Category Archives: diversity

*Leadership ~ Four Ways to Keep It Real

Authenticity in leadership is a hot topic these days.  In fact, we read about it so often and hear it expressed in other media so much that I fear it is in danger of becoming one of those dreaded buzzwords.

To me though, authentic is something we strive to be.  There is no piece of software or manual that gives instructions on how to become an authentic leader.  It’s a personal thing.  And, somewhere along the way, we have to figure out how we turn the being of it into the doing.

The question is, in a world full of complexity, politics, big ideas and yes, even skullduggery, what can we do to ensure that we keep it real?

Here are some thoughts on that.

Stay grounded by making the work more important than ourselves

The ego, while an important and oft maligned part of the human psyche, has a propensity to grow to outlandish proportions with only the slightest encouragement if not tempered by a measure of humility.  Staying grounded is about remembering our core purpose; focusing on the work and on the people who must carry it out.  Ego trips can be personally satisfying but they are extravagances that most leaders can no longer afford.

Represent our values honestly. Practice them. Reinforce them.

Most organizations have stated values.  Values outline what is important.  They form part of the organizational culture.  Authenticity demands that those values are not only talked about but also enacted… every day. However, I think we can agree that talking about values is a great deal easier than living them.

For example  IBMAT&T and Exxon Mobil all sponsored the Masters Golf Tournament in Augusta Georgia in 2012.  The Augusta National Golf club is a particularly prestigious one. It is also a place where some pretty powerful CEOs conduct business so membership is not just about golf.  Also, in 2012, women were prohibited from membership in this club.

This presented something of a dilemma in the size and shape of Virginia Rometty, CEO of IBM.  At Augusta National it is tradition to present the CEO of a Masters tournament sponsor with membership to the club.   In Ms Rometty’s case no such offering was made.  From the perspective of the golf club, this conformed to their organizational values, whether we agree with them or not.  But, their decision to exclude the CEO of IBM would seem to fly in the face of the diversity that the sponsoring companies purport to value in their respective organizations.

This might have been a prime opportunity to act in alignment with a value they each say they espouse. And yet, they said nothing and did nothing.  To me, that puts the authenticity of their value of diversity into question. Simply put, if we choose to say one thing and do another, we are going to come up short in the keeping it real department.

Be mindful of the assumptions we make

We all make assumptions.  Sometimes we make decisions based on them with no adverse consequences.  Sometimes we assume certain things about people and we are right.  However, there are many more times when our assumptions are totally wrong.   When that happens and we take action based on what we think we know, that’s when reality can easily get away from us.  Keeping it real means that we stop from time to time and question the assumptions we are working from.

Make clarity and accuracy in communication a priority

Part of keeping it real is ensuring that the information we share with one another is useful and accurate.  Lots of things get in the way of that.  For instance, the flow of information can easily get snagged on grapevines where it becomes distorted and no longer reliable.  Some people too, believe that information is a commodity reserved for only a certain few.  While this may be true of some things, in the main, shared knowledge helps people do their jobs better, fuels new ideas and ensures that people are acting on something real.   Here’s an example of how failing to provide clear and accurate information can actually take you way off course.

That’s what I think anyway.  What do you think?

*This is a refreshed version of an April 2012 post 

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Filed under communication, diversity, Leadership, Leadership Development, Leadership Values, organizational culture, Organizational Effectiveness

*Leadership and the Value of Exploring Beyond Your Door

Jabiroo&MtRainierBefore I start, just let me say, I am not a sailor.  In fact being one of those humans with middle-ear issues, my experience with anything that goes with the flow has been known to involve something decidedly, and messily, unpleasant.  I have, however, nothing but admiration for those who choose, (and have the stomach for) sailing.  In fact, I’m slightly jealous of them.  There is a certain kind of freedom associated with living out on the open water.  It offers experiences that go beyond the imagination of the ordinary landlubber.  And, it proffers the kind of education that expands the worldview in a way that no bricks and mortar educational institution could match.

Witness Tristan Bridge, a thirteen year-old sailor and writer who produced this remarkable essay:

http://gwynteatro.files.wordpress.com/2014/02/2f19f-quotationmarks_edited.jpg?w=43&h=41

I am born from days without seeing land, those days when the horizons seem to blend into one another.  I am from the swells of the ocean rocking me to sleep; then I wake up and I’m not quite sure which country I’m in.  I am from those hours when the world seems to pause finally stopping to catch a breath.  I am from the most isolated settings, places that have yet to feel the taint of human interference.  I am an adolescent of the world, born from the simplicity of life, caught somewhere in between passive existence and the struggles of mortality.

