Category Archives: Conflict

If I Can’t Be Divergent, I’ll be Candor

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Last weekend I went to see Divergent, a movie based on a trilogy written by Veronica Roth.  Most of us read the series and were eager to be disappointed because, well, the movie is never as good as the book.

Our seats hadn’t yet warmed when the conversation began.

Jennifer: Which faction would you be?

Me: Who me, why I’d be Divergent of course.

Gail: No, you can’t be Divergent. You have to belong to one of the factions.

Me: Then I would be Candor.

All: Ahhhh yeah, of course. What else?!

I am candid person; I know that healthy and productive relationships depend upon it. And right now, I am feeling the love.  A few days ago I reunited with a client over lunch. When the conversation turned to my ponderings about my brand, she gave me some welcome and flattering feedback.

What stands out to me is how well you ‘speak truth to power.’ You have the ability to speak the truth in a way that people can hear it. Not everybody can do that, and I really admire you for that.

It was music to my ears and warm fuzzies for my heart, but just how valuable is this kind of Candor? According to Ed Catmull, President of Pixar, it’s brought in about 10.3 billion in the box office from its fourteen films – from Toy Story to the current smash hit Frozen. In an interview with Fast Company, Catmull previews his book Creativity Inc. and attributes much of Pixar’s success to the candor practiced by their “Brain Trust” in quarterly meetings.

A hallmark of a healthy creative culture is that its people feel free to share ideas, opinions, and criticisms. Our decision-making is better when we draw on the collective knowledge and unvarnished opinions of the group. Candor is the key to collaborating effectively. Lack of candor leads to dysfunctional environments.

Dysfunction has its costs: it cuts off communication, impairs decision-making, stifles creativity, kills productivity, and annoys customers. Let me say that again: it really annoys customers.

That’s why I press my clients to say what needs to be said – in healthy, productive ways.

So, I am proud to be from Candor. How about you? What is your faction and are you proud of it?

FACTIONS[1]

p.s.
I still truly believe I am Divergent.  I wouldn’t be Candor if I didn’t tell you that.

 

 

 

 

Three Things Managers Say… but leaders don’t

I believe what people say. More than that, I believe the attitudes they express knowingly or unknowingly. When I enter an organization, I pay close attention to what managers say, and I have learned some of the telltale messages of managers who aren’t leading anyone anywhere. Among the worst messages are those that shutdown communication. When communication is blocked, trust erodes and decisions go uninformed. After that, little else matters.

Some of the worst messages I hear are:

I don’t have time for this…
Wow, what a statement! It doesn’t much matter what comes after this because the thought begins in a pool of arrogance and ends in the denigration of another person. But, what usually follows is the dismissal of thoughtful a) consideration of person-centered concerns or b) exploration of the deeper issues involved in a decision. So what the person is actually saying is: I don’t have the patience to even consider this mamby, pamby drivel you consider important. I know what’s what, and you don’t.

MonkeysI am the only one who…
Lonely victims don’t have followers. Managers who think they are only ones who work hard, get it, or care, might want to remove their hands from their faces. It’s easy to cast ourselves as martyrs when we don’t spend time connecting with the people around us. When we spend time with them, however, we often learn that they are with us in spirit, but that they express their passions differently than us.

Why don’t you just do what I tell you to do?
     …It would make my life easier.
    …Then I wouldn’t have to take so much time explaining things to you.
If you want an easy life or to be freed of the burden of explaining things, then don’t take the responsibility of leadership. Step down and let someone else lead. Leaders edify others and make their lives easier, not the other way around. If we want people to follow us, then we have to help them understand things the way we do or to build a new shared understanding together. In other words, we have to meet them where they are and do the hard work of building a shared reality.

Let’s face it, a lot of us have thoughts like this from time to time. That makes us normal people. If we want to engage hearts, shape minds, and move people to action in service of our goals however, we need to guard our hearts from arrogance. High-headed, self-important people often find themselves perplexed when they are ignored, resisted, and undermined. If you find yourself in in that state, then maybe, just maybe, you have these thoughts too frequently.

What do you want to do about it?

