Archive for the ‘Organizations’ Category
A colleague of mine sent me a really interesting article from the NYT other other day, about the importance of ‘shared narrative’ in making people emotionally healthy. About 20 years ago, some researchers noted that kids who knew a lot about their own families tended to do better in challenging situations. They then created something they called the “Do You Know?” scale that asked children 20 questions, such as, “Do you know where your grandparents grew up? Do you know where your mom and dad went to high school? Do you know the story of your birth?”
It turned out that the “Do You Know?” questionnaire was an astonishingly accurate predictor. The article goes on to say, “The more children knew about their family’s history, the stronger their sense of control over their lives, the higher their self-esteem and the more successfully they believed their families functioned. The “Do You Know?” scale turned out to be the best single predictor of children’s emotional health and happiness.”
This reinforced a deep personal intuition I’ve always had as a parent: when my kids were small, we spent time talking about my parents and siblings; the experiences I’d had growing up; how their dad and I met; what we did in the world of work. We also talked about what they had been like as babies and small children, how they were alike and different from other members of the family. Finally, we told them about difficult things that had happened, and trials and tribulations overcome. Somehow I knew this was an important conversation for them to be a part of – and I was often surprised and saddened by how little the kids’ friends knew about their families: they often didn’t even know what their parents did for a living. We’re continuing that into the next generation, telling our granddaughter stories about ourselves and those who came before.
But it also reinforces something I’ve observed as a business consultant for the last thirty years: companies and teams that have a strong, mainly positive shared narrative about themselves also tend to be healthier, more flexible and more resilient in response to difficulty. For example, we worked with someone last year to help us further clarify our Proteus brand. She interviewed a number of staff members and consultants to find out about our current understanding of our own brand. And one thing she found is that each of us said very much thing same thing about what it was like working as part of our team, how we treat each other and our clients, what’s important to us. In other words, even though we needed to get crisper about our brand communication (we did), we had a really strong, consistent shared narrative about Proteus and ourselves as “Proteans.” I feel the power of that every day: it draws us together and helps us overcome the challenges of distance, the inevitable misunderstandings and disappointments of human interaction, and the ups and downs of growing a business.
We’ve been gathering around the campfire to share our stories since time immemorial…and it sounds like we need to keep doing it.
I’ve realized lately that there’s something I love no matter what form it takes: growth. The process of something changing its form to become more complete, more mature, more fully established and able to fulfill its innate purpose – wonderful.
It’s marvelous to observe in nature; it’s why I enjoy gardening so much. Think about it: a tomato seed is tiny, almost transparent, fragile-looking. (If you’ve never seen a tomato seed, here’s a comparison: a tomato seed is about the size and shape of this capital O.) And that tiny object, when put in the ground and watered, first breaks through the ground as a little green seedling. And then over the next few months – a remarkably short period of time – it grows as tall and wide as an adult person, yields dozens and dozens of tomatoes, each of which is hundreds of times larger than the original seed.
And I’ve understood that growth – any kind of growth – requires two things: a framework for expansion and a compulsion to evolve. In nature, DNA provides that framework. The tomato seed contains all the instructions needed for the fully mature plant, as the human egg and sperm do for the adult human being.
The compulsion to evolve is the thing that fascinates me. I see it in all life: it shows up in animals as the urge to survive and reproduce; in plants as breaking through the ground, turning toward the light. It shows up in human beings as curiosity, competition, the will to create a better life for one’s children.
Earlier this week I had the chance to spend a couple of days with a very senior team in a large client company of ours. I’ve been coaching the leader of this team for the past five or six years. My intention – as is always the case when I coach – has been to offer him good frameworks for growth, and help him get in touch with his own compulsion to evolve. It’s been a joy to observe his growth, as a person and as professional, over these years.
But this time I saw his team evolving, as well, and it was so exciting to me. Over the past five years, I’ve worked with this team on 3 different occasions. This time, I saw framework + compulsion. By framework, I mean that they’re finally set up properly: they have the right people in the right roles, they’re clearer than ever on what they’re trying to do and how they’ll do it. We did some work in this session that helped clarify those framing supports even more.
The new thing though, and the most wonderful to see: the awakening of the compulsion to evolve. In previous iterations, there were people on the team who weren’tat all sure they wanted to grow as a team. This time, every single person in the room genuinely wanted to evolve into a high-performance team that will get great results and have fun doing it.
And to me, that’s as amazing as the tiny seed becoming a gigantic fruitful plant. That a group of people would come together and make a conscious decision to pool their passion, their experience and their trust in order to evolve into a new thing; a team.
