Category : Language

Messengers at work

A lot of people don’t like the word rebel, which I latched onto because it gets people to pay attention and it conveys people with the courage, conviction and commitment to stand up for change.

“Messenger is a much better word,” my friend Maria has been telling me for several months. “It’s positive. Rebels are angry fighters.”

Last week Maria and I got together for our annual two-day marathon where we help one another set our goals and intentions for the year.

Predicting behavior

 

This week behavioral scientist John Furey shares some of his scientific discoveries from his MindTime project. I’ve worked with many different behavioral models, and believe there’s something very big here for marketers, leaders, and each of us as individuals.

1. Your MindTime mapping system has been called the world’s most accurate personality test and the digital Myers Briggs of the 21st century.  For we non-scientists, what is the system based on that makes it so informative?

Personality tests such as the MBTI are based merely on describing traits and behaviors, categorizing behavioral patterns. MindTime reveals the drivers behind the behaviors and therefore why we behave the way we do, or as scientists might call it, the adaptive value of the behavior. What is significant is MindTime is looking at causation, not simply outcomes.

Understanding why people behave the way they do, rather than simply describing what they do, provides a greater ability to predict what they will do.

MindTime uses a phenomenological framework—Past, Present and Future Thinking—as a means to understand people. These basic concepts of thought— Past/Certainty, Present/Probability, and Future/Possibility—all have adaptive value; in fact, they explain almost all the concepts of the cognitive mind.

So, by measuring how people think, we can use this knowledge to predict behavior, attitudes, and even the personality traits they manifest. By knowing why a person does what s/he does, and the why and how of their strategy, we can use the knowledge in just about any environment to facilitate individual and organizational success.

 

2. What are the perspectives of Past, Present and Future Thinkers?

Here’s a brief snapshot of each:

3. When people get their individual maps, what insights do they learn about themselves and how does this help them professionally?

Our maps provide people with an in-depth interpretative report on their thinking style. It quickly and accurately helps a person to understand the value they bring to the world. We explain a person’s:

  • Communication style
  • Leadership style
  • Relationship needs
  • World-view
  • What they will resist doing. Knowing our resistances helps us navigate our limitations.

The most common comment we hear from people when they take the MindTime profile is “Aha!! That explains so much about me.”  When used in team building it provides this same kind of epiphany for our understanding of others.

However, while these insights are invaluable I think there is a more significant learning that comes out of all this that impacts our professional abilities in a profound way.

We each know people who we can rely on to bring ideas, inspiration and a sense of possibility to our lives. In fact, this might describe you. We also know people who are much more likely to bring order, planning, procedures and stability to bear. They’re much more engaged in creating continuity than they are engaged in bringing change. Likewise, there are those among us who are more keenly aware of and driven to understanding the meaning of data and facts. These folks bring us depth of thought, a need for truth and trustworthiness and can be relied on to think deeply about things rather than coming up with ad lib answers to good and necessary questions.

Knowing that a person is driven towards creating order and harmony versus being driven towards opportunities and risk-taking versus being driven towards information and analysis of a situation can change the quality and value of our interactions significantly.  It empowers us to manage, motivate, listen and speak in a more empathetic, or at least consciously aware, way.

Empathy, messaging, motivation, management, collaboration, roles, engagement style, motivation, change readiness, adaptability, and so on, are all positively impacted by this basic human awareness of each other.

 

4. How can MindTime help teams of people working together? Why do some project teams work very well and others get stuck?  What could managers do to create more consistently high performing teams?

MindTime can accurately predict how well a team will function at a task or towards a goal in view of the mix of thinking styles of people on the team and the roles people are playing. It can also predict the kinds of pitfalls a given mix of thinkers will encounter, both interpersonally and in team dynamics.

MindTime helps the team understand the thinking styles of each team member so that people can understand and value different people’s contributions. Future thinkers will be focused on possibilities, while Past thinkers will want proof and certainty of ideas, and the Present thinkers will want to be able to predict outcomes. Understanding people’s thinking helps us create the right setup and awareness of what’s really going on instead of leaving us to fix what is bound to go wrong.

 

5. You say that how people think influences how they behave.  Many of us are trying to change behavior as part of our work, like getting people to try a new product or approve a new policy.  What should we know or be doing about thinking to affect behavior?

People’s thinking processes are very difficult to change so the best strategy is to figure out how we can align our objectives with a person—or group of people’s—natural inclination.

By understanding people’s motivation, which you do by understanding their thinking styles, you can align your goals with their fundamental objective (to pursue Possibilities, Probabilities, or Certainties). Alignment becomes a simpler way to elicit the desired behavior.

 

6. If you understand how your customers think, how does that help you market to them?  Can you give us an example?

Sure, but given that you’re going to blog this why don’t I give you two visual examples and brief explanations?

This first map is of a target market for a product. Through a separate study the ads used were found to be messaging a Future audience. They contained works such as: ideas, possibility, and phrases like “What could you do?” And, ”What’s next?” Can you spot the problem here? Why did the campaign fail?

Yes, the target and messaging was to Future thinking, the audience on the other hand was very much Past and Present in its thinking. A total miss.

