Category Archives: Leadership Values

Philosophy and the Corporate Boardroom

philosophyI 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 ever precarious 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 these rapidly changing times, 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?

Note:  This post was originally published in May, 2012

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

Sincerity…A Leadership Imperative

crossed-fingersSincerity. It is perhaps not a word that springs to mind first when we think about highly successful and powerful business leaders but in today’s uncertain world there are things we need to be able to count on. Sincerity in our leaders is one of those things.

The word sincerity likely has a number of definitions. To me, it is simply about representing ourselves genuinely, without guile or hypocrisy. And, like most worthwhile qualities, talking about being sincere is easier than actually living it.

There are a lot of temptations out there…temptations to pretend we are more knowledgeable, more experienced, more skilled, more empathetic, more important, even wealthier than we really are.  I know.  We have our reasons for doing it but the truth is, most of them are self serving.   And we all know by now that good leadership is rarely about us.

So, not only must leaders be personally vigilant about their own sincerity, they must also be on the look out for it when they are choosing people for leadership roles or helping them develop leadership skills.

In truth, it’s not that easy to spot. It requires us to look beyond the words for consistency and alignment of words and actions.

I’m reminded of a time when I attended a function where sincerity, my own included, was notably absent.

It was Christmastime and our organization participated in a number of activities to support charitable causes. Often, we would “buy” a table at a luncheon benefit with net proceeds going to the charity in question.

On this one particular winter’s day, eight of us were walking from the office building to such a luncheon being hosted at an upscale hotel a few blocks away.

We walked in a bunch; all well wrapped and well shod, happily chatting together about nothing terribly important. There were other bunches of business people as well, walking in the same direction and equally well dressed.

About one block from our destination, we passed a man sitting on the sidewalk. His hair was long, as was his beard and he held in his hand a Styrofoam cup and sign that said something like, “Hungry, Please Help”.

I suppose none of us will really know whether or not this man was representing himself sincerely but he was obviously not doing very well.

My group and I, (engrossed in our conversation and barely noticing the man), walked past him.

The people walking behind us did the same, with one exception. One man stopped long enough to look at the man and say, “Get a job”.

On hearing this, I remember feeling ashamed of myself for not acknowledging the man and giving him something to ease the pain of his day. I remember too, feeling appalled and outraged by the other man’s “get a job” comment. It was an ignorant, throwaway remark that lacked any kind of compassion or decency.

But we all moved on, in a hurry, not to be late for our important luncheon.

We reached our table and seated ourselves. A few minutes later Mr. Get-a-Job and his colleagues also entered the room. The irony of this story became clear then. We were all there in support of the Salvation Army to help raise funds for the vital work they do to ease the lives of people just like the man we had seen sitting on the sidewalk… and so conveniently ignored.

On that day, it was clear too, that although we were physically present at the luncheon, we had left our sincerity behind, choosing instead to focus on being seen to do the right thing rather than actually doing it.

In today’s environment there is little time for this kind of posturing. We are being asked to step up and out of our pretenses. I’m working on it because in my book, sincerity in leadership, (whether we lead only ourselves or multitudes of others), is a pretty big deal.

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

Note: Original post published in July 2011

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Filed under building awareness, Leadership, Leadership Development, Leadership Values, Servant Leadership

Four Reasons for Insisting on Civility at Work

While we all  decry bullying, some may believe that civility is a minor consideration at work, especially when we are constantly plagued by looming deadlines and demands. Who has time to be polite? Who has time to say please and thank you or stop to consider the effect our behaviour is having on those around us? And, why should we care as long as we’re getting the job done?

Well, I think we have to care and we have to make time. In fact, to me, good manners and consideration for others should be embedded in the culture of every organization. Here are at least four reasons why:

Successful collaboration is not possible without it.

Collaboration is a key word in today’s workplace. When we work together to achieve a common, mutually beneficial goal, it is often the case that impatience will raise its’ ugly head and start goading us into saying things we might not otherwise entertain. It is at these times when a good dose of civility is required. Rude and self-indulgent remarks simply get in the way of achieving a satisfactory outcome. In this context, I like what Wikipedia has to say about civility. “Civility gives us the means to disagree without being disagreeable” That kind of says it all doesn’t it?

How people treat each other inside the organization will reflect, for good or ill, outside the organization

This just makes good sense. Those who work in an atmosphere where good manners are the norm will, for the most part respond to their customers and others, in kind. There’s nothing complicated about that. And, for some reason it is my guess that customers are more willing to part with their money if they feel they are being treated with respect.