A business miracle.
My partner Jeff sent me this wonderful article from The Week a few days ago. It’s a list (with definitions) of 14 words for which there are no English equivalents. A couple of them pinpoint experiences I’ve had so precisely (Koi No Yokan, in Japanese, is the sense upon first meeting a person that the two of you are going to fall in love) or are so obviously high-utility (Zeg, In Georgian, means ‘the day after tomorrow’) that I immediately wanted to co-opt them and insert them into English.
And it made me reflect on the wonderfully organic nature of language. Live languages grow like organisms: they evolve toward usefulness and away from functional dead ends; they interbreed with other languages to acquire elements that serve them better. For instance, think of all the words that we now think of as English, but that are actually borrowing of genetic material, if you will, from other languages. Words that we added into our lexicon because we didn’t have a good word in English for the concept or thing they describe. A few examples:
Kindergarten – German for “children’s garden”; a great word to describe a place where children go to grow that’s not quite a school but more than a play group
Rendezvous – In French, rendez – vous, “go to you”; a meeting, usually with one other person, at a predetermined time and place…a very useful word, and so – voila! – we now think of it as English. (Like “voila,” a contraction of vois la which means “see there” and which we use to mean lots of things, from “there you go,” to “here it so,” or “so it happens.” Also very useful.)
Pundit – In Hindi payndit is ‘a learned man, master or teacher.’ Good to have a single word to describe someone who is considered (though perhaps only self-considered) an expert on a particular topic.
And then there are all the words that morph into new parts of speech to suit a particular need. At what exact point in time, I wonder, did Google become a verb as well as a descriptive noun?
As the pace of change and the globalization of communication continues, I can’t wait to see what the next decade brings in terms of the evolution of the English language.
For myself, I’m going to just start using a bunch of these words – including Lagom (Swedish for “Not too much, and not too little, but juuuuust right”).
There’s a name for phrases like this: in the English language, collective nouns for groups of a specific animal are called “terms of venery.” For instance, “a pride of lions,” or “a gaggle of geese.” As I understand it, this tradition began in Europe in the middle ages – and it became a fun and fashionable thing to do to create whimsical and ever-more-exotic terms of venery. In fact, in the 15th century there was even a fad for extending terms of venery to groups of human beings (“a sentence of judges,” “a melody of harpers”).
Some of these terms are simply wonderful. “An exaltation of larks” is one of my favorites, but I also like “a murder of crows” and “a clowder of cats.” I love how these terms were created to capture some essential quality of the animal described.
Over the past couple of days, I was in Austin to attend 800CEOREAD’s Author Pow Wow – an absolutely marvelous, fun, useful yearly conference of business book authors and the people who support and partner with us in the creation of our books: publishers, publicists, social media consultants, presentation skills experts, ghostwriters, agents.
It’s so great. Spending two days with 40 smart, curious, funny, collaborative people who are trying to figure out how to teach and share important ideas in an industry that’s changing faster than we can name the changes: Exhilarating. Inspiring. Reassuring.
So, my extreme thanks to 800CEOREAD, and Pow Wow sponsors Cave Henricks Communications, Shelton Interactive, and Greenleaf Book Group.
And I’ve decided that the proper term for our Pow Wow group is “an insight of business book authors.”
I’ve really loved writing these last twelve posts about the leaders in Leading So People Will Follow. I’m fond of and have great respect for every one of them, and some of them have become good friends over the years.
Tomorrow night in New York City we’re having a launch party for the book, and we’re also giving each of these leaders a Fully Accepted Leader Award. I’m really looking forward to it, on a variety of levels. I’m especially excited about the opportunity to publicly thank and acknowledge these folks for making the effort, every day, to be good and worthy leaders.
As the ‘book team’ has been preparing for this party and for the book’s launch, we’ve been talking (as you might imagine) about good leaders, and how profoundly they can affect their followers, their companies, even the world. Rusty Shelton had a great idea last week, which we evolved in collaboration, and which I want to share with you here.
Let’s declare October 16th Fully Accepted Leader Day. Let’s make it the day, this year
courtesy Andrei Shumskly
and every year, to publicly celebrate and thank the great leaders in our lives; those people who we’ve experienced as consistently far-sighted, passionate, courageous, wise, generous, and trustworthy in guiding and directing us. It could be a parent, a coach, a teacher, or a manager. It could be the company CEO, or the executive assistant who organized a disaster relief effort single-handed. It could be someone who stepped up in an emergency, or someone who shows up as a quiet, inspiring leader day in and day out.