Dancing with a Bear

Stepping on Toes

The giant man rose to his feet displaying his 6’8”, 400-pound frame, reached for his coat as if ready to walk out, and asked me “Do you want to know what I think of that?” We had already danced around the room quite a bit, so I bit. “Yeah,” I said. “That’s good, that’s real good. You’re good,” he replied, and then he sat back down and settled in for the rest of the class. It wasn’t exactly music to my ears, but it was close.

As a trainer I had just allowed myself to travel too far down the path, dancing with this bear of a man about his issue with his boss. On several occasions the boss told him, “You are a big guy; that can be intimidating.” But what could he do about it? “I am big,” he told me, “I can’t change that. Do I have to act like a sissy? Why should I have to change? Do you expect me to change?”

Leading the Dance

“Yes, I do expect you to change.” I exclaimed, looking right into his eyes. Then I looked around the room to the other participants. “Yes! Yes, I expect all of you to change. That is why I am here. I am a trainer. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t expect you to change. I am offering you better ways of working and relating with people in your life. You don’t have to adopt them: that is your choice. But if you want better outcomes, then I suggest you consider trying them.” And when I said that, the dance was over. My bear, and the other participants, sat back and listened more intently and ready to learn. The dance was over and our work had finally begun in earnest.

The Magic of the Moment

My words weren’t magic. I certainly didn’t intimidate the man. I didn’t say anything that he, and the others, didn’t already know at some level. So what changed? I believe that it was the simple respect of talking straight and offering choice. He expected me to dance with him, somehow avoiding any intimation that he should change. That would somehow invade his “right to be me.” He challenged me to be truthful. He wouldn’t respect cowardice, nor tolerate an absurd denial that people must change. I spoke an obvious truth, which earned his respect and his ear. If only more people would make this choice.

The Teddy Bear

After the class, the dancing bear talked with me for awhile about his dilemma. He “got real,” and we talked through different conversations he could have with his boss about the real issue. He was a great guy—a teddy bear really (which I pretty much knew all along – despite his pretense). We parted friends, and I look forward to working with this bear of a man again.

The Campaign for Accountability in Healthcare

Johns Hopkins’ physician Marty Makary is campaigning to make healthcare safer – and cheaper – by publishing healthcare outcomes for all to see. His new book, Unaccountable, is sure to be a clarion call for true healthcare reform – as opposed to the partisan bickering we hear on a daily basis. We should all be grateful for him and his tremendous work in this area.

The Accountability Dance

The call for reform is simple and clear. Transparency and accountability are critical for true and positive change, yet people rarely embrace accountability – especially people in positions of power. Accountability “occurs” under two conditions: either it is imposed forcibly by another, or one willingly offers (submits) to it.

It takes a lot for people, and organizations, to reach the point where they are willing to impose accountability on someone they know. The concern for harmony, draw of money, focus on short term goals, and an inner fear of hypocrisy are all overwhelming forces that drive people away from it. It takes courage.

Under what conditions will a person voluntarily submit to accountability? People submit to accountability when:

  • the authority has the person’s personal interests at heart
  • the authority is just and fair in administering consequences
  • they share a common and compelling goal or value
  • there is opportunity to learn from or redeem the situation

Absent these conditions, people squirm out of personal ownership for their gaffes, and they deflect responsibility for their behavior.  Absent these conditions in healthcare we will find doctors and hospitals fudging their numbers – thus thwarting the goal of better care.

Solutions?

I wonder just how we can create a system which conforms to these conditions. And if we do, there is still much more work to be done. In healthcare, we need the kind of management innovation Gary Hamel discusses in The Future of Management. It’s a tall order, and it will take the combined efforts of many, many people. But I am ready and eager for the challenge. How about you?

Do Frank Conversations Hurt Your Career?

When I was a young man my Director introduced me the COO of our company (Let’s call him Jerry).  My Director was Jerry’s “escort” on a goodwill tour of our office. (It seems that he didn’t always agree with our perspective on things).  Jerry was regarded by many to be a crotchety old engineer, and I later learned that he had a reputation as a “my way or the highway” kind of guy.  But that didn’t matter much to me when Jerry asked me about a controversial position our department had taken.  I stood there in amidst the cubicles and “argued” with the COO.  I don’t think anyone but the two of us thought this was a good thing to do.

