Category Archives: Leadership Values

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?

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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

Lessons From a Failure in Leadership

Burton Winters was a typical fourteen-year-old living with his parents in Makkovik, Labrador.  Winter weather makes snow mobile driving a necessity there and, like most of the boys in his community, Burton was an experienced driver.  One afternoon in February, he set out on his machine to visit his grandmother.

He didn’t make it home.

Somehow, in the dark and harsh weather, Burton missed a crucial turning and lost his bearings.   Instead of going towards home, he and his machine headed out many miles onto the sea ice.  Eventually, the machine became stuck and Burton continued on foot for another nineteen kilometres, all in the wrong direction.

The local Makkovik authorities appealed to the Canadian Forces Search and Rescue detachment for help in locating Burton.  They were refused.  At first light, the following day, the local community made arrangements for private helicopters to conduct a search but none had either the equipment or expertise to care for someone who would most certainly be suffering from serious hypothermia should they find him.  Sadly, Burton’s frozen body was eventually located lying on the ice, miles away from home.

I watched this story unfold on the television program, The Fifth Estate, last week.  From a leadership perspective, one thing leapt out at me.  The Rear Admiral, commander of Maritime Forces, Atlantic  and  in charge of the Search and Rescue detachment, chose not to lead, but to manage at a time when leadership might have made a crucial difference in the outcome.

When asked why he had not deployed a Cormorant helicopter to help in the search for Burton, he responded by stating his primary mission as “marine and aeronautic search and rescue”.   He went on to say that had he assigned even one of the three available SAR helicopters to search for the teenager and was called to respond to what he described as an event at sea, he would not have been in a position to fulfill his primary mission.

I will not pretend to know all of the complexities involved in running this kind of operation.   It no doubt has some very unique challenges.  But, I think there are at least a couple of lessons in leadership here to consider.

One is about, Getting the Purpose Right.   I wonder if the Rear Admiral in this story might have made a different decision had he seen his primary mission not as, “Marine and Aeronautical Search and Rescue” but  as “Saving Lives”.   Perhaps if he had chosen to look at it differently, the outcome might also have been different.  As it was, he opted not to respond to a real situation in favour of securing his Command’s ability to respond to a potential one.

Secondly, it is about knowing When to Lead and When to Manage.  I don’t know much about military operations.  I do know there are a lot of protocols to follow.  Protocols are put in place to create order and ensure the safety of personnel who are often exposed to dangerous situations.   This case required the leader to act, in full knowledge of the associated risks, and also in spite of them. However, managing the protocol seems to have taken precedence over responding to an immediate and dire situation.

This leads me to my final thought, which is about Knowing When to Break the Rules. I believe rules are meant to serve us, not the other way around.  They are put in place for a reason. However, they should never become sacrosanct.  Times and situations change and sometimes rules become impediments.  Of course, we will never know what might have happened if the military had responded differently to Burton Winters’ plight. But to me, it comes down to a matter of knowing when to throw out the rules and simply do what’s right.

What do you think?

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Filed under Leadership, Leadership Development, Leadership Values, Management

If I Ran the Zoo ~ A Whimsical Look at Leadership

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 I 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?

 

17 Comments

Filed under Leadership, Leadership Values, NOWLeadership, organizational Development, Servant Leadership

When Leaders Lose Sight of Their Primary Purpose

Lives are lost.  Trust is broken. Property is destroyed. And, the captain is forever tainted with the whiff of cowardice, no matter what the outcome of official investigations to come.  That’s the sad tale of the cruise ship, Costa Concordia.

And Why?  This is why…

The captain, the crew, and possibly even the cruise line, failed to keep focused on their primary purpose.

I see the primary purpose of the captain and crew of a commercial sailing vessel as ensuring the enjoyment and safety of the passengers.  Simply that.

The events that led up to the sinking of the Costa Concordia showed evidence that this purpose, (or facsimile thereof), was nowhere in sight as the Captain chose to sail too close to shore reportedly with the intent of ‘saluting’ a former colleague who lived on the Island.

The result, of course, was a hundred and sixty foot gash in the ship’s hull; a crew that failed to follow proper evacuation procedures; panic and chaos among the passengers; and a captain who appears to have chosen self- preservation over the honour of fulfilling his obligation to the passengers.

