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Stakeholder Centered Coaching
Why this book?
I have been a subscriber to Eric’s blog called ‘Barking Up the Wrong Tree’ for a couple of years. He previews a book or two each month which saves me time reading everything. Eric also links to supportive material that I find useful for deeper connections to leadership and management. I think you will find his book a synthesis of many good ideas. If you would like to sign up I forwarded this to you, and you can sign up to get the weekly email yourself here.
Barker, Eric. (2017). Barking Up the Wrong Tree. New York: HarperCollins
Defining success, successful employees and companies have a common element. Connectivity. Employees who feel connected to colleagues and the company are more productive. This is not new, but it is nice to know there is research that backs up that belief. This is important to realize and monitor, especially with introverts. The Bo Peep style of management (leave them alone) will not suffice in today’s world.
There is a myth about doing well in school will automatically result in doing well in business and life. “How many of these number-one high school performers go on to change the world, run the world, or impress the world? The answer seems to be clear: zero.” Although grades signify persistence, performing, and conformity, those qualities may not be best suited for all positions. “Many of the valedictorians admitted to not being the smartest kid in class, just the hardest worker.”
“School has clear rules. Life often doesn't.” When jobs are less and less well defined, the conformance skill set may need to be expanded to produce the best results. “Shawn Anchor's research at Harvard shows that college grades aren't any more predictive of subsequent life success than rolling dice. A study of over seven hundred American millionaires showed their average college GPA was 2.9.”
Sometimes you need a person who does not play by the rules. Winston Churchill was a maverick. Going against the grain takes courage and managing them can be a real pain. However, they can also produce creative solutions. “Gautam Mukunda research was there are actually two fundamentally different types of leaders.
- The first kind rises up through formal channels, getting promoted, playing by the rules, and meeting expectations.
- The second kind doesn't rise up through the ranks; they come in through the window: entrepreneurs who don't wait for someone to promote them; U.S. vice presidents who are unexpectedly handed the presidency; leaders who benefit from a perfect storm of unlikely events, like the kind that got Abraham Lincoln elected. This group is "unfiltered."
Being able to manage both kinds of leaders is important to get the best of both while guarding against the worst of both. Skillful leadership must manage both. Eric uses a metaphor of orchids and dandelions. Orchids are beautiful if protected in an environment that is stable. Dandelions, on the other hand, seem to grow wherever they are planted. In time of drought or changing climate it seems that the dandelions in my yard always survive. My flower, however, are more sensitive to the weather and climate. So, who are your orchids and who are your dandelions? Are they in the best place in the organization to produce the best work for the organization?
Many times, we make assumption about what is good and what is bad. A story included in the book is about people with autism. The Israeli Air Force was having difficulty finding soldiers who could maintain focus for long periods of time staff radar installations. They found a solution. Recruit soldiers with autism. They had a remarkable ability to maintain focus for long periods of time and staying true to the rules for reporting issues. Putting people in the right environment can produce positive results.
Brad Bird, Pixar revealed a plan to get more creative people. "Give us the black sheep. I want artists who are frustrated. I want the ones who have another way of doing things that nobody's listening to. Give us all the guys who are probably headed out the door." Translation: Give me your "unfiltered" artists. I know they're crazy. That's exactly what I need.” Yes, they can be a pain AND yes, they can be more creative.
The next statement was a surprise to me. “Studies show people with attention deficit disorder (ADD) are more creative. Psychologist Paul Pearson found a connection between humor, neuroticism, and psychopathy. Impulsivity is a generally negative trait frequently mentioned in the same sentence as "violent" and "criminal," but it also has a clear link to creativity.”
Here is a question in the book. In some cases, the greatest tragedies produce the greatest intensifies. What do the following people all have in common?
- Abraham Lincoln
- Mark Twain
They all lost a parent before age sixteen. The list of orphans who became spectacular successes—or at least notoriously influential—is much longer and includes no fewer than fifteen British prime ministers.
Most people know they are not good at everything, but they are good at something. Drucker offers a helpful definition: "What are you good at that consistently produces desired results?"
