Many organizations are in pain. I am just back from the Front-End of Innovation conference in Copenhagen where I met several friends, ex-colleagues, relatives, business partners, and it seems that change and re-organization are the new normal in our organizations these days. These days, one could jokingly introduce her by saying “what re-organization do you work for?”. But that may be too cynical a start for a blog post.
It also seems to be a constant these days that organizations retract into the comfort zone of their core business and are tuning down their innovation initiatives. I have heard it from at least 4-5 large organizations this week. What remains is a lot of innovation rhetoric but no action on the floor other than political power games.
More importantly, what remains as well is a lot of pain of colleagues seeing their best working mates (have to) leave the company in the worst case, or being re-organized into other departments at best. In Copenhagen, I have seen the pain, fear, and desperation in people’s eyes.
This blog post is about those re-organization pains, and some possible avenues to deal with them.
- One way to react is driven by emotions: getting in a state of perpetual frustration, blame, gossip, under the skin fights, and self-service. It’s a state of mind that only aggravates the situation, alienates people and teams more from each other than ever.
- Another way to react is the flee into the comfort zone of tactical actions and quick hits and extrapolating or creating quick and dirty variations of the tricks and processes we are familiar with, without any level of intentionality.
- The third way – which I would like to promote – is to look deep under the skin of our professional and private way of being. To get to this insight, I was influenced by three books that I was reading more or less in parallel.
The first book I would like to recommend is “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team” by Patrick Lencioni (Amazon Affiliates Link).
The author explains razor sharp that trust is the essential foundation of highly effective teams (and organizations). As can be seen from the layered pyramid below, lack of trust in the end leads to inattention to results.
I have taken a the following really good summary out of another book “Search Inside Yourself”, that I will refer to later again in this blog post.
The five dysfunctions, in order of causality are:
- Absence of trust: People do not trust the intentions of their teammates. They feel the need to protect themselves from each other and tread carefully around others on the team. This leads to the next dysfunction.
- Fear of conflict: Without trust, people are unwilling to involve themselves in productive debates and conflicts, the type of good conflict that focuses entirely on resolving issues without involving character attacks or hidden personal agendas. Without such healthy conflicts, issues stay unresolved or are unsatisfactorily resolved. People feel they have not been properly involved in decisions. This leads to the next dysfunction.
- Lack of commitment: When people feel their input has not been properly considered and that they have not been properly involved in decisions, they have no buy-in. They do not commit to the final decisions. Ambiguity about priorities and directions festers, and uncertainties linger. This leads to the next dysfunction.
- Avoidance of accountability: When people have no buy in about decisions, they avoid accepting accountability. Worse still, they do not hold their teammates accountable to high standards. Resentment festers, and mediocrity spreads. This leads to the final dysfunction.
- Inattention to results: The ultimate dysfunction of a team. People care about something other than the collective goals of the team. Goals are not met, results are not achieved, and you lose your best people to your competitors.
It all begins with trust. The absence of trust is the root cause of all other dysfunctions. Specifically, the type of trust Lencioni talks about is what he calls “vulnerability-based trust.” That is when team members trust the intentions of each other enough that they are willing to expose their own vulnerabilities because they are confident their exposed vulnerabilities will not be used against them. Hence, they are willing to admit issues and deficiencies and ask for help. In other words, they are able to concentrate their energies on achieving the team’s common goals, rather than wasting time trying to defend their egos and look good to their teammates.
Do you trust your team members enough that to expose your own vulnerabilities because you are confident that your exposed vulnerabilities will not be used against you? That you will not be presented sooner or later with the emotional bill? Or is the trust and alignment in your team of a very superficial and low-quality nature?
I fully buy the trust argument in the book. What the book unfortunately does NOT explain is how you get to this level of trust.
My premise is that it starts by looking at people as people, not as objects. By developing a very high standard of empathy for the others. Looking at the other person not as the team member of this or that department (that would be looking at the person as an object, and attaching value to that object based on its hierarchical of functional power or non-power). This is of course very much related to the topic of “LeadINGship” and “Leading from the Edge” that I have shared already at many occasions on my blog.
