Are you willing to say, “I could be wrong”?

Dialogue starts with the willingness to challenge our own thinking, to recognize that any certainty we have is, at best, a hypothesis about the world. ~Peter Senge

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about dialogue and what it really means. Mostly because it feels like we’ve drifted, far, from dialogue being a virtue of effective leadership.

Peter Senge (author of The Fifth Discipline) was the first thought leader who caused me to think differently about dialogue. What dialogue really means; how it differs from a discussion or a debate. Last week while finishing my read of Presence and Encounter by David G. Benner, I discovered yet another intriguing view of dialogue. I highlighted on nearly every page of Benner’s chapter on dialogue. I’ll share with you a sample of my highlights.

  • A good discussion may include sharing opinions and knowledge, but it involves much less risk and requires lower levels of trust than dialogue. Debates—which are about winning or losing, not about discovery and exploration—are, of course, even more distant from genuine dialogue.
  • In dialogue, each says to the other, “This is how I experience the world. Tell me how you experience it.”
  • The price of admission to genuine dialogue is high, and there are no scalpers to sell you admission tickets that are cheaper than the going price. That price is the willingness to be changed by the experience. Authentic dialogue demands consent to the possibility of being changed by the encounter.
  • Thich Nhat Hanh suggests that for true dialogue to occur, “We have to appreciate that truth can be received from outside—not only within—our own group. If we do not believe that, entering into dialogue would be a waste of time.”
  • In relation to discussion and debate, dialogue is more about exploring than proving, more about discovery than making points. In dialogue, knowledge is employed as a gift, which in debate it is used as a weapon.
  • Dialogue is always a win-win encounter. It strives for the engagement of two or more persons in ways that honors both their separateness and their connectedness.
  • Meeting someone in dialogue always involves at least a temporary suspension of our presuppositions about ourselves and the world. This means it always involves a degree of vulnerability to truth.
  • Finally, dialogue is impaired by a need for control. One can control interviews and conversations, but one must surrender to genuine dialogue. Much like moving into a flowing stream of water, one must enter dialogue ready to let go and be carried along on a journey.

This doesn’t mean that all of our communication should be dialogue. But are we engaging in any dialogue, at all? Are we willing to explore and discover as we talk with others? Do we suspend our own assumptions or beliefs and really listen to hear how someone else experiences the world? Are we willing to enter into conversations with others with the mindset that we could be wrong?

Dialogue, a virtue of effective leadership.

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You’ve plateaued; will you rise or fall?

An inflection point is a time in the life of an organization [or leader] when its fundamentals are about to change. That change can mean an opportunity to rise to new heights; but it may just as likely signal the beginning of the end. ~Unknown

At some point in the life of an organization [or leader] you discover that what used to work perfectly before, no longer does. This inflection point demands a shift—maybe in working style, decision, strategy, execution—everything on which it [or they] survived in the past.

Christine Comaford, contributing author on Forbes.com, suggests three reasons/solutions to shift upwards when faced with an inflection point. Comaford focuses on companies, but I believe that the same principles can apply to an organization of one, or even to an individual leader. I believe that leaders, too, find themselves at inflection points.

At each inflection point, an organization [or leader] must reinvent itself in order to reach that point and move through it. If it doesn’t, it will become stuck and ultimately decline into an upside-down curve, rather than back into growth mode. To continue to grow, to shift upwards at an inflection point, an organization [or leader] needs to make changes in each of the following areas: people, money & time, and model. Comaford suggested people, money, and model. I added “time” to the second area.

People. Leaders must work on themselves—on their own beliefs and behaviors. Some of your team members [or you] may need to develop profound new skill sets, behaviors, capabilities, beliefs, or identities. A phrase I heard from someone who recently retired gives perspective to this idea. Instead of calling it “retirement” he calls it “rewirement.” What “rewirement” do you and others in your organization need to experience?

