Monday, January 28, 2013

Forgive us our debts...

Forgiveness does not change the past, but it does enlarge the future.  ~Paul Boese

Continuing with  Kim Cameron’s research regarding the qualities of a positive climate: compassion, forgiveness, and gratitude.  I’m focusing this week on forgiveness.

Through research, it was discovered that after organizations downsize, 80% of them experience a decline in performance.  The other 20% flourish!  What’s different about that 20%?  Forgiveness. 

The Mayo Clinic says that "forgiveness is a decision to let go of resentment and thoughts of revenge.  The act that hurt or offended you might always remain a part of your life, but forgiveness can lessen its grip on you and help you focus on other, positive parts of your life.  Forgiveness doesn't mean that you deny the other person's responsibility for hurting you, and it doesn't minimize or justify the wrong.  You can forgive the person without excusing the act.  Forgiveness brings a kind of peace that helps you go on with life."

An organizational perspective on forgiveness is not much different.  Kim Cameron says that "forgiveness does not require abandoning anger or resentment, nor does it require pardoning or dismissing the offense.  It involves acknowledging and reframing negative feelings and attitudes."

This idea of acknowledging and reframing has raised a question for me; do we give employees the opportunity to forgive?  Or, do put up so many barriers  and impediments that forgiveness isn't possible?

Like everything in life, there's a limit.  For example, sometimes employees are so destructive that they need to be removed from an organization by a somewhat harsh and direct means.  So forgiveness is unlikely.  But what about those circumstances when an employee isn't destructive, yet, they are given a file box on Friday afternoon at 4pm and asked not to return on Monday?  Have we stripped them of the capacity to forgive?  Or what about when a leader leaves an organization with unresolved anger, tension and misunderstandings with employees?  Or one of my favorite, when we tell employees that the hurt they experienced by a leader is simply wrong because that leader didn't intend to hurt them.  We are asking them to abandon their anger because we don't think they should be angry, or maybe said more realistically, we don't think they deserve to be angry.

Kim Cameron suggests a number of leadership activities that were found to enable organizational forgiveness.  The first is:  Acknowledge anger and resentment.  Recognize that forgiveness does not occur quickly.  Allow time for grieving.

Acknowledging, or simply recognizing, someone's anger is critical.  Yet, I can list numerous times I've watched leaders in organizations run from anger by refusing to take phone calls, not responding to fuming emails, or avoiding any conversation regarding the anger.

We can't change the past, but we can enlarge the future by creating a climate that makes forgiveness possible.  Do our organizational climates make forgiveness possible?

Monday, January 21, 2013

Are you a pain?

Leaders don't inflict pain; they bear pain.  ~Max DePree

Last week I commented about KimCameron's research regarding the qualities of a positive climate: compassion, forgiveness, and gratitude.  I'm focusing this week and the next two weeks on these three qualities.

Compassion.  Max DePree stated it so well, that "leaders don’t inflict pain; they bear pain."  And in bearing pain we are expressing compassion.  Several of Cameron's colleagues at the University of Michigan's Center for Positive Organizational Scholarship authored a paper entitled, Seeing Organizations Differently:  Three Lenses on Compassion.  They begin this paper by stating, "We cannot fully see organizations until we allow people to speak the unspoken reality of suffering and reveal the human response to suffering that is compassion."

Having reviewed many perspectives on compassion, this team of researchers defined compassion as being comprised of three interrelated elements: noticing another's suffering, feeling empathy for the other's pain, and responding to the suffering in some way.

I'll admit that I've witnessed numerous organizations notice, feel and respond when a member of their organization experiences a crisis, especially a sudden and catastrophic crisis.  Reading this research, however, made me wonder how much we show compassion on a daily basis amid the mundane and common drudgery of life.  When a colleague takes a risk and tries something different and it bombs, do we show compassion?  When a staff member has to leave work early, again, because their child is struggling with an illness and their spouse/partner is gone on work travel, do we treat them with compassion?

Another researcher, Hallowell, calls these "human moments" at work: when someone is physically and psychologically present for another person. Hallowell says, "We can help one another reconnect to our workplace and feel valued." (Hallowell, E. M., 1999, The human moment at work. Harvard Business Review, 77, 58-66) 

This idea of compassion is really kind of amazing.  "A simple gesture like a caring note, giving someone a few hours off from work, a hug, can help transform people's sense of themselves and change the way they relate to their colleagues and shape the way they view their organization." (Lilius, J. M., Worline, M. C., Dutton, J. E., Kanov, J. M., Frost, P. J., & Maitlis, S., 2004). What good is compassion at work? Working paper, University of Michigan)

So if it's really this simple, why don't we do it more often?  I think it's because we've been programmed to believe that "business" or "work" is sometimes also "pain" and we’re supposed to just suck it up.  And any pain we experience on our own time, that's personal, and should not be brought into the workplace.  But this paradigm leaves out a critical factor; we're human and humans suffer.  We're not capable of compartmentalizing our suffering; it is part of our being, part of the fabric of who we are as individuals.