So, how do people get ahead in organizations. This view by Pfeffer challenged my fairness value but he is convincing. Jeffrey Pfeffer, Stanford, says managing what your boss thinks of you is far more important than actual hard work. good ol' ass kissing. Research has shown flattery is so powerful that it works even when the boss knows its insincere.
Pfeffer says we need to stop thinking the world is fair. He puts it bluntly: The lesson from cases of people both keeping and losing their jobs is that as long as you keep your boss or bosses happy, performance really does not matter that much and, by contrast, if you upset them, performance won't save you.
“Ass kissers aren't the only ones who thrive. Jerks do too. Harvard Business Review reports that men low in the personality trait "agreeableness" make as much as ten thousand dollars a year more than men high in agreeableness. Rude people also have better credit scores.” Eighty percent of our evaluations of other people come down to two characteristics: warmth and competence.
A study by Teresa Amabile, Harvard, called "Brilliant but Cruel" shows there are three categories: "right," "wrong," and "everybody does It.” Studies show expecting others to be untrustworthy creates a sell Fulfilling prophecy. It's not surprising that work teams with just one bad apple experience performance deficits of 30 to 40 percent.
This is why, from my experience, unresolved conflict is extremely important to address. Left unaddressed, issues fester, grow, and suppress others in performing at their best. Too often, in an attempt to be nice and get along, bad behavior persists. Leaders have the responsibility to resolve conflict. Otherwise, your best people might remain quiet or leave the work group rather than get into conflict. Thereby, we lose talent when we need it the most.
Looking at the research on the other side of conflict, what makes us happy? One, we have already alluded to, social structures that are supportive. The chemical oxytocin is released when we have positive relationships with people. The other chemical, that is important in happiness, is dopamine. When we hit a jackpot on a slot machine, it feels good. That is getting a dopamine release in the brain. This is also why any kind of addiction keeps the pleasure coming.
We also get dopamine when someone does a nice thing for us. A compliment, a gift, some help when we need it. Receiving does feel good. AND, what researchers have found out is that giving also results in a dopamine release. Studies have shown that doing something nice for someone else is pleasurable, even happier than something for ourselves. So, give but don’t get taken advantage of by others. Takers can be harmful.
Think of jobs or activities in your past. We have many times worked harder for something or someone else than we would have for ourselves. This also happens with causes that we believe in. A passion or cause, that has meaning for us gets our attention and we give time and energy to a positive outcome.
Leaders know that a lot of times meaning comes from stories in the field or something personal. Stories that we tell ourselves and stories told by others can increase commitment. Stories for generations have transmitted cultural norms. What are the stories that people talk about in the organization? What are the stories people tell themselves about their skills and successes?
Roy Baumeister, Florida State University says, “there's no shortage of evidence that stories rule our thinking and predict success in so many arenas.” Stories provide ways to see the world to help us cope. Stories give us a little separation from total reality in order to process ideas. Change the story and change the behavior. How did Steve Jobs lure John Sculley away from his great job as CEO of Pepsi? He asked him, "Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water or do you want a chance to change the world?”
So, how do you get a good picture in your mind about success. The acronym WNGF – Whiny Neutered Goats Fly. Good games, successful programs are Winneable, have Novel Challenges and Goals, with Feedback along the way. Think in terms of electronic games as an example.
Barker also quotes Teresa Amabile, who along with Steven Kramer wrote the Progress Principle. The premise is that making small progress, small wins, can keep motivation going. So, how do you keep people you lead making progress which helps keep them in the game? Ask yourself, "What one thing can I do to make progress on important work tomorrow.”
Another concept I think worth noting is Time and Money. When we choose an extra hour at work, we are, in effect, choosing one less hour with our kids. We can't do it all and do it well. And there will not be more time later. Time does not equal money, because we can get more money. As we spend more and more time at work, meaning less and less time at home with family or relationships, consider the price we pay. As a coach for many years, work-life balance is almost always an issue especially for hard driving successful people.
Eric quoted Peter Drucker in his book The Effective Executive. Drucker says, "The executive who wants to be effective and who wants his organization to be effective polices all programs, all activities, all tasks. He always asks: 'Is this still worth doing?' And if it isn't, he gets rid of it so as to be able to concentrate on the few tasks that, if done with excellence, will really make a difference in the results of his own job and in the performance of his organization. "You can do anything once you stop trying to do everything."
