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Executive Leader Coach @ dbkAssociates, Inc. https://execleadercoach.com Intentionally creating a better world one leader at a time. Tue, 24 Dec 2019 01:29:32 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.3.2 https://execleadercoach.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/cropped-SiteIcon-32x32.jpg Executive Leader Coach @ dbkAssociates, Inc. https://execleadercoach.com 32 32 The Story Counts https://execleadercoach.com/2019/12/18/the-story-counts/ Wed, 18 Dec 2019 17:30:00 +0000 https://execleadercoach.com/?p=9565 History: I’m not big on history, usually. However, for reasons I do not now remember, I found myself reading two books about the history around the founding of our country, the Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution. I started reading before all the present political drama. And I’m glad that happened since it gave me […]

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History:

I’m not big on history, usually. However, for reasons I do not now remember, I found myself reading two books about the history around the founding of our country, the Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution. I started reading before all the present political drama. And I’m glad that happened since it gave me a way to put context around the current public dialogue. That’s a different story, though, and one not germane to this blog.

The founding fathers were good leaders. And for the purposes of this post, the point about stories is those good leaders were also good storytellers. Even successful leaders who are inclined toward introversion are good storytellers.

Imagine

The point of a story is to draw the listener in and engage their imagination. The genius of telling a story is that the listeners can each fill in the details in a way that utilizes their experience. It makes the story real for them and allows them to picture the future state the leader is trying to achieve.

I have found this to be very effective when trying to initiate change in an organization. Asking employees to imagine how the future will be without a story to help set up some details is a bit like putting a blank paper in front of someone and asking them to write something original. Most folks are much better critics than they are creators. They need some help in getting started.

Ten Stories

It turns out that there are common topics for stories that many leaders tell. The details of the story are particular to the leader and the organization, but the point or topic of the story is often the same.

  1. Where we came from (a founding story)
  2. Why we can’t stay here (a case for change)
  3. Where we’re going (a vision story)
  4. How we’re going to get there (a strategy story)
  5. What we believe (a corporate values story)
  6. Who we serve (a customer story)
  7. What we do for our customers (a sales story)
  8. How we’re different from our competitors (a marketing story)
  9. Why I lead the way I do (a philosophy story)
  10. Why you should want to work here (a recruiting story)

Obviously, these stories are developed and refined over time. And learning how to tell a story well is a skill that can be honed over time. I know that there are Toastmaster groups in my vicinity that focus on storytelling. While those groups are usually focused on entertainment stories, the skills learned are directly applicable to business stories.

Culture

Another hot topic in the business community is that of the organization’s culture. As you can see, the set of stories listed above will go a long way toward defining the culture of your organization. In that regard, I believe that stories 1, 3, and 5 must be especially compelling. I agree with Peter Drucker that “culture eats strategy for breakfast. I even go a bit further and state that a CEO has only one major task, and that is to actively manage the corporate culture. Stories are a great way to do that.

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Moving Up the Food Chain! https://execleadercoach.com/2019/11/27/moving-up-the-food-chain/ Wed, 27 Nov 2019 17:30:43 +0000 https://execleadercoach.com/?p=9544 Equal Opportunity Destroyer: Rani Molla, a Visual Journalist at The Wall Street Journal, recently published an article in Vox that caught my eye. In that article, she made the statement that “‘Knowledge workers’ could be the most impacted by future automation.” Conventional wisdom has been suggesting that only the “blue-collar workers” were going to be […]

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Equal Opportunity Destroyer:

Rani Molla, a Visual Journalist at The Wall Street Journal, recently published an article in Vox that caught my eye. In that article, she made the statement that “‘Knowledge workers’ could be the most impacted by future automation.” Conventional wisdom has been suggesting that only the “blue-collar workers” were going to be affected in any significant way in the foreseeable future.

This isn’t an entirely new concept, though. In their 2016 book The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies, Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee discuss how pervasive technology will be and how it will affect all workers at every level.