People make their best effort when they feel acknowledged and important

I started my work life in the mailroom of a bank. My job was to open mail and deliver it to its intended recipients in a department of approximately three hundred people. Many department managers either completely ignored me or made me the unfortunate recipient of rude, bad tempered remarks. A few however, received their mail with good grace, responding with a well-placed thank you and a smile. When this happened, I actually felt I was doing something of value. It was a small gesture but always with a big result and a willingness on my part to do more for those managers who had taken the time to acknowledge my existence, despite my lowly placement on the hierarchical ladder.

Civility is key to building relationships and reputations through Social Media

Today, workplaces extend beyond our walls and borders through technology. Every day, we send e-mails, text messages and tweets to people, some of whom we have never met face-to-face. To me, civility is an important part of communicating through this media. After all, when we say something on e-mail, Facebook or Twitter it is captured forever. We can’t take it back. And, it shapes the image we create of ourselves which can either reflect who we really are or cast a shadow over us that is difficult to overcome

Some people might pride themselves in their ability to rattle others with rude behaviour. They say things like, “This is who I am. Get used to it”.

But civility is not about who we are. It is about how we choose to behave. And, insisting on good manners simply makes sense. It matters.

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

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Perceptions of Leadership ~ Changing the Record

0716_Slide2_blog_inlineRecently, I  read an interesting article that started me thinking about the messages we send out to our children concerning what it is to be a manager. I was thinking too, or perhaps worrying, that in spite of herculean efforts on the part of many ‘experts’ to change the perception of what it takes to be a good manager, we seem to be failing to convey a more enlightened message than the one that prevailed at the beginning of the Industrial Age.

The Article, written by Hal Gregersen for Businessweek.com is entitled, “What Do Managers Do at Work?

Gregerson and his colleague, Warner Woodworth, collected data from one thousand children between the ages of five and eighteen years old. When asked, “What do Managers do at work?” the responses looked like this:

55%: Managers control people’s actions at work, making sure they do what they’re supposed to do when they’re supposed to do it.

39%: Managers fix problems at work, any problem (and more often than not, they fix every problem).

6%: Managers develop people’s capabilities by coaching them to become better at what they do.

Less than 1%: Managers understand and serve customer needs.

Less than 1%: Managers make a profit for their companies.”

While I don’t think the sample size here can wholly represent the perceptions of all children in the five to eighteen age range, it appears that among these 1,000 children, the perception of management remains largely entrenched in a command and control model. And that is worrying enough to talk about.

For me, it begs the question: What must we do to change the record… to make sure upcoming generations of organizational leaders have the opportunity to think differently about the work of leadership and management long before they even get their first job?

It’s a big question. I don’t have the answer…just a thought for now, which is this:

Changing the way we talk about our own work experience might provide an opportunity for the next generation to think about work differently, not necessarily how it is, but how it could be or how we want it to be. ~ If we think young people are not listening when we talk about our jobs, our bosses, or our employees, we would be wrong. That means our experiences around leadership, control, problem solving, idea-generation, diversity etc. are, almost always passed along and absorbed.

So, here are a few questions to ask ourselves that might help us to think differently; to change the conversation; and perhaps too, the perception of what a good manager does at work:

What kind of boss would I like my daughter or son to be?
In what way can I champion a positive and collaborative leadership model?
Why is it important?
What opportunities might I provide now that will help my children develop 21st Century leadership skill?
What kind of role model am I?
Alan Keightley said, “Once in a while it really hits people that they don’t’ have to experience the world in the way they have been told to”

With that in mind, I assert that our children do not have to experience organizational life in the same way so many of us do, or have done. But, for a new vision of leadership to fully emerge, we have to start by breaking old patterns…and changing the record. Fortunately, there is some evidence of this happening.  Take a moment to listen to these children on the topic of leadership:

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

*Note: This post is a refreshed version of one written in October 2012

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Filed under building awareness, Building Relationships, communication, Leadership, Leadership Development, Leadership Values, Leadership Vision

Getting at the Heart of Leadership

I wrote this post in September, 2011.  It was inspired  by the a story of a woman’s grief and the choices her employer made to deal with its impact on their workforce.  There are lessons here worth repeating.  

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“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive.”~ His Holiness Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama

I was thinking the other day about how easy it is, when first embarking on the leadership road to pack our authority and our sense of self-importance but leave little room in the bag for what it really takes to lead well ~ heart.

For the fledgling leader it’s an easy mistake to make. As fledglings, we often expect little from others, except maybe obedience.