This week, how will we each bear another's pain? 

Monday, January 14, 2013

Got energy?

Some people become leaders no matter what their chosen path because their positive energy is so uplifting.  Even in tough times, they always find a way.  They seem to live life on their own terms even when having to comply with someone else's requirements.  When they walk into a room, they make it come alive.  ~Rosabeth Moss Kanter

Influence and information have been attributes many times associated with creating high performance.  But influence and information don’t come close to energy.  "Those who positively energize others are high performers.  Position in an energy network is 4 times the predictor of performance compared to position in information or influence networks." [Kim Cameron, PhD, in Positive Leadership]

Who are these positive energizers?  Well, it's not dependent upon their position; anyone in an organization can have positive energy.  Kim Cameron's research revealed that energizers are the people who "create and support vitality in others.  They uplift and boost people.  They leave others feeling elevated and motivated.  They have been found to be optimistic, heedful, trustworthy, and unselfish."  

Cameron's study also determined that "Positive energy is not a personality attribute, inherent charisma, or physical attractiveness.  It's not a matter of merely being gregarious or outgoing.  It's not correlated with being extroverted.  It's a learned behavior."  In other words, we can all become positive energizers, it's a choice.

The affects of positive energy are staggering.  The research concluded that "High performing firms have 3 times as many positive energizing networks than lower performing firms.  Not only do these people affect business and employee performance; employees' families are significantly influenced for the better by positive leaders."

So, if the affect of positive energy is so significant, why aren't there more positive energizers, especially among leadership? 

I think the answer to that question is exposed in the attributes of positive energy: heedful [thoughtful, careful, attentive], trustworthy, and unselfish.  Cameron adds to the list qualities of a positive climate: compassion, forgiveness, and gratitude.  Not exactly what we many times think creates energy (charisma, extremely outgoing, bustling, shaking things up, etc.).

I heard Cameron speak at an executive roundtable last week; he was joined by business owner and author, PaulSpiegelman.  Both the academician and the practitioner emphasized that these attributes need to be part of your policies, practices, and personal behavior in order to create a positive climate.  Within that positive climate more positive energizers will emerge.  It really can be a learned behavior.

In the coming weeks I'll go more deeply into compassion, forgiveness, and gratitude and what that can look like, practically, in organizations.

In the meantime…got energy?  Are we creating positive energy through compassion, forgiveness, and gratitude?  

Monday, January 7, 2013

A purpose-driven life, really.

If we let our problems define our situation we are unlikely to see the opportunities that come when we focus on “purpose.”  Clarifying our purpose can lift us out of our problems and give us meaning, direction and energy.  ~Robert Quinn

Ten years ago, Rick Warren wrote The Purpose Driven Life, which became the bestselling hardback non-fiction book in history, and is the second most-translated book in the world after the Bible.  I've often wondered how much the name of the book influenced its sales.  Are we all clamoring for purpose so much that we'll collectively catapult a book to the top of the bestseller list if it will give us a glimmer of life with purpose?  I'm certainly not disregarding Warren's writing ability or insights, but that name—Purpose-Driven Life—did it strike a chord with us because we're not quite sure how to get from a life focused on problems to one focused on purpose?

Learning to go from problem to purpose, as Robert Quinn suggests, may be the ideal way for all leaders to start a new year.   

Quinn believes that we need to be asking, "Is it a problem or a disrupted expectation?"  A disrupted expectation is exactly what it states.  In any given situation, we expect things to go a certain way, but sometimes they don't and then we're faced with a different situation, or a "disrupted expectation."  If this really matters to us and it's difficult to close the gap between our expectations and the reality we're facing, then we tend to label this as a problem.  This implies that our response should be to solve the problem or to restore the situation to its expected state.

Solving a problem is a reactive state.  Sometimes reacting is the right thing to do.  If my refrigerator stopped working, then I should react and attempt to solve the problem and restore the frig to its working state. 

But not every situation is a problem to be solved, many times it's really a disrupted expectation and our expectations need to shift.  Quinn quotes Robert Fritz who many years ago suggested that we move to a creative state (as opposed to reactive) by asking the question, "what result do I want to create?"  By refocusing on results and creating, it changes our expectations, creating new purposes.  We're now positioned to take purposed-center action.

I recently discovered a very applicable example for this idea in my own work.  A client suggested a book to me entitled, Who Do You Want Your Customers to Become?  In consulting, we tend to focus our thinking on helping clients solve problems.  But, what if I shifted my thinking from reacting, to creating, and asked myself, who do I want my clients to become?  That brings a level of meaning, direction and energy (to quote Quinn) to my work that isn't even in the same ballpark as merely "solving problems."  It puts the focus directly on "what result do I want to create" or purpose.

Rick Warren says that he meets a lot of people who are very smart and say, "why can't I figure out my problems?"  Well, maybe that's the key; what if they are not problems but disrupted expectations.  When I think of people who have risen to great heights of leadership, they are people who are asking, "what are the results I want to create?" and then they move forward with purpose and are lifted out of their problems.  A purpose-driven life?  Yes, really.