Yearly Archives: 2011

The Meaning of “No”

 |  Change Leadership, Leadership

I had an interesting conversation the other day with an executive who is getting significant resistance when he presents his ideas for instituting change in his organization. Rather than focus on methods for leading change or overcoming resistance, I asked, “How do you interpret “No”? He looked at me puzzled for a minute and replied (as most of us would), “’No’ means ‘No’.”

I pressed on. “What if ‘no’ doesn’t mean ’no’?, I said. What if ‘no’ means ‘I don’t get what you’re talking about.’ or ‘What you’re proposing scares me.’ or ‘I don’t want to do that.’?”

There are three points I wanted him (and us) to reflect on. One, resistance isn’t necessarily a dead end to your idea. It simply means that you may need to rethink your strategy for securing buy-in and find another way to get it. If we stop to think about it, “no” doesn’t mean “no”; it means, “not this way.”

Two, using inquiry before advocacy is always a smart strategy for engaging others. As soon as we advocate for a position (or idea), the other person is voting – Do I agree or disagree? Using inquiry to open the conversation provides the opportunity to bring your option or idea into the conversation so that it meets with less resistance. You are inviting collaboration and that’s almost always a good idea.

Three, we can’t change others. If our tactic for securing buy-in isn’t working, complaining about it and being upset that we got shot down gets us nowhere. We need to change the only person we can – ourselves.

The final question we explored together was, “What shift to your relationship and communication strategy and/or your personal style will enable you to engage others and introduce your ideas in a way that reduces resistance and invites high acceptance and buy-in?” Some great ideas began to flow into our conversation. In the end it became clear that if my executive friend wants a different outcome, he can’t expect others to change. That’s up to him.

The Incredible Lightness of Leading

 |  Leadership

“Lighten up, Francis.” I love this line from Stripes (great movie, by the way). It is a constant reminder to me and to any leader that we run into trouble when we take ourselves too seriously. Most of us are not in roles where we are making life and death decisions. We are in business; we make and sell products, we sell and provide services. How is it that we become so worked up over things when something doesn’t go our way? Perhaps to be better leaders (and people), we need to “lighten up.”

I am not advocating being less than committed or serious about our work. I take my work very seriously. But, when we become overly serious about our work, we become closed down and certain, inflexible, and humorless. I know this is true for me. I think if you’re honest with yourself, you’ll acknowledge it’s true for you as well. These are not positive attributes that will serve us well as we work to drive our businesses forward and develop the capacity of the people around us to work with us in these endeavors.

As leaders, we are at our best when we are open and curious, when we approach our work with a sense of lightness. This mindset invites creativity, engagement, and collaboration. This mindset looks like flexibility, inquisitiveness, and a playful sense of humor as a way of being and leading. It allows us to become tolerant of uncertainty, which is vital for leaders; because in a world of constant change, certainty is an illusion and not our friend.

As things begin to ramp up, I challenge all of us to “lighten up.” What would it look like if we worked to drive our business forward and develop our people with a little more lightness? I think we’d be more inquisitive, more flexible, more comfortable with uncertainty, and more fun. Let’s try.

The Field

 |  Leadership

In Presence: Human Purpose and the Field of the Future, Peter Senge and his co-authors write:

“We’ve come to believe that the core capacity needed for accessing the field of the future is presence. We first thought of presence as being fully conscious and aware in the present moment. Then we began to appreciate presence as deep listening, of being open beyond one’s preconceptions and historical ways of making sense. We came to see the importance of letting go of old identities and the need to control and, as Salk said, making choices to serve the evolution of life. Ultimately, we came to see all these aspects of presence as leading to a state of “letting come,” of consciously participating in a larger field for change. When this happens, the field shifts, and the forces shaping a situation can shift from re-creating the past to manifesting or realizing an emerging future.” (2004)

I’ve spoken before about the path of leadership. There are no simple steps or directions on how to be a great leader. Leadership is a path. The path leads us to the field. The field is the place where we are present, non-reactive, attuned, and open to both letting go and, as Senge writes, “letting come.” When we are in the field, we are not concerned with the past, nor anxious about the future. When we are in the field, we are not being driven by fear or anxiety or frustration, anger, or sadness. When we are in the field, we are not relating to the world as victim, or hero, or villain, we are conscious and we are connected.

