In work and in life we are often called to do things that other people should be doing. Like the calls I keep getting from Debbie’s mother at the nursing home.
In work and in life we are often called to do things that other people should be doing. Like the calls I keep getting from Debbie’s mother at the nursing home.
A very short story about blizzards and business crises,
This post was anonymously written as part of Blog Secret Santa. There’s a list of all Secret Santa posts, including one written by Lois Kelly, on Santa’s list of 2014 gift posts.
Lois recently wrote a deeply sad blog post about shame. I read it a couple of times, and bookmarked it. Something nagging me…
Tonight I sat down to write my Blog Secret Santa post. I knew I would have to revisit the concept of shame. (Merry Christmas one and all!)
Then two things happened. I read this short message from Simon Terry
“In a room where people unanimously maintain a conspiracy of silence, one word of truth sounds like a pistol shot.” – Czesław Miłosz
and, I was flicking through the new book by Seth Godin, “…and it’s always your turn.” In it, a quote by Alfred Hitchcock.
“There is no terror in the bang. Only in the anticipation of it.”
And now, I link them both to Lois’ post about shame and silence.
Shaming those we work with upsets me as a manager, as a colleague, as a worker. As if there was not already enough discord and discomfort to deal with in the workplace!
And now I see what was nagging me about the idea of shame. It is this:
What if they are talking about me?
I don’t think they are, but what if…what if?
I had a couple of slightly uncomfortable meetings in my team recently. Nothing desperate or sad. They were discussions about the future, and how we get there. They were strategic, and practical. Nothing personal – we get along as a team. But there was enough discord and tension for me to consider: do I know my team well enough? Can I well represent their needs and desires? Have I presumed too much?
I have plenty of self-confidence and assuredness in embracing the changing nature of work. I am a change agent and provocateur, an intrapreneur and disorganizer. I can deal with a lack of certainty, with the ebb and flow of constant change, I embrace a fail-forward approach to work. I cheerlead the team to try! To fail! To keep going! To self-manage!
I always see this as open-mindedness, about creating opportunities for greatness. I care about my team deeply and want them to succeed. But what if…what if instead they feel stymied? What if my SHOUTY cheerleading holds them back? What if they thought / knew that their way – another way – would be a wrong way (in my eyes)?
I would never say any of the sentences Lois listed as symptomatic of the shameful leader… What’s your problem? et al. But what am I implying in my enthusiasm, in my single-minded pursuit of tomorrow’s workplace?
I am questioning whether I really let their voices be heard. I know my listening skills are less than stellar. Does it add up to a culture of bias to my way or the high way? Are they consequently lost or let down (if not shamed)?
There are too many rhetorical questions in this post. Apologies. Of course, like most of my blog content, I am talking and learning out loud. I am thinking: what is the BANG!, the pistol shot of truth that releases all the pent up…STUFF? How do we – me, you, the team – really get to that better workplace tomorrow?
Change agents and rebels at work like Lois are helping me navigate this leadership journey. That is their gift to me. This is a small one in return.
Creating change is uncomfortable. But I was shocked when people started telling me that the real issue is shame.
A danger for everyone at work — particularly us change makers — is becoming obsessed with our own agenda.
When we’re focused on pushing our agenda forward come hell or high water, we get blinded from taking in potentially valuable new information and from enjoying and learning from our colleagues.
When our agenda has us, we are handicapped from being effective change makers. Or effective period.
You may have heard the self-help gurus talk about how paralyzed people have become by all their stuff, jammed into their houses, garages, storage units. It’s overrunning people’s lives and making them miserable.
The same thing is happening at work. We have so many programs, processes, special initiatives, goals, strategic mandates, task forces, and focus areas that people are overwhelmed. I recently met with a company task force that was trying to figure out a way to communicate the brand messages, corporate vision, company purpose, employee values, and four new “pathway to success” programs, all with their own titles and acronyms.
An incident last week jolted me awake about women in the workplace.
