Category Archives: organizational culture

Leadership and Courage

courageCourage has many faces. It doesn’t always show up complete with epaulets and a shiny sword yelling “Charge!!” In fact, I would suggest it more often demands a much subtler approach. Either way, courage is not something we can buy or fake. It lives in the heart of our character. And, it is something we hope to have enough of when we need it most.

Brave leaders go first and inspire others to find their own courage. They defy convention. They admit their mistakes, apologize and make amends when they are wrong. Brave leaders explore unknown territory in service of something greater than themselves. They deliver bad news with clarity, determination and compassion. And, they stay the course when the going gets tough

Brave leaders, too, frequently look in their personal, and organizational mirrors to find something in themselves or in the systems they create that works against their potential for achieving their goals. This calls for a special kind of courage, one that can feel less noble than the others. But workplaces have little hope of thriving long if this work goes unattended or is swept under the rug in hopes that no one will notice.

Here’s a case in point. Some time ago, I met with a friend, a niche specialist in communication. She shared this story with me:

On being invited to meet with the CEO of a company to discuss business opportunities, she entered the premises and almost immediately detected a certain tension in the air. And, while people were impeccably polite to her, she noticed that throughout the office, no one was smiling.

The CEO, a clever and efficient woman, appeared to have all the hallmarks of a successful business leader. At some point in the conversation, she asked my friend if she did other communications work because she had noticed that the e-mails being passed among her staff and out to customers had a tone that seemed terse and unwelcoming. The CEO asked my friend if she could possibly fix that with some communications training.

Of course, my friend, a smart and intuitive woman herself, knew all too well where this conversation was headed. Could she ‘fix’ the tone of the emails being sent from this office? Yes, she could do that. The bigger question…why people were writing snarky emails went unanswered. It could be that this CEO had no idea why but, when pressed, she also was not willing to ‘go there’

This is not an unfamiliar story. In fact, I would hazard to say that more companies than we’d like to think spend inordinate amounts of time and money addressing unpleasant symptoms if only to be able to say they are doing something to improve their employee, and by association, customer experience.

We know of course that underneath it all lurk many cans of worms and a few Pandora’s Boxes that need opening before anything can be truly resolved. This is where that special kind of courage comes in. It is the kind that asks us to face our imperfect selves; to find our humility and to lay ourselves open to closer examination.

When I think about courage in leadership, this quote comes to mind,

Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgement that something else is more important than fear. “ ~ Ambrose Redmoon

Good leadership is about focusing on what’s really important among other things. Sometimes that means having the courage to relentlessly pursue truth, even at the cost of personal pride, in service of building something everyone can be proud of.

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

 

Note: This post was originally published in August, 2012

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

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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*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

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

* Personality Versus Character in Leadership

A recent, and much discussed event in the news has started me thinking about the difference between personality and character.   There are perhaps some who have spent little time considering if there even is a difference between them.  Even the Thesaurus on my laptop suggests the word ‘character’ as an acceptable substitute for the word ‘personality’.  But to me, they are quite different.  And, especially if you are a leader, understanding the distinction between them is critically important.

With my strictly layperson’s eye, I see that distinction as this:

Personality refers to our basic nature.  For instance, some of us are extraverted and some introverted.  Some of us are even-tempered, some hotheaded, and so on.  In short, personality mainly consists of those things we inherit genetically.  It dictates our personal preferences and choices. And, it drives our social interaction with others.

Character refers to how we choose to use our inheritance to make our way in the world.  Character is built over time. It comes from living, learning and making mistakes.  It shows up in the decisions we make and the risks we take.  Character measures and tests the strength of our will, our beliefs and our sense of justice.  And it is often a hard taskmaster.

It was W. Somerset Maugham who once said, “ When you choose your friends, don’t be short-changed by choosing personality over character”

I think the same could be said of leaders.  Sometimes, of course we don’t get to choose our leaders. And sometimes we don’t get the leaders we choose. However, we do get to choose the kind of leaders we are going to be. Will we ride on the coat tails of personality, going where the wind blows us?   Or, will we rely on the deep-seated beliefs that form our character to guide us, even if that road is harder… and even if it makes us unpopular?

To many people, the answer will seem obvious.  But, character can be difficult to discern.  It can go for a long time without being publically tested or uncovered and can often be eclipsed by the strength and easy attraction of a winning personality.

So how do we know?  How do we recognize when we are leading from the depths of our character and when we are not?  Under what circumstances would we be able to recognize strength of character in others?

