Tag Archives: Communicating Change

Do You Know What Obama Knows?

In Maryland, it is easy to get an education by reading the bumper stickers on your fellow travelers’ cars. Recently I was struck by the leadership lessons offered by President Obama’s campaign messages pasted on the back of every third car I saw. They said:

  • Change
  • Hope
  • Obama Cares

Politics and policy aside, any leader can and should learn from the President’s three core messages, which connected with the American people so powerfully. (If you doubt this, you might want to checkout who is sitting in the Oval Office.)

Changeobama change

Awhile back, my brother grumbled to me that his kids supported Obama. When pressed, they explained that they supported him because Obama stood for Change. “Change to what?” he asked, but they really didn’t seem to know. Still they supported Obama, which baffled my brother completely. In reality, it didn’t matter because the candidate’s message connected so well with people. But why?

Look around. America is the land of the discontent. How many people do you know who are happy with their jobs, their businesses, their employers, or their lives? Our constant state of discontent drives progress as well as cynicism. Wise leaders know that it is their role to fuel and channel others’ desire to make things better – whatever those “things” may be.

HopeObama Hope (2)

Napoleon Bonaparte once said that leaders are dealers in hope. President Obama knows the power of hope, so he didn’t need to say much more. His bumper stickers just said Hope. Like a psychoanalyst, he let the people project into his message what they desired. In fact, the concept of hope was so attached to Barak Obama that some observed that he seemed to be developing a savior image that rightfully belongs only to Jesus Christ.

Since you are not likely to be running for president, you may be asking, “How can  I offer hope?” Life is tough; people wear down. Dreams fade and passion gives way to the mundane. People toil away at work because they “have to.”  But leaders offer hope – two kinds of hope, in fact. Hope in themselves and hope in an important mission. Through action and words they say:

  • We can do this. (I am pretty sure President Obama used these exact words!)
  • You, personally, are needed. 

Obama CaresObama Care (2)

Well this certainly backfired on the President’s opponents. What they intended as a slur, Barak Obama adopted as a banner slogan.  His message –  I care about you.  It doesn’t matter whether you believe he cares , the lesson here is quite clear.  People place their trust and power in the hands of  people who they believe care about them.  After all, who, in their right mind, is going to give away their power to someone who doesn’t care about them?!

I often encounter managers who try to maintain a distance from team members in order to stay “objective.”  It’s funny how they tend to be the same people who struggle with engaging their team members and getting them to go the extra mile.  Get over it!, I say!  You’re not objective anyway – and you don’t want to be. This idea of sterile professionalism is hooey!  Leaders and followers must bond, and bonding does not occur in a sterile “professional environment.”  Instead, it happens in a messy relational one.

Be Presidential

You don’t have to be Barak Obama, or even agree with him, to tap the power of Change, Hope and Care.

Know what you are about – your talents and passions – so you are ready to fill your role in making change happen.

  1. Listen to what your team complains about. Their complaints are banner ads for what they care about and want to improve. If that doesn’t work, ask questions like:
    • What would make your job better?
    • What would make us better?

Any change you pursue must be something the team “believes in” – and people mostly believe in their own values and goals.

  1. Truly see your people, by this I mean know who they are and what they are capable of becoming. Then, affirm them personally and feed their talents.  
  2. Identify your organization’s improvement goals.
  3. Forge, communicate, and execute a plan for grafting team members’ personal desires with organizational goals.

Until recently, I thought the only educational opportunity available on the highway came from audio books. Now, I realize that I can learn a lot about by “listening” to the messages that are screaming at me from the bumpers. Keep your eyes open and let me know what you are learning on the roads!

 

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.