I participated in two days of new employee orientation for a financial services client. About 70 percent of the 40 people in the class were women, the rest men. As part of a group exercise the instructor asked for a representative from each table to stand up and share the group’s work. A man spoke for every group but one, that being my table where I stood up.
I was shocked and saddened. Why are women letting men dominate, even in non-threatening situations like work orientation games?
When I was in my 20s we women boldly stood up and spoke up, knowing that our views were as valuable as the guys, oftentimes even more so. We weren’t very good at slinging the bull shit like some of our fearless men friends. So our responses were often more considered and thoughtful.
We knew we had to speak up. Trailblazers like Gloria Steinem and Bella Abzeg had worked hard and sacrificed much to help us move into the corporate world. We wanted to pay it forward by succeeding and helping other women in their journeys. Having a say and being heard was essential.
When I was working at AT&T early in my career I was promoted into a job where I made $22,000, taking over for a man who hadn’t been performing so well at the job but had been making $48,000. More than double what I was paid for the same responsibilities. I raised this disparity with HR, which told me that the man had more experience, and, confidentially, “if you keep speaking up like this you could hurt your career.” I loved telling that story, and I more loved seeing the pay gap between women and men shrink.
We’ve made such gains over the 30 years, but apparently not enough.
Aside from my fear that women will continue to not get promoted as quickly or make as much as men if they do not speak up and believe in themselves, I worry about businesses being able to adapt and grow. Research shows that the more diverse the thinking an in an organization, the faster and better it can solve problems. If women are submissive, organizational performance will suffer.
I was recently planning a conference with a wonderful, enlightened European man. He recruited the first 12 speakers. Eleven of the 12 were men. When I pointed out this imbalance, he was taken aback. He hadn’t even noticed that he had invited almost all men. I am pleased to tell you that this conference is now equally represented.
Today the Fast Company blog had a story that caught my eye, “Eight Successful Entrepreneurs Give Their Younger Selves Lessons They Wish They’d Known Then.” When I clicked on the story all the entrepreneurs were men. Really? The writer couldn’t find one successful female entrepreneur?
Let’s call the media on this imbalanced view of business.
Let’s also get back to supporting and encouraging women in the workforce.
I don’t know about you, but I thought we had come farther. I thought my diligence in helping and promoting women had worked and now I could move on to new issues.
Just as Sheryl Sandberg is doing with her LeanIn.org, we need to help women stand up and be heard for their considerable talents and perspectives. If they don’t speak up confidently they will be overlooked for promotions and for increased compensation.
Worse, we wont be able to solve the complexity of today’s issues without the equal voices of both women and men, and not just women and men. But people who think differently from one another. Believe me, no one has the answers figured out in any industry.
PS — this Hay Group study just came out yesterday.
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.
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.
Here’s a brief snapshot of each:
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 (email@example.com) or John (firstname.lastname@example.org).
“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.
I was cleaning my office (!) and found a speech from 18 years ago given by Rod Oldham, of then Bell South, to students at Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business. In an age of disruption, some “truths” stay constant.
Many people think disagreeing means that we’re being unkind and insensitive. Or impolite. (Egads!) “Let’s take this off line,” they say.
What’s unkind to me is pretending an uncomfortable issue doesn’t exist when everyone knows it does. There’s a tension at work when this happens. Nothing is moving forward, corporate inertia is draining us, and we’re becoming ever more skeptical about the cry for greater collaboration.
Furthermore, the longer an issue is ignored, the more frustrated and demoralized people become. Even worse, trust and respect among people erode. And when that’s gone, the organization gets crippled.
“When someone comes to a meeting and states an opinion or makes a suggestion that his teammates don’t agree with, those teammates have a choice: they can explain their disagreement and work through it, or they can withhold their opinion and allow themselves to quietly lose respect for their colleague,” says organizational health consultant Patrick Lencioni in his excellent book The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business.