Tradesmen

My own view is that it will be the tradesmen and tradeswomen (skilled plumbers, electricians, and carpenters) who will be the last to lose their jobs to automation. I come to that conclusion because we have created our world to be compatible with the human form. As I was working under my sink to replace a faucet, I tried to imagine building a robot that would be agile and dexterous enough to do what I was doing. I am confident that if we put our minds to it, we could make such a robot. But I think it’s a long time off, and I wonder about the economics of such a robot. Still, tools such as laser “rulers,” and 3-D modeling are changing the trades. I now use a laser level when hanging pictures.

It is more likely that we will, over time, change the design of our homes and appliances to allow more straightforward robotic maintenance. And, of course, we can always hope that manufacturers will design products to require less maintenance to begin with.

Transition

As I’ve stated elsewhere on this blog, I believe in and hope for a significant transition period in knowledge workers’ changing environment rather than being replaced by Artificial Intelligence (AI) all at once. Many knowledge workers will have a leg up during this transition in that they often have been working with technology all along. So, they will have time to train on new uses of AI and keep up with automation.

On the other hand, manufacturing workers have seen rapid changes in their environment. Automation in manufacturing tends to move very quickly to replace repetitive tasks and displacing workers rapidly. To make matters worse, the training required to fill the few new jobs created by the automation is rather extensive. It is more difficult for the manufacturing worker to step up to working with intelligent machines than it is for the office knowledge worker to step up to do the same. Knowledge workers start from a computer literate platform.

Next?

We have proven that we cannot predict the speed of automation nor the extent of its effect on society with any certainty. We will need to move quickly to mitigate those effects when they do occur. Generally, our society has not been able to move quickly in the past, so that will be the challenge.

The questions in my mind are much the same as they were several years ago when I began thinking about the challenges of technology. How will we help those displaced by technology survive? How will we change the way we are educating our young people to prepare them for jobs that do not even exist at this point? How will we maintain our consumption-based economy as fewer workers are needed to produce the goods and services we consume?

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Consensus = Mediocrity https://execleadercoach.com/2019/11/20/consensus-mediocrity/ Wed, 20 Nov 2019 17:30:56 +0000 https://execleadercoach.com/?p=9537 Surprised: Often, when I’m asked, I might suggest that a decision made by the team was a “reasonable compromise.” I made a similar statement recently but found myself modifying it to be “unfortunately, we reached a compromise.” I was surprised by what I said. It just slipped out that way. The person asking the question […]

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Surprised:

Often, when I’m asked, I might suggest that a decision made by the team was a “reasonable compromise.” I made a similar statement recently but found myself modifying it to be “unfortunately, we reached a compromise.” I was surprised by what I said. It just slipped out that way.

The person asking the question nodded her head and moved on to a different topic. I, on the other hand, made a mental note to explore my comment in more detail when we finished our meeting.

Compromise

I think of a compromise as parties agreeing that each will give up something to the other so that a decision can be made to move a project forward.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, compromise is “an agreement between two sides who have different opinions, in which each side gives up something it had wanted.”

As I think about this, it seems to me that when we compromise, we are accepting a solution that is to us not the best solution. The solution may be close, and it may well allow us to become “unstuck” and move the project forward, but it isn’t the best solution. Unless, of course, we overlooked something, and a teammate convinces us that their solution is better. But then, the solution isn’t a compromise, it’s a better idea.

Consensus

Another meeting outcome, similar in my mind, is reaching a consensus. My observation is that meeting reports will often suggest that an agreement was reached by the committee.

However, frequently, a consensus was reached because ideas were thrown out, compromises were made, and there was no effort to find the best idea. Instead, we accept a mediocre idea in the name of moving the project forward. Consensus, in this case, is just another word for compromise.

“A camel is a horse designed by committee.” — Alec Issigonis

Best Idea

Here’s the subtle but essential point. We should all want the best idea to win regardless of whether it’s our own idea or not. Of course, I may feel like and may state that “I” compromised. Yet, the decision would be in service of the best idea, the best course of action for the company, project, or team.

I see no easy way to hash this out as a team. Instead, the team needs to work to make sure all the ideas are put forward, vetted, and discussed. In the end, the manager will have to make the decision and pick the best idea.