The second map is of a group of people recruited to help with brand innovation. These were loyal supporters, not just customers of the brand, recruited by a brand community management company. Remember here, as you look at this map, that the desired outcome was brand innovation. Innovation typically starts with Future thinking. Do you see why brands were often less than enthusiastic about results? The recruited brand community had self-selected. They were of a mind to turn up on time once a week and participate by offering their opinions, predictably Present/Past thinking people.

The conclusion was that this audience, which lacked in Future thinking, was not really innovating at all. They were discussing problems that needed solving and identifying other “new” ways that the product might fit with their needs.

 

7. What use of your MindTime mapping system has been the most personally fulfilling for you? What happened?

I remember a specific event. I was asked by a headmaster to work with students and faculty on the opening day of school.  The Sage School was a new alternative school in Sun Valley, Idaho. On the opening day I addressed the assembled school and everyone learned the simple MindTime model and how it works. We mapped everyone in the school and spent the day practicing how to collaborate more effectively.

We learned how everybody has value to bring if we would only see it. And, by pointing out the likely pitfalls in human communication between the archetypes, we gave everyone both an awareness and tips on how to avoid them, or at least recognize them before they became an issue. I received a wonderful letter from the headmaster about a year later telling how enduring this learning had been and how it was still being used in lots of ways. That kind of work makes my life sweet in a really good way.

 

8. What potential application of the system would you most like to see happen?

I would support any application of MindTime that decreases violence in all of its forms and increases human empathy. That’s the driving force behind all of this work; it is an ideal shared by all of the partners in the MindTime Project.

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Note: if you self-identify as a change agent, maverick or rebel at work, Foghound invites you to take  a complimentary MindTime thinking analysis test to get a personalized profile of your thinking style, leadership style, relationships needs, communications style, and what you are most likely resist doing. Click here to get your profile, which takes just a few minutes.

If you’re interested in learning more about the potential application of MindTime for your organization, contact Lois (lkelly@foghound.com) or John (john@mindtimetech.com).

 

Get things under control

“The Cardinals are tired of reading about financial corruption, sexual improprieties and infighting at the Vatican. They want a Pope who can get things under control,” explained Father Thomas Reese to Tom Ashbrook on his NPR “On Point” radio show today.

When there are calls to “get things under control”  there is no hope for control.

Whether it’s trying to control clergy in the Catholic Church, parents angry over school policies, or customers  tweeting unfavorable product reviews, there is no control. 

When I hear “get things under control” I know it’s a situation that can only be addressed by getting at root cause issues.  It’s not a “handling” or crisis communications issue, it’s a systemic issue requiring that the real problems be addressed.

No new Pope can get the Catholic Church “under control” without addressing some deep seated issues.

No business leader can get customers under control if customers  hate the products or customer service.

No school official can get parents under control if they feel their children are not being served.

No politician can get voters under control if they believe the politician is more interested in getting elected than representing their views.

No good can come from trying to control.

 

Staying away from drama

Last month I  was in a board meeting that went off the rails.

The two-hour session devolved into conversations about personalities, systems limitations,  approval hold-ups by the legal department,  problems uncovered by market research, frustrations with the sales strategy, and a concluding “why do we keep talking about the same problems over and over?”

People left frustrated, exhausted and angry.  Not much of significance had been accomplished. Such a waste of time.

And no wonder. When conversations get pulled into the emotion of drama and problems our primitive brain takes over and shuts off our higher order intelligence, says Daniel Goleman in Emotional Intelligence.   In other words, drama begets drama instead of any useful ideas on how to accomplish what’s at stake.

Interestingly I was in a recent academic meeting  focused on innovation and creativity that also fell into the rat hole of drama, problems, details, and more drama. Guess how creative and innovative that two hours turned out to be?

Quiet Leadership author David Rock suggests two practices that I find helpful.  Agree in meetings on where to focus the conversation: vision, planning, detail, problem and drama.  Wherever possible, keep all conversations focused on vision and planning. In this positive, low-anxiety mental state we’re better able to think fully and creatively

When you have to discuss detail, focus on one detail in a 10 minute chunk. After 10 minutes, we lose our ability to concentrate on that topic, says  John Medina, author of Brain Rules. “You’ve got seconds to grab someone’s attention and only 10 minutes to keep it. At 9 minutes and 59 seconds, something must be done to regain attention and restart the clock.”

I see another opportunity in staying focused on the bigger picture: it is in this positive frame of mind that we’re more able to disagree in productive, creative ways.   Because  our minds are calmer and we’re focused on shared goals in this mindset, we’re able to  intellectually consider and discuss  alternatives.  There’s a higher order of thinking that’s possible during this mental state, say the neuroscientists.

Once we get into drama and pointing fingers at people and problems, dissent becomes dangerous and unhelpful.

Not to mention that there’s no emotional energy left for compassion or creativity.

I’ve taken a new professional vow: keep the meetings I’m in focused on solutions, and out of drama and problems.  Want to join me?

Storytelling needs a narrative

I’m kind of sick of everyone in business talking about storytelling.  It’s become a buzzword that people don’t truly understand or know how to use.

If you’re in marketing or corporate communications you’ve been in that strategy meeting where someone inevitably says, “We need to do more  storytelling.”