“When team members get to choose the latter option — withholding their opinions — frustration inevitably sets in. Essentially, they’re deciding to tolerate their colleague rather than trust him.”
More than most, we rebels see healthy dissent as a team sport, where everyone with something to contribute is expected to contribute. If you don’t speak up your silence can be interpreted to mean that you agree and have nothing to add.
We view dissent as a way of together getting stronger, like a team preparing to hike Mt. Everest. All the potential issues are honestly discussed and worked through to increase the likelihood of a successful expedition where no one gets hurt. We’re fed by the positive energy around these conversations. We appreciate and value what our colleagues have to say.
We also listen fiercely and ask frank questions. It’s about inquiry vs. preaching. But most organizations practice advocacy instead of inquiry in their conversations, say Sue Annis Hammond and Andrea Mayfield in The Thin Book of Naming Elephants.
“Advocacy is a win-lose form of communication…each person is trying to convince the other that he or she is right and there is only one right answer. Dialogue assumes people see the world differently…each person assumes he or she can learn something new from others.”
So what can you do to move from advocacy to inquiry? To help foster healthy dissent vs. angry debates? Here are some suggestions.
- How did your thinking on this issue shift?
- What one thing did you find most useful from the discussion?
- What was the high point of this discussion for you?
For more helpful ideas on facilitating healthy dissent, read Carmen’s post, “Advice for Managers: Do You Make It Easy for People to Disagree with You?”
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?
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:
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.
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.
“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
But today’s word is complex, more like a Jackson Pollock painting than a chessboard.
In a complex system it’s almost impossible for top-down leaders to create order, hard as they may try. Order emerges in complex systems from the bottom up, said Carne.
This metaphor is quite powerful to me. Are we leaders fostering participatory environments for people to create the change needed to succeed in an increasingly complex world? Or are we playing chess, with top down hierarchies moving the pieces? (And with the implicit assumption that executives know best?) Are we saying we want creativity but requiring employees to paint by numbers?
Change is a-comin. Are we brave enough to let go of status and certainty and create new participatory ways to work, to innovate, to prosper?
“Find the disruptive people in your organization. They have the ideas that will drive change,” said Nancy Schlichting, CEO of the Henry Ford Health System, a $4 billion healthcare organization with 23,000 employees.
Speaking at the BIF8 innovation conference last week in Providence, RI, Nancy shared what has helped her transform an ailing health care system and create innovations in health care such as a new $360 million health and wellness facility that feels more like a luxury hotel than a hospital.
Transforming healthcare is all about leadership, she said. Her leadership approach focuses on creating an “incredible” environment for every person to reach their full potential. How she has created such an environment:
Hearing her talk I was reminding of the wonderful poem by Kaylin Haught, “God Says Yes To Me.” Imagine if CEOs said yes, yes, yes to more of their employees, especially the disruptive corporate rebels?
Not only would organizations be able to innovate and change more quickly, a wonderful sense of joy would permeate the workplace — even in high-stress environments in struggling urban areas, like the Henry Ford Health System in Detroit.
If we made more things would we be happier?
In my research this summer professional people talked of how miserable they are at work, working harder than ever but not seeming to get anywhere. With no markers to show progress or few ways to show “completed” projects they feel demoralized, tired and uninspired at the very time we need more creative ways forward.
Is this why more people are painting, making videos, self-publishing, designing jewelry, refinishing old furniture, restoring cars, rebuilding playgrounds, staging community theater, using Pinterest, gardening, taking on home improvement projects themselves? The feeling of starting something and then having something to show for our work can be so fulfilling.
I found myself recently ogling sewing machines, longing for my teenage days when I would save up money to buy a great Vogue pattern, beautiful fabric and special funky buttons, and then sew, sew, sew, creating something uniquely mine. When I put on that new dress it was a sense of accomplishment, creativity.
I felt the same way when I started writing articles for the local newspaper when I was a teenager. I loved the making of an article — the research, the interviews, the writing, the editing — and then seeing the final finished product in my hands.