Leader’s Choice

It is the leader’s task to listen to all the ideas along with their pros and cons and make a final decision on the best idea. I’m not suggesting that all the designs must be given to the CEO for decisions. Instead, I am suggesting that the team leader, project manager, department head, etc. will need to make the final decision. To leave the choice to committee members is bound to result in either a stalemate or a compromise to win folks over. Rather than the best idea wins, the team will very likely choose to design a camel instead of a horse.

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Strategy Team https://execleadercoach.com/2019/11/13/strategy-team/ Wed, 13 Nov 2019 17:30:00 +0000 https://execleadercoach.com/?p=9527 Who’s On The Team? Recently, I was having a conversation with a colleague about hiring a Chief Financial Officer (CFO). We were discussing the attributes of such a hire. After my usual statement that what was critical was to hire a person who shared the corporate values, I added that they needed to be a […]

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Who’s On The Team?

Recently, I was having a conversation with a colleague about hiring a Chief Financial Officer (CFO). We were discussing the attributes of such a hire. After my usual statement that what was critical was to hire a person who shared the corporate values, I added that they needed to be a strategic thinker.

I managed not to blurt out what I was thinking. Which was, “Are you crazy?” Instead, I told my colleague that I found his comment interesting and wondered how he came to his position.

Controller or CFO?

The response was quite interesting. My colleague asserted that financial folks only look at historical results and do not think about the future. They record what has happened rather than thinking about the future. Business strategy isn’t on their radar.

Perhaps that is true of a Sr. Accountant level and below. A competent Controller is looking at future cash-flow and projecting shortfall. They will recommend strategies to managers to avert running out of cash. A skilled Controller can undoubtedly be a partner in determining the health of the business. Depending on the size of the company, they may also play a key role in developing business plans.

And then there is the position of CFO. The great CFOs are genuinely visionary executives.

Funding The Vision

The CFOs I know (those who have earned and deserve that title) depend on their Controller and the accounting team to take care of the nuts and bolts of the accounts receivable, accounts payable, and accurate reporting. The CFO does none of that work. Instead, she or he is concerned with the strategy of funding the business. They develop banking relationships, secure adequate lines of credit, and are a critical team player when it comes to funding and achieving the company’s vision and mission.

Enabler Not Obstructionist

I can usually tell whether a CFO is functioning at a high level by how well versed they are about the operations of the other business functions outside of the finance department. When a C-Suite colleague discusses a new project or initiative, the strategic CFO will respond with a statement along the lines of, “Let me see how we might be able to fund that.” They are not the naysayers of the organization. They are team players who have a can-do attitude. And, like many C-Suite executives, they contribute to the strategy as well as the tactical goals of the organization.

I believe that a high-functioning CFO can step into almost any C-Suite role and do a very credible job. They may always look at things through a “finance filter,” but they will understand how that function fits into the overall picture of the corporation. There are no business functions that do not affect finances in one way or another. Therefore, a CFO that genuinely understands the corporate finances will understand how the Sales, Engineering, Human Resources, Marketing, Operations, and Legal departments fit into the picture.

Bottom Line

If you are running an organization that is large enough to require the services of a Chief Financial Officer (either full time or fractional), then that CFO needs to be able to significantly add to the strategic plans of the company. If your CFO is an obstructionist (no, we can’t afford to do that), or cannot understand the other functions of your organization, then you either do not really need a CFO or you have the wrong person in the position.

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An Envelope of Trust https://execleadercoach.com/2019/11/06/an-envelope-of-trust/ Wed, 06 Nov 2019 17:30:58 +0000 https://execleadercoach.com/?p=9508 Being Heard: For many of us, the employees we hire are often referred to as “knowledge workers.” The most common definition of that term I’ve come across is, “Knowledge workers are workers whose main capital is knowledge.” In other words, we hire knowledge workers and pay them to think. We hope that they are smarter […]

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Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose

Being Heard:

For many of us, the employees we hire are often referred to as “knowledge workers.” The most common definition of that term I’ve come across is, “Knowledge workers are workers whose main capital is knowledge.” In other words, we hire knowledge workers and pay them to think. We hope that they are smarter than we are in whatever their expertise is supposed to be.