In short order, two colleagues appeared in my line of sight discreetly gesturing for me to terminate my conversation with him.  I distinctly remember one dragging his finger across his throat and mouthing “that’s Jerry, the COO.”  A few others peeped their heads over their cube walls then promptly hid, fearing they might suffer from collateral damage.  One brave person tried to distract me by approaching me with bogus issue that required immediate attention. But I wasn’t having any of it. Instead, I took my cues from my own values, and from Jerry’s signals. We disagreed, and we expressed our positions frankly. But I saw no sign that he took any offense. On my part, I was enjoying the debate and was learning quite a bit. So I engaged him, and the conversation ran its course.  Afterwards, my peers were not shy about telling me how foolish I had been. I wasn’t sure if I had been – I just didn’t know.

Two years later I learned exactly what Jerry thought of me, and it was all good. I had returned to my career in leadership development, and Jerry had an appointment with a colleague to discuss one of our training programs. I saw Jerry in the reception area and approached him to (re) introduce myself.  Before I could finish my sentence, he blurted, “I remember you! You’re Mike Boyes; I like you.”  With that encouragement in hand, I inquired about our previous encounter and he explained why he liked me.  “You took a clear position and gave a sound rationale for it. I didn’t agree with you, but it was a good discussion. We need more people like you.”  Jerry and I later became friends; he attended my wedding, and we had a few more disagreements along the way.  But few people in the company saw Jerry the way I did.  They feared disagreement with him, anticipated his wrath, and avoided crossing him.  I dare say those people missed the opportunity to learn from a smart – and nice guy.

Perhaps he mellowed by the time I got to know him. Perhaps we just shared the same perspective … that people can disagree and even argue without harming each other, that conversation is most interesting when views conflict. Whatever the reason, I am glad that I read Jerry right on that day.   

In a recent HBR article, researchers Batia M. Wiesenfled and colleagues conclude that far too often managers abuse their position of power, using it to advance their own agendas and trod on people. Too many managers view “respect and power to be mutually exclusive avenues to influence.”  (This is the reality my nervous colleagues knew well).  Meanwhile, managers who demonstrate leadership based on trust and respect can be regarded as too weak to handle top positions.  These two styles have a trickle-down effect in the organization and affect the company bottom line. Research tells us that corporate results trend upwards in organizations with a respectful, trusting, and empowering management style. In contrast, corporate results trickle down when managers tend to “power-up.”  Jerry could have powered up on me and hurt me in so many ways, but he didn’t.  I could have acted like shrinking violet, but I didn’t.  As result, I gained access to the COO of a Fortune 500 company and partnered with him on several projects.

It seems to me that entering frank conversations with peers, employees, and superiors can hurt your career.  That’s too bad because honest frank conversations are more than important for success; they are required. The gate to success is marked “Courage to Deal with Reality Required; No Ostriches Allowed.”   

So muster the courage to be honest with yourself and others – then speak frankly and tactfully.

 

Deference and Handling the Truth with Leaders

This is an interesting commentary on communication with and among leaders.

Dangers of Deference:Ron Ashkenas, HBR:http://t.co/uPyMepW

My thoughts…

For many years I worked in the private sector where this dynamic was very evident. The degree of deference present seemed to be very much tied to the discipline of the department. For example, engineers, accounting, and finance professionals seem to expect and demonstrate more deference than those in marketing, customer service and parts of HR. Perhaps part of the dynamic is tied to basic personality and values. Perhaps people with a “realistic” orientation tend to show more deference to authority than “influencing” and “investigative” types.

In recent years, I have done more work with the federal government. My observation is that private sector levels of deference hardly even register compared with the levels shown in the federal government. Once I saw the inside of the beast I understood the origin of the stereotypical caricature of government worker. It is darn hard for a person to remain engaged in an environment in which one’s input can have so little impact, and where mid-level managers are emotionally and psychologically distant. In some of the environments I have seen, actual engagement seems to be either downright heroic or naïve.

It is also possible that my view of the government is biased. After all, I was there as a consultant to help them improve the organizational climate, but that it also why I was brought in to private sector employers.