Money and Time. To grow to the next inflection point, your systems must be aligned and your funding model must be appropriate. In organizations funding models may be required to shift because of a number of factors: consumer trends, competition, innovation, etc. On an individual level for a leader, I think what also changes is the balance of money and time. Ways to acquire more time may have far more value than more money, or vice versa depending upon the inflection point. I think it’s critical for leaders to wrestle with the balance of money and time at each inflection point.

Model. As an organization [or leader] grows, core competencies shift, markets (customers, competitors, environment, distribution channels and technology) evolve, and some opportunities are more leverage-able than others. One example that always comes to mind for me is Blockbuster. I was a Blockbuster member (they had my personal information!) and frequent movie renter. Blockbuster peaked in 2004 with more than 9,000 stores. Only six years later, in 2010, they filed for bankruptcy. Again, I emphasize, they had my personal information! They could have done what Netflix did. They reached an inflection point, did not make adjustments when the market shifted; and consequently experienced a very sharp decline that became their demise.

I also see the same phenomenon happen with leaders. As an example, in the not-so-distant past, command and control was a frequently practiced leadership style. Many leaders were really good at command and control. However, the type of work and workplace culture that dominates the workforce today is quite different. Today’s workforce requires much more of a coaching leadership style. Consequently, I see leaders who were very effective ten or 20 years ago struggle to be effective today. They haven’t shifted their model to current conditions.

Have you reached an inflection point? If so, what can you change so it becomes an opportunity to reach new heights?

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Leaders: What do you want to BE?

What you do is a consequence of what you want to be. ~ Max DePree

A month ago I wrote a post in tribute to Max DePree, former CEO of Herman Miller and author of several books including the classic Leadership is an Art. Last week I was with Max’s daughter. She talked about the many stories and memories that were shared about her father since his passing in early August. What stood out to her was the many ways in which people talked about his kindness. She said that he never set-out to be a businessman. He set out to be who he was as a person, and that he would frequently say to his children, “What you do is a consequence of what you want to be.”

On the same day I was introduced to author David G. Benner’s book Presence and Encounter. Benner says, “We are lost in doing and tempted to believe that there is nothing more to us than this.”

This was followed by discovering this perspective from Chuck Swindoll. “Doing is usually connected with a vocation or career, how we make a living. Being is much deeper. It relates to character, who we are, and how we make a life. Doing is tied in closely with activity, accomplishments, and tangible things—like salary, prestige, involvements, roles, and trophies. Being, on the other hand, has more to do with intangibles, the kind of people we become down inside, much of which can’t be measured by objective yardsticks and impressive awards. But of the two, being will ultimately outdistance doing every time.”

When I think of leaders who I have enthusiastically followed, it has been because of their being not because of their doing. Benner describes a woman he met: “…the intensity and alignment of her being were disarmingly different from the sort of diluted presence I was used to in others and myself. Presence can be like that. When it is even relatively unclouded, it can shine with a brightness that can be disturbing.”

I think that’s what Max’s life, and leadership, reflected. The intensity and alignment of his being, his kindness shone so bright that it was disarmingly different.

Intensity and alignment of our being doesn’t happen overnight, at least not for most of us. Swindoll said, “It may take half a lifetime to perfect…but hands down, it’s far more valuable. And lasting. And inspiring.”

What we want to do is not nearly as important as what we want to be. ~Charles R. Swindoll

Leaders: What do you want to be?

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Leaders: Are you hiring employees or people?

We thought we hired employees, but people showed up instead.  ~Unknown

I’ve used this quote frequently with clients; unfortunately, I don’t know the original source.  But the sentiment has resonated with clients on many occasions. While it states the obvious, that the employees we hire are people and consequently bring along all of the talents and trials of working with human beings, we still hope for “employees” to show up on Monday morning.

Simon Sinek takes this concept one step further in Leaders Eat Last. He asks, “If you were having a hard year, would you get rid of one of your children”? Sinek says, “Being a good leader is like being a good parent. We want to give those in our care opportunities, education, discipline when necessary, all so they can grow and achieve more than we could for ourselves.”