Some current research on mentors was helpful to me as a coach. Gerard Roche surveyed 1,250 top executives and found two thirds had had a mentor, and those who did, made more money and were happier with their careers. Great mentors and great teachers help you learn faster. Eric Hanushek says that bad teachers over six months of material in one year. Great teachers cover a year and a half. That math isn't hard to decode, folks. He says you're way better off with an awesome teacher in a lousy school than vice versa.
Again, relating to coaching and mentoring the work of Underhill was surprising to me. I take it to heart. When you relate to someone you look up to, you get motivated. And when that person makes you feel you can lo that too, bang—that produces real results. Which is why your employer's mentorship program, while well meaning, doesn't help. Christina Underhill looked at the past two decades of mentorship research and found a striking division. Yeah, formal mentoring made a small improvement, but the real results came from informal mentors—the kind you find on your own.
So how do you get an amazing mentor who is right for you? Here are five principles:
- BE A WORTHY PUPIL, GRASSHOPPER - "here is an old saying: "When the student is ready, the teacher appears. Neuroscience research shows that when an expert speaks, parts of your brain actually shutdown. Gregory Berns, M.D. Emory, found that people will actually stop thinking for themselves when a person they perceive as an expert offers them advice or direction "The brain activation results suggest that the offloading of decision-making was driven by trust in the expert.'
- WASTING A MENTOR'S TIME IS A MORTAL SIN - Writing a multi-page email to a very busy person doesn't show you're serious—it shows you're insane. So, respect their time and start small. Never ask a mentor a question Google can easily answer for you. Carve this in stone. Scrawl it in blood above your desk. Get a tattoo of it.
- FOLLOW UP - Early on, don't mention the M word: mentor. You wouldn't ask someone to marry you on the first date, would you? Do what they said, get results, and let them know they made a difference. This is what mentors want
- MAKE THEM PROUD - No mentor wants to feel they wasted their time helping you. But there's a secondary goal here too: to make them look good. And how do you know who is a great mentor? By the success of their students, of course.
Before we round this out, there's one more common objection I need to address.
- Maybe you're fairly accomplished already. Maybe you feel you're far enough along that you don't need a mentor. You're wrong. Atul Gawande is an endocrine surgeon. Every time I look at his résumé I think, Jeez, and what the heck have I been doing with my time? So, in 2011, what did he think the next thing he absolutely needed to do was? Get a coach. Someone who could make him better.
This is for us that have been around for a while. Mentoring a young person is four times more predictive of happiness than your health or how much money you make. So, if you've got the skills, don't just think about who can help you. Think about whom you can help.
In Chapter 5, Marshall Goldsmith is quoted. Successful people consistently over-rate themselves relative to their peers. I have asked over 50,000 participants in my training programs to rate themselves in terms of their performance relative to their professional peers—80 to 85 percent rank themselves in the top 20 percent of their peer group—and about 70 percent rank themselves in the top 10 percent. The numbers get even more ridiculous among professionals with higher perceived social status, such as physicians, pilots, and investment bankers.
As the WSJ reports, "Those who stayed very involved in meaningful careers and worked the hardest, lived the longest." Meaningful work means doing something that’s (a) important to you and (b) something you're good at. Plenty of research shows that if you do those things you're uniquely good at (psychologists call them "signature strengths"), they're some of the biggest happiness-boosting activities of all. A Gallup study reported, "The more hours per day Americans get to use their strengths to do what they do best, the less likely they are to report experiencing worry, stress, anger, sadness, or physical pain.'
One of the last lines in the book is, “The only thing that really matters in life are your relationships to other people." Not a bad ending.
There are many, many stories and examples in this book. I highly recommend it.
Stakeholder Centered Coaching
Why these books? You May Need a Slap in the Face
A couple of months ago, our Learning Omnivores group, spent time with Stan Slap, the author of Bury My Heart at Conference Room B. After reading this book and his second book, Under the Hood, I felt there were many messages for our coaching network. Specifically, returning to focus on our values which drives our decisions and behaviors. Some of the thoughts and theories in Stan’s work help us understand what is going on behind the scenes, above the clouds, and under the rug.