Exploring by Cheval, my family’s Outremer 55 catamaran, is a way of existence.  We are the people with an unquenchable desire for answers.  We are the people who truly have no bounds.  The world unfolds at our hands – a mixture of peoples, a mixture of every lifestyle.  There are no boundaries to our curiosity.  We live only to cross the next horizon, to set foot on the next continent.  Our shoes have trod the corners of life.  We flourish in the secluded portions of our globe, and we retain experiences from each place we visit.  Our planet has much to offer; many possibilities await us.  Out at sea, anything can happen; places exist that seem beyond the imagination, and there are people to meet who define kindness.  I challenge you to immerse yourself in cultures and learn the traditions of our world.  Cast off the chains of immobility, because there’s something beyond your door”

We may not all be sailors.  But what this passage says to me is that we can all be explorers of one kind or another.  And, if you are a leader in any capacity and haven’t yet thought beyond the boundaries of your balance sheet, you may be wise to better develop the muscle that will stimulate your own unquenchable desire for answers”.

You should do this because the world is small and you will need to understand what’s going on in it if you are going to survive.  That sounds dramatic, I know. But, more and more I’m noticing that success, and happiness too, depend on people being able to work together effectively. It’s so much easier to do that if you can bring empathy and wisdom that comes from varied experience to the table.

That’s the philosophy anyway.  And, from the level of maturity and intelligence that emanates from Tristan Bridge, it is a pretty sound one.

On a more practical level, aside from setting sail to places unknown, how might more leaders widen their own worldview and provide similar opportunities for those who follow them?

Well, not being short on opinions, I have some thoughts about that and here they are:

Read widely and encourage others to do the same ~. This may sound like a given but in my observation, those who read a wide variety of material seem better able to make bigger picture connections.  I’m not talking about just reading business books.  While those can be helpful in building skill, to achieve more worldly understanding I think you have to read other kinds of books too including novels, biographies and history books, magazines and newspapers.  As well, for those who prefer visual learning, there are a great many excellent films that serve to open eyes and provoke thought.  All these provide much insight into human nature, trends and patterns of behaviour.

Honour Diversity ~ This speaks to Tristan’s challenge to “immerse yourself in cultures and learn the traditions of the world”.  It’s not easy, this diversity thing.  We are creatures of habit.  We like structure.  We are fond of our opinions and our biases.  And yet, there is much to be learned from seeking to understand other perspectives and from being curious about how the world works for someone else.  It helps us build empathy and while empathizing does not equal agreeing it can help us to soften the edges of our rigidity and open doors to things we may not have considered before.

Engage people whose experience is deeper and richer than the content of their resumes ~ Some leaders will seek solely to hire those whose academic credentials will meet, or even exceed, job requirements. While this certainly has to hold weight in hiring decisions, those who bring rich life experience to the table often prove to be better decision-makers and problem-solvers than those who don’t.

==================================

The bottom line is that success in these times depends on our ability to reach beyond our current level of understanding about the world and about each other. Whether we choose to sail to far-flung places or find other ways to expand our knowledge, we must reach out and explore beyond our own particular doors.

That’s what I think anyway.  What do you think?

*Originally published in December 2012

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Filed under building awareness, diversity, Leadership, Leadership Development, Learning

4 Barriers to Effective Communication & What to Do About Them

Communication is a big deal.  And, getting it right is an ongoing challenge for everyone.  Maybe that’s why this post, originally written in 2011, has received the most visits of all other posts on this blog.  Its’ message provides only a small piece of the communication jigsaw puzzle but, you never know, it just might be a corner piece.

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I’m wondering how many words have actually been written about communication. Suffice it to say there have been a great many.    I suppose it is because we haven’t cracked it yet, this ability to convey messages so that what we say is heard in the way we mean it and conversely what we hear is received in the way it was meant.   Indeed, the road to clarity always seems to be under construction.

Even if we try to simplify our communication processes, barriers come up that can sabotage the message and render it ineffective by the time it gets to those who must act on it.  There are a lot of reasons for this.   Here are four that come to mind for me.