Many of you may be in agreement with all of this, so far. Then the example Sinek uses to make his point is a mid-size organization. When their economic foundation shifted along with every other organization, they chose to look for alternatives to layoffs. They instituted a four-week mandatory furlough for every employee, top to bottom. The CEO introduced the strategy and said, “It is better for all of us to suffer a little than for some of us to suffer a lot.” Much like a family wouldn’t get rid of one of their children.

I’ll admit, I’ve worked both with, and for, organizations that came upon hard times and I couldn’t see another option but to reduce the workforce, which they did. So I was a little cynical about Sinek’s perspective (pardon the pun). If you’ve never had the pressure of creditors hanging over your head, then it’s much easier to say there are alternatives to layoffs.

Then I read a book that altered my perspective. In Why Good People Can’t Get Jobs Peter Cappelli describes a hiring process problem more than an unemployment problem. We’ve taken that “employee” mindset so far that we believe we can craft a detailed and specific job description, run it through a database of hundreds of candidates, and find a perfect match, the perfect employee. And, since there’s a plethora of people looking for jobs, we can hire and fire, almost as if employees are disposable resources, and not people.

The term employee is still fairly recent, relatively speaking; hence, so is the employee mindset.  Employee was first used in the U.S. in 1854 referencing railroad workers. Labor unions began forming soon after, and in the early twentieth century we began using the term “human resources.”

Getting back to Sinek’s analogy of getting rid of one of our children, is it time that we start hiring people, and consequently view them more like family members instead of resources? In some regards that’s counter-cultural because we’ve been taught to think in an employee mindset. However, many, if not most of our organizations in the 21st century require a people mindset in order to function effectively.  It’s as if our mindset hasn’t quite caught up with reality.

We can keep hiring employees, but people are going to keep showing up!

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LEAD change by FEELING change.

People don’t resist change. They resist being changed! ~Peter Senge

What is one thing we can learn from the 2016 election? I believe that the election solidified that change is driven more by how we feel than by analysis. This presidential campaign was teeming with visual images, emotional manipulation, and appeals interconnected to how we feel.

Author John P. Kotter begins The Heart of Change with this statement: “The single most important message in this book is very simple. People change what they do less because they are given analysis that shifts their thinking than because they are shown a truth that influences their feelings.”

To get us all on the same page, the definition of change management is “The discipline that guides how we prepare, equip, and support individuals to successfully adopt change in order to drive organizational success and outcomes (Prosci.com).” In my own words, change management is about helping people emotionally and psychologically adopt change. Or, recognizing that we change more because of how we feel, not as much because of what we think.

I recently spent a day observing a leadership team of a global organization go through change management training. The day was filled with models like the change reaction curve (our emotional response to change), detailed processes how to influence change of both individual and collective behavior, and all the various roles necessary to influence change. Closing out the day with how to create metaphors to communicate a truth to influence how others feel about change.

(Sigh!) After all of that focus on how to help people feel their way through change, and on the cusp of an election cycle that capitalized on feelings, there were still leaders in this group at the end of the day saying, “I think we need to talk more about the “business case” (analysis) for implementing change.” Argh! Really?! At least that’s what I was thinking in the back of the room.

When faced with a decision, how we feel about something many times (if not most of the time) determines our final choice. Think about the last time you made a big decision (bought a home, moved to a new city, quit your job, etc.). When you made that final decision, did you say to yourself, or to someone else, “this just feels like the right choice”? The data and analysis will frequently narrow the choices, but at the end of the day, we choose to change, or not, by how we feel about it.

Personal opinion, I believe that frequently leaders are promoted because they are skilled at making analytical decisions. But, those decisions can’t be effectively implemented if others aren’t following. And others will follow, or not, based upon how they feel about what’s being proposed. The process to garner support and followers (AKA: change management) is quite different from the process to make the analytical, strategic, or technical changes (AKA: project management). If you want to lead and bring people with you, they have to feel it.

Is your organization currently going through a change? What are you showing them to influence their feelings about the change?  “It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive but those who can best manage change.” ~Charles Darwin

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