This is not the first time this has happened.  In 1991, the cruise ship Oceanos sank in heavy seas off the coast of South Africa.  A similar scenario played out then. This time, luckily, no one died. But, the Captain and crew abandoned ship before the passengers, leaving them to seek leadership from two of the ship’s entertainers who, by all accounts, acquitted themselves bravely staying until the last passenger was safely off the ship.

This is what one of them relates about his experience:

So what does this teach us?   To me, one thing it teaches is the importance of knowing, understanding and believing in a business or organization’s fundamental reason for being; being clear about what and who it is there to serve; and then focusing all activity on the fulfillment of that purpose.

I know, it sounds easier than it is but having a really strong feeling of purpose can make the difference between doing the right things and courting disaster.

Another thing that comes to mind for me is that while leadership is about going first, in some situations, it is also about going last.  In short, whether they are ships or businesses, when they fail, good leaders , stay until the end.

What do you think?

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Filed under Leadership, Leadership Development, Leadership Values, Servant Leadership

A Case For Being a ‘Nice’ Boss

My uncle, now deceased, used to have a little wooden plaque hanging on the wall of his den.  It read, “It’s nice to be important, but more important to be nice”

I was reminded of this the other day when I caught myself being not nice to a young man who was conducting telephone surveys for an insurance company.  Specifically, I allowed my disdain for unsolicited telephone surveys to affect the way I spoke to him.  That wasn’t fair.  And it definitely wasn’t nice.  So I apologized and then did my best to separate my dislike for the survey from my empathy for someone doing an honest and thankless job.

It occurred to me then that nice, at least in corporate settings, is often the victim of our contempt and in fact frequently equated with weakness.  The perspective is that people who are nice are pushovers. They lack character. They are spineless, maybe even incompetent.  When we ask people to describe a leader, they invariably say things like, strong, decisive, visionary, and courageous.  Rarely are they characterized as ‘nice’.  Indeed in some organizations we even expect our leaders to bring with them a measure of unpleasantness.  It goes with the territory.  After all, they are busy people. ‘Nice’ doesn’t get the job done.

But to me, it gets a bad rap.  In fact I think it has an important role to play in organizational success.  I think too, that it could use some repositioning in terms of the way we think about it.

So let’s try it.

What if we decided to equate ‘nice’ with strength instead of weakness?  What would it look like?  Well, here’s what I’m thinking about that:

When “nice” = “strength”…

It would look like Kindness  ~ We’ve all heard it.  “You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar” It’s an old American proverb with an enduring ring of truth.  And really, it takes just as much time to be mean as it does to be kind.

It would look like Truthfulness ~ Here’s where ‘nice’ grows teeth. Sometimes engaging in difficult conversations and telling people what they need to hear to make better choices is much nicer than avoiding or misleading them.  Often, taking the easy way out is very far from being nice.

It would look like Respect  ~ To me, respect asks us to behave like adults and treat others like adults too.  There is no room for condescension or patronizing behaviour in my definition.  It’s simply not nice.

It would look like Generosity ~ Generosity is often about letting go of something we’d rather keep for ourselves.  It is a demonstration of regard and a vote of confidence.  It takes strength.  And, it’s a nice habit to adopt because generosity can be catching.

It would look like Clarity ~ Being clear about what we need and what we expect is part of the package, especially if we intend to use those expectations as a benchmark for performance appraisal at some point.  Otherwise, it’s not fair and especially not nice.

It would look like Empathy ~ Seeking to understand how things are for others is a primary role of the leader.  It’s the way s/he “tunes in” to the work environment and engages people, not only in conversation but also in playing a willing part in fulfilling the organizational purpose.

It would look like Civility ~ Good manners are certainly part of being nice.  We may think we don’t have time for this. We are too busy.  I assert, however, that for workplaces to be ‘livable’ they must include courteousness.  People work better together when they treat each other well.  It’s as simple as that.

The truth about being “nice” is, it really doesn’t matter what you call it.  It’s not about the word.  It’s about the behaviour that the word suggests.  If we choose to look at being nice as a weakness, we will continue to discount its value in the workplace.  We will cling to the notion that “nice ‘guys’ finish last” and  keep on accepting objectionable behaviour from leaders who believe it.

So let’s remember those words from the American Playwright, Wilson Mizner, ~ “Be nice to the people on your way up because you’ll meet them on your way down”

What do you think?

