Monday, March 25, 2013

Danger. Danger.

One danger is that we fall in love with the path and lose sight of the goal; another danger is quietism: to be looking at the goal and doing nothing on the path. ~Pope Francis

As we embark on Holy Week, it seems fitting to look to one of our recently appointed religious leaders for some leadership wisdom.  In a very short time Pope Francis was catapulted into a leadership role and has become a model of humility and grace balanced with determination and tenacity.  An example of that determination and tenacity is expressed in this quote about the danger of losing sight of the goal and doing nothing.

Falling in love with the path and losing sight of the goal can take on many forms.  There's the obvious, which is the, we've always done it that way syndrome.  There are also more subtle forms.  Like feeling so glued to the date on your strategic plan that you delay making modifications or creating a new plan until the published date on the plan has "expired."  You may have categorically agreed that either the plan just simply isn't working or that you've actually completed everything on the plan ahead of schedule.  In either case, the current plan has clearly outlived its usefulness but you're not going to make any changes until you've reached the published date of completion.    

The examples I just provided are somewhat mechanical or technical.  But sometimes falling in love with the path can reflect our values or underlying beliefs, something far more personal.  When we limit our view of the world by our own beliefs, we consequently create a very narrow path.  We might be wise to broaden or extend the path by allowing other beliefs to also lead to the very same destination.  We fall in love with the path and lose sight of the goal.

Quietism: to be looking at the goal and doing nothing on the path.  I think we fall victim to this danger far more frequently than we are willing to recognize or admit.  I've been using an exercise with clients recently that illustrates this point.  In some of Patrick Lencioni's recent work he suggests that leadership teams need to agree upon a thematic goal or a rallying cry.  This represents what they believe to be most important, right now.  It's a short-term, almost immediate goal (typically 3 months or less).  Once the leadership team has agreed upon this rallying cry or thematic goal for the coming few months, I then go around the room and ask each one of them what they are going to do differently or re-prioritize in the coming months in order to achieve this thematic goal. 

The leaders in the room are typically a little startled when I do this.  They are surprised that I'm asking what they, personally, are going to do differently in order to achieve the goal.  I have found that it's common for leaders to agree upon a goal and then return to their offices and continue with their work, as usual.  They are all looking at the goal, but doing nothing on the path. 

I don't want to over-analyze the Pope's choice of words, but I am intrigued that he chose to use the word danger and not something less severe like problem, pitfall or dilemma.  If it's truly a danger, then maybe it's time to pause and ask ourselves what have we done this week to move our organizations and ourselves further down the path toward our goals.

Monday, March 18, 2013

The dreaded 8-letter word: feedback.

Feedback is a gift. Ideas are the currency of our next success. Let people see you value both feedback and ideas.  ~Jim Trinka and Les Wallace

Last week was packed full of feedback.  My week started by facilitating a leadership team in an exercise to ease them into experiencing accountability.  They each wrote down the greatest strength and one area of improvement for every other team member.  Then we began with the CEO.  Each person first told him his greatest strength and then we went around the room one more time and each identified an area they believed he could improve upon.  Then the CEO could respond to what he had heard.  We repeated that process for every team member. 

What became a common theme throughout this exercise was how genuinely appreciative everyone was for the feedback.  This was not a painful process (as some had feared); in fact, there was a sufficient amount of laughter interspersed throughout the exercise.  As the final member of the team gave his response to what he heard from his colleagues, he provided the perfect closing to this session.  He said, "after doing this, I sense a greater level of trust among this group."  Feedback is a gift!

Next I spent time poring through the results of an employee satisfaction survey for another organization.  Like every organization, they heard both praises and pitfalls from their employees.  What followed from the CEO was not rationalization or defensiveness in response to the negative comments, but a plan of action that was already being put into place to address areas of concern.  Without this feedback, these potential pitfalls could continue to grow and fester and cause irreparable damage.  Feedback is a gift!

In another scenario, I learned that a supervisor is covering for one of their direct reports by trailing them and then "fixing" what doesn't get fully completed.  In this situation feedback is being avoided.  The consequence is that the direct report's credibility is being undermined because other people know that this supervisor is trailing them and picking up the pieces.  This supervisor is forgetting that feedback doesn't have to be painful.  In fact, feedback is a gift!

On a more personal note, I admittedly struggle with perfectionism.  Sometimes I'll avoid doing something or trying something because I know I won't be able to do it perfectly.  How shameful if I can’t perform perfectly!  I was coached through this dilemma this week.  One of my strengths (I'm using StrengthsFinder language) is "learner."  Part of the learning process is receiving feedback so you can change and improve.  If I can reframe my thinking from "not being perfect" to "an opportunity to learn" by receiving feedback I could maybe get beyond my not so helpful obsession with perfectionism.  So my mantra needs to become: Feedback is a gift!

Dr. Henry Cloud in his book, Integrity, recounts an incident that happened on a retreat for CEOs, when a young "superstar" was given an opportunity to receive feedback from a more senior CEO.
One of the more experienced guys looked up and said, "Want some feedback?" He said it in a way that left you wondering whether he was going to give sage advice or rail at the young man for being out to lunch in some way. There was just no way to tell from his poker face. But I will never forget the young superstar's immediate response: "By all means. Give me a gift." He saw the feedback, whatever it was, as a gift because it could give him some reality that he did not know. I remember thinking, "We will be watching this guy's accomplishments for a long time."
Feedback is a gift!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Could you handle the Shark Tank?

Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power.  ~Abraham Lincoln

One of my favorite TV shows is Shark Tank.  Each time I watch it I discover that I'm thinking that it deserves to be the topic of a blog post on leadership.  If you've seen the show, you may not be thinking the same thing.  If you haven't seen the show, it's a fairly simple concept.  There are five millionaire/billionaire venture capitalists ready to invest in any worthy business idea.  The inventors or entrepreneurs have only a few minutes to present their idea and ask for an investment in exchange for a percentage of their business.  This is followed by a few minutes of Q&A from the five venture capitalists. 

Each attempt/transaction is completed in minutes.  I realize that TV involves a great deal of editing, but in this case, the "pitch" appears to happen with no breaks or editing and is completed in probably less than five minutes.  Each entrepreneur is given only 15 minutes (including commercials) for their pitch and Q&A.  There are many aspects of the show that intrigue me, but what continues to amaze me is how quickly the Sharks (venture capitalists) come to a conclusion about the entrepreneur's character.  On a number of occasions I've seen one of the Sharks say, "I think your idea is okay, but I really like you so I'm going to invest in you."  I've also seen just the opposite happen a number of times.  In this case the Shark might say, "I really like your idea but I don't want to have to work with you so I'll offer you X dollars to buy your entire company."  Or, I believe just last week several of the Sharks responded with, "I don't trust you.  I'm out."

This evaluation of their character happens in minutes, not hours, days, or even months.  Of course, they have to make a characterization this quickly because that's all the time they are given.  Do we come to conclusions about individual's character that quickly as well, even when we're not put under an incredible time constraint?  And are people coming to conclusions about our character just as quickly?  I think the answer is yes.

These entrepreneurs walk into the Shark Tank thinking they've been given a great deal of power.  After all, they are meeting with five high profile venture capitalists ready to invest.  But their character becomes quickly evident once they begin to sell their idea.  Are they being fully transparent?  Do they have integrity?  Are they authentic?  Are they competent?  Can they be trusted?  Do they have the passion it will take to make their idea a success?

Daymond John, one of the Sharks, has been described as: "He's not only successful, he's honest and he knows investing in a company means investing in a person."  Mark Cuban, another of the infamous Sharks, is characterized as: "A man of his stature and influence still considers character to be an essential requirement for investment."

My somewhat unorthodox example of character provides a metaphor all leaders should consider. If you were given power, would someone invest in your character?

Monday, March 4, 2013

Change? Who, me?

One key to successful leadership is continuous personal change.  Personal change is a reflection of our inner growth and empowerment.  ~Robert E. Quinn

I don't think any of us would argue against the fact that we are living in an era of continuous change.  And many of us pride ourselves on our ability to maneuver our organizations through nonstop alterations.  However, this week in particular, I was struck by the how much we resist change when it becomes personal.

So much of leadership, if not nearly all of leadership, is expressed or manifested in how we behave.  Yes, that's right, a word that seems to make many leaders uncomfortable.  This week a leader said to me, "You mean you don’t want us to just change what we think but we need to change our behavior?"  Changing what we think is certainly a critical component, but if we stop there, what have we accomplished? 

I recall a definition of learning, I think it was from Warren Bennis, he said that learning takes place when we acquire new knowledge and then alter our behavior based upon that new knowledge.  In other words, acquiring knowledge, only, isn't really learning.  I also remember a sermon I heard many years ago about what repentance really meant.  The pastor said, repentance isn't just being sorry, it's "a new of thinking and a new way of doing."  If we don’t change our behavior, then we haven't really experienced repentance.

Mashall Goldsmith, a guru of executive coaching, said "After living with their dysfunctional behavior for so many years (a sunk cost if ever there was one), people become invested in defending their dysfunctions rather than changing them."  Peter Senge, author of the classic, The Fifth Discipline, stated "People don’t resist change.  They resist being changed!"  That's his exclamation point, not mine.

We may welcome change, as long as it's change around us, not within us. 

Given what I do for a living, I suppose it's not all that surprising that periodically people will call or meet with me and rant on and on about another person – a colleague, a supervisor, etc.  They spout off all of the things that bother them, that make them angry, that they disagree with, etc.  Then they pause, and ask me what they should say to that person to get them to change their behavior. 

When things aren't working for us, or aren't working as we believe they should, it's interesting that our first instinct is to search for ways to change the other person.  I'm certainly not advocating for a workplace where there is no accountability.  I am suggesting that we think of ourselves in a state of continuous personal change.  And that could mean that the best alternative to changing a situation or improving a working relationship is for us to seek ways that we can change our behavior. 

Robert Quinn, author of many books, wrote Deep Change: Discovering the Leader Within.  The basic premise of the book is to identify and describe the surprising relationship between organizational change and personal change.  Quinn says, "If organizations must make deep change more frequently, so must the people who work in organizations."

Change?  Who, me?  Yes, you.