Cultural Barriers

There are many factors that make up what we refer to as “culture” but to me, cultural difference is about attitudes and beliefs that come from our personal environment and experience.  As such, two people could get the same message but interpret it in two entirely different ways simply because their frames of reference and language differ.

Here is an example from a Scandinavian advertising campaign.  It was developed for the vacuum cleaner Manufacturer, Electrolux, then interpreted and  used, without modification, in the company’s American campaign.  It read, “Nothing Sucks like an Electrolux”  

What To Do

  • Consider the cultural makeup of the intended audience.
  • Seek to understand where there are differences.
  • Fashion the message to ensure that it says what you mean and also takes those differences into account.

Linguistic Barriers

Variance in expression or colloquialism is common even among those who speak the same language.

When my parents brought our family to Canada from England, there were a lot of expressions we used that were interpreted differently in our new country.  This once placed my mother in an embarrassing situation when she was sitting around a table with her co-workers one day discussing the time they each got up in the morning to get ready for work. When it came to my mother’s turn to speak, she said, “My husband knocks me up every morning at 7:30”.

It was only after the laughter had died down did someone explain to her the North American meaning associated with what she had just said.

What To Do

  • Minimize the use of slang and idioms when delivering the message
  • Keep the language used in the message simple and as free as possible from business speak or (dare I say it) sports metaphors.
  • Make clarity and simplicity the goal over showcasing linguistic ability.

Biases

We all have them.  Bias is, after all, shaped by our experiences and who we are.  It becomes an obstacle to effective communication though when we consciously or subconsciously choose to speak only to those who are more likely to understand and agree with us.  It’s natural.  But in leadership, it is also important to extend the reach of our message to those whose biases do not necessarily align with our own.

The workplace, for example, now employs more than one generation of people.  Each generation has its view of the world.  Each generation also has its challenges.  And yet, the messages you send must finds ways to reach and engage everyone to be effective.

What To Do

  • Acknowledge your own biases first
  • Look through the lens of those who are least likely to align with your views
  • Listen.
  • Fashion your message to include something that everyone can relate to.

Assumptions

It was Oscar Wilde who said, “When you assume, you make an ass out of U and Me”  

Assumptions sabotage effective communication and have the potential to lead everyone down unintended paths.  For instance, you may assume that because people are nodding while you speak, they understand and agree with what you are saying. Similarly, if you invite questions about your message and get none, it would be easy to assume there are none.   The truth is, few people will risk the potential embarrassment of being the only one who doesn’t agree with or understand your message or doesn’t know what to ask.   To assume they do would be a mistake.

What to do

  • Work on the basis that all your assumptions could be false
  • Make your assumptions known to others to determine their validity
  • Anticipate questions and concerns that could come out of your message and bring them up to encourage conversation

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Communication barriers are always going to be with us because humans are complex beings. That’s what makes understanding and being understood such a challenge…and sometimes a great source of fun. Like this…

That’s what I think anyway. What do you think?

(Please note the video clip is used here for illustration purposes only and in no way meant to infringe on copyright)

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Filed under communication, diversity, Employee engagement, Leadership, Leadership Development, Organizational Effectiveness

Valuing Difference…Here’s to the Crazy Ones

This post was originally published a few days after the death of Steve Jobs.  It made me think about how we spend so much of our time trying to fit in when really, we could be making better use of it exploring ways to value our differences.

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In the wake of his untimely death, I’ve been reading a little about Steve Jobs.  From all accounts, he was a genius; something of a rebel; a free soul and a person who didn’t only think outside the box (oh how I’m beginning to loathe that expression) but simply chose not to acknowledge the existence of a box in the first place.

We revere him now because, as Steven Spielberg aptly observes, “Steve Jobs was the greatest inventor since Thomas Edison.  He put the World at our fingertips”

That’s some legacy.

All this has set me to wondering about our general approach to people who are decidedly different from the rest of us.  As kids, we shun, tease and bully them.  As teenagers, we use labels that are less than flattering to separate ourselves from them because they are “uncool”.    And, as adults in the workplace we do our best to compel those who are different to conform to generally accepted, often unwritten, codes of behaviour.

Occasionally, a brave and determined soul will break through all that nonsense and create something truly wonderful. It’s usually something the rest of us can only dream about. That’s when being different finally becomes something to celebrate and honour.