But most leaders, marketers and communicators don’t really know what to say when they’re told to “tell a story.”

“About what? To what end?,” many wonder. Others push back, “Oh, I don’t like telling stories about myself.”

Here’s my take.  Before telling useful stories,  organizations need a narrative, the reason for being.  The uber purpose.  The big picture context.  Then it becomes much easier for people to share anecdotes and stories that support  that narrative. More importantly, it helps the people —  citizens, employees, customers  — understand what’s important and  how all the pieces of the puzzle fit together.

A narrative is like a clothesline,  and you hang your policies from it, says David Gergen, communications adviser to four U.S. presidents. Similarly, companies hang its products and services from the clothesline.

Narratives are simple explanations.  You shouldn’t need training for people in the organization to “get it.” (A communications executive of a global company told me that his company has a narrative, but I’d have to read the PowerPoint deck to really understand it.  Sounds like there’s more work to do.)

Here are a few examples:

  • The narrative of the United States has been about exploring.  For Israel it’s protecting and defending.
  • For Nike it’s about serving and honoring the inner athlete.  Patagonia is about doing no harm to the environment.
  • Southwest Airlines’ makes it simple and fun to fly. FedEx absolutely, positively delivers the best customer experience.
  • My company’s narrative is about creating clarity from complexity.  The Rebels at Work movement is helping corporate rebels inside large organizations be more successful in creating positive change. An executive coach friend is about helping strong leaders become better people.

These narratives can be like North Stars — a fixed point in the sky that can be used to guide decisions, serve as a organizing prompt for telling relevant stories, open up thinking about new products or ways to work.

Narratives can also be a quest.  I like John Hagel’s view in this Forbes article:

Story chronicles the path and progress of a limited set of protagonists – from the beginning, through the middle, to the end of a story arc.  Narratives, in contrast, are designed for a growing number of protagonists — many of whom are yet to be defined — who share a common quest or journey that is yet to be fully resolved or completed.

How do we find our narrative?

To help companies find their narrative, I invite people to think of their organization as a cause or movement and speed write a rallying cry, starting with a verb.  Or  quickly write many responses to the “I believe that ….” prompt about their organization or company. No over-thinking, self-editing or  corporate speak.  Just ideas, beliefs and aspiration, from the gut.

I’ve also been suggesting to marketing and corporate communications executives that they NOT make this a formal process.  Take some narrative possibilities and insert them into casual business conversations. Then into some presentations as a way of setting context to your ideas.  See how people react. Ask them, “Does this help you better understand our strategy?  Do you see how this new product line fits with our overall business?  Can you imagine how this policy falls outside of our focus?  Is this something you’d like to be part of?”

See how well the narrative serves you. If it works,  quietly seed it so it can grow and serve others without bringing in committees, copywriters, lawyers or naysayers.  Insert it into the CEO’s talking points.  Use it to frame the next acquisition or product launch.  If it helps, then make it better known and  part of the company’s leadership strategy.

And if it doesn’t resonate? Keep experimenting.

Finding a narrative gives your organization meaning.

And meaning changes everything.

 

Additional reading:

“Still Waiting for the Narrator in Chief: Why the president lost his ability to tell a story,” by Matt Bai, New York Times Sunday Magazine, 11/4/2012.

“The Pull Narrative: In Search of Persistent Context” by John Hagel

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Strategy discussions: what’s the real issue?

An executive in a recent workshop kept hijacking the conversation by saying, “We just don’t have the resources to do that.” Over and over. Which kept stalling the strategy session.

Here’s how I got the group unstuck. It might be helpful to you when someone uses the common “Yes, but we don’t have the money/people/time” refrain about new approaches or ideas.

“You all are stretched to the limit,” I said. “And let’s remember that we find resources for priorities that are important to us. Things that aren’t so important don’t get funded. Maybe the real conversation here is that this program just isn’t that important to the company right now. Maybe you should together decide it’s not important, and stop frustrating yourselves by bringing it up at every strategy session.”

Radio silence. (And one executive quietly laughing in acknowledgement.)

The group decided that the issue is important and they figured out a way to get a basic approach working within the next few weeks.  It’s not the Cadillac or Four Seasons version, but it begins to provide value and address a real need in the company.

When someone throws objections, get  to the real issue and get out of the endlessly frustrating and unproductive ” why not” objections.

 

Bathroom confessions, leadership truths

 

“Lois, I need to tell you something,” she whispered nervously as I walked into the ladies room. Then she quickly searched the stalls to make no one from her management team was there.

“I know why the workshop isn’t working,” she said with conviction.

Now I was on high alert, having walked into the bathroom frustrated and discouraged about the leadership workshop I was leading. The topic was on how to lead meetings so  that healthy conversations and differing points of views could be aired to arrive at better decisions. But the energy in the workshop was low and the engagement almost non-existent. Was it the material? Was I having an off day? Do these people not have meetings? Could I turn this around after the break or should I just end it  and put all of us out of our misery?

“It’s trust,” she whispered. “I’m fairly new here and can see the problem. But no one sees it because they confuse friendliness with trust. I have to go. Please, never, ever tell anyone I told you this.”