On the 16th, I encourage you to thank these people publicly: on your blog or through facebook or Twitter; with a photo essay on Pinterest; by sending an email to the person and cc-ing your larger circle. And of course, the 16th is just an excuse: how great it would be if we took the opportunity any day, all year, to thank those people who have impacted our lives in a positive way.
Too often, we talk as though there are not good leaders – as though all organizations are run by self-aggrandizing fools, everyone in public office is slick and cynical, and any person who’s in a position of power is corrupt. Let’s let everyone know about the good, worthy, followable leaders who’ve inspired us, helped us grow, and made our lives better.
Viva la Fully Accepted Leaders!
“David Seltzer is another trustworthy leader for whom I have great respect. David is the managing partner of Management 360, an LA-based artist and literary management company. In an industry often characterized by questionable dealings, loose lips, and a pronounced lack of ethics, the folks at Management 360 have made integrity one of their key competitive advantages. David is extraordinarily discreet; I’ve known and worked with him for a number of years, and he has never once revealed to me a single piece of information about any of his celebrity clients. He doesn’t even drop seemingly harmless pieces of intel about who’s he’s traveling to support or meet with, information that could make him look cool but might possibly compromise his clients’ privacy.
He also has high standards of discretion internally; if one of his colleagues tells him something in confidence – it stays confidential. I’ve noticed how his colleagues, most of whom have worked with him for many years, rely on his discretion; they share sensitive topics with him without hesitation. They feel safe to do so.
As with the first two elements of trustworthiness, when leaders keep confidences, it creates an atmosphere of safety and calm; people are more likely to be able to focus on doing the work, as opposed to figuring out how to protect themselves from the leaders’ indiscretion.”
— From Chapter 8 of Leading So People Will Follow
I really like working with David: I feel completely confident that he will always tell me the truth as he understands it. Over the past few months, I’ve been talking with David and one of his colleagues about some work we may be doing with their partners. It’s a huge relief knowing that if he commits to doing this work, it will happen. And if he doesn’t think it’s a good idea, he’ll tell me why, and it won’t happen.
I suspect that he deals with his clients in the same way (I don’t know for sure, because as I noted above, he never talks about them!) Imagine, for a moment, that you’re a mega-popular Hollywood artist, and every day most of the people you deal with suck up to you and tell you what they think you want to hear. Let’s say you’re not the kind of person who wants that; let’s pretend that you actually long for the people around you to be supportive and helpful without being sycophants. That you want people to be reasonably straight with you. How refreshing and reassuring would it be to have someone like David as your manager? Someone who would be willing to say “I don’t know if that’s a good script for you” or “I’m not sure that would be a great career move.” And if that person, as your manager, said, “This project is just what you need” – even if you disagreed, how great would it be to know that it was exactly what he or she believed, vs. what he or she thought was politically expedient?
As I noted above, I see David’s ethical approach, and that of his partners, as a huge competitive advantage for them. Especially when your industry doesn’t have a great reputation for trustworthiness (think Hollywood, car sales, insurance, diet and exercise, etc.) if you’re seen as the trustworthy provider, your starting point is miles ahead of the competition.
And trustworthiness has the same impact internally: if you, as the leader, have a reputation for straight dealing, discretion and delivering on your promises, it’s reassuring and comforting to your team in the same way.
Having the opportunity to work with leaders like Pat Langer and David Seltzer has really reinforced for me that trustworthiness isn’t only a moral imperative – it’s a powerful business driver.
“Pat Langer is a calming presence. Partly it’s because she’s very thoughtful and measured in her responses; partly it’s because she’s such a great listener. But I’m convinced that it’s primarily because she’s so entirely trustworthy: in dealing with her, you immediately relax – you feel safe.
The first time I ever met Pat, she had just been brought on as the head of HR, Legal and Business Affairs for Lifetime Television. I knew nothing about her or her background: all I knew was that some woman named Patricia had been hired to oversee these key staff functions.
We spent most of that first fairly brief conversation talking about the work that Proteus had been doing with Lifetime over the preceding 3 or 4 years. As we said goodbye, and I left her office, I realized two things: I had complete faith that she would respect the confidentiality of anything I had told her, and I was quite sure that she would follow through on her commitment to set up a second meeting.
Over the years, that initial sense of Pat’s trustworthiness has been affirmed again and again. And it’s not just my sense: when I mentioned to one of her colleagues that I was planning on using Pat as a “trustworthy exemplar” in this book, this person’s response was, “Good choice – Pat’s picture should be in the dictionary under the definition for the word ‘integrity.’”