“Being heard is so close to being loved that for the average person, they are almost indistinguishable.” — David W. Augsburger, Caring Enough to Hear and Be Heard

My observation is, though, that we hire these workers, and instead of listening to them, we tend to tell them what to do. And, then we wonder why they get discouraged and leave.

Autonomy

According to studies reviewed by Daniel Pink and reported in his 2009 book Drive, we know that what motivates knowledge workers is having Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose. What they mean by autonomy is that we have clearly defined values, well-defined projects and we hand those projects over to them and let them run with them. No micromanaging!

Mastery

Many employees want to grow and increase their value to the organization. They want to continue to master their field of expertise. If the knowledge worker believes that they are not being challenged to learn more and gain more skill, they will consider their situation to be career limiting. They will leave to find more challenging work.

Continuous life-long learning is highly valued by many knowledge workers. As employers, we should not only accept the challenge of providing an environment conducive to that learning, we should actively promote staying up to date on our rapidly changing world.

Purpose

I believe all workers want to have a vision that is compelling and “bigger than themselves.” It’s not easy to develop such a vision. It is much easier to pay attention to the SMART goals and other KPIs. However, if those goals and KPIs are not clearly in service of a compelling vision (making more profit is NOT a compelling vision for anyone except, perhaps, the owner/shareholder), then we wind up with a disengaged workforce. Productivity and effectiveness are greatly diminished without a compelling vision.

An Envelope of Trust

All this adds up to the business leader building a culture of trust within the organization. If I’m not willing to give you a project and let you work on it without micromanagement, then the conclusion is you do not believe I have the technical competence or that I have the organization’s best interest at heart. If the concern is a lack of technical competency, then the onus is on leadership to bring the employees up to speed. If the concern is that the employee doesn’t have the company’s best interest at heart, then leadership has either hired the wrong employee, has proven that they do not have the employee’s best interest at heart, or is not living the values espoused by the company. Either way, it is incumbent on leadership to develop and maintain an “Envelope of Trust.”

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Coach Only the Coachable https://execleadercoach.com/2019/10/30/coach-only-the-coachable/ Wed, 30 Oct 2019 16:30:00 +0000 https://execleadercoach.com/?p=9498 Smartest Person in the Room: Carol Dweck discusses “Fixed Mindset” versus “Growth Mindset” in her book Mindset: the new psychology of success. I find her definitions and description of the people who have one or the other mindset to be very useful in my professional and personal life. As usual, things with human beings are […]

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Mentor and Coach

Smartest Person in the Room:

Carol Dweck discusses “Fixed Mindset” versus “Growth Mindset” in her book Mindset: the new psychology of success. I find her definitions and description of the people who have one or the other mindset to be very useful in my professional and personal life. As usual, things with human beings are complicated. Most of us have some of both mindsets depending on what’s in front of us.

A person with a fixed mindset often believes they are the smartest person in the room. They figure they have all they will ever have by way of intelligence or knowledge and that there’s no further growth possible. Sometimes, that translates to them seeking out groups where they can be the smartest person in the room.

A fixed mindset person is not coachable. It’s a waste of time to try. They may be very reasonable in their attitude, but in the end, they will not embrace the idea that they have something to learn. If they fail at a task, they blame someone or something else and give up.

Wrong Room

Growth mindset people specifically look for rooms where they are not the smartest person. They believe in the saying, “if I am are the smartest person in the room, then I am in the wrong room!” They want to learn more. If they fail at a task, they immediately assume that they either must try harder or learn something new, or both to be successful.

Don’t misunderstand, many growth mindset people love to help and share their knowledge. They tend to be life-long learners, as well as being ready to help as needed.

Internal Coaching

I believe that it is a leader’s responsibility to develop other leaders. And, I’ve often heard my coaching colleagues point out that “coaching without permission is abuse.” Thus, even when it is my responsibility to help bring my employees along on the leadership path, I must have their permission to mentor and coach.

It is also my responsibility to use my own time wisely and coach only those who are coachable. It shouldn’t take too long to figure out who those people are!

Coaching is Personal

A good coach understands that she is not necessarily the right coach for every person. Choosing a coach is very personal.

