Thursday, February 5, 2015

The Value of Understanding the Structural Story


[S]igmund Freud discovered many years ago that it is part of normal human life to project our innermost fears, judgments, hopes and dreams onto others; or as my colleague Kieran says, we “load each other up”. Indeed there are many management books, intervention tools, and thoughts on what to do about this when it happens in a work setting. When we load another person up by projecting our reality on to them at work it can lead to problems be creating self-reinforcing negative feedback loops. This occurs when one person projects a moral story onto a colleague causing their colleague (or the person projected upon) to do the same thing back to them. As this goes on it gets worse and worse leading to number of unproductive and damaging effects.

I have seen this phenomena many times in working with engineering teams. When faced with making a decision about a project, the engineering team members often spend time analyzing the underlying technical issues and underpinnings of the proposed plan of action. Understanding why they are doing the project is just as important to them as how they will do it. In Structural Dynamics, when we discuss purposes and the underlying mechanisms we are using the language of Meaning.   Since the engineers are going to have to implement the plan, which typically means creating something new to address a problem, they want to understand the purpose and theoretical underpinnings.

However, the leader of this team, the longer they sit there listening to the analysis, becomes more and more frustrated and thinks, “ This team has analysis paralysis and just can’t make a decision.”   Often leaders are put in the role of minding deadlines and ensuring that work gets done. All the concrete elements of how and when things will get done including deciding what the bottom line is. Discussions around developing time frames and next steps are spoken in the language of Power.
Seeing the leader’s frustration and annoyance with the pace of the decision making, engineering team members decide that their leader doesn’t care about quality and they become equally frustrated and tension ensues as the projections fly creating layers of moral story that end up hurting relationships and making it even more difficult to get work done.

Reframing the story using Structural Dynamics is a powerful intervention I have been using with my client teams, leaders, coachees, students and corporate pairs who are in conflict. In reframing the moral story to a structural story of the engineering team and the leader we can see that they are speaking different languages and therefore not able to hear or appreciate what each other needs or is trying to communicate, just as if the team were speaking French and the leader speaking German. Understanding is not happening.

Sharing Kantor’s model of Structural Dynamics in the corporate setting brings quick relief, is eye opening, and healing to strained and “loaded up” relationships. Instead of having to tell a morale story, e.g.,  the team can’t make a decision and the leader doesn’t care. The structural story is much more useful. The team needs to spend time in Meaning because it’s the only way they can get to an accurate decision. And the leader needs to use the language of Power in order to keep the team and project on track. When both parties know these languages they can then transparently and with understanding of where each other are coming from change the nature of the discourse from unproductive to a productive collaborative dialogue. Knowing the structural story makes it much harder to come to unproductive and often inaccurate moral conclusions.

Cross posted at Dialogix  http://www.dialogix.co.uk/home/blog/

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Do you have the guts to innovate?


Some of the greatest innovations were the result of failures: corn syrup, Pyrex, the Post-It-Note adhesive. All failed attempts that ended up having other uses that made their company's millions.

Stewarding great ideas into innovative new products and services that succeed in the market is tricky business. Below are four key things leaders can do to ensure their employees have the mindshare and space to not only invent new products and services but also get them to market.

1.   Provide time and space for employees to be creative versus buried under the day to day work flow. Creativity is the foundation of all innovationGoogle used to give each employee one day or 20% of their time at work to focus on projects of their choosing. From this program many successful innovations emerged including Gmail. 

2.  Align Rewards. Recognize employees, teams, and supervisors who conceive of and design innovative new products, services or internal procedures and policies. Rewarding ideas for innovations is just as important as rewarding completed innovations if you want to instill the value of the new in your organization's culture. Corning has done this for over a century and they keep innovating as a result. 

3.  Tolerate risk by rewarding failure. Create an organizational culture that values learning from failure versus blaming. Start with how you treat your own staff, because cultural norms always roll downhill. Risk tolerance is evident when failure is viewed as a necessary step in the process of innovation. Trial and error is involved in all new inventions.  Thomas Edison made over 10,000 attempts before he succeeded at making the light bulb.