— From Chapter 8 of Leading So People Will Follow
I enjoy seeing and experiencing the effects of Pat’s trustworthiness. Since January of 2011, Pat has been the EVP of HR for NBCUniversal, and it’s been a wild time. She joined right around the time Comcast became the majority owner of NBCUniversal, and so walked into a situation that involved huge change, massive uncertainty and high anxiety for all involved.
I was sure, though, that those around her would quickly come to see her thoughtfulness, honesty and fairness, and that it would have a profound positive influence on the situation. I’ve seen that happen: both the HR community at NBCUniversal and the folks in the business units now regard her as a core point of stability and clarity as they continue to define their new world.
Observing and working with Pat in this situation has really reinforced for me the importance of having trustworthy leaders during times of great change. Change is tough for people, and one of the things that makes it hardest is the heightened level of ambiguity. When a leader is trustworthy people can rely on the fact that he or she will tell them the truth about what’s happening and what will happen – which reduces the degree of ambiguity significantly. A really trustworthy leader will even tell you when he or she can’t tell you! I’ve seen Pat do this a number of times over the past couple of years, saying some version of, “I’m not free to talk about this yet because of confidentiality issues (or legal issues, or personnel issues); I’ll speak more about it as soon as I’m able.”
Knowing that you’ll get the straight story when everything is up for grabs is enormously reassuring. It frees people to keep moving ahead and go through the needed change, vs. getting paralyzed or resistant. Given the level of change in nearly every industry right now, trustworthiness in our leaders seems more important than ever before.
“Another generous leader with whom I’ve worked for many years, and for whom I have great affection, is Doug Herzog, the President of Viacom Entertainment Group. Doug is much more likely to assume positive than negative intent – he believes that people generally want to do good work, and that you should hire smart, capable people and assume that they’ll then be smart and capable. I’ve noticed over the years that most people really like working for him: they tend to blossom in the sun of his regard. They feel motivated to fulfill his positive expectations. Of course, sometimes people don’t fulfill his expectations, and then he can be disappointed, and sometimes even has to let them go – but the vast majority of the time, I’ve seen his hopefulness about people bear fruit.
For example, at one point many years ago, Doug was having some difficulties with one of his direct reports. This guy – let’s call him Joe – was running programming for one of the channels Doug manages, and while he was creative and smart, he was uncommunicative and hard to read. Rather than assuming that Joe had some hidden agenda or was being secretive, Doug assumed that he simply didn’t understand how his lack of communication was affecting those around him. He offered Joe an executive coach; Joe took advantage of the opportunity and improved his communication and his focus on teaming with others. Now, almost ten years later, Joe is running the network: he and Doug have a strong and positive working relationship.”
— From Chapter 7 of Leading So People Will Follow
Doug was the first client with whom I shared the six Accepted Leader attributes, in 1996. I had been working on the model for about a year, and felt as though I had something important – simple, true and useful. I explained to Doug how I had been observing the differences between ‘appointed’ and ‘accepted’ leaders, and how I had come to believe that we have a kind of radar for good leadership built into us from ancient times as a group survival mechanism. I laid out the six attributes – and he started applying them instantly, thinking out loud (very accurately) about some of his direct reports and which of the qualities they did and didn’t demonstrate. It was exciting for me; his immediate adoption was my first indicator that I had found something core to our perceptions of leadership.
But it also said something to me about Doug as a leader. I had already noticed that generous leaders tended to ‘assume positive intent’ – to believe that people want to do good work and be strong team members, and that when those things aren’t happening, it’s more likely to be the result of a misunderstanding or a lack of skill or knowledge, rather than of a malicious or selfish agenda, or a permanent inability on that person’s part. What I understood that day with Doug was that this generosity of spirit doesn’t make leaders naive or pollyanna-ish. Doug was quite clear about the leadership deficits of the folks working for him. Assuming positive intent, when well-practiced, is hopeful but realistic: you see people for who they are, and you believe that they can grow and want to grow.
It’s the essence of ‘reasonable aspiration,’ and it provides a great developmental environment for the followers of a generous leader.
“When Danny Meyer smiles, other people smile too. His good humor and hopefulness are highly infectious. Danny and I are walking along a Manhattan street, coming back to his office from a webcast we’ve just taped for Forbes.com about how to be a good people manager. Danny’s talking about the speaking gigs he’s been doing lately, and he’s excited. I notice people looking at him and breaking into spontaneous grins – it’s fun just to be around his energy. The good vibes continue when we get back into the Union Square Hospitality Group offices – the company of which Danny is founder and CEO. People seem genuinely glad to see him. As he walks toward his office, each little encounter is full of life: a shared smile; a brief greeting; a moment spent telling someone that he liked a graphic she had created; a quick question and response with one of his partners.