“Looking at people as people” means looking at people in their wholeness, their full being, with all the aspects that that person brings, like cultural baggage, family situations, vulnerabilities, issues, motivations, concerns, etc
When I look at people as an object, I am “living IN the box”. When I look at people as people, I am “Living OUT of the box”. This living in/out of the box is very well described in “Leadership and Self-Deception” by The Arbinger Institute (Amazon Affiliate Link).
“We have to develop a culture where people are simply invited to see others as people. And being seen and treated straightforwardly, people respond accordingly”
But the book goes much further than that, and brings the subjects of self-deception and self-betrayal in full frontal view, and that can be quite confrontational.
Self-Deception and its consequence Self-Betrayal happen when you see a person in need, you feel you should act, but you don’t. What happens then are a couple of behaviors that I recognize with others and myself; I get into a defense mode:
- I start blaming (maybe not vocally, but for sure internally) the other, the system, the management, and/or the company for all the things that don’t work. Yes, of course the problem of all evil is out there, not with me.
- I start minimizing or ignoring my own faults, failures, and weaknesses
- I start inflating the faults of the other persons or teams or departments.
- I start inflating my virtues: it is because the others don’t have the same virtues as myself that of course things don’t work as they should.
“I just mean that in acting contrary to my sense of what was appropriate, I betrayed my own sense of how I should be toward another person. So we call such an act ‘self-betrayal.” And “I focused on and inflated her faults when I needed to feel justified for mine.”
This is about anger and frustration but at the same time feeling deep inside that “I was aware of the hypocrisy in my anger”.
What is even worse, this sort of in-the-box behavior for sure does NOT solicit the desired counter-behavior in others: it’s a disease that is infectious and viral in nature.
“In the box we provoke others to get in the box — both with us and against us. Our allies and we withhold information, for example, which gives others reason to do the same. We try to control others, which provokes the very resistance that we feel the need to control all the more. We withhold resources from others, who then feel the need to protect resources from us. We blame others for dragging their feet and in so doing give them reason to feel justified in dragging their feet all the more. And so on. Collusion spreads far and wide, and the result is that coworkers position themselves against coworkers, workgroups against workgroups, and departments against departments. People who came together to help an organization succeed actually end up delighting in each other’s failures and resenting each other’s successes.”
“But gradually I came to see the lie in my defensiveness. I saw in myself a leader who was so sure of the brilliance of his own ideas that he couldn’t allow brilliance in anyone else’s; a leader who felt he was so ‘enlightened’ that he needed to see workers negatively in order to prove his enlightenment; a leader so driven to be the best that he made sure no one else could be as good as he was. I was carrying the disease I blamed everyone else for. I infected them and then blamed them for the infection. Our organizational chart was a chart of colluding boxes. We were a mess.”
So key messages here are:
- Stay away from self-defensiveness
- See people as people not objects
- Develop a superior awareness whether you are in/out the box of self-betrayal
Meng also refers to “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team” (see summary above) and it was at that moment that the pieces of the puzzle starting falling together and make sense. The “Search Inside Yourself” book is in essence about self-awareness.
“Self-awareness depends on being able to see ourselves objectively, and that requires the ability to examine our thoughts and emotions from a third-person perspective, not getting swept up in the emotion, not identifying with it, but just seeing it clearly and objectively…. We are not our emotions. Emotions become what we experience in the body, so we go from “I am angry” to “I experience anger in my body”
“We have the tendency to feel bad about feeling bad. I call it “meta-distress,” distress about experiencing distress. Also recognize that feeling bad about feeling bad is an act of ego” and “Success and failure are emotional experiences. These emotions can give rise to grasping and aversion, which can hold us back and hamper our ability to achieve our goals.
But there is hope, says Meng: we can become emotionally resilient to grasping onto success and aversion from failure.
The sentence that really blow me way and could become the cornerstone of our new renaissance, our new way of responding to whatever we encounter in life was:
“Imagine the kindest, most positive response” to whatever comes your way.