4.  Open up communication channels across, up and down. The ability for employees to communicate throughout their organization creates a culture where ideas or shared and played with. Organizations that encourage employees to communicate with a leader two levels up or peers in different functions, have a higher degree of innovation than companies that don’t. Leaders who encourage informal communication build companies that also have higher retention rates. These types of companies are simply better places to work and foster the conditions that allow innovation to thrive.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Authentic Leadership: Good for Business and Our Health

It's been said that one of the biggest indicators that a person might be CEO material (experience, education, etc. held equal) is the ability to work a sixteen hour day.

A huge workload, however, is not the only challenge for today's leaders.  As we know, Twenty-first century leaders are dealing with volatile conditions and a level of complexity and competition for resources unheard of at the start of the Twentieth century. 

Followers are also changing in that the US workforce demographics are becoming more diverse than they have ever been in terms of skin color, age, gender and skill sets. The nature of work itself in most corporations requires employees to make a great many discretionary decisions which requires them to be managed in a way that is very different from the Industrial Age Command Control style of leadership (autocratic, top down, hierarchical,  Theory X).  Today's employees, with their in-depth training and high levels of education are knowledge workers.  

The rise of the knowledge worker requires leaders to allow their followers more autonomy, more of a voice in strategy and decision making, and collaborative consideration in terms of performance assessment and rewards. Additionally, leaders must possess multicultural and relational intelligence that is only possible by deepening their awareness of their own leadership identity development (biases, privilege, fears, and assumptions about leadership).  Furthermore, the best leaders have a heart deep clarity about their purpose as a leader and are passionate about getting feedback from their environment to ensure they are on track with what they are trying to achieve. Because they seek feedback, their followers experience them as less threatening and more collaborative which makes the leader's mission catching.  Because they are able to take the feedback in and make changes shows that they are able to learn and flexible enough to change their thinking for their mission.  

All of this is starting to make the 16 hour work day look like the least of the challenge for today's leaders.

When we consider the work of leaders like Attorney Kenneth Feinberg who has responded quickly and competently to the traumatic world events 9/11 and the Boston Marathon bombings for the greater good, what we are witnessing is authentic leadership. A great historical example is Abraham Lincoln. 

Authentic leaders have a deep foundation in their own personal mission which ignites followers with similar convictions to join them in the stewardship of movements, organizations, countries, and campaigns to help in the aftermath of trauma and war and give service to populations with ongoing support needs like veterans, the poor, and the displaced.

Authentic leaders due to their sincerity about who they are, transparency about their mission, willingness to collaborate in order to serve the greater good above their own egos, inspire their followers and other stakeholders.  Authentic leaders are on the forefront of change.

The journey to reach authenticity is not always straightforward or easy. Research shows that some authentic leaders become so through adversity and hardship they experience, others through the discovery and development of causes and still others through formal learning programs.  The end result is an understanding of their own life story and worldview that fuels their sense of justice as well as their passions and causes. Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks, chronicles his life story and how it fueled his mission to make all employees partners and offer benefits to part time workers (a revolutionary thing at the time) in Pour Your Heart Into It

The definition of Authentic leadership includes the relationship between the leaders and their followers (Gardner et al., 2005). In fact it’s the followers who reinforce the leader’s authenticity, which is deeply rooted in the leaders self-authorization of their role as a leader. Indeed it has been found that the leadership role and the self are relativity undifferentiated for the authentic leader (Gardner & Avolio, 1998).  Warren Bennis described authentic leadership as a form of self-expression (1992).