The field is where we as leaders need to be. I think our teams and our organizations will be extremely well served by our living and leading in the field. I think it is very difficult to enter and lead in the field and very easy for us to get pulled out of the field if and when we are in it. The starting point for walking the path of leadership is cultivating consciousness and awareness. Just this can take a lifetime. Indeed, cultivating consciousness and awareness requires a daily focus and practice.

Fear is something that can keep us from walking the path of leadership and entering the field – fear of change, fear of losing what we think we have, fear of confronting and owning our own reality. The question each of us has to answer is, “Do I choose to accept responsibility for my life and live and lead in the present, in the field, accepting what comes of the choices we make, or remain stuck in the past and afraid of the future?

As summer draws to a close and we begin gearing up for the next year of racing to accomplish and accumulate, I challenge us all to strive to cultivate consciousness and awareness. Sit for a few minutes each day. Reflect on what living and leading in the field might look like, feel like. Reflect on what might shift for us, for our teams, our families if we could be in the field more. What might the next year look like if we could begin to let go of our old identities, our need to control? What might the next year look like if we began to realize an emerging future from the field of real presence, the field of conscious leadership?

Don’t Just Do Something. Stand There!

 |  Change Leadership, Leadership

As we rush from meeting to meeting, task to task, project to project, how and when do we take the time to ask ourselves if we are doing more at the expense of “being” less? John Kotter talks of this as “false urgency.” We’ve all gotten very good at false urgency. And it’s not healthy. For us. For our teams. For our organizations. For our world. And, it’s not sustainable.

At the end of “The House at Pooh Corner” by A.A. Milne, Christopher Robin is telling Pooh that he won’t be able to do nothing anymore and will Pooh think of him when he is out in the world not doing “nothing.” Pooh promises he will and Christopher Robin promises that he will be there too (in spirit). And the story ends with the message that in that enchanted place in the Forest a little boy and his bear will always be playing.

As we are out in the world not doing nothing, we need to create time for ourselves to do nothing. It is in this sacred time of doing nothing that we find refreshment, rejuvenation, reconnection with our self and our journey, our meaning and our place. From this place we can distinguish between real and false urgency. From this place we can engage others with authenticity. From this place we can lead with real power.

Remember the old western movies when the stagecoach gets shot at and the driver drops the reins and the horses begin to run wildly! The stagecoach is headed toward the cliff and all will perish! The hero jumps onto the stagecoach, jumps down into the midst of the horses and grabs the reins to regain control and slow to stagecoach. Who’s driving your stagecoach and how fast are you going?

As we journey through life we leave a legacy with every person we encounter. What legacy are you creating? Is it time to be intentional? Is it time to regroup, refocus, and re-energize? Is it time for you to be the hero and regain control of your stagecoach?

We all want to feel as if who we are and what we are doing has meaning. How can we reconnect with our truest inner voice and rediscover our capacity to make our own meaning? How can we intentionally walk a path that moves us forward on a journey of our own making? How can we distinguish between true and false urgency, engage others with authenticity, and lead with real power. I think it starts with our making the time to sit in our enchanted place with a bear and play for a while.

Half Way There – Time to Persevere

 |  Leadership

My wife loves running. Those who know her know this is a gross understatement. I like running. Those who know me know that this is fairly accurate. I do like running. I like being able to fit into my clothes and enjoy some good food and beverage even more. So I run.

The hardest part of running for me is the mental challenge to go a little farther or a little longer than my body wants. I’ve learned something important about this from watching my wife. She is tenacious. She will not give in or give up. As someone who likes visual cues, I had a bracelet made with the word PERSEVERANCE stamped on it to wear while I run. It reminds me of my wife. It provides me with the jolt I need to override when my body says, “That’s enough for today.” It is a great reminder of why I’m out there.

We’ve just turned the corner at the midpoint of the calendar year. The first six months have been grueling for lots of folks out there. And, we’re only half way there. There’s still work to be done, challenges to be met, risks to be averted, and opportunities to be had. We need to persevere.

Perseverance is a huge differentiator. It separates winners from losers and leaders from followers. It is about mental toughness and discipline. It enables us to keep going when we’d rather not. The moment of truth for each of us is when we’re in the middle of it and we’d rather just stop. Being able to persevere sets us up to win and to lead.