I like to think that most of us grow out of it. Some people though, fledgling and seasoned alike, treat the leadership role like a game of monopoly. They have a strategy and goals. They deal in only that which they can hold in their hand or see on the bottom line. They buy and sell, trade and bargain. They strive to pass GO as often as possible so they can collect their $200 regularly. Their focus is singular, their intent only to finish the game with the greatest number of assets.

It is possible that these leaders believe their legacy will come from asset gathering alone. There are after all, some very wealthy and powerful people who have amassed their fortunes in just that way. So why bother to mess it up with emotion?

Well, simply put, human beings are emotional creatures. And, if we expect them to bring all of themselves to work and dedicate their energies to the success of our enterprises, we must also care about them.

Witness the case of Cecelia Ingraham.

Ms Ingraham worked as an Administrative Assistant for a pharmaceutical company in New Jersey. She is also a mother whose teenaged daughter died. That kind of grief is unimaginable for most of us.

Her co-workers, although initially sympathetic, became uncomfortable around her because she talked about her daughter constantly, hung the girl’s ballet shoes in her cubicle and displayed her child’s photograph on her desk. Someone complained to the boss that Ms Ingraham’s behaviour was becoming disruptive, interfering with the work.

The story goes down hill from here, the bottom line of which is this. Ms Ingraham was told to remove the mementos of her daughter from her workstation; stop talking about her and, in fact, pretend that she had never existed.

There is more to this story, the outcome of which produced no winners at all. Money was no doubt spent in both accusing and defending. The twelve years of experience and the time Ms Ingraham spent learning and contributing to the company prior to her daughter’s death were lost. And there are others costs. Those who continue to work for this company will by now get the message that perhaps its best to leave part of themselves in a safe place at home. There is, after all no empathy waiting for them at work and no help when they really need it.

As Glenn Holland put it in Mr. Holland’s Opus, “Music is not just notes on a page”. Similarly leadership is not just about being in charge or numbers on a balance sheet.

So, if you are new leader by all means pack your self-confidence; be aware of, and use your authority but please leave plenty of room for your heart. If you are to be truly successful, you will need it. And so will everyone else.

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

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*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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If I Ran the Zoo ~ A Whimsical Look at Leadership

From February, 2012 ~ I had fun writing this, so I’m running it again in the hope that you will have fun reading or re-reading it.

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When my boys were little, one my favorite things to do was to read stories to them at bedtime.  A well-loved story was Dr Seuss’ “If I Ran the Zoo”.  Basically, it is about a little boy, Gerald McGrew, who decides that the animals he sees in the Zoo are too ordinary and he begins to imagine what it might be like if he ran the Zoo instead.  I’m not sure what started me thinking about it but a whimsical mood has led me to creating my own version of “If I Ran the Zoo”.  So, with apologies to Dr Seuss, here it is:


If I ran the zoo, I’d begin with the view,

That my organization includes you, and you.

All manner of folk, both women and men,

All shapes and sizes; all cultures and then…

I’d paint a big picture up there on the wall,

A picture so clear it would dazzle, enthrall,

All those wonderful folk with their heads full of notions

Who want to commit with their hearts and emotions.

If ran the zoo, I would see to it, too,

What’s important to me is important to you.

And just to be sure, I’d turn it around,

So things that you value, with me, would resound.

Then we’d roll up our sleeves and get down to work,

With genuine effort…no one would shirk.

With good conversations and tough ones as well,

There’d be no need to shout or to curse or to yell.

If I ran the zoo, there’d be elephants too,

But not in the room ‘cuz between me and you,

A room with an elephant’s crowded I think,

(And after a while, the room starts to stink).

And speaking of animals, there’d be “octopi”,

With tentacles reaching way up to the sky,

Crossing all kinds of boundaries, and silos and such,

To change for the better the World we all touch.

If I ran the zoo, I would hire people who,

Would focus on making our customers, too,

Feel glad that they know us and to want to come back

And we’d work to make sure there’d be nothing they’d lack

We’d be curious, too, us folks in this zoo,

We’d want to be knowing the why, what and who,

Of what happens around us, and how it takes place

Cuz, change is a creature we have to embrace.

So, that’s what I’d do, If I ran the zoo,

There’s more… but I’ll turn it over to you.

With blank sheet of paper and pen in the ink,

Tell me, how would you do it?

What do you think?

 

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Filed under Leadership, Leadership Values, Leadership Vision, NOWLeadership, organizational culture, Organizational Effectiveness, Servant Leadership