Slap, Stan. (2010). Bury My Heart at Conference Room B. New York: Penguin.
Stan used an activity, based on his writings, that re-grounded many of us to why we came into leadership roles, why we stay in our organizations, and how that connects to our deeply held beliefs and values. Most of us have spent a career where we are frequently invited to deviate from our personal and professional values to accommodate the perceived needs of others or to get to the financial bottom lines.
An example, as a former principal, parents have asked me not to suspend their child for drugs, knives, and assaults. I have been asked to change grades, even from an “A-” to an “A.” I have been asked to grant credit for a student who did not attend a class so they could graduate and the list goes on. It is not just students, there are colleagues and supervisors who have asked for special favors or modify policies and procedures from what I believe is ethical behavior. I am sure, in your organization, you have had some similar requests that are on the edge or questionable in nature.
In some organizations leaders have been asked by those in positions above and below to change actions to alleviate political pressure. Enough of this.
Stan facilitated a values process for us, which is described in his book, that I have used with individuals and groups in a coaching setting. I have found this exercise to be very useful when forming a new team and can increase trust by making deeper connections between individuals. Stan says the values most people identify as important are family and integrity. The two that, under pressure, people are asked to compromise most often are family and integrity. I can relate, can you? In addition to these two values, following a process is useful.
The values Stan holds, in his company, is family. He writes about how that became a focus from his own experience growing up and the difficulty dealing with a sick parent. Learning at an early age how important family is, his company is a family.
Here is the short form of the process which is described in more detail in the book.
- Show a list of values, 50 or more. (one list can be found in his book)
- Ask the group to choose 5 or 10 they feel most connected to
- Narrow your list to three
- Share with the group (or as an individual) what your three values are, AND, this is the most important part.
- How did you get those values?
What I have found is there are new and deep connections from sharing values AND the story behind those values. What a way to start a short or long term project for people to understand the history of others. What a way to find out the deep values of the person you are coaching. Getting people in the room, building strong connections and understanding their history before tackling difficult tasks is beneficial to saving time and energy.
When coaching individuals, and asking similar questions, the client can identify what are the most important values to him or her and help them connect at a human level. One of Stan’s quote that struck me was, “Let the walls come down. Don’t lead from your head. Lead from what you believe in. If they can’t trust you, you can’t lead them.” Amen.
Leadership is not for the faint of heart. Charles Bukowski said, “What matters most is how well you walk through the fire.” Everyone is watching leaders. I believe people watch what we do, less by listening to our words. Our values are demonstrated by what we pay attention to and what we do.
Stan Slap reminds us that it is the emotional commitment that is necessary to do people work. He states that the good news is – it’s not your fault. The bad news, as a leader, is – it is your responsibility. Building a learning culture for your organization requires taking off our armor, talking about what’s important, including our colleagues in the process, and making communities better able to prepare for a future.
Another point presented is most of us know what the company wants from us. The following, from the book, identifies what some people want from their company.
What do you really want from your company? Most of them want to serve and build their companies, and they want to win. But none of them wants success completely defined on their company’s terms; they want it defined on their own terms, too.
- I want to live my most important personal beliefs at work. I want enough personal energy left at the end of the day so the rest of my life isn’t just a work-release program.
- I want respect. I want to be recognized for having a job that’s often unrecognizable on a day-today basis. I want to be paid to think, not just to comply. I want to be trusted.
- I want control. Want to know that I’m creating a dependable sanctuary with my hard work, and I want to know that the harder I work the more sanctuary I’ll create. I want to trust.
- I want impact. I want to know that there’s some actual lasting value to how I spend my time and that I’m contributing to something that won’t always be immediately forgotten in the rush to the next urgent priority. I want a legacy. I want affiliation. I want to be in a healthy relationship, not one where it seems I’m constantly begging for love and forgiveness for mysterious sins.
I obviously recommend this book. I end with a request. My request is that you read the story of Florence Taylor which is inside this book on page 182. Florence Taylor is a pseudonym. It is a story of an executive that has the value, if you go down [have trouble] I will come back for you. Wouldn’t you like to work for a person like that?
Slap, Stan. (2015). Under the Hood. New York: Penguin.