Furthermore, authentic leadership is good for business! Here are some highlights from research on the positive impacts of authentic leaders on their followers and organizations:
  1. Authentic leadership is positively related to profit (Rowold & Laukamp (2009)
  2. Followers, of authentic Leaders, experience a relationship that includes social mirroring and attunement and interpersonal synchrony, have lower salivary cortisol levels (the stress response hormone) than those followers who are not connected to their leaders on this subconscious level (Kouzakova, Van Baaren & Van Kippenberg, 2010)
  3. Relationships with authentic leaders are characterized by a phenomenon called resonance which includes the sharing of mutual positive emotions, a subjective sense of being in synchrony with one another, and activation of parasympathetic nervous system responses (e.g. rest, and digest response) (Boyatzix, et al., 2011).
  4. Relationships with non-authentic leaders produce negative emotions, interpersonal discord, and parasympathetic nervous system activation (fight/flight response) (Boyatzix, et al., 2011)
  5. Authenticity between leaders and followers engenders feelings of compassion, hope, a sense of play and mindfulness (Boyatziz & Mckee, 2005)
  6. When leaders and followers are not connected in this way it’s considered dissonance which includes the engendering of malice, micromanaging, betrayal, and insensitivity which create toxic emotions in the workplace that take a toll on employee well being and performance (Frost, 2004)
  7. In a MRI imaging study, researchers found that memories of authentic leaders stimulated the area of the brain in such a way that signaled creative and the ability to think out of the box (Frost, 2004)
  8. Conversely, memories of inauthentic leaders produced a "cognitive narrowing of the person’s attention" which researchers surmised was due to following  a leader who is focused on corrections and errors which limit the contributions followers can make (Frost, 2004)
  9. Studies involving quantitative EEGs have found that leaders who communicate an inclusive vision with an emphasis on social responsibility, altruism, and the empowerment of various stakeholders versus a more narcissistic, self-interested vision, build psychological capital (including the optimization of hope confidence and resilience) in their followers (Boyatziz & Mckee, 2005)

Seriously, who would you rather work for, hire to lead your company or have as a peer?

We share emotions with our partners, therapists, teachers and friends every day. When my daughter smiles at me, no matter how bad my day was, I smile back and feel happy and uplifted.  When my husband is not happy about something I can feel it before he even has to say anything and vice versa. We share emotions in this same way with our leaders too. Who would you rather share emotions with on a work-a-day basis?  A leader who is driven by passion and a clear mission and who is authentic in their approach and honest about who they are or someone who is not this way?

The last part of the research I will share is a definition that delineates the main factors that make up authentic leadership based on a longitudinal study from 2005 to 2008 that analyzed five separate samples of data from China, Kenya and the US:

"Authentic leadership is a pattern of leader behavior that draws upon and promotes both positive psychological capacities and a positive ethical climate, to foster greater self-awareness, an internalized moral perspective, balanced processing of information and relational transparency on the part of leaders working with followers, fostering positive self development" (Walumbwa, et al, 2008:94).


Authentic leaders are multiculturally intelligent, engender respect, self-actualization and health in their followers by their example and collaborative practices and intuitive understanding about the fact that followers make the leader.

Derek Sivers captures this dynamic very well here: 





Monday, May 19, 2014

Why do we attend to some and not others?

Of course this question is subject to a million covariates or in plain language - there's a lot of possible answers.  People may not listen to others based on blood ties or past experience or sadly because of skin color or gender or age or there is simply too much noise.

However, there is research out there, mine adding to the mix, that we do attend to some people more than others. I am using the term attend to because it's more all encompassing than listen to or look at. When we attend to someone else we are giving them our full attention using the senses available to us to notice them. People we attend to more than others often have strong presence. 

I have been interested in presence for a long time since my days as an internal organizational effectiveness practitioner in aerospace. I noticed in meetings that when certain people began to speak everyone else fell quiet, turned toward the speaker and didn't interrupt. Conversely when others would try to speak they were immediately interrupted or not attended to.  Sometimes these same people in the latter group also had the right answer to a serious problem or an important insight that the group totally missed. As an organizational development practitioner, it's my job to notice these things so more often then not I would pull the conversation back to the passed over person so they could get heard for the better of the group and the company.

But I wondered, at this table of smart engineers and scientists, why do some get heard regardless of hierarchy or authority, more than others - consistently?

It's important to add that these people were consistently attended to - not just once. The reason I point this out is because sometimes charismatic people also get attended to. However, if they are only charismatic but don't have authentic presence it's short lived. We tire of them and whatever antics are behind their charisma.  I knew there had to be something more.

My book about presence.
In 2005 I started to study this by interviewing managers, leaders, and individual contributors to find out who in their spheres of influence they attended to most and why. A model of factors emerged that had far less to do the right tone of voice and a fancy suit than the popular literature at that time conveyed. My data was about knowing who you are in general and in the moment. From this I, along with my collaborator, John Ullmen, wrote a book about the topic for managers and created an instrument to measure the strength of someone's presence. In 2006 we started giving this instrument to John's executive MBA students and my executive clients and peers. Over time norms emerged and by 2013 I had more than enough data to refine the instrument using structural equation modeling and multivariate statistics. The exciting news is that the inventory has good reliability, validity and model fit. What all that means in terms of care-abouts for those who take it is that the inventory is actually measuring what it says it does. This statistical testing validated my hard work. 