There’s a leadership lesson in here somewhere.  It’s about allowing difference to enhance the texture of organizational life.  The truth is, we are each different from the other.  By perpetuating organizational cultures that expect us all to be the same, we are limiting our potential to uncover and encourage the kind of activity that leads us to great invention and accomplishment.

While it’s true that not everyone considered different is going to be a genius, those who look through an uncommon lens have something to teach us.  We need to make room for that.

One of my favourite books about difference is  A Peacock in the Land of Penguinswritten by B.J. Gallagher Hateley and Warren H. Schmidt.   This little book clearly demonstrates our struggle between accepting differences and pushing against having to do anything different.  More about this book here.

The bottom line is this.  Leadership is about a lot of things.  Among them is having the courage and vision to embrace the ideas and contribution of those whose experience and perspectives challenge us.  Doing so is important to our present and most certainly to our future.

So, “Here’s to the Crazy Ones”

What do you think?

4 Comments

Filed under building awareness, diversity, Leadership, Leadership Development, Uncategorized

Leadership and the Value of Exploring Beyond Your Door

‘Jabiroo’ & Mount Rainier

Before I start, just let me say, I am not a sailor.  In fact being one of those humans with middle-ear issues, my experience with anything that goes with the flow has been known to involve something decidedly, and messily, unpleasant.  I have, however, nothing but admiration for those who choose, (and have the stomach for) sailing.  In fact, I’m slightly jealous of them.  There is a certain kind of freedom associated with living out on the open water.  It offers experiences that go beyond the imagination of the ordinary landlubber.  And, it proffers the kind of education that expands the worldview in a way that no bricks and mortar educational institution could match.

Witness Tristan Bridge, a thirteen year-old sailor and writer who produced this remarkable essay:

http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_te6Auhb9B1M/RualM7PM1mI/AAAAAAAAAMI/oRJaQRskKms/s200/quotation+marks_edited.jpg

I am born from days without seeing land, those days when the horizons seem to blend into one another.  I am from the swells of the ocean rocking me to sleep; then I wake up and I’m not quite sure which country I’m in.  I am from those hours when the world seems to pause finally stopping to catch a breath.  I am from the most isolated settings, places that have yet to feel the taint of human interference.  I am an adolescent of the world, born from the simplicity of life, caught somewhere in between passive existence and the struggles of mortality.

Exploring by Cheval, my family’s Outremer 55 catamaran, is a way of existence.  We are the people with an unquenchable desire for answers.  We are the people who truly have no bounds.  The world unfolds at our hands – a mixture of peoples, a mixture of every lifestyle.  There are no boundaries to our curiosity.  We live only to cross the next horizon, to set foot on the next continent.  Our shoes have trod the corners of life.  We flourish in the secluded portions of our globe, and we retain experiences from each place we visit.  Our planet has much to offer; many possibilities await us.  Out at sea, anything can happen; places exist that seem beyond the imagination, and there are people to meet who define kindness.  I challenge you to immerse yourself in cultures and learn the traditions of our world.  Cast off the chains of immobility, because there’s something beyond your door”

We may not all be sailors.  But what this passage says to me is that we can all be explorers of one kind or another.  And, if you are a leader in any capacity and haven’t yet thought beyond the boundaries of your balance sheet, you may be wise to better develop the muscle that will stimulate your own unquenchable desire for answers”.

You should do this because the world is small and you will need to understand what’s going on in it if you are going to survive.  That sounds dramatic, I know. But, more and more I’m noticing that success, and happiness too, depend on people being able to work together effectively. It’s so much easier to do that if you can bring empathy and wisdom that comes from varied experience to the table.

That’s the philosophy anyway.  And, from the level of maturity and intelligence that emanates from Tristan Bridge, it is a pretty sound one.

On a more practical level, aside from setting sail to places unknown, how might more leaders widen their own worldview and provide similar opportunities for those who follow them?

Well, not being short on opinions, I have some thoughts about that and here they are:

Read widely and encourage others to do the same ~. This may sound like a given but in my observation, those who read a wide variety of material seem better able to make bigger picture connections.  I’m not talking about just reading business books.  While those can be helpful in building skill, to achieve more worldly understanding I think you have to read other kinds of books too including novels, biographies and history books, magazines and newspapers.  As well, for those who prefer visual learning, there are a great many excellent films that serve to open eyes and provoke thought.  All these provide much insight into human nature, trends and patterns of behaviour.

