Monday, May 28, 2012

Effective leaders shift from corporate communication to organizational conversation.

Conversationally adept leaders step down from their corporate perches and then step up to the challenge of communicating personally and transparently with their people.  ~ Boris Groysberg & Michael Slind

Groysberg and Slind’s conclusion about organizational conversation is a result of studying organizational communication through more than 150 interviews in 100 organizations—large, small, for-profit, nonprofit, etc.  The common theme heard over and over: moving toward a “conversation.”  Groysberg and Slind said:
Smart leaders today, we have found, engage with employees in a way that resembles an ordinary person-to-person conversation more than it does a series of commands from on high.  Furthermore, they initiate practices and foster cultural norms that instill a conversational sensibility throughout their organizations.  Chief among the benefits of this approach is that it allows a large or growing company to function like a small one.  By talking with employees, rather than simply issuing orders, leaders can retain or recapture some of the qualities—operational flexibility, high levels of employee engagement, tight strategic alignment—that enable start-ups to out-perform better-established rivals.
You’d think that in the age of abundant technology, we’d be communicators extraordinaire.  That’s not necessarily the case.  Groysberg and Slind said, “For many executives and managers, the temptation to treat every medium at their disposal as if it were a megaphone has proved hard to resist.”

As more distance separates me from the youngest members of our workforce, the generational differences become more evident.  And with each year, it seems, I appreciate more and more about the millennials and their fresh perspective of communication and corporate expectations.  The millennials expect both their peers and those in authority to communicate with them in a dynamic, two-way fashion.  By contrast, throughout my early years in the workforce in the late 80s and early 90s, the only options for communication were typewritten memos, print newsletters and speeches.  So not only did the old model of leadership promote a style of top-down, one-way communication, the only means of communication available fostered that same culture.    

The changes in communication have, no doubt, made many (or maybe most) of the assertive, control-freak baby boomers quite uncomfortable.  In the past, leaders would both create and control messaging, assuming that employees were passive consumers of their information.  But now, leaders have to actually let go and relinquish some of the control of content and even invite employees to actively participate in organizational messaging.  It’s a shift from corporate communication to organizational conversation.

In my day of being young in the workforce, leaders were essentially behind a barrier, almost a steel wall of sorts.  Communication would be shot out to the organization from behind the stockade of power and mystery.  Social media and technology, along with generational shifts, has broken through that stockade and is demanding communication that is personal, direct, authentic and trustworthy.  Welcome to the “conversation.”

Monday, May 21, 2012

Do you have the heart for leadership?

Leaders know that difficult conversations are best accomplished with their head and their heart.  They understand that if they aren’t “openhearted,” the conversation can have a life of its own, and often one that isn’t pleasant. ~ Mary Jo Asmus

Mary Jo asks the question, “Have you ever heard ‘I’m going to have a head-to-head conversation’? Of course not, but this is what often happens in our organizations. Having a ‘heart-to-heart’ conversation is what’s most important when the topic is difficult. The words you will say aren’t enough (those come from your head); you need to also have an open heart.”

This idea of being openhearted reminded me of another word I heard someone use to describe tough situations – being tenderhearted.  For me, tenderhearted takes it to an even greater level and consequently, degree of difficulty.  Tenderhearted is defined by Webster’s as easily moved to love and compassion.  Maybe I can open my heart, but being tenderhearted may mean that I will actually let someone else touch my heart.

I’m sure I’ve lost a number of folks by now because I’ve taken this to a place of too much touchy-feely talk.  Why do we think that when we walk through the doors of our workplace that we’ve somehow left our humanity outside on the street?  Our humanity follows us everywhere, even into the walls of our office.  And for those of us who tout practices like servant leadership or transformational leadership, we better take notice of what it means to be tenderhearted if we are going to actually practice what we preach.

Let me illustrate.  I’ve recently come across a situation where an individual in a leadership position was berated by a couple of employees in an email conversation that made its way back to the leader.  [Don’t you love the way technology has become the number one tattle-tail in organizations today.]  The person at fault here has openly stated they made a mistake and can point to the exact moment when everything started to head south.  She has willingly agreed to talk with the leader, apologize and try to make things right.  The leader (as well as the leader’s supervisor) has said she shouldn’t have to go through that and has essentially refused to accept the apology or make an effort to reconcile the relationship.  She only wants discipline for this employee. 

I’m missing the tenderhearted piece in this picture.  This is an organization that espouses servant leadership.  Wouldn’t that mean not only seeking forgiveness but also accepting forgiveness when someone wants to apologize and try to make things right, despite how much we feel hurt or disrespected? 

Chuck Swindoll describes this as having a “tender heart and a tough hide.”  It could be that having a tough hide is a prerequisite to having a tender heart.  And what a great, concise definition of a leader – a tender heart and a tough hide.  Chuck then asks the question: How do you respond to criticism?  Are you tough and tender or do you become brittle and bitter?  Are you a leader of both grace and grit? 

Do you have the heart for leadership?

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Leaders build relationships to help others.