19 Comments

Filed under building awareness, Building Relationships, communication, Leadership, Leadership Development, Leadership Values, Organizational Effectiveness, Servant Leadership

Command, Control and Authority

I think we can agree that there are a number of leadership styles but the one we love to hate is the Command and Control style.

I once had a boss who was the epitome of command and control, a real “my way or the highway” kind of guy.  He was a stickler for punctuality and his need for control was so strong that he posted one of his managers at the elevators each morning armed with a clipboard and orders to write down the names of all those unsuspecting stragglers who deigned to arrive past the expected starting time.

One morning I peered over the shoulder of one of these hapless managers only to see that, having caught someone alighting from the elevator at 9:02 a.m., he had written, “girl with red hair and green sweater”

I asked him how he expected to create anything that the boss would find useful if he didn’t know the names of the people he was there to “catch”.  He said,

“I have no *f*&*%! idea.  I’m just doing what I’m told”

That is a classic consequence of creating and working in a command and control culture.  It assumes that the person in charge is the holder of all wisdom, skill and experience; a person who knows exactly what they are doing at all times and the Mecca to which everyone bows.  And the rest of us simply do as we are told.

Except we don’t.

In fact, while we are doing as we are told, we are also finding ways to quietly sabotage progress.  We waste time grumbling.  We call in sick when we are just too fed up to go in. We arrive on time but then do nothing for the first hour.  We spend time dreaming up other ways to get around the stringent rules set out for us; and somewhere in all of that, productivity, dignity, a sense of accomplishment, and of purpose, are lost.

So no, command and control in a business or organizational environment is not a leadership style that  serves us any more… at least not in large doses.

Having said that there are situations that will call for an authoritative approach to leadership. For example:

  • In times of revolutionary change when the future feels doubtful, this take-charge style is needed, and often appreciated, to help people over the hump of uncertainty.
  • When under tight deadlines or in crises, there often just isn’t time for lengthy debate or consensus building.
  • When the leader has more knowledge around a certain issue and it just makes sense for him or her to make a decision for everyone.
  • When the organization has drifted from its purpose or lost sight of its vision a strong authoritative presence is required to recalibrate organizational focus.

So, in short, while we love to hate command and control, we would be wise to allow that there are times when authoritative leadership is necessary.  The trouble is, if not used well, it can easily morph into something that fails to serve the organization or the greater good.  So, like the delicate balance of a perfect stew, the application of control and authority must be carefully measured and administered to render it both useful and palatable.

What do you think?

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Filed under Leadership, Leadership Style, Leadership Values, Organizational Effectiveness

Creating Boundaries For Growth & Success

In life and work, there are many boundaries.  For example, there are personal ones; interpersonal ones and systemic ones, just to name a few.  And then there are organizational boundaries.  These are the ones that intrigue me most because they are the most difficult to manage and yet can be just the thing that makes growth and success possible.

The trouble with organizational boundaries though, is that so often they are defined by rules and procedures that have a tendency to limit creative ability and collaborative effort.  That can be very stifling for both the organization and most certainly for the people who work in it.  In my mind, boundaries built on rules and procedures alone make an organization look a bit like this:

It has a rather claustrophobic feeling about it, doesn’t it? And, its walls are solid and unbending.  In an atmosphere like this, I can imagine how hard it must be to engage people in creative thinking, (and doing), because really, there seems to be no way out of the ‘boundary box’.  In this scenario, boundaries create a static space with little room for fresh ideas or growth.

But, let’s not get carried away.  Boundaries are a necessary part of every organization.  Without them, we invite chaos, distraction, and confusion with everyone running around doing their own thing and nothing meaningful being accomplished.

The thing is, boundaries don’t have to limit our ability to put our heads together and come up with ideas and activities that bring the workplace alive and produce something meaningful and fulfilling.

In fact, if expressed differently they can serve the creative process amazingly well.  Here’s what it might look like:

You may notice that the Legal and Ethical boundary appears at the bottom of both images.  There’s no getting away from that one.  It is in no way flexible and serves as the foundation for any reputable organization’s dealings.

The vision and purpose of the organization provides the uppermost boundary.  This speaks to the importance of creating, conveying and instilling a clear sense of purpose and future throughout the workforce. This is not simply about hanging framed vision statements on the wall.  It is something that acts as a guide to decision makers and leaders throughout the company regardless of their position or title.  It invites the question, “Does what we are about to do serve our organizational purpose and move us closer to realizing our ultimate goal?”