We’ve been working with Danny and his team for 20 years – they’re our longest client relationship. When I began developing this leadership model in the mid-nineties, Danny was the first person I thought of as an exemplar of the generous leader. And as I watch him make his way through the USHG office on this occasion, I see it again: Danny is generous with all the things a leader has to offer. He’s generous with time, attention, praise, resources, trust, information, knowledge, and – perhaps most notably – power.”
— From Chapter 7 of Leading So People Will Follow
It’s been both inspiring and educational observing Danny over the past twenty years; I love the opportunity provided by long-term client relationships to watch businesses and people grow. When I first met Danny in 1993, he had one restaurant – Union Square Cafe – and was in the process of moving toward opening his second, Gramercy Tavern. Now Union Square Hospitality Group, the company Danny and his partners formed to tie together all their establishments, is a NY-based world-spanning collection of fine dining restaurants, barbeque/jazz joints, a catering company, fast food emporia and upscale concessions at major sports arenas. And though these venues are hugely disparate in terms of menu, price point and locale, all of them have generosity at their core, as a bottom line value. Each of the enterprises is founded on Danny’s philosophy of ‘enlightened hospitality,’ which consists of five simple tenets: take care of each other; take care of our guests; take care of our vendors; take care of the community; and take care of the shareholders.
And he really means it. I’ve watched, over all these years, as Danny and his partners have made consistent effort to ensure that these principles of foundational generosity live in every person they hire and every business they run. It’s always tough to balance growth with maintaining a strong positive culture – it’s easy for core principles to get lost in the imperatives of profit, especially when you’re adding lots of new people to the mix all the time – but Danny and his team are doing a remarkable job.
Generosity in a leader is a wonderful thing to observe. It has almost mystical properties. I’m reminded of the quote from Saint Francis of Assisi, “For it is in giving that we receive.” I used to think that was meant to refer only to the experience of giving; that we receive the benefit of feeling spiritually and emotionally great when we’re genuinely generous. And it’s true that being generous feels wonderful. However, I’ve noticed that those leaders who give consistently – who are generous with time, belief, hope, resources, power and knowledge – also receive on a practical material level. They receive people’s loyalty, commitment, and effort. Because their followers give back creativity, hopefulness, energy, collaboration, and hard work, their generosity becomes a powerful catalyst for growth – their own personal growth, but also their people’s growth, and the growth and prosperity of their business.
As an investment, generosity gives great returns on every level. Leaders – take note.
“I saw Kathy Dore do this again and again during the years when she was a client. I noticed that when something didn’t work the way she’d hoped – a program, a sales effort, a business process – she’d sit down with her team and have an honest post-mortem. She’d ask, “Why didn’t this work?” or “What held us back from even greater success?” Then she’d help guide the conversation so that people could discover those elements of the effort most likely to be the source of any problems. Once they had gotten clearer on the “shape” of the problem, she’d ask, “What do we need to do differently next time to make this work (or make it work even better)?” And I know from speaking to her that her self-talk about this process was generally hopeful and practical: We can figure this out. We can make this better.
And the results? Kathy built strong, loyal, capable teams who deeply respected and supported her as their leader – and together they were able to build new businesses, turn around failing businesses, drive existing businesses to achieve much higher levels of success.”
— From Chapter 6 of Leading So People Will Follow
The first time I met Kathy, 16 years ago, I was immediately impressed with her wisdom. The way she gathered and reflected on ideas and input before responding gave the sense that she was giving important issues the consideration they deserved.
However- and this is key – she was not slow or indecisive. In fact, she made tough, complex decisions well and quickly…she just didn’t rush, or decide in an arbitrary or superficial way.
Sometimes it seems we assume that wisdom is a quality best left to philosophers and academics – those who aren’t bound by the deadlines and financial constraints of business.
But in my experience, the opposite is true, and Kathy’s a great example. When a far-sighted, passionate, courageous leader is also wise, it strikes a great balance. Wisdom is the counterweight to the forward motion of those first three traits; it keeps far-sightedness from becoming unrealistic, passion from turning into dogma, and courage from drifting into foolhardiness.
And now I have the great good fortune of benefiting from Kathy’s wisdom on a daily basis: in 2009 she went from client to colleague. Since then she’s served as a senior advisor at Proteus, and her wisdom is helping us grow well, and helping our clients create clear vision and strategy. Her wisdom simply has a new vehicle for driving businesses and catalyzing strong, thoughtful, successful teams.