An old quote from Einstein is, “Not everything that can be counted counts and not everything that counts can be counted.” One of the most important data points is emotional commitment to the work and the company. There are outliers both ways. People who are paid a high salary and are not committed, and, there are those who are paid low salaries or volunteers who contribute mightily to a mission. Emotional commitment of colleagues could be the most important asset to your work group and the company at large.
There is a high cost in money and contribution when we have employees who are uninvolved, demonstrating emotional detachment in their position. The bottom line is, we live our personal values at work in our own role and as a member of our work groups. Emotional commitment is the biggest thing we have to give to our family and company as a human being.
“I’ve rarely met managers who’ve come into their jobs with a cynical worldview, but I’ve met plenty who’ve adopted one as a protective mechanism.” So, how do we keep a fresh, positive, and energetic culture with a learning attitude and engage those around us?
Chapter 3 has the title, ‘Time Waits for No Manager.’ How many hours a week do you spend working—meetings, e-mail, people problems, crazed customers, not to mention any actual work that accidentally occurs in between? It’s about fifty. How many hours a week do you spend traveling to and from and for work? It’s about ten. How many hours a week do you spend thinking about work? It’s about fifteen hours a week. At seventy-five hours a week, you’re spending more than double your waking hours working than not working. These are the irretrievable hours of your personal life—you do not get this time back.
Most individuals and companies want life and work to run smooth. When a problem surfaces, we tend to reject what is happening and want to reclaim homeostasis. CEO Jim Goodnight said. “Trust people, give them a good place to work, expect a lot out of them and they’ll do the right thing,” I think this only happens with good leadership and commitment between people for the people and the company. “We make decisions based on people rather than based on prescriptive business philosophy.” Maybe we make decisions considering both.
In some ways, your company really has to work for you, before you’ll really work for your company. This is a reason why culture is so important in creating a workplace that honors people while pursing common goals. Our values guide us in sustaining a workable culture.
WHERE ARE YOUR VALUES? Being a leader means being able to sell your values to others. Where do your values come from?
- Early upbringing
- Big decisions and the consequences of those decisions
- Personal beliefs and priorities placed under extreme pressure
- Religious and spiritual doctrines
- Intimate mentors and role models
- Significant life events
Here are a few questions worth stating:
- What is the legacy I want to be known for?
- What are the three things most important to living a fulfilled life that I would tell a child?
- If I could do it all over, what do I wish I’d known sooner and why?
WHY JOHNNY CAN’T LEAD. There are 380,687 titles in print about leadership—83,524 about “business leadership”—and U.S.-based Fortune 500 companies alone spend an estimated $12.3 billion each year on leadership development for their managers. A lot of that exposure was useless, generalized or wrong. If we start with human beings rather than human doings, we might be better off. There is an African Proverb that fits here. “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
So, how do we enlist people in our culture for better results? There are three ways to get your people’s attention.
- One problem: Doesn’t work. The carrot may achieve short-term results, but it won’t inspire the honest, sustained effort a leader needs. The successful leadership battle is fought for your people’s hearts, not their pockets.
- One problem: Doesn’t work. The stick may achieve short-term results, but it’s the longer-term results to be concerned about since anger is the natural psychological reaction to fear.
- Your hand, reach out that hand to your people. “Grab hold,” you are saying, “and I’ll take you to a Better Place.
At the end of most chapters Stan has a HOW TO DO IT list. There are many actionable ideas for you and your organization. A company must let leaders live their values which will positively affect work/life balance.
Stan ends with a couple of quotes:
“Be human first. A manager second.” I have found this always build trust.
“The bravest act of a warrior is to allow someone to reach past his armor to touch his heart.” Yes, this is scary and vulnerability can also lead to increasing trust and emotional commitment.
Stakeholder Centered Coaching
Why this book?
Marshall Goldsmith has been sending out in his recent video blogs segments of a conversation he had with Judith Glaser’ discussing her book Conversational Intelligence. By watching the interviews, we can get some of the underlying concepts Glaser makes and how some of them support SCC tenets.
Glaser, Judith. (2014). Brookline, MA: Bibliomotion
Glaser says, “Without healthy conversations, we shrivel up and die - that is what we are now learning from the world of neuroscience.” Words are not things—they are the representations and symbols we use to view, think about, and process our perceptions of reality and they are the means of sharing these perceptions with others.