Building a genuine relationship with another person depends on (at least) two things.  The first is seeing the world from another person’s perspective.  The second is thinking about how you can help and collaborate with the other person rather than thinking about what you can get from him or her.  ~Reid Hoffman (co-founder and chairman of LinkedIn)

Maybe what’s most significant about this quote is who said it—the co-founder and chairman of LinkedIn.  We seem to live in a world that’s become more focused on the quantity of our “relationships” than on the quality.  One of my favorite television commercials features a young woman, likely in her 20s, feeling sorry for her parents who are Baby Boomers because they have so few “friends” on a social networking site.  While the young woman is sitting, alone, reading someone’s latest nonsensical post, her parents are out having fun and interacting with real people.  (Course, it was their new car that allowed them to have all this fun.)

But I smile each time I see that ad because it does make me wonder if our “relationships” have really become more like “transactions.”  In his book, The Start-up of You, cofounder and chairman of LinkedIn, Reid Hoffman, says:
Old-school “networkers” are transactional.  They pursue relationships thinking about what other people can do for them.  And they’ll only network with people when they need something, like a job or new clients.  Relationship builders, on the other hand, try to help other people first.  They don’t keep score.  Networkers think it’s important to have a really big address book.  Relationship builders prioritize high-quality relationships over a large number of connections.
Have we gone astray with our approach to relationships?  Using LinkedIn as an example, I periodically get requests to connect with young graduates from my college alma mater.  I’ve never met these young people, or for that matter, have never even heard their name.  Do they want to connect with me because they believe they can help me?  I doubt it.  Or, is the person who just requested to connect with me who already has more than 500 connections (the maximum number that LinkedIn will report) doing so because they believe they can help me?  Unlikely.  To be fair, I have to ask myself, how often have I reached out to someone through social or professional networking because I thought I could help them?

After reading this quote from Hoffman, I thought about a number that tends to stick in my head – the number is 12.  In my own study of how adults learn, I’ve found over and over that the magic number of an adult cohort of students is no more than 12.  When I moderated focus groups years ago, again the ideal number was a minimum of 8 and maximum of 12.  Jesus, one of our ultimate examples of leadership, had 12 disciples.  How many people report to the average CEO, around 10, but not more than 12.  In research on what we would consider traditional “networking,” it was determined that even the jump from 5 to 15 relationships shows a decline in the quality of the relationship. 

I’d assume that Hoffman is happy with how we’ve embraced the use of LinkedIn.  But I do wonder if he also thinks most of us have missed the point of using it as a tool to develop genuine and authentic relationships so we can help one another.  Imagine how leadership development in organizations would be different if each leader focused on 12 really quality relationships, as opposed to viewing the number of relationships they can maintain as a competitive scorecard.   

Monday, May 7, 2012

Leaders intentionally, deliberately and consistently think positive thoughts.

Research indicates that as much as 75 percent of everything we think is negative, counterproductive, and works against us.  ~H. Norman Wright adapted from Shad Helmstetter

I read this statistic recently in A Better Way to Think: Using Positive Thoughts to Change Your Life by H. Norman Wright and I had to reread it several times.  I kept thinking, is that really possible, really?  Seventy-five percent of what I think could actually be working against me?!

I was recently introduced to the idea of positive psychology and also discovered that the University of Michigan has a Center for Positive Organizational Scholarship in their school of business.  I’m intrigued by the concept and have been reading several books on the topic.

At the University of Michigan they conducted a study and identified the single most important factor in predicting organizational performance, more than twice as powerful as any other, was the ratio of positive to negative statements: 5.6 to 1 for high performing companies.  In other words, the organizations that are performing at an exceptionally high level are quite likely to have leaders who are making nearly six positive statements for every negative statement.  In medium performing organizations the ratio was 1.85 to 1, in poor performing organizations it was .36 to 1.

It would be easy if making random positive statements counted as part of the ratio, but it’s not that simple.  The positive statements should build and strengthen relationships.  UM says there are at least seven techniques and the first three are critical.  The first three include: being authentic and sincere, remaining objective and nonjudgmental, and validating others’ perspectives as being worthwhile.  This isn’t something you can just add to your to-do list; it’s something you have to become, habits to be developed over time.

Martin Seligman (University of Pennsylvania), one of the initiators of positive psychology, said “One of the most significant findings in psychology in last twenty years is that individuals can choose the way they think.”  As leaders, how are we thinking?  How do our behaviors influence how/what others are thinking?  Are we creating a positive or negative climate?

For some, positive might mean upbeat, hyped, charismatic, competitive, etc.  But those aren’t the descriptors of a positive work climate.  Being positive in the workplace takes on a different tenor than what many of us might expect.  A positive work climate is described by behaviors like compassion, forgiveness and gratitude.  In a study of various not-for-profit and public organizations, including General Electric, National City Bank, and OfficeMax, across 16 different industry groups, companies with more positive climates (that is, those that scored higher on compassion, forgiveness, and gratitude activities) performed significantly better in profitability, productivity, quality, innovation, customer satisfaction, and employee retention. (Unleashing Positivity in the Workplace by Ann Pace in T+D Jan2010)

Returning to Norman Wright, he also says that depending upon how active your mind is you may produce more the 45,000 thoughts per day.  Leaders certainly can’t control the hundreds of thousands of thoughts produced each day in their organizations.  However, they can create a culture with a high ratio of positive to negative statements and shift the overall climate of their organization from counterproductive to meaningful, encouraging and flourishing.