Well, I can think of a few circumstances anyway that would provide some pretty good clues. Like:

In a crisis ~ the measure of any leader becomes most obvious when things go wrong.  It is then when wheat and chaff part company.

In Private ~ If, what leaders say in public differs from what they say in private, on the same subject, that is very telling. Those who change stories to fit the situation cast doubt on the veracity of any of them.

In the Face of Temptation ~ The power that leadership brings can be quite an aphrodisiac.  How leaders choose to use that power will say a lot about them.  The draw of self-interest is ever-present.   The test of character comes when we are faced with the temptation to indulge it.

There are, of course, many situations where character, or lack thereof, is revealed.  Suffice it to say that if we are looking for it, character, can generally be found in close proximity to courage and truthfulness.

So here’s the bottom line for me.  As a leader, while personality will get you in the door, character will ensure you stay there…or not.

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

*Originally published in September 2012

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* 6 Ideas About Creating Organizations That Value Ideas

John Cage once said, “I can’t understand why people are frightened of new ideas.  I’m frightened of the old ones”

This notion kind of struck me while I was watching a movie about Charles Darwin who had, and developed, one of the world’s biggest ideas, one that, even now, creates much spirited conversation.  I suppose in that context (and in those times) there may have been much to fear.  After all, Darwin’s big idea was one that challenged people to rethink their whole existence.  Nonetheless, it was important to human growth and understanding to entertain it because without the exploration that comes from new ideas, I suspect we would simply all fade to black eventually… or die of boredom.

I think this is also true of business organizations.  Now, more than ever, businesses are having to rethink their product and how they deliver to market.  A number of longstanding companies who failed to do that are now either out of business or in some serious bother because, either in whole or in part, they have found themselves being outpaced by technology and consumer demand for ever evolving applications.

So, the question, (or at least one of them) is, how do we build organizations that actively value idea creation and development?

Some companies will say they have processes in place that encourage people to offer their ideas.  I would argue that creating mechanisms through which to feed ideas is not enough, no matter how sophisticated the process.

To really engage people in sharing and developing new ideas, I rather think we have to create cultures that will support it.  That’s a bit trickier.

So how might this be accomplished?  Well, I’m sure you have some thoughts about that.  Just to be going on with though, here are some of mine:

Give people the opportunity to deeply understand the purpose and vision of your organization.  ~ People who have a clear grasp of why their organizations are in business and what they hope to achieve in the future will tend to set their brains in that direction when searching for solutions to existing problems or anticipating future ones.  Perhaps too, they will be more likely to use their creative juices to pre-empt organizational issues before they arise.

Build a Safe Environment for Idea sharing ~ putting forth a new, possibly even bizarre idea takes a lot of courage.  People have to see the risk as one worth taking and operate in the knowledge that they will not be judged, derided or punished in any way for sharing their ideas.  Not all ideas are going to be good  but among them, there are bound to be some great ones that might not have surfaced if the working environment is such that it values censorship over creativity.

Learn to encourage and value diverse opinion ~ People look at things based on their own experiences and biases.   If we all thought alike or hired only people who thought like us, we would no doubt miss a great deal.  To generate ideas that are future oriented we must invite diversity into our conversations.  That means letting go of the reins of our own strongly held opinions long enough to listen to the possibility that there might be a better way.

Challenge ideas not people ~ While this is part of building a safe environment for ideas to be shared, in the heat of a moment, it is easy to slide criticism away from the idea and onto the one who brought it up so I think it bears repeating.

Acknowledge, Acknowledge and Acknowledge some more ~ Acknowledgement is integral to building an organization that values idea generation and development.  I think we all know that.  I’m just not sure how many of us provide it. It really doesn’t have to come in the form of fancy recognition programs.  It just has to be sincere and timely in its delivery.

Shift the perspective of knowledge as power~   We have become used to the notion that  knowledge is power so we’d better hang onto it.  So many of us are reluctant to share what we know because we fear loss of leverage of some kind.  In this new century though, the power comes from the collective.  Business success lies in our ability to collaborate, not hoard.   That means building organizations flexible enough, daring enough, strong enough and, perhaps even Darwinian enough to invite people to rethink their whole corporate existence and use the ideas that come from it to move them confidently into the future.

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

* Originally posted in November 2012

 

 

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Creating Boundaries for Growth and Success

In life and work, there are many boundaries, personal ones,interpersonal ones and systemic ones.  And there are also 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.

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

Note: This post is a refreshed version of one originally published in December 2011

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