Wow! Read that again:
“Imagine the kindest, most positive response”
What would happen in our organizations if:
- Stay away from self-defensiveness;
- We would always look at the other person as a person and not an object;
- Develop a superior awareness whether you are in/out the box of self-betrayal
- And in all occasions, try to “Imagine the kindest, most positive response”
“Kindness is the engine of empathy; it motivates you to care, and it makes you more receptive to others, and them to you”
The first time that the word/feeling/attitude “kindness” entered like a bomb in myself was when listening to Jeff Bezos during the graduation speech Princeton, where he says, “it is harder to be kind than clever”. I have posted the link to this speech before, but here it is once more, as so good. Full transcript here
The second time the word/feeling/attitude “kindness” resonated deeply in myself was when reading that book “Search Inside Yourself” (see above).
The third time was later in the same book, where Meng extends the self-awareness to organizational and political awareness.
“Political awareness is a more difficult skill: the ability to read an organization’s emotional currents and power relationships. Political awareness is the generalization of empathy from an interpersonal level to an organizational level… The ability to empathize on an organizational level, not just an interpersonal one… Distinguish between your own self-interest, the interest of your team, and the organization’s interest—everyone has all three of these interests. It is very important to understand which is which.
This is such a powerful message, that Meng and his friends made an “Institute” out of the book. Since March 1, 2013 all the curricula are available for free on the website of the SIY Institute:
“Any company that truly values the employee as their most valuable asset should do Search Inside Yourself”
“It’s a great way to develop and grow teams that can work together”
Kindness is associated with friendliness, gentleness, courtesy, kindliness, affability, goodness, tenderness, kindliness, benignity, sweetness. Meng focusses a lot on “goodness”. This empathic/kind self is probably the golden key to unlock and defuse the re-organization pains in our companies and institutions. One of the big shifts we have to make is the transformation from “I” to “We.”
That need for “I” to “We” transformation became also so evident in the talk of The Coca-Cola Man this week in Copenhagen, where Vince Vorne highlighted the need for “respect” for all your partners and stakeholders in and outside your organization and the need to make others win based on their merits and metrics.
It is too easy to fall back in blaming. Yes, we have to keep challenging the status-quo (or in some cased the regression), but we need also to do so in respect for our colleagues, partners, hierarchies, and bosses. Yes, we also have to have to look at them as persons not objects. And yes, we also can even drop our pride and hubris, and “kindly” forgive them for their perceived or real errors, even when it seemed like they were in self-service mode, taking the easiest and safest way out and leaving their teams in the cold. When we look at them as whole persons, they also bring context, pressures, and constraints that we may completely be unaware of.
Just a couple of weeks ago, Dan Rockwell @leadershipfreak wrote a fascinating post “13 Powertips for Leading through Uncertainty”; with a tip to ensure your boss support:
“Pull with – not against, higher ups. Grab the rope and pull, even if you disagree. Everyone who pulls in his or her own direction dilutes potential success. If you can’t pull with, jump ship, now.”
A bit along the same theme, there also was Regis Hadiaris @regishadiaris who posted this week “Martin Scorsese: Leadership lessons for Project Managers”.
A very good read from which I retain the following quote:
“You have to first ensure you understand your bosses. After that, use their view as a “lens” with which to see your project and yourself. By doing this, you’ll be able to ensure the project executes on their vision as well as yours.”
I deeply hope that applying these principles will make me/us more humble and soft (soft in the sense of soft looking eyes of kindness). If we all could at least give it a try, maybe we all get less cynical and frustrated, judgmental and control addicts; and we can recalibrate towards a renaissance of open mind, open heart and open will; more human and cultural and erudite.
I have made (and probably still will make) so many errors in my life against the principles of seeing people as people, helping when I see somebody in need, imagining the kindest, most positive response to whatever comes my way, and being respectful and getting buy-in from my leadership/leadingship.
But this time, I may have found a framework and context for greater awareness and the insight that I always have an option: the option to change and to turn the switch towards more kindness and forgiveness.
Maybe this way we can make the transition from “I” to “We” and positively impact the trust between ourselves, our teams, our departments, our companies, our society, our world.
In essence using Meng’s kindness as the input to the trust layer of Lencioni.