The resulting instrument I named the Authentic Presence Inventory (API).  The term executive presence doesn't fit anymore - nor does it encompass all the API measures. Executive Presence as a term and a concept hasn't fit the reality of what presence actually is for a long time.  As it was used in the popular literature it was another term for that charismatic leader who epitomized societal norms and dressed right for the part - think Alec Baldwin's character in 30 Rock. Thankfully, genuine presence, authentic presence, is far more complex and diverse. 

Authentic presence is about understanding your purpose in life, being mindful as you move through your life and letting your ego go enough to not only notice others but get feedback from them too.  It's clear from the research that anyone can develop and gain more presence so that they get attended to. A person with authentic presence doesn't suck up all the available light around them - conversely they illuminate the room to allow for the best thinking. We have all met someone like this. If we are lucky we got to work for or with someone like this.  The good news is that anyone can develop authentic presence too. It's not an inborn trait.  And the people who have it, work at keeping it.

Authentic Presence is on my mind a lot this month as I prepare for my workshop on May 30th.  I would love to hear from you about how you have experienced others with authentic presence or better yet, experienced it in yourself. 

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Insights from Neil deGrasse Tyson on Genetic Differences Between Men and Women In Science

When I was in my college years I thought chauvinism was a thing of the past. It wasn't of course but I couldn't see it for what it was because I was at an early stage in my own feminist identity development. I felt the discrimination, for example when I would go to my philosophy professor's office after class to get a question answered he would take the boys first and leave me standing in the hallway after looking very annoyed at me and acting normally with them. I was a good student but he would not take me seriously. At the time I took it personally and wondered what it was about me that made him act this way.

Looking back I realize it was gender discrimination.  It frustrates me when I hear people reducing the issues of gender and skin color discrimination as not real or not really happening in western society.  In fact there are many kinds of discrimination leveraged daily and as prevalent as air. But to the privileged classes the discrimination is invisible. So it's great to see someone amongst the elite and privileged giving evidence very plainly to the reality of discrimination and ensuing stereotypes.  I truly hope these are changing and that the predominance of them will diminish as the diverse and outspoken members of Generation Y come into their own.

It's vacation week so not much time, but check out this great clip of Neil DeGrasse Tyson. Also, if you are interested in the different stages people go through in their identity development check out Sue and Sue's excellent book.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Productive Bravery – A Leadership Competency Worth Cultivating

When you give feedback as a leader the stakes are always high because there is work to be done and relationships to manage. Giving feedback is hard for anyone in any circumstance. I teach my students and coaching clients how to give great feedback and have studied different models of how to do this well.  Even so, when I have to give one of my faculty or my students critical feedback, I approach doing so with care and not without stress.

One of the reasons giving feedback is so hard is because, in US culture at least, there is a powerful social norm that tells us that it’s impolite to talk about impolite things. When leaders and managers give someone feedback about their performance they might give them the good, the great, and the stuff they need to address.  Additionally, if they care to build their relationships with their followers then their feedback is regular, relevant, specific and mainly focused on what is working well. If the manager or leader takes a typical approach then they address the good, the bad and the ugly, spending the most time on the bad.  When leaders focus only on what is not working they don’t help their followers develop critical competencies.  Competency flows from right and effective action. So letting employees know what they are doing well is more important for learning and sustained high performance then letting them know where they are failing. 

Some managers view the act of “managing” as a second job.  I hear managers complain that they,  "have to get back to their day job" versus spending time doing performance reviews. These are the leaders who only give feedback once a year based on limited observation. This approach leaves much to be desired and occurs far too frequently in part because of the strong norm that it is impolite to discuss impolite things.

Because it’s impolite, implicitly, to point out another person’s failings in our culture we avoid doing so and when we must we often are less direct and effective than we would like. I say implicitly because we know this without being told. Since we were toddlers our parents told us not to comment directly on others’ faults and differences. I remember going to my friend’s house for the first time as a 6 year old and my mother telling me before we arrived not to stare at my friend’s mother’s port wine birthmark that covered half her face. Of course when we got to their house, it was all I could look at and in under a nanosecond I pointed to it and asked, “What’s that?” Not one of my finer moments.  We learn at early ages the importance of being polite.  Turn the clock ahead 30 years and we are managing others and it’s our job to tell them what they are doing well and not so well.  Its our job to delve into the inherently impolite.