Mercy Jimenez, senior vice president of the National Business Center at Fannie Mae, has participated in several coaching arrangements funded by her organization with the aim of developing her skills and increasing the value of her on-the-job contributions. In selecting a coach, she has learned to insist on a personal affinity: “You’re going to divulge personal facts and points of view that are very private,” she says. “If you don’t feel comfortable doing that with a particular coach, you’ll hold back—and then the coach won’t be able to help you.”

HBR, Getting More from Executive Coaching, by Lauren Keller Johnson, 2007

Last Words

Great leaders develop other leaders. As well as themselves. They carefully choose the employees they will spend time mentoring or coaching. They quickly determine who is uncoachable—either because that person is of a fixed mindset or because they are not a match to the coach’s personality or skillset.

Great leaders also seek their own coaches. I was delighted to learn, some time ago, that during the time he was leading the turnaround at Ford Motor Company, Alan Mulally had his own Executive Coach. Mr. Mulally was definitely at the top of his game, yet he still realized he could continue to learn and grow.

Good coaches must also have a growth mindset. My experience is that I learn a great deal from many of my coaching clients and sessions. That continued personal growth is a significant part of why I love executive coaching.

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No Gap https://execleadercoach.com/2019/10/23/no-gap/ Wed, 23 Oct 2019 16:30:00 +0000 https://execleadercoach.com/?p=9486 Radical Truthfulness: Allowing employees to speak openly about what they are thinking about the performance of managers, colleagues and employees, ideas, projects, and policies is both scary and challenging. It is also critical to making sure that the best ideas win rather than a compromise or consensus idea. We hire people, especially knowledge-workers, to think, […]

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Almost everyone can see and share almost everything. Radical Truthfulness and Radical Transparency.

Radical Truthfulness:

Allowing employees to speak openly about what they are thinking about the performance of managers, colleagues and employees, ideas, projects, and policies is both scary and challenging. It is also critical to making sure that the best ideas win rather than a compromise or consensus idea.

We hire people, especially knowledge-workers, to think, not just be an extra pair of hands. Why, then, do we not take advantage of their brainpower by allowing them to critique performance? —with dignity and respect of course.

Carefrontational

Radically honest feedback must be immediate and delivered in a manner that can be heard. That is always easier said than done. With practice and attention to building the company culture, we can achieve such an environment. In such an environment there is continuous learning through caring confrontation (carefrontation).

Radical Transparency

Close to radical truthfulness and honesty, but not quite the same, is the concept of radical transparency. Truthfulness is about getting to the reality of a situation and not just our own bias about what is going on. People must not filter their own thoughts and questions about strengths and weaknesses.

Transparency is more about being open-minded and giving everyone the ability to see almost everything. The two, radical truthfulness and radical transparency, are powerful tools for continuous improvement of leadership at every level of the organization.

Eustress

Eustress is “good stress.” An example of the concepts above is Ray Dalio’s Bridgewater company. In his book Principles (see below), he states that:

“Most people initially find this process exciting and uncomfortable. While they typically appreciate it intellectually, they also typically are initially challenged by it emotionally because it requires them to separate themselves from their ego’s attachment to being right and try to see what they have a hard time seeing.”

The stress of that challenge is, in the end, good stress and people are made stronger if they can school themselves in the process. People who embrace and live out the culture as described by Dalio not only thrive, but the organization becomes extremely efficient.

And, Finally

So, we see that radical transparency coupled with immediate caring feedback (radical truthfulness) makes for a healthy work environment. It is also a stressful environment. People learn and grow in such a workplace. Still, that kind of environment is not for the faint of heart. Employees must authentically want to grow and help others to grow as well. They must have a growth mindset as opposed to a fixed mindset. And, of course, they must be able to control their egos.

In his book Principles, Ray Dalio speaks at length about how challenging it is to work in such a radically honest and transparent environment. Here is a link to his TEDTalk which is a quick summary of the concepts of radical transparency and radical truthfulness.