Honour Diversity ~ This speaks to Tristan’s challenge to “immerse yourself in cultures and learn the traditions of the world”.  It’s not easy, this diversity thing.  We are creatures of habit.  We like structure.  We are fond of our opinions and our biases.  And yet, there is much to be learned from seeking to understand other perspectives and from being curious about how the world works for someone else.  It helps us build empathy and while empathizing does not equal agreeing it can help us to soften the edges of our rigidity and open doors to things we may not have considered before.

Engage people whose experience is deeper and richer than the content of their resumes ~ Some leaders will seek solely to hire those whose academic credentials will meet, or even exceed, job requirements. While this certainly has to hold weight in hiring decisions, those who bring rich life experience to the table often prove to be better decision-makers and problem-solvers than those who don’t.

============================================================

The bottom line is that success in these times will depend on our ability to reach beyond our current level of understanding about the world and about each other. Whether we choose to sail to far-flung places or find other ways to expand our knowledge, we must reach out and explore beyond our own particular doors.

That’s what I think anyway.  What do you think?

10 Comments

Filed under building awareness, diversity, Leadership, Leadership Development, Learning

Collaboration and the Value of the Dissenting Voice

Although the word collaboration can conjure up images of people working happily together, I rather think we would get closer to reality if we included a few arguments, some eye-rolling and some exasperated over-emoted sighs to round out the picture. Mostly this kind of friction happens because, as individuals, we differ from each other in culture, experience and skill.  The perspectives we hold come from those things.  And, as human beings, we can cling to them stubbornly, shutting out the possibility that there may be another way.

But, if we want to truly extract the best ideas and create the best outcomes, we must be prepared to include the likelihood that our view is not always going to be the best.  That means making room for the friction and the dissenting voices of those who look at things through a different lens and have the courage to share what they see.

Here’s a quick and entertaining example from the great comedy team of Abbott and Costello:

I don’t know about you, but at times, I have discounted the opinions of others because their logic sounded wrong or what they were saying had, in my view, no bearing on the matter at hand.  In those situations, I wonder what might have happened had I spent just a few more minutes listening and trying to understand.  Of course, there was always the possibility that what was being said was complete drivel.  But, it was equally possible there was something there of great value that was lost because I failed to take the time to really listen.

In a World where time is at a premium, I don’t suppose the behaviour I describe is unique.  So many of us spend our days striving to get to the end, or accomplish a goal and yet sacrifice the quality of what we produce by ignoring the voices that don’t seem to have a place on our personal radar screens.

I think there are lessons here regardless of whether we need to make room for the dissenting voice or we are the dissenting voice.

For instance, to make room for the dissenting voice I think it helps to:

Develop a discipline of drawing out those who may be reluctant to speak

Some people can feel overpowered by the common opinion.  In fact, they may believe their own view to be less important because it is different.  And so they stay quiet so as not to rock the boat.   Drawing them into the conversation can make it more real and provide the opportunity for a wider variety of ideas to be shared.

Provide enough time for reflection, curiosity and discussion

Of course if you make room for the dissenting voice, you also must make time for people to ask questions, explore, challenge and think about what is being said.  It may take longer but the conversation will be enriched because of it.

Give the ‘Dissenting Voice’ a place at the table

That means, when you come together to discuss some aspect of your work together, assign a virtual place for the ‘Dissenting Voice’.  Over the course of your discussion, stop from time to time, and invite people to place themselves in a perspective, they may not currently hold.  Sometimes this will give rise to a new idea that may not have otherwise surfaced.  And, It will encourage those who really do think differently to become part of the conversation.

Conversely, if you differ in experience, perspective or opinion from the rest, I think it helps to:

Find the courage to stand up and speak

While it can be nerve-wracking to stand up and share an opposing view, it can also be very liberating.  Little is accomplished by waiting until a meeting is over to voice an adverse opinion, to no one in particular.  If you want to be counted in, stand up and be counted.  It matters.

Ask questions that provoke thought

Sometimes a well-placed question can slow the momentum of a meeting long enough to allow thoughts to take a much needed detour.  Questions that begin with “what would happen if….?” Or “How might ‘X’ apply to this situation?” can spark ideas not yet explored.

Explain the relevance of your view to the subject at hand

If your view represents a big departure from the prevailing thinking, you stand a better chance of having it heard if you explain how it connects with the subject under discussion and the value it brings to realizing a successful outcome.