When I’m out on a trail and there’s another g@%&*#n hill, I stop for a second. I breathe. I remind myself of why I’m doing this. I think about how I’m going to get up this hill and finish my run.

As we make our way from here to December 31st, we will, at many times, need to stop, breathe, remind ourselves of our highest intent, review and revise our strategies and plans, and then keep going. We will need to persevere. The alternative is unacceptable.

How Healthy are You?

 |  Change Leadership, Leadership

In their new book, Beyond Performance: How Great Organizations Build Ultimate Competitive Advantage (Wiley, 2011), Scott Keller and Colin Price make the case that organizational health is vital for sustaining high performance. They posit that “Organizational health – the ability of your organization to align, execute, and renew itself faster than your competitors can – is just as important as focusing on the traditional drivers of business performance.”

They’ve done the research that demonstrates that healthy companies outperform unhealthy ones and that focus on performance and health increases the success of change efforts across multiple industries. I welcome their research and their results. They are demonstrating quantitatively what we’ve known qualitatively for a long while.

Focusing on driving business results is important; but it’s not enough. Smart leadership focuses on facilitating engagement as well as driving performance. This happens when leadership creates the conditions that make an organization healthy: clarity (which results in alignment), atmosphere (which enables smart and swift execution), and talent (which results in the aptitude and attitude for resiliency, adaptability).

Organizational health is always important. It is especially critical in times of organizational transformation. Keller and Price report in their research that 70% of change efforts failed due to poor organizational health, the symptoms of which include negative employee attitudes and unproductive management behavior. Those companies that focused on performance and health were “twice as successful as those focusing on health alone and nearly three times as successful as those focusing on performance alone.” (“What successful transformations share” McKinsey Global Survey, March 2010).

When we apply the CAT Scan model to assess change efforts we find that failure is due to the narrow focus of so many change efforts. Leadership tends to focus on changing structure and systems in the hopes that people will magically engage the change and perform at a high level in spite of a lack of clarity (no alignment), an insufficient atmosphere (no guidance on what/how to execute), and disengaged talent (“negative employee attitudes and unproductive management behavior”/lack of aptitude). Successful change requires us to address the needs of people, teams, and the organizational culture in addition to structural and systems and processes.

If our organizations are going to deliver value and maintain competitive advantage, leadership needs to get better at this balancing act of focusing on both driving performance and facilitating engagement (ensuring organizational health). When we accept our responsibility to create clarity, shape a positive atmosphere, and develop talent, we drive performance. We remove barriers to high engagement. Leadership that accepts this and works on getting better and better at it can only have a positive impact in both the short and long term.

Leadership Lessons from My Father

 |  Leadership

This week I’d like to share an excerpt from a book I’m working on that captures leadership lessons I’ve gotten from my father. From time to time I’ll post a new excerpt. I hope you’ll share your thoughts and comments about them.

My father was a presence; though short in stature, he was a very big man. At least that’s how I remember him. He was larger-than-life. The larger-than-life aspect of his life begins with his birth.

Neil Anthony Giuliano was born in 1928 to Maria and Albert Giuliano. According to the legend, my father was born at home and weighed in at 16 pounds and 10 ounces. He was the fourth of, what in the final tally would be, nine children, all of whom were born at home except the youngest. My grandmother was pregnant 14 times in her 17 years of marriage; only with my grandfather’s death when my dad was 10 did the baby-making cease. My grandmother was only 34 years old when she was widowed. Anyway, that’s another story. I tell you this because these experiences – being one of nine in an Italian immigrant family, being dirt poor through the Great Depression, witnessing the strength and generosity of his mother through those difficult times, and losing his father at 10 helped shape who my father was to become.

Growing up during the Great Depression my father learned to do what it takes to survive, to pitch in to help the family, and to be grateful for what you have. He worked to help the family even though he was very young and looked out for his younger brothers and sisters. He told my brothers and sister and me of how at Christmas each year they would be thrilled to receive an orange for a gift. Every year, until his last Christmas, we gave my father oranges before bringing out his other gifts. I think he always liked the oranges best.

Fiercely patriotic and service-oriented, I think my father always regretted that he missed World War II by a year. He joined the Marines right after high school in 1946 and spent two years on an aircraft carrier peacekeeping in the Mediterranean. This was another experience that shaped who he was. “Once a Marine, always a Marine,” was an oft-repeated phrase in our house.