Yowza. Having worked with this client before I never would have thought that trust was an issue.

Organizational silence = shutting off ideas

After the break I started the session with “organizational silence” research from NYU Professor Elizabeth Wolfe Morrison. (Here’s a great article by Professor Morrison; the chart in this post is from her as well.)

“Perhaps what’s really at play here is nothing about how to lead meetings. It’s about your organization. Meetings simply mirror the culture. In most organizations silence is pervasive because leaders are afraid of negative feedback and harbor beliefs that they know more than the rank and file, and that employees can’t be totally trusted.

“Moreover,” I continued, “We leaders are often trying to protect our status and sense of certainty. People speaking up shake up our status and we often inadvertently shut them down. If not in words, then in our body language.”

Radio silence.

Then one brave young man raised his hand. “Yes, it feels kind of unsafe to say anything at our  meetings. I don’t get the sense that people really want to hear my point of view.”

Then people started talking.  After two and a half hours we were having the real conversation.

How often do we all silence others because of our fears and beliefs? What harm does that do to our companies?

The hidden causes of maintaining silence

“A troubling aspect of the dynamics that create and maintain silence is that they are hidden from view and often unrecognized” says Professor Morrison.  “Management may see that employees are not engaged, but may assume that it is because they are self-interested or not motivated.”

I’m still reflecting on the workshop to understand the real issues.  I have come to one important realization: these executives may have taken away nothing about leading meetings that matter, and it doesn’t matter. What they did come away with is a recognition of that organizational silence exists in their company and it’s not a good thing.

How to break the silence? Professor Morrison offers these suggestions:

  • Don’t shoot the messenger: In terms of prevention, managers must work hard to counteract the natural human tendency to avoid negative feedback. They must not only seek out honest feedback, on a regular basis, they must also be careful to not “shoot the messenger” when they receive bad news.
  • Create safe climate: Managers must also work hard to build an open and trusting climate within their organizations, one in which employees know that their input is valued and that it is safe to speak up.
  • Really want to hear it: If employees sense that those above them do not want to hear about potential problems and issues of concern, they will not talk about them. Managers must recognize this dynamic and convince employees that they do want input.
  • Replace top managers: One way to create such a change (of open communication) is to bring in new top managers. This will not only enable the organization to break from its past, but will signal to employees that there is a commitment to changing the status quo.

There is no easy way to create safe corporate cultures and inviting and accepting differing points of view. I believe it’s a practice. Like practicing your golf swing, tennis serves, meditation, drawing and patience.

We’re never done. We can only be aware that we need to be aware.

Safety first

One factor distinguishes corporate cultures where creativity, trust, progress and and expedient problem solving abound.  It’s safe to think differently, voice ideas that challenge the status quo, bring up the elephants hanging around the conference rooms.

If the environment doesn’t feel safe to employees, no amount of team-building exercises, awards for creativity, financial incentives for “employee suggestions,” or expensive organizational culture and/or innovation consultants will make a difference.

None.

As humans our brains are wired to perceive threats faster than our logical minds work. When we perceive these threats we retreat, just as we would run if someone were physically threatening us.  (For more on this topic, check out David Rock’s excellent book “Your Brain At Work.“)

People are afraid to speak up at work. They’re afraid they’ll sound dumb, make someone upset, get in trouble with their boss, maybe even get fired.  This fear not only stymies good ideas it can cause tragedy.

The story of  NASA’s Challenger space shuttle is legendary.  People were afraid to speak the truth. And those brave engineers who did were eventually over-ruled by senior executives whose emotions were tied up around fears about “looking bad.”  There were no ill intentions on anyone’s part. But clearly people didn’t feel safe dissenting forcefully enough to stop the shuttle, and the leaders were listening to logic and not hearing in-between the lines. They didn’t sense the engineers’ fears and concerns.  Listening to someone’s words but not the feelings expressed in those words  is half-listening.

11 ways to create safe organizational cultures

The challenge — dare I say leadership 101 requirement — is for leaders is  to create the conditions for safety, model that behavior, and require all leaders to do so as well.  Easier said than done.  We’ll dive into this in more detail in future posts, but here are 11  pragmatic ways to create safety in everyday work meetings and conversations.