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Big Brains https://execleadercoach.com/2019/10/16/big-brains/ Wed, 16 Oct 2019 16:30:52 +0000 https://execleadercoach.com/?p=9481 If We’re So Smart: Lately, there have been many articles on most media platforms about how we humans are purposely manipulated by other humans. On the surface, that seems a bit crazy. After all, we are the most intelligent species on earth, right? Yet, we see suckers being born every day. The Silly Season Let’s […]

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If We’re So Smart:

Lately, there have been many articles on most media platforms about how we humans are purposely manipulated by other humans. On the surface, that seems a bit crazy. After all, we are the most intelligent species on earth, right? Yet, we see suckers being born every day.

The Silly Season

Let’s start with the misleading and outright false statements being made during this hyper-partisan election cycle. Neither end of the political spectrum is clean on this, so I’m not taking sides. We are all being manipulated by those who would have us support them. I see no way to combat this other than the hard work of doing our own research and not taking the statements of either party as being entirely truthful. Assume we are being manipulated.

There Is No Box

It’s all too easy to get boxed into an echo chamber where all we hear is from “like-minded people.” I do not see how it can possibly be useful to not know what others, who do not think like me or have my experiences, are thinking.

Useful Tool

I find that more colleagues and friends state that they “never” answer their phone unless they know who is calling. Following that rule saves an incredible amount of time for me. At last count, I had just under 3,000 contacts in my file. Whenever I meet someone in person or am introduced to someone by a trusted colleague, I put their information in my contact list. The odds are very high that if a name doesn’t come up when the phone “rings,” it is someone who I do not need to speak with. If it is a legitimate call, I will, of course, get a voice mail and can decide how to respond.

Based on the number of calls not answered, and the very few voice-mails I receive, I can only conclude that I have avoided a considerable amount of time-wasting interruptions.

Only Buy

If I want it, I have it, or I’ve decided what I want doesn’t fit in my budget. Therefore, I only buy, I do not let myself be sold. How about you?

In Conclusion

My sense of things is that to the extent that we can be aware that we are susceptible to conspiracy theories, clickbait ads on the Internet, and the comfort of echo chambers, we might be able to fight back against the manipulators. Developing a keen skepticism and the discipline of confirming, as best we can, the information we receive before passing it along will help us combat becoming a sucker.

I believe we have a chance to save our democracy and keep a vibrant capitalist economy if we:

  • Seek information from and strive to understand those with whom we disagree
  • Never answer the phone unless we know who is calling
  • Only buy, never let ourselves be sold
  • Ignore what others have or do and find our own happiness

I don’t believe it is hyperbole to say our way of life depends on us evolving defenses against the manipulators who desire that we do what they want instead of what we want for ourselves. Most of us can follow the mantra that “in today’s modern economy if I want or need something, I already have it or have decided it isn’t in my budget.” Therefore, anyone trying to sell me something does not have my best interest at heart.

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Heads Held High https://execleadercoach.com/2019/10/09/heads-held-high/ Wed, 09 Oct 2019 16:30:00 +0000 https://execleadercoach.com/?p=9477 Saving Face: During my time working with colleagues at a Japanese owned company, I learned how important it was to make sure people left any kind of public or group encounter with their pride intact. I’m pretty sure I knew that was appropriate before joining the company, but it was emphasized within that culture. At […]

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Saving Face:

During my time working with colleagues at a Japanese owned company, I learned how important it was to make sure people left any kind of public or group encounter with their pride intact. I’m pretty sure I knew that was appropriate before joining the company, but it was emphasized within that culture.

At first, the most notable practice was how meetings were conducted. Any significant change to the operation or procedures required many hours of meetings with individuals in a one-to-one setting. Then, when everyone knew and agreed to what needed to be done, a meeting of all the appropriate people was scheduled. The meeting was only to confirm, in public, what had already been decided.

But the same care for personal dignity extended to all parts of the company.

Reduction in Force

For example, I appreciated the fact that this company worked very hard to make sure that when they had to let someone go, they did so in a manner that allowed the person to leave with their heads held high. Even if they were let go for cause, they supported the person with discussions on lessons learned and actions they could take to improve their performance.

Celebrate

Many of the leaders in this organization authentically celebrated individual and team accomplishments. They, in fact, cared about the employees and made sure to recognize them for going above and beyond the expectations for their job. They wanted to find out what kept the employees engaged. And while we didn’t use these words at the time, I can look back and see that there was an attempt to provide autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

A Bit Too Far?