My father was always of man of deep, settled faith. He was proud of the fact that he served Mass up until the week before he got married at 25. His faith inspired him to live a life of public service. He never turned away from someone in need. He served on our town’s school board and eventually the town council. Everyone in our family and our town for that matter knew that if you needed help, you called Neil.

My father was also a dreamer and risk-taker. When I was twelve, my father announced we were moving. We lived in a small town in New Jersey a mile away from my grandmother (his mother). In fact most of his living siblings also lived within a mile or two of “Grandma’s” house. We were there all the time; so moving across the country to Phoenix was a big deal! He used to say, “The world is a checkerboard and God moves you around until He gets you in the right spot.” I guess Bloomfield, NJ was no longer “the right spot.”

My father was an optimist who always looked forward. I don’t think he’d mind me telling you that one of his favorite songs is “Tomorrow” from the Broadway show “Annie.” It sums up his firm belief that no matter what today may be like, “the sun will come out tomorrow.”

As I grew into adulthood and began shaping a life and career of my own, I did so in conversation with my father. I think that all of us, especially men, live out our lives in conversation with our fathers. The big questions we must answer if we are to make the most of our human experience (how to live, love, and lead well) are answered in dialogue with our fathers. The answers our fathers live by and share with us are the starting point for our own journeys into adulthood. The answers we settle upon are formulated in the give and take with what we learned from our fathers as we grew up in their shadows. Their shadow touches all parts of who we are even after they are gone.

My father died many years ago when he was 50 and I was seventeen. That doesn’t mean that we didn’t have a conversation about living, loving, and leading. We did and we do; his death just complicated things a bit. My father has taught me many lessons through the years. Some of these lessons he taught to me directly while I was a boy. Some of these lessons I’ve derived from my own journey into adulthood and my ongoing reflection on the life my father modeled for me in his 50 years.

My conversation with my father over the 30 plus years since his death has been an exercise in trying to see things as he would have seen them, trying to imagine his take on life’s events. The man I have become and continue to become is the result of a continuing conversation in which I compare and contrast my beliefs and actions with how he would see something and what he would do. Some things I’ve tried to emulate. Some things I’ve tried to do differently. Either way, he’s been a great teacher.

As a husband and father, and in my work, the lessons my father taught me continue to resonate with me and teach me how to live, how to love, and how to lead. I know that when I take these lessons to heart I become not just a better leader, but a better man. Thanks, Dad. Talk to you tomorrow.

When Leading Change, There is No End Zone

Doing change work there always comes a point early on, when structural changes have been announced and are almost complete, that someone will say, “Okay, the change is done. Now let’s get back to business.” This is the moment when I tell them (after chuckling to myself) that now the hard work begins in earnest. When it comes to leading change, there are yard markers and milestones; but there is no end zone.

It is now almost cliché to say that change is constant. And, it is true. We need to adopt a change mindset that acknowledges this reality. When the change takes the form of a particular initiative (a reorganization, a merger, or acquisition), changing the structure or systems and processes is the easy part. The fact that some think that this is what change entails is indicative of what needs as much, if not more, of our attention if we are to lead change successfully.

Adopting a change mindset moves us to see change as normative and ongoing. A change mindset enables us to see that change efforts must address cultural issues and leadership and workforce development as well as structure and systems and processes. This mindset has built into it a flexibility and willingness to make adjustments to implementing change. It also has built into it an intentional and continuous curiosity about how people are engaging and performing in relationship to change.

Knowing that change is normative and ongoing also moves us to develop a skill set that supports our continuous work as change leaders. I think there are five skills we want to develop if we want to be adept at leading change.

Managing Complexity – We want to be able to find meaning in confusion, think strategically, and solve problems quickly.

Innovating – We want to be able to promote creativity and positive disruption.

Communicating – We want to be able to design, convene, and host necessary and important conversations.

Executing – We want to be able to set goals and objectives and direct operations to achieve them.

Transforming – We want to be able to generate awareness and promote growth in ourselves and others.

A change mindset and a solid leadership skill set will support us in leading change over the long haul. It’s vital that we are working toward this goal; because, change is never done. Getting back to business means getting ready for the next change. And the next. And the next. There is no end zone.