Psychology research has found that using our hands to make things decreases stress and relieves anxiety. It has also found that “purposeful creative or practical endeavors” leads to joyful, creative thought.
“When you make something you feel productive, but the engagement and exploration involved in the doing can move your mind and elevate your mood,” explains Dr. Carrie Barron in a Psychology Today article, “Creativity, Happiness and Your Own Two Hands.”
I suppose more of us could make things in our free time, something I’m going to try to do.
As for work, I feel that we have to work harder at giving people a sense of accomplishment. Does anyone really have an inkling of “joyful” accomplishment during annual performance reviews, the time when we’re supposed to be able to review accomplishment and plan what’s next? Nope.
Nor do most have any way of feeling like they’re making progress. Knowledge workers especially face unending tasks towards elusive fuzzy goals. We have big visuals to show how much has been raised to reach the United Way goal, but no way to see how our team or organization is progressing.
Setting the right goals and ways to measure progress is difficult. This is why so few exist. It takes smart, committed leaders to set those and keep people focused on them. The focus part is most important. Too often our organizational plans are long, long lists of unending priorities. Employees feel like rats on a treadmill, going faster and faster and not making progress.
Let’s try. I think it might be easier than sewing.
Thanks to Michael H. Samuelson, author and founding CEO of The Health & Wellness Institute, for allowing us to share his 5th observation from his eBook, ” Wellness in the Workplace 2.0: 10 Key Observations from 35 Years in the Field.” His current title is one we love, “Chief Irritant.”
Let’s be honest. It’s much easier—and certainly safer—to sit back, complain, and wait for others to take action than it is to do something. That is, of course, unless you have passion, commitment, laser determination and God on your side.
Well, actually, skip that last one. She’ is on everyone’s side. At least that’s the pitch that supports the military-industrial complex (we should have listened to Ike) and looks nice on all of the banners.
Let’s just stick with passion, commitment and laser determination. When these three driving forces are present you can’t sit still, you can’t wait for someone else, and you can’t shut up. You stir and spit, shout and stomp your feet. You seize the torch that has been passed to you and your generation. You are Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte. You take the crown out of the Pope’s hands and you crown yourself. Time is fleeting, daylight is burning, there are causes to advance and worlds to conquer!
“Emperor” too much? Okay. How about CI? Chief Irritant. You are the sand that produces the nacre that builds the pearl. So, let someone else sit back, complain, and wait for others to take action…just below the surface there are pearls in-waiting and you are the irritant that makes it all happen.
Let the spitting begin! Caution:
Sophocles was right, “No one loves the messenger who brings bad news.” As I have stated before, there are times when the boon, the prize, the newly found wisdom you bring to “fix things” is rejected. No matter the treasure, it is still disruptive in a world that knows not, or little, of its existence or value. What you may view as “The Answer” may well be viewed by others — particularly those in control — as the newest problem (read: YOU) to be dealt with, swiftly.
It’s no fun being spat upon. Trust me, on this one. I’ve been there. I’ve stimulated copious amount of spray, toweled off, and lived to irritate again. Being a CI is not always an easy ride but I like to modestly think—modestly—that along with picking up a few dents in my armor, I’ve also triggered the formation of a few pearls here and there…
1. Fasten Your Armor (you’re going to need it)
2. Pursue Your Need for Popularity Elsewhere
3. If You’re Not the Boss, Find a Champion in the “C” Suite
4. Practice “No-Oblique-Speak”
5. Compromise on Tactics…Not Ethics or Integrity
6. Irritate Without Judgment or Arrogance
7. Beware the Ides of March (et tu ______ )
8. Have a “No Jerks Allowed” Rule…Embrace the Spirituality of Imperfection
9. If you think everyone around you is a jerk…Look in the Mirror
10. Repeat after me, “Spit is Good”
“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.
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.”
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?
“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:
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.