I admit to being frustrated with not being able to have open and frank disagreements in meetings. At least for me, the communications were sometimes obfuscated by trying to be gentle with another person’s image or feelings. I sometimes missed what my Japanese counterpart was asking because it was too obtuse. The conversation was often cloaked in careful language designed to preserve my dignity and that of the other players.

Our western culture is to hash things out at meetings and come to an agreement on how to proceed. Not necessarily 100% agreement or a full consensus. But after arguing and putting forth our best ideas, an agreement was reached on how to move forward. As I mentioned, in this Japanese culture, all the negotiations went on outside of and before the meeting. The meeting was primarily to let everyone know, in a public forum, the results of individual discussions.

The Best of Both Worlds

My sense of things is that we can take the best of both cultures and make a pretty good meeting culture. Western companies can do more to be carefrontational—that is, to be concerned about preserving an individual’s dignity while also pointing out needs for improvement. At the same time, we need to maintain our penchant for a direct communication style. We can be more concerned about not giving offense, but also work harder at not taking offense.

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Shaming https://execleadercoach.com/2019/09/18/shaming/ Wed, 18 Sep 2019 16:30:00 +0000 https://execleadercoach.com/?p=9440 Question: I had an interesting question from a student in a recent guest lecture I gave at a local university. To paraphrase, the student asked, “Why do we say it’s best to criticize in private? I played competitive sports. The coach criticized us in public all the time. The shame caused us to redouble our […]

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Question:

I had an interesting question from a student in a recent guest lecture I gave at a local university. To paraphrase, the student asked, “Why do we say it’s best to criticize in private? I played competitive sports. The coach criticized us in public all the time. The shame caused us to redouble our efforts. So, won’t you get more out of me if you criticize in public?” That was an unexpected and excellent question. It made me think about what I’ve pretty much taken for granted: Praise in public, criticize in private.

Where Will They Focus?

If I am criticized in a public way—shamed—I am quite naturally going to focus on myself and maybe my performance. Ostensibly, that is what the coach wants. I focus on my performance and, hopefully, improve it to the point where it is better for the team.

I am sure that is the way some folks will react. My experience is, though, that more people focus on the feelings of being shamed and cannot concentrate on improving personal performance. This is not only my personal response but has been reported to me by many of my coaching clients as we discuss their own experiences. I also find that shaming isn’t necessary for most human beings.

The Team and I Know

Highly functional teams know how individuals are performing and whether they are adding to or subtracting from the team effort. Great teams will discuss results openly without shaming or demeaning any individual. They will stay focused on behavior and outcomes rather than placing blame or shaming.

Trust is critical to a high-performance team. I fail to see how a culture of public shaming builds trust. For me to believe you have my best interest at heart (trust), I would expect support in the public arena and frank discussions around areas for improvement in private.

Organization

When leaders and employees become defensive and focused on their own survival, we wind up with organizational silos. For example, at the c-suite level, a defensive leader, trying to avoid shame, will be cautious and deflect any well-meaning feedback. She will not be forthcoming with the challenges she faces nor will she ask for help. Instead, communication will be limited, and she will be loyal to the team she leads rather than the team she is on (the c-suite leadership team). Inevitably, that leads to the creation of silos rather than cross-functional support and cooperation.

Not a Team Sport Player

For various reasons that I won’t go into at this time, I was never a team sports participant. I was (and am) physically active, but when it comes to sports, I participate in more individual ways (golf, cross-country skiing, martial arts, and running). The closest I came to organized team sports was participation in vocal music. My recollection of that activity was that there was no public shaming to “inspire me to greater performance.” Instead, there was an abundance of public encouragement. Then, in private lessons, we did the hard work of perfecting individual contributions.

Bottom Line

I am grateful for this question. It is a perfect one, and it made me examine my assumptions. But in the end, I found my belief that it is best to praise in public and share feedback in private to be the most effective way to lead individuals and teams. It also is more in line with my values of building trust, treating individuals with respect, being transparent, holding myself and others accountable, continuous improvement, and leadership development. I am happiest and most productive in a culture that lives those values.

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