  • Open meetings differently:  To encourage everyone to feel comfortable participating, open a meeting by going around and asking each person to comment briefly about the topic. I often ask people to share their insights and observations in a sentence or two.  No one comments on what the person has said, just respectfully listens as you go around the room (or on a conference call.) Two things happen. Everyone’s perspectives have already begun to be shared, even the shy types among us. By speaking and being listened to people are more likely to contribute again. It feels a bit safer already.
  • Focus on what you’re good at vs. problem fixation: when you convene a meeting or a brainstorm session to talk about problems, everyone comes to the table with a threatened mind-set. After all, if it’s a problem, someone’s responsible for it. In addition, the negative stimulates are threat brain triggers and shuts down our creative thinking. A valuable practice to learn is Appreciative Inquiry, which through a different path of questioning builds on a team or organization’s strengths.  To learn more about AI, check out the Appreciative Inquiry Commons, hosted by the Case Western Reserve University’s Weatherhead School of Management. The book “Appreciative Inquiry: A Positive Approach to Change” provides a great snapshot of the practice and its value.
  • Data vs. judging: before rushing to judge what a person is saying, stop. Consider the idea or opinion as a piece of data to be examined. Even if it makes your bile rise, there’s something to be understood in why the view is making you angry. Then apply a little empathy. What’s it like to be that person? Why is this important to him or her.  You’ll glean valuable insights by taking this approach. And you’re showing people that they can express ideas without someone dismissing them or biting their heads off. (Know, too  that we can send this “anger” message in our body language even if we don’t verbalize disagreement.)
  • Listen in between the lines for what’s being felt:  How people talk about something conveys more information than the words themselves.  As leaders, listen for the emotion beneath the words. Acknowledge those as real and important pieces of information. Acknowledge that anger, frustration, and other types of emotion are real and part of our work. “You must be getting pretty tired and frustrated from trying to get people to buy into this. What kind of help do you need?”
  • Don’t let titles interfere: people are no smarter or less smart because of their title. Focus on the purpose to be achieved and listen and value everyone’s ideas.  Then focus on the idea —  before worrying whether Mr. Big Title will like it or not.  Also  invite more diverse people and thinking into meetings. Too often meetings are convened for people with the same titles. This is for directors. This is for senior vice presidents. This is for Level 4 professionals. The same groups can get stuck in a rut. Mix it up.
  • Suspend certainty:  This is the cousin of judging vs. data.  If you make it a practice to challenge thinking and explore possibilities, it gets safe for people to think more expansively and creatively. If you don’t have to be “right,” you free up that pre-frontal cortex to make new connections and see previously unseen patterns. This is how insights and “aha’s” happen.  Certainty confines, asking us not to create art but to paint by numbers.
  • Don’t worry about getting through the agenda: Getting through the agenda doesn’t mean the meeting succeeded.  The question for all meetings is “what do we want to accomplish?”  Digressing from the agenda is often the best way to get there. I was recently leading a meeting and after the opening where everyone shared their “insights and observations” from the previous meeting, we had landed on what we needed to do next. The meeting had been scheduled for two hours. We were done in 45 minutes. The only agenda item we covered was “introductions.” Yet real progress was made. Everyone felt good.
  • What hasn’t been said that should? This is a great question to ask at the end of a meeting. Sometimes people are sitting quietly stewing, or feeling afraid of raising a point. By inviting people to speak up, you often get to the real conversations that need to be had.
  • Look at dissent as learning: When people disagree they are not being difficult. They are raising a different view.  Too often our reaction is to shut them down, get back to the nice flow of agreement and gentle progress.  Insights come from dissent. It’s a powerful way of learning. Help make it safe for people to disagree by sharing a few agreements such as, “it’s OK to challenge ideas, policies and opinions but it’s not OK to attack people.”
  • Ask good questions. Good questions guide good conversations.  Good, provocative questions and respectful listening not only create meaningful conversations, they make it safe for more people to participate in those conversations.  A helpful resource is this  booklet “The Art of Powerful Questions,” by the brilliant folks who started The World Cafe.
  • Laugh more. Nothing is more welcoming and indicative of a safe, friendly environment than hearing people  laugh.

 

3 simple ways to create a more optimistic, successful corporate culture

I dare you to watch this TED Talk by psychologist Shawn Achor and not see ways to change your corporate culture to be much more positive, open to ideas, optimistic and successful.

In it Shawn shares five simple ways that his team has successfully helped trained people in companies to rewire their brains to be more optimistic and successful: gratitudes, journaling, exercise, meditation, and random acts of kindness. All are fairly easy to do and cost little.

The three I find most useful:

  1. Three gratitudes: write down three new things you are grateful for every day for 21 days.
  2. Journaling: write about one positive experience that’s happened in past 24 hours.
  3. Random acts of kindness: write one positive email a day thanking or praising someone in your social and/or professional network.

Enjoy. On top of being so smart, Shawn is a great presenter.

Will Obama fairness message stick?

Note: Every four years I start following political communications strategies they way some people follow sports.  Like sports, political strategies can be focused, executed with creativity and discipline, and inspire the fans. Similarly they can be a train wreck. 

I think President Obama is onto a potentially powerful message strategy in his campaign speeches. Now, he needs to support that platform  with emotional stories, and convey the three essential messages more clearly and consistently.

The platform is essentially about fairness.

In America we’ve always been greater together than on our own. We succeed when we’re all rising. This  big, inclusive, generous, bold, ambitious vision of America is what’s at stake, is what we’re fighting for.

  1. Every American gets a fair shot if they’re willing to work hard to get ahead.
  2. Every American needs to do their fair share.
  3. Every American plays by the same set of rules.

Our brains react to five threats or rewards: status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness, and fairness. Choosing fairness is both an American value and connects with the 99 percent who are outraged at the inequities of the one percenters, which both Romney and Gingrich are.

Scientists have also found that fairness can be linked to achievement.  “Fairness between strangers at the individual level is what allows social organisms to thrive, and to out-compete more selfish societies, ” according to a Fast Co. article last year about a study done by evolutionary scientist Joe Henrich at the University of British Columbia.