Abraham Lincoln has been quoted as saying, “ It is the man who does not want to express an opinion whose opinion I want”

From that I surmise that Mr. Lincoln was keen to be informed on many levels, to solve the right problems and to make good decisions more often than bad ones.

When it comes to working collaboratively, I expect that’s what we all want.

That’s what I think anyway.  What do you think?

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Filed under communication, diversity, Leadership

Philosophy and the Corporate Boardroom

I was having a conversation with my son the other day.  We were talking about higher education and business.  At some point, those two conversations, while starting out separately, merged.  I think it was when he told me about a respected business colleague whose strongly held opinions included the notion that philosophy graduates have no place at a corporate boardroom table.  I’ve been thinking about that conversation ever since.

It reminded me that in spite of our teetering world economy, we continue to cling to what we consider to be tried and true.  In so many organizations, finance, economics and the pursuit of individual prosperity continue to be the only subjects worthy of respect and concentration.   It used to work.  The business world was the land of bottom lines.  The workforce did what it was told.   The planet was comprised of a collection of unconnected entities.  Their markets did not affect each other that much and so they operated in parallel without much worry about the impact they made on each other.  They drove for profit and the road to get there was pretty straight.

We still want profit and prosperity…of course we do.  But it is a changed world and the route to get there is less evident. That makes leadership more complex than before and the successful leader, a person who must practice both the science and the art of it.   It is not that any one individual must have all of the attributes that today’s leadership demands.   Rather, leaders must have foresight enough to ask those with skills and perspectives different from their own to sit at the decision table with them.

In my mind that includes extending an invitation to the philosopher.

There are many definitions of philosophy.   The simplest one goes like this:   Philosophy is the critical analysis of fundamental assumptions and beliefs”

As well, its purpose is to, “investigate the nature and causes of reality, knowledge, or values, based on logical reasoning”.  This latter definition highlights the difference between philosophic reasoning and empirical data that are gained through observation, experience or experiment.  Simply put, the one is many shades of grey and the other, mainly black and white.  While I think we have always needed both disciplines to achieve business success, in today’s world there seem to be more grey areas than black and white.  And so, those who are skilled in navigating in the fog are needed more than ever before.

When some people think about philosophy, I suspect they conjure up the image of people who spend their days with their heads in the clouds contemplating existentialism or other unearthly ideas. So before this post goes off into the stratosphere somewhere, let’s look at how the philosopher might contribute to business success in more practical terms.

Critical thinking

Critical thinking asks us to question our assumptions.  I don’t know if you’ve noticed it but in general, human beings are really good at assuming. Someone who undertakes the role of philosopher around the decision making table would serve a more than useful purpose by questioning the things we take for granted and challenging our sacred cows.  After all, in this new and rapidly changing time, nothing seems to be sacred any more.  Those things we assume or hold so dear could be the very things that get in the way of achieving the prosperity we seek.

Tolerance for diverse opinion

Those with a philosophical leaning have a greater tolerance for diverse opinion because they are curious about ideas; where they come from and their potential for useful application. Developing this kind of tolerance is important.   It helps to keep the mind open to possibilities outside the boundaries of current understanding. And, somewhere among all those thoughts and ideas is often something truly worthwhile.  It’s like mining for gold.  A lot of digging has to happen before the treasure can be found.

Systems thinking

Now more than ever we must seek to understand patterns and how ideas, choices and actions influence each other.  Through technology, the World has become more accessible to more people.  We see more.  We experience more.  And we know too, that whatever we choose to do in our individual worlds will affect something else, somewhere else.  More often than not, the philosophical types will be the ones who see the connection first and ask the questions that need to be asked so that decisions made and actions taken align with current reality and future possibility.

Do I mean that we must abandon our focus on finance and economics and Individual prosperity?  No, I’m not suggesting that.  I am suggesting that we make room for greater focus on the way we achieve prosperity; on expanding our definition of what it means to be prosperous; by thinking systemically and critically; and by building our tolerance for diverse ideas and opinion.

Bertrand Russell once said,  “In all affairs, it’s a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on the things you have long taken for granted”

I think the philosophy graduate might be just the person to help us do that.

What do you think?

36 Comments

Filed under diversity, Leadership, Leadership Development, Leadership Values, NOWLeadership, Organizational Effectiveness

Keeping It Real

Authenticity in leadership is a hot topic these days.  In fact, we read about it so often and hear it expressed in other media so much that I fear it is in danger of becoming one of those dreaded buzzwords.

