moments that leaders have had with their people. 

The lesson we teach our children is the energy it takes and the damage it does to others when we keep a lie (or half truth) going.  As adults, this lesson does not leave us.  But there are times when we have to be evasive or withhold the truth.  Here are a couple examples:

  • Sale of a business / Negotiation of a purchase:  When a legal non-disclosure is in place we have to keep things secret.
  • Letting someone go because of bad behavior/poor performance – Call it professional courtesy, but we don’t always air dirty laundry and allow people to leave for better opportunities or personal reasons.

Dave Ramsey preaches an emergency fund in case we have an unforseen event and we do not want to overdraft our account.  Think of telling the whole truth and nothing but the truth as a deposit into a Trust Savings Account.  Here is the complexity, every person on our team has  separate account, and will add to it and withdraw at different rates. 

Here are 5 habits that help maximize money going into the truth emergency fund, and minimize overdrafts:

  1. Know the needs of your people around truth.  Some want straight talk, others want more one one on discussions, and still others want to know early.  The Birkman Method does a great job revealing these individual needs.
  2. If you are often out of the office – set aside time (Fri pm, Mon am) when people know you will be around to answer questions.  Make a habit to ask people What are you hearing?.
  3. Allow all your direct reports to see your schedule and add meetings if needed.
  4. Coach your leadership team to tell the same story you are telling and adopt the same habits.
  5. NEVER – roll out a big change to the organization without first telling your leaders and equipping them to tell the truth when asked all of the What?  Why? How? What about? questions.  Always have them follow-up with one on one conversations within 24 hours, especially when jobs are affected.

I know everyone has a story around this topic.  Anything to add to the list?

What the mirror says . . .

I spent the day with a leadership team recently that has a big job to do and is receiving limited resources, changing targets, and ever demanding customer expectations.  Sound familiar?  The goal is to help this team figure out how to survive/thrive over the next 18 months despite the uncertainty of the environment they operate in. What is in the mirror

We used the Birkman Method, which is the most effective tool I have found to help teams in this discussion because it measures our Usual Working Style (what people see under normal circumstances), what our Needs are (often different than how we act), and it names the stress behaviors that result if our needs are not being met.  The A-HA moment for the team came when most ended up in the stress behavior of hyper-task focus when the pressure really hit (ie.  needs not being met). 

It is not uncommon for an individual leader to look at a chart like this and make the statement – “I can handle lots of stress”.  That is true for most leaders, they push through challenges well and find ways to get to the other side.  But what about the people these same leaders lead?  The second A-HA for this team was the feedback their teams had just given them on an employee survey.  One of the issues highlighted was understanding what their roles were and communication of what is happening.  Hmmm . . . .

Leadership is hard, and probably especially hard right now. Taking the time to look in the mirror at a time like this is even harder, because it takes resources (time/money) and we are bound to see something that will ask us to change.  Yet, teams that are successfully growing a business have something to celebrate.  Part of that celebration should be the question “What can we do to make the next 18 months easier (on our teams/self) and better.

It is good to take a quick look every now and then, remembering the talents that have come together to move the organization are good, and yet there still might be an easier way to go forward.

When are you/your team planning the next look in the mirror?

Nobody Behaves Well In The Corner

My business/mission is being a guide for people so they realize the excellence they were born to achieve and helping organizations achieve their business goals by aligning a people strategy behind them (and helping to build the strategy on occassion). In my experience walking in to unfamiliar territory, I have developed an ear for certain words. Here is a short list:

  • Crazy
  • Narcicist
  • Unreasonable
  • Abnormal
  • Wierd
  • Bipolar
  • Nuts

Get the idea? Sometimes I wonder how many people truly have a mental disorder, because it can feel like there is an epidemic in certain corporate settings. So I googled What percent of adults have a mental disorder?. This brought me to a site that shared the information that in any one year 28-30% of adults experience mental or addictive disorder. Of that group, only 5.4% have a serious disorder that is likely to last beyond a year.

Yesterday a friend shared with me the quote Nobody behaves well in the corner.  Another way I say it is that stress does things to people that often are not very positive.  Dr. Roger Birkman spent decades perfecting his own assessment along these lines that has become the Birkman Method.  This is a tool I use to help people name the source of their stress and the resulting behavior.  The Birkman Method provides input on both usual behavior (what people see), needs(mostly hidden, but identify preferred environment; clarify motivational needs, highlight inner strengths), and stress behavior(counter productive, frustrated actions).  Here is an example of what these sound like:

Area:  Relating one on one with others:

  • Usual Behavior:  Candid and matter-of-fact, minimal self-conscious feelings, outspoken and unevasive, at ease with superiors.
  • Needs:  Frank and direct relationships, genuine praise free of sentiment, direct/straight forward corrections and instructions, candor from superiors and associates
  • Stress Behavior (happens when needs are not met):  Inconsiderate in personal relationships, downplays the importance of personal needs of others, uncomfortable when relationships require sensitive understanding

Any of these sound familiar?  When we back people into a corner (low resources, threat of job loss, inconsiderate teammates, no communication, lots of long hours) some strange behavior often results.  The Birkman Method has been a great tool for leaders I work with to help them see the sources of their stress and deal with it.

There are some people that genuinely need professional help to address things they are feeling.  But beware of labeling without first understanding.  If someone is in a corner, that COULD BE the reason for their behavior.

Why People Don’t Hear – 3 Actions To Help

  • I did not see this coming.
  • How can you let me go?  Just last week you said I was doing well.
  • It is too late for a counter offer.  The decision has been made.

I have seen lots of different situations in 20 years of working in and around organizations.  It was not until recently that I stopped being surprised by situations in which people did not see the news they should have heard.  We could discuss the endless reasons why, but that would not stop it.  Here are three ways to make most of the confusion go away.

  1. Write it down: Verbally telling people their performance is not up to par is only half the task.  When asking for more or defining minimum expectations it has to be written down.  Limit yourself to a page, but write it down.  If it is positive, do the same thing.  I am confident that 100% of the time verbal feedback is misinterpreted.
  2. Never deliver ANY news (good or bad) without scheduling a next step:  Bad news:  Take this and think about it for 48 hours and then lets get back together and make plans for  what will fix this situation.  Good news:  You are very valuable to this organization and I would like to come up with a list of projects/roles we should be working towards over the next 3-5 years.  Give it some thought and lets sit back down in a month and do some planning together.  People need time to process bad news.  Good news needs to be celebrated, then processed.   Next steps ensures the processing time is valuable.
  3. Ask them what they heard:  It is important to check for understanding in either situation.  In the delivery of good and bad news leaders usually talk too much because of nerves.  That is normal, but it is always a good check to end with – I have talked a lot, and it is important that some key points were clear.  What are you taking away from this conversation?  If they cannot repeat the main points you should repeat them (even if they are written down).

Assumptions are dangerous and we all have a hard time telling / hearing certain messages.  Follow these simple steps and make the confusion go away.

Do you have any helpful hints to add based on your experience?