While I think most voters want the “certainty” brain circuits lit in this election — more jobs, stable housing prices, assurances about no new taxes, withdrawal from Middle East — those are things that no politician should promise as he or she has so little control over those outcomes.

But fairness? Fairness provides an opportunity for all boats to rise. And who doesn’t want a better country for themselves AND their family, friends, neighbors and countrymen?

If I were running the Obama campaign I would support the platform by:

  • Share stories of Americans — famous and everyday — who have gotten a fair shot, succeeded, and give back.  Make the message real, emotional and aspirational through individuals’ stories.  Even the President’s own.
  • Highlight people who are doing their fair share — and then some. Social entrepreneurs. Small business owners committed to their employees and their communities. Community college teachers. Hospice nurses.  Tireless community volunteers.  Generous individual donors to vital non-profits. You can whine about how unfair life is, or you can do. Celebrate the doers.
  • Give concrete examples of distorted rules that need to be changed to level the playing field. Specifics make a message real.

During his first term President Obama has not emotionally connected as well as he could with Americans, and what he most believes in seems kind of vague to the average Joe and Jane. People don’t want wonk-ish  explanations. They want to be inspired.

While I am comforted to know that a leader has the intellectual chops to lead amid complexity, most people want a president who “gets them” — feels their pain, their hopes — and has the conviction to make things happen to address those pains and hopes.

Conviction is emotional, passionate, fierce and focused.

Obama potentially can deliver on this. Romney, not so much. Gingrich, potentially.

Let the election communications strategies begin in earnest!

Open a can of worms

“How do you think the elephant got in the room?” my friend Maria DeCarvalho asked as we were talking about a messy corporate situation.  “Someone lets them in when they’re small.  Most of us see them but don’t have the courage to recognize a potential problem and get rid of it before it grows into an elephant.”

A  frank and generous executive coach, Maria believes that knowing how to have difficult conversations is an essential leadership skill — and one that few of us have ever been taught.

Rather than ignore signs of disagreement, negativity or skepticism, she encourages people to learn how to open  a can of worms. “You find that once the worms are out of the can and on the table they don’t hang around very long.”

Here’s Maria’s recent blog post explaining how to open up a can of worms. More of her sage advice can be found on her blog.

People are always communicating. Always.

I’m sure you’ve been in plenty of conversations or meetings in which you’ve noticed others roll their eyes, cross their arms, raise their eyebrows, press their lips together, pull out their smartphones, look down or away, exchange quick glances across a table, or just sit there and not say anything.

These messages are as clear and real as if they had been put into words.  In fact, they can be the most important part of the conversation because people are telegraphing how they actually feel.

The trouble, of course, is that it can be awkward and uncomfortable to acknowledge these signals because they seem negative and a little slippery.  They are often subtle, and sometimes they go by quickly.  Who wants to open up a can of worms?

You do.  You’re going to find that once the worms are out of the can and on the table they don’t hang around very long at all.

So, grab your can opener and use these two simple steps to increase the honesty and comfort of conversations in which these behaviors are occurring:

1.  Stop thinking about signals like arm-crossing and long silence as criticism or rudeness and start calling them information. The people who are giving you these signals are letting you know how they feel.

2. Do a quick, friendly check in, just as you do when you are using your listening skills:

  • Bob, you look a little skeptical. What are you thinking?
  • Ted and Sarah?  Is there something you’re worried about that it would help us to know?
  • Garry, I’m sensing there’s something about this that you don’t like.  Where are you on this idea?
  • Anna, I’m sitting here wondering if you’ve sort of checked out of the conversation.  Is there something that’s not working for you?

Notice that each one of my suggestions ends with a  NOW WHAT? request for something back from the person.  That reduces awkwardness and helps move the conversation along.

Effective corporate rebels turn to one another

People who change the world in small and big ways, rebel FOR change they believe will make a difference.  They are also keen observers and want to work with others to make the possible real. Over the holidays I had the luxurious pleasure of re-reading author and leadership activist Margaret Wheatley’s book Turning To One Another: Simple Conversations to Restore Hope to the Future.

Here’s an excerpt that captures the behaviors of those with a desire to lead.

Turning to one another

Ask “what’s possible?” not “What’s wrong?”  Keep asking. Notice what you care about. Assume that many others share your dreams.

Be brave enough to start a conversation that matters.

  • Talk to people you know.
  • Talk to people you don’t know.
  • Talk to people you never talk to.

Be intrigued by the differences you hear.

  • Expect to be surprised.
  • Treasure curiosity more than certainty.

Invite in everybody who cares to work on what’s possible.

  • Acknowledge that everyone is an expert about something.
  • Know that creative solutions come from new connections.

Remember, you don’t fear people whose story you know.  Real listening always brings people closer together.

Trust that meaningful conversations can change your world.

Rely on human goodness. Stay together.

Margaret Wheatley

Purpose = Profits

Check out this analysis by Morgan Stanley of some of the largest public tech companies in the world: Companies with “simple, focused” missions achieve the biggest gross margins.

Fascinating, yes?  Note that QlikView and Salesforce have the biggest gross margins AND more simple, focused missions than the other companies.