If you are a consultant and specializing in change interventions, then you are often in the position of telling whole teams of executives about what they are doing and not doing in the room.  A simple way consultants do this is the use of process consultation (thank you Edgar Schein) interventions such as, “Let’s take a moment to look at where we are in the process of this work. We set this time aside to brainstorm the problem but after only two minutes we are making decisions. Is the group ready to move to decision making?”

An example of a deeper group dynamics intervention (thank you Wilfred Bion and my friend Ara, a talented group dynamics consultant) is when the consultant says, “I am falling asleep here. Is anyone else bored with this topic?” This is how organizational development and change consultants intervene in their client systems to help those involved become conscious of what is really happening in the meeting.  They must bravely name the elephants in the room and point out disconnects between say and do – all in the territory of the impolite.

So how can leaders and consultants give corrective feedback and make interventions and still preserve relationships while also increasing productivity and the other person’s confidence? How can they overcome the very strong societal norms about what it means to be polite?

Cultivating self-awareness is an important first step. Yep – it starts with you. We are a species that engages in psychological projection much of the time. Projection is when we place our own fears, or annoyances, or issues we are dealing with onto others. Often when we judge other’s behaviors we are actually projecting our view of reality, which is incomplete, onto the other person. When we do this it is more revealing about our own state of mind and far less revealing about what is going on with the other person because we are not seeing them clearly.

This plays out in subtle and not so subtle ways. A famous example is the case of Heidi and Howard that my friend Maria, an expert in leadership development, details very well. You can see that based on societal norms around gender, male and female students judged this one leader very differently depending on whether they thought the leader was male or female. In companies this is pervasive. When a man speaks out confidently and challenges another, he is an assertive strong leader we want to work for. When a women acts the very same way she is aggressive and not someone we want to work for.  This is the pure projection we place on others based on societal norms that are ingrained in us from the earliest ages.

For another example of this, consider the manager who likes to approach tasks from start to finish in an orderly step by step fashion. This manager may be overly critical of an employee who thinks of the end product first and then skips around in what may seem chaotic but results in an equally great work product.  If the manager is not self aware of their preference for a step by step approach to work and that there are other equally effective approaches, they may under value a brilliant employee who simply has a different work style. The authors of the book Difficult Conversations give the example of the manager who keeps their own desk neat and tidy and is hyper critical of the work product from an employee who keeps their desk messy.  It can literally be as simple as that and just as insidious. Our unconscious judgments are quick, deep, and often inaccurate. We all judge others poorly at times because we have not stopped to examine the lens we are looking through. There is an old saying that only the fish doesn’t know that its water it’s swimming in. This lack of self awareness can cause leaders  to devalue the work of employees based, not on the work product itself, but the employee’s personal traits – some changeable like a messy desk but many not so changeable like gender.

Understanding what you value and what you don’t is the foundation for your judgments of others. Self-reflection on your own values is critical to avoid throwing the baby out with the bathwater, which is what happens if we only value employees who are most like us. Reflecting before acting is important to ensure we are acting as consciously as we can. Ask yourself simple questions like, why does that person bother me so much or why do I feel less confident about their work versus another employee? Ask these questions each five times to get to the root. Questioning the accuracy of your judgments is crucial.

The best leaders and consultants do the hard work of self-reflection AND they ask for feedback – often.  Asking your employee or client for feedback on what you could do differently and what you did well garners valuable information about how others experience you as well as leveling the playing field, which engenders collaboration. Getting feedback is the best way to increase your self-awareness, and if you take the feedback well while it’s being given, it builds trust with your employees and clients. 

21st Century leadership is inherently collaborative due to the increased complexity of work.  Collaboration for success requires trust and understanding the similarities and differences in work styles and values. Sharing these things up front in a low stakes setting saves time and garners more success than ignoring these differences and then having to deal with them when crisis hits.  Taking the time to reflect on your own judgments and feelings of others, having those tough conversations about “impolite things” and asking for feedback are acts that demonstrate what I call productive bravery – a leadership competency worth cultivating.