To me though, authentic is something we strive to be.  There is no piece of software or manual that gives instructions on how to become an authentic leader.  It’s a personal thing.  And, somewhere along the way, we have to figure out how we turn the being of it into the doing.

The question is, in a world full of complexity, politics, big ideas and yes, even skullduggery, what can we do to ensure that we keep it real?

Here are some thoughts on that.

Stay grounded by making the work more important than ourselves

The ego, while an important and oft maligned part of the human psyche, has a propensity to grow to outlandish proportions with only the slightest encouragement if not tempered by a measure of humility.  Staying grounded is about remembering our core purpose; focusing on the work and on the people who must carry it out.  Ego trips can be personally satisfying but they are extravagances that most leaders can no longer afford.

Represent our values honestly. Practice them. Reinforce them.

Most organizations have stated values.  Values outline what is important.  They form part of the organizational culture.  Authenticity demands that those values are not only talked about but also enacted… every day. However, I think we can agree that talking about values is a great deal easier than living them.

For example, recently IBM, AT&T and Exxon Mobil all sponsored the Masters Golf Tournament in Augusta Georgia.  The Augusta National Golf club is a particularly prestigious one. It is also a place where some pretty powerful CEOs conduct business so membership is not just about golf.  At this club too, women are prohibited from membership.

This presented something of a dilemma in the size and shape of Virginia Rometty, CEO of IBM.  At Augusta National it is tradition to present the CEO of a Masters tournament sponsor with membership to the club.   In Ms Rometty’s case no such offering was made.  From the perspective of the golf club, this conformed to their organizational values, whether we agree with them or not.  But, their decision to exclude the CEO of IBM would seem to fly in the face of the diversity that the sponsoring companies purport to value in their respective organizations.

This might have been a prime opportunity to act in alignment with a value they each say they espouse. And yet, they said nothing and did nothing.  To me, that puts the authenticity of their value of diversity into question. Simply put, if we choose to say one thing and do another, we are going to come up short in the keeping it real department.

Be mindful of the assumptions we make

We all make assumptions.  Sometimes we make decisions based on them with no adverse consequences.  Sometimes we assume certain things about people and we are right.  However, there are other times when our assumptions can be totally out to lunch.   When that happens and we take action based on what we think we know, that’s when reality can easily get away from us.  Keeping it real means that we stop from time to time and question the assumptions we are working from.

Make clarity and accuracy in communication a priority

Part of keeping it real is ensuring that the information we share with one another is useful and accurate.  Lots of things get in the way of that.  For instance, the flow of information can easily get snagged on grapevines where it becomes distorted and no longer reliable.  Some people too, believe that information is a commodity reserved for only a certain few.  While this may be true of some things, in the main, shared knowledge helps people do their jobs better, fuels new ideas and ensures that people are acting on something real.   Here’s an example of how failing to provide clear and accurate information can actually take you way off course.

So, how about you? How do you keep it real?  What do you think?

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Filed under communication, diversity, Leadership, Leadership Development, Leadership Values, Organizational Effectiveness, Uncategorized

4 Barriers to Effective Communication & What to Do About Them

I’m wondering how many words have actually been written about communication. Suffice it to say there have been a great many.    I suppose it is because we haven’t cracked it yet, this ability to convey messages so that what we say is heard in the way we mean it and conversely what we hear is received in the way it was meant.   Indeed, the road to clarity always seems to be under construction.

Even if we try to simplify our communication processes, barriers come up that can sabotage the message and render it ineffective by the time it gets to those who must act on it.  There are a lot of reasons for this.   Here are four that come to mind for me.

Cultural Barriers

There are many factors that make up what we refer to as “culture” but to me, cultural difference is about attitudes and beliefs that come from our personal environment and experience.  As such, two people could get the same message but interpret it in two entirely different ways simply because their frames of reference and language differ.

Here is an example from a Scandinavian advertising campaign.  It was developed for the vacuum cleaner Manufacturer, Electrolux, then interpreted and  used, without modification, in the company’s American campaign.  It read, “Nothing Sucks like an Electrolux”  

What To Do

  • Consider the cultural makeup of the intended audience.
  • Seek to understand where there are differences.
  • Fashion the message to ensure that it says what you mean and also takes those differences into account.

Linguistic Barriers

Variance in expression or colloquialism is common even among those who speak the same language.