A clear mission is so valuable, but so many companies struggle with finding the courage and commitment for standing for something.  Or they fall into gobbledygook corporate speak that lacks inspiration and clarity. Or the “mission statement by consensus” process is so draining that people end up with “whatever” missions rather than something simple and great.

Big hint: If  the mission process gets painful, you have the wrong people involved.

(See the story that accompanied the chart over at Harvard Business Review, “Employee Values = Stakeholder Value” by Lars Bjork, CEO of QlikTech.)

Five questions for finding the right boss

Hi Lois,

I love your Foghound website and specifically your concept of rebels in the organization. Guess what, I identify with this and am the rebel. It has not always been with a positive outcome. I am wondering if you have any ideas on how to find the “protectors” within an organization for these people. Specifically, if one was to interview for a job, how would you know if this potential boss would give the rebel freedom and protection?

Any thoughts are appreciated. This is definitely something I think about.

 

Finding the right boss is crucial for corporate rebels. With the right “protector” you can feel safe in creating change and new ideas that will make a difference. Plus, a good boss can help guide you through the complexities of organizational politics and decision making.

Here are some job interview suggestions to help you figure out whether the person would be a good boss:

1. What is the organization trying to achieve?  This reveals whether a clear organizational purpose exists. When there is a clear purpose, rebels have a much easier time because they can link their  new ideas to how they support the big organizational goal or purpose.  When goals and purposes are fuzzy, rebels can get caught in an unproductive eddy of questioning the validity of the proposed idea.

2. What’s possible that hasn’t yet been done in this [field|company|organization) or  What are the greatest opportunities for the organization? This helps you see if the potential boss is a forward-thinking idea person. (Aside: A corporate rebel recently told me that her new CEO  told the top execs to stop thinking about new ideas and focus their energy on executing his strategy (which they disagreed with).  That no-possibilities boss is losing some of his best talent.)

3. What do you especially like about the organization’s culture and work environment? The response to this will uncover whether the person is positive and appreciative of the strengths of the organization, or a Debby Downer who defaults to problems and negativity.  From my observations, positive, optimistic bosses are more open to –and appreciative of — rebels.

4. What’s the best assignment/project you’ve ever been involved with?  What made it so fulfilling? Does the person  most value implementation or creating new things? This idea helps you understand what makes the person tick.  Rebels need a boss who veers more to the creating new things mindset.

5. How do you support people who question approaches that may no longer be effective and see alternative ways to do things?  How a person answers this will be more telling than the words themselves. Is the person comfortable with the question?  Does the answer flow easily and naturally — or does it take a bit  to find the words? Does it sound like the person truly values truth-telling idea people? Or do you detect some annoyance? Does the response indicate that people regularly bring up ideas and the boss has a genuine and comfortable way to support those people and ideas?

Lastly, look around the work environment.  Do you sense a lot of energy and positive buzz?  Or is there a hushed, disengaged feeling? I know this is a bit touchey-feely, but the environment speaks volumes about whether it’s a place rebels can thrive. After walking around the offices of a big ad agency last year, I instantly knew the company was not steeped in creativity.  It was too quiet. People were heads down in their cubicles. There were few fun things tacked around cubicles and common spaces. Sure enough, eight months later I heard the agency had lost three big clients.

Ask your potential boss good questions, and find time to walk around.

 

Keep asking political leaders this one question?

I have an idea about how we regular citizens might be able to focus our political leaders on want we want and need — vs. what they need to get re-elected.

What if every time a political leader sponsored a bill, gave a campaign speech, or pronounced a campaign pledge/message, we asked them this question:

How does this do the most good for the most people?

I’m weary of how politicians of every party cater to special interests and the issues that rile people up — or at least get them the most media sound bytes.  I’m disgusted with the blame game. I’m embarrassed that leaders and potential leaders manipulate people around issues that have little to do with governing, but a lot to do with garnering support to be (re) elected.

I want clear answers to this one question so that I can understand what I’m voting for. Or shouldn’t vote for, as the case may be.

Our country, our states, our cities and towns have limited resources, and are likely to become far more limited as we reduce the rate of government spending. So given these resources, how do we make decisions and support programs and policies that do the most good for the most people?

I’m fairly educated, but man oh man, I can hardly make sense of what I hear and read from our government leaders. Isn’t it time we demanded clarity so more of us can understand what’s what? So that more of us can actively take a role in helping our elected leaders serve us — the big collective us, not fringe and special interest groups.

Asking this question is a small action, but maybe if we all get behind it (or something like it) we can make a difference.

Please take this idea and make it yours. If you think there’s a more powerful way to phrase the question, please share that.

I intend to use this question often and with discipline — during my senator and congressman’s town hall teleconferences, adding comments to politician’s blogs and sites and on general media sites, Tweeting after watching campaign stump speeches, writing personal emails and letters to officials while they are debating on potential legislation.

What do you think?

 

20 ways to be a more effective rebel, maverick, edgewalker, change agent

So many corporate mavericks and rebels have great ideas, but those ideas often never see the light of day because of the way we truth-tellers and fire-starters behave. As a lifelong outlier — yet successful business executive — here are some of the things I’ve learned, often the hard way,  that may help you or the rebels in your organization.