The boundaries on either side of the model are created by the Values the organization and its people espouse.  Values express our intentional behaviour and the qualities we hold as critical to the company and what it stands for. It also invites the question, “ Does what we are planning to do honour our values? If it doesn’t, what must we do differently to ensure alignment?”

Finally, the Creative space here is not so much restricted by hard and fast rules but guided by a set of principles that makes sense to everyone. They are open to challenge. They respond to changing times and situations. And that makes the creative space alive and dynamic.

Of course, if there were a downside to this kind of boundary making, it would be the greyness of its nature.  Rules are black and white, right or wrong… vision, purpose and values…not so much. These can be open to interpretation from one person to the next.  As such, they require ongoing attention, management and leadership.  Their messages must be constantly referenced and reinforced.  And too, there must be a strong belief in the will and capability of people to see themselves in the organizational vision, working with others to fulfill its purpose and aligning themselves with the values it embraces.

For the leader, it is not easy work…not at all.  To me, though, it is work worth pursuing because, done well, it increases the potential of companies to successfully build something that everyone involved can feel proud of.

What do you think?

7 Comments

Filed under Employee engagement, Establishing Direction, Leadership, Leadership Values, Leadership Vision, Management

Leading By Example and Mistaken Beliefs

This post was originally published in June 2009.  In spite of its length, it is one that I like to come back to from time to time because I strongly believe it is not what we say, or what we intend but what we do that shapes the leader.  What do you think?

According to Albert Schweitzer, “Example is not the main thing in influencing others, it is the only thing”.

If Albert is right about that, then leading by example, although a simple enough concept carries with it a pretty big impact.

On the face of it, to get it right, leaders must exhibit the behaviour they would like to see in others.  To use a well worn expression (that frankly, really belongs in the cliché bin), it’s about “walking the walk and talking the talk”.   What could possibly be complicated about that? Yet, some of us still manage to muck it up.

Perhaps  it is so simple that we often fail to consider it at all.  Or, perhaps it is that some people have mistaken beliefs about what leading by example is really about. Here are a few possibilities that come to mind for me:

  •  Mistaken Belief #1 – Leading by Example is a 9-5 pursuit

I suspect that some leaders make leading by example a project rather than a way of being. In other words, they appreciate that in order to engage people at the office they have to serve as a role model and so they create a model of personal behaviour that may have little or no bearing on who they really are. In effect they put on their office persona in the morning along with their business clothes and take it off again when they get home and change into something more comfortable. While this practice may show some positive results in the short term, it is not easily sustainable.  And, I can only imagine how exhausting it must be.

The bottom line: If you don’t represent yourself honestly where ever you are, the example you set will not ring true for those you want to influence the most.

  •  Mistaken Belief #2 – You can get people to do as you say, and not as you do, as long as you don’t get caught

In our condominium complex, there is a man on the board who is President of his own company. He serves on our Strata as Chair of the Building Committee, a pretty important role.  This past week he sent out a communication to all owners to advise us that putting weather stripping across our front doors is strongly discouraged because doing so interferes with the flow of air to the suites.  He advised those among us who had installed weather stripping to remove it immediately.

Days later, after receiving this rather forceful message, my husband had cause to place a note concerning condo board business under this man’s door.  He was unsuccessful in doing so because apparently, our Building Chair had installed weather stripping.

The Bottom Line: If you have ever had the idea that you can say one thing and do another and not be found out, think again.   Believe me, you will be busted. And, when you are, the trust and respect that others have for you will be compromised.

  • Mistaken Belief #3 – People will only pick up and emulate the behaviours you want them to adopt

No matter who we are, as long as we are alive, someone is looking to us for an example of how to behave. Even if we have never been placed in a formal leadership position, we influence those around us simply by being there. And, being human, we are not always going to act in exemplary fashion. We can only hope to align our behaviour in accordance with what we value most and accept that sometimes others will pick up something from us that we would rather they hadn’t.  It happens.

For example, a long time ago, I was invited to attend a lunch in the Head office executive dining room.  I was very surprised to receive the invitation because as a fairly junior personnel assistant, it was a bit of a lofty thing to happen for me.

The purpose of the lunch was to entertain a party of Chinese students. On meeting them I began to realize why I might have been chosen to participate.  They were all rather small and I, also being rather small, seemed to be the only bank representative who could look them straight in the eye without having to sit down.