When my parents brought our family to Canada from England, there were a lot of expressions we used that were interpreted differently in our new country.  This once placed my mother in an embarrassing situation when she was sitting around a table with her co-workers one day discussing the time they each got up in the morning to get ready for work. When it came to my mother’s turn to speak, she said, “My husband knocks me up every morning at 7:30”.

It was only after the laughter had died down did someone explain to her the North American meaning associated with what she had just said.

What To Do

  • Minimize the use of slang and idioms when delivering the message
  • Keep the language used in the message simple and as free as possible from business speak or (dare I say it) sports metaphors.
  • Make clarity and simplicity the goal over showcasing linguistic ability.

Biases

We all have them.  Bias is, after all, shaped by our experiences and who we are.  It becomes an obstacle to effective communication though when we consciously or subconsciously choose to speak only to those who are more likely to understand and agree with us.  It’s natural.  But in leadership, it is also important to extend the reach of our message to those whose biases do not necessarily align with our own.

The workplace, for example, now employs more than one generation of people.  Each generation has its view of the world.  Each generation also has its challenges.  And yet, the messages you send must finds ways to reach and engage everyone to be effective.

What To Do

  • Acknowledge your own biases first
  • Look through the lens of those who are least likely to align with your views
  • Listen.
  • Fashion your message to include something that everyone can relate to.

Assumptions

It was Oscar Wilde who said, “When you assume, you make an ass out of U and Me”  

Assumptions sabotage effective communication and have the potential to lead everyone down unintended paths.  For instance, you may assume that because people are nodding while you speak, they understand and agree with what you are saying. Similarly, if you invite questions about your message and get none, it would be easy to assume there are none.   The truth is, few people will risk the potential embarrassment of being the only one who doesn’t agree with or understand your message or doesn’t know what to ask.   To assume they do would be a mistake.

What to do

  • Work on the basis that all your assumptions could be false
  • Make your assumptions known to others to determine their validity
  • Anticipate questions and concerns that could come out of your message and bring them up to encourage conversation

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Communication barriers are always going to be with us because humans are complex beings. I think that’s what makes it a challenge…and sometimes a great source of fun.  The following is a fine illustration of how easily we can get things wrong even in everyday conversation.

What do you think?

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Filed under communication, diversity, Employee engagement, Leadership, Leadership Development, Organizational Effectiveness, Uncategorized

Valuing Differences…Here’s to the Crazy Ones

In the wake of his untimely death, I’ve been reading a little about Steve Jobs.  From all accounts, he was a genius; something of a rebel; a free soul and a person who didn’t only think outside the box (oh how I’m beginning to loathe that expression) but simply chose not to acknowledge the existence of a box in the first place.

We revere him now because, as Steven Spielberg aptly observes, “Steve Jobs was the greatest inventor since Thomas Edison.  He put the World at our fingertips”

That’s some legacy.

All this has set me to wondering about our general approach to people who are decidedly different from the rest of us.  As kids, we shun, tease and bully them.  As teenagers, we use labels that are less than flattering to separate ourselves from them because they are “uncool”.    And, as adults in the workplace we do our best to compel those who are different to conform to generally accepted, often unwritten, codes of behaviour.

Occasionally, a brave and determined soul will break through all that nonsense and create something truly wonderful. It’s usually something the rest of us can only dream about. That’s when being different finally becomes something to celebrate and honour.

There’s a leadership lesson in here somewhere.  It’s about allowing difference to enhance the texture of organizational life.  The truth is, we are each different from the other.  By perpetuating organizational cultures that expect us all to be the same, we are limiting our potential to uncover and encourage the kind of activity that leads us to great invention and accomplishment.

While it’s true that not everyone considered different is going to be a genius, those who look through an uncommon lens have something to teach us.  We need to make room for that.

One of my favourite books about difference is  A Peacock in the Land of Penguinswritten by B.J. Gallagher Hateley and Warren H. Schmidt.   This little book clearly demonstrates our struggle between accepting differences and pushing against having to do anything different.  There is more about this book here.

The bottom line is this.  Leadership is about a lot of things.  Among them is having the courage and vision to embrace the ideas and contribution of those whose experience and perspectives challenge us.  Doing so is important to our present and most certainly to our future.

So, “Here’s to the Crazy Ones”

What do you think?

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Filed under building awareness, diversity, Leadership, Leadership Vision, Organizational Effectiveness