1. Be positive: recommendations that are stated in the affirmative, that show what’s possible vs.what’s wrong, are more likely to be heard and acted on.

2. Frame it: frame how your idea helps the organization’s goals, cause, purpose. The more relevant the idea is to what everyone wants to achieve, the more open people will be to the idea.

3. Ask questions that highlight the possibilities vs. further damn the problems.  Possibilities create energy, problem dissing saps it.

4. Judge ideas, not people.  The first creates useful conversations, the second hurts, disrupts and usually dead-ends.

5. When angry, stop and wonder why. This has been especially helpful to me. I used to get so angry that I’d immediately react, or should I say over-react. Wondering why a person or company did or said something provides helpful perspective. The more we understand hidden motivations the more we can frame our ideas.

6. Strive for influence not power: influence inspires and motivates people to believe and act; power requires them to do so. Influence evokes possibilities, power evokes fear.  Power requires authority, titles and positions. Influence can be earned by anyone, no titles required.

7. Start the flame, tap into the collective brilliance of others to fuel the fire:  Change agents and rebels are the ones with the courage to be the first to stand up. To move from ideas  to action, bring in others who want to help. One person with a contrary idea usually gets little attention. Three people with a shared passion around a contrary idea start to get noticed.

8. Share the glory:  Revel in achieving something that benefits many, sharing the credit and the glory of all involved.  During my freshman year in college a philosophy professor told us, “Those who know know.” Even if it’s never publicly shown.

9. Communicate in ways that create clarity from complexity:  People need to understand what the idea is, why it’s relevant, and how it will provide value. Too often we get caught up in the “how we’re going to change things” before addressing the other important issues: context, relevancy, value.

10. Address the cost/value tradeoff:  are the benefits and value of the new way commensurate with the costs of change?

11. Let it breathe:  people often need time to absorb a new way, think on it for a while. As rebels we see things sooner and clearer than most and  get impatient with other people who aren’t as fast and decisive as we.  If we go too fast, we can mow over people, hurting the chances of being able to affect change.  In my corporate rebel research study, one write-in comment summed it up, “know that our velocity scares people.”

12. Pick the right boss or executive sponsor: find that person who appreciates your creativity, your fire-starting ideas, your naked truth-telling — and who can help guide and protect you  through the complexities of organizational politics and decision making.

13. Ask good questions, become a keen listener:  These two skills will serve as your advanced navigational systems as you chart through often foggy and potentially dangerous corporate seas.

14. Learn how to facilitate messy collaboration workshops to improve on your ideas, get buy in from others. People act on what they believe in. The more people who participate in shaping a new way, the more likely it is that they will adopt that new way.

15. Show how success can be measured.

16. Address the fears:  understand what people fear about the idea; respect, explore and test their assumptions; and/or explain how you plan to remove or minimize those fears.

17. Learn how to have constructive conversations. Most organizations are use to discussions (usually in the form of PowerPoint) that advocate for ideas, a win/lose form of communications. Constructive what/if conversations examine assumptions, open up possibilities, invite everyone to contribute, and value all points of view. A good book on this topic is “Naming Elephants: How to Surface Undiscussables for Greater Organizational Success.”

18. Be thoughtful in all you do: Thoughtfulness engenders support, abets truth telling, brings more humanity to our work, and adds more meaning to our cause.

19. Know when to walk away: perseverance is important. But so is knowing when to walk away, when the support for your idea just isn’t there. It may have nothing to do with you or the idea, the timing might not be right. Or the risks may be too great for the corporate culture.  Or people might not believe it’s really possible.  Don’t let your idea turn into a negative soapbox, where you lose your influence and rob yourself of energy and health. As Yogi Berra supposedly once said, “If no one wants to come, there’s nothing we can do to stop them.”

20. Believe you are enough.

#Trust30 Day 3: communications can change the world

Day 3 prompt from The Domino/Ralph Waldo Emerson Self-Reliance Project: The world is powered by passionate people, powerful ideas, and fearless action. What’s one strong belief you possess that isn’t shared by your closest friends or family? What inspires this belief, and what have you done to actively live it? (Author: Buster Benson)

_______________________________________________________________

I believe communications can change the world.


It’s not that my friends and family don’t believe this; they just don’t understand why I’m so, so passionate about this belief.  Maybe, too, they’re tired of hearing me talk about this, but not really acting on my convictions.

While I’ve helped corporations and CEOs communicate in new ways to affect change, have I helped organizations and leaders who are out to change the world?

Not so much.

I see an opportunity calling. Or maybe it’s a responsibility

If we have a gift, as I do with bringing people together to see and articulate new possibilities, shouldn’t we use that gift to give back to the world?

Every time I facilitate  workshops magic happens. People get lit up by being able to talk with other people about issues and questions that they rarely have an opportunity to discuss. They begin imagining different approaches. They start connecting and forming trusted, collaborative relationships. They get energized and into that “flow” zone where work doesn’t feel like work.

My intent in the next year is to focus more on helping leaders who want to change the world.  And I hope it’s a mix of corporate and non-profit leaders. The world needs both.