The table was beautifully set. However, the  challenge for me and my lunch companions was that it was rather high, and the dining chairs, in contrast, rather low.

In spite of this, the lunch unfolded quite well…until the waiters delivered dessert, strawberries served in a tall stemmed glass, rimmed with sugar. It didn’t take long for me to discover that if I actually wanted to eat these delicious strawberries, I would have to stand up.  The other diminutives around the table seemed to be in the same predicament.  I noticed them looking at each other but none was so brave as to take a chance and grab a strawberry quickly while no one was looking.  And so, at what I considered to be a strategic moment, I took up my spoon, stood up very quickly, popped a strawberry into my mouth and sat down, just as quickly, to chew it.  My new, and equally undersized companions followed my lead until soon, we were all popping up and down until we bore a striking resemblance to an um-pa-pa band.  Needless to say, I was never invited back to the executive dining room.

Bottom lineIt is a mistake to expect that people will not, at times, follow an unintended lead. It happens.  Forgive yourself and move on.

What mistaken beliefs come to mind for you?

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Filed under communication, Leadership, Leadership Development, Leadership Style, Leadership Values, Organizational Effectiveness

Office Politics…The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

Every now and then I like to revisit and refresh a post whose message might be worthy of repeating. This one is from May 2009 and I chose it because I don’t’ expect office politics has gone away since then do you?

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How often have you said something like, “I hate office politics”?

If your answer is, “very often” you are likely in good company. It’s a topic that tends to make one grimace and yet, in any business involving more than, say, two people, it is simply a fact of organizational life.

There are many definitions for the term office politics but I think it is about power and advantage; how we acquire it and how we use it to influence others, sometimes for our own benefit and sometimes for the benefit of a larger purpose.

I don’t know about you, but when I first think of the term office politics, I immediately go to the dark side and conjure up images of some very slick people engaging in some very self-indulgent activities.  But, politics in organizational life doesn’t always have to be a weapon.  It can also be a useful tool.  So, in an attempt to distinguish the baby from the bath water here’s my take on politics in the office.

Bad Office politics = Self-promotion over the greater good

Self-promotion is not a bad thing.  After all, when we accomplish something great it is not wrong to feel pride or to talk about it. In fact, sometimes people go the other way and are far too modest when talking about their achievements.

However, self-promotion crosses a line when it is allowed to take precedence over the achievement of collective goals.  The practice of bad office politics involves inordinate amounts of unproductive time being spent tapping into the organizational grape-vine, (a repository for incomplete information and throwaway commentary) to determine “strategies” about who to suck up to next or, what tidbit of information might be useful as a questionable tool of “persuasion”.

Bad office politics is where gossip and innuendo lie.  It represents the gray edges of organizational life and it is no wonder that most people have little tolerance for it.

Ugly Office politics = Destructive behaviour that benefits no one.

Ugly office politics takes the notion of self-promotion to greater depths.  People who practice ugly office politics are not above taking credit for other people’s work.  They are often very crafty and good at placing blame on others for mistakes they have made themselves.  In the extreme, ugly office politics includes bullying in a variety of forms, a very unattractive and destructive activity.

In short, these are the practices that can make organizational life intolerable.

But, if bad and ugly office politics are the bath water, then this is where the baby comes in and where opportunity lies.

Good Office politics = Building Positive Relationships

Building relationships is something that leaders must engage in to get things done. They have to go beyond the confines of their own area to build purposeful and focused relationships with people in a variety of roles, levels & situations. They do this for a number of reasons that include:

  • To understand and stay focused on the purpose and larger objectives of the organization.
  • To forge mutually beneficial alliances with others both inside and outside the organization and;
  • To make certain they get the resources they need to accomplish their goals.

It means spending time with people at all levels of the organization; finding out what makes them tick; giving support to their goals and using their own power of persuasion to contribute to situations where everyone gets to win.  This, to me, is the nature of good office politics.

The practice of good office politics relies on three things:

  • A good moral compass;
  • A generous attitude toward others and;
  • An interest in forging collaborative relationships for the purpose of gaining collective strength, learning and growth

As well, the practice of good office politics often carries with it, a bonus.  That is, the respect and good will those who practice it earn from the people they work with. In fact, I have observed that people who practice good office politics often have all the recognition and accolades they can handle.

And that can’t be bad.

What do you think?

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Filed under building awareness, Building Relationships, Leadership, Leadership Development, Leadership Values, Organizational Effectiveness