“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” BUCKMINSTER FULLER
In our work as coaches we know that conversation can influence current reality, help create a future with feedforward, and develop a behavioral plan leaders implement to make positive changes. Our responsibility is listen to the descriptions our clients make, challenge unproductive assumptions, and help construct a path toward excellence.
Advancing to a higher level of excellence depends on the quality of our relationships, the culture we help create, and the conversations we have. I suggest that in a healthy culture our conversations are fractals that contribute to building that culture. Ernesto Gore once said, “Organizations are made up of conversations.” And, Lew Platt, former CEO of HP in summarizing his job said: “What I do is manage conversations.”
Judith Glaser writes about three parts of Conversational Intelligence and represents this as a dashboard in her book. Think of a speedometer on the dashboard of your car:
- Level I is the left side - transactional, sharing information
- Level II is the middle – more sharing our point of view, we want to influence others
- Level III is the right side – more of a dialogue creating meaning by co-creating
Glaser identifies the “addiction to being right” was a barrier to understanding others point of view. “Candor, collaboration, and cooperation are almost impossible to establish in environments where turf wars and one-upsmanship exist…Through our research, we have identified the two least-developed skills in the workplace: 1) the ability to have uncomfortable conversations; and, 2) the ability to ask, "what if" questions.”
Here is a guide:
Level I Level II Level III
Tell - Ask Advocate - Inquire Share – Discover
“To get to the next level of greatness depends on the quality of the culture, which depends on the quality of the relationships, which depends on the quality of the conversations. Everything happens through conversations.”
One of her observations was that 85 percent of the time executives made statements versus 15 percent of the time where they asked questions. However, most of the questions asked were rhetorical in nature. This meant they used questions to talk more rather than get their direct reports opinions and suggestions.
This led Glaser to identify blind spots related to conversational intelligence. Blind spots limit our understanding and lessens the possibility for effective conversations. This keeps executives on the left side of the dashboard in the tell/ask position. Many times, this ends up acting as a parallel conversation where the exchange of ideas doesn’t really happen. Each person takes turn telling the other what their opinions and assumption tend to be.
Five Conversational Blind Spots
- Blind Spot #1 involves an assumption that others see what we see, feel what we feel, and think what we think. We get attached to our point of view and are unable to connect with others' perspectives.
- Blind Spot #2 is the failure to realize that fear, trust, and distrust changes how we see and interpret reality and how we talk about it.
- Blind d Spot #3 is an inability to stand in each other’s shoes when we are fearful or upset. When we listen deeply, turn off our judgment mechanisms and allow ourselves to connect with others, we are activating mirror neuron system, now thought of as "having empathy for others
- Blind Spot #4 is the assumption that we remember what others say, when we remember what we think about what others say. We drop out of conversations every twelve to eighteen seconds to process what people are saying, and we often remember what we think about what another person is saying because that is a stronger internal process and chemical signal. In other words, our internal listening and dialogue trumps the other person’s speech.
- Blind Spot #5 is the assumption that meaning resides in the speaker, when in fact it resides in the listener.
Our blind spots spring from reality gaps. Your reality and mine are not the same. You and I have different experiences, we know different people, we came from different parts of the world, and we use different language to label our world.
Level I in Conversational Intelligence is on the left side of the dashboard. When used to transfer information, it works. One of the results of this type of communication is the TELL-SELL-YELL SYNDROME. We tell, make statements, give advice, and many times focus on one solution. This kind of conversation tends to devaluate the client or direct report. No one wants to feel inadequate. The result can shut down thinking as people go for emotional safety.
Level II is based on inquiry. (see the previous summary on Humble Inquiry by Schein). The goal of this level is to inquire about the issue at hand, get more specificity about the context, and to be an advocate for the person to make positive changes. Peter Senge and other leadership experts, recognizes that "sense making is one of the most important skills a new leader can possess.“
Level Ill in Conversational Intelligence is where we can help co-create a better future with feedforward. Meanings are stronger because we can build a deeper understanding of the complexity, validate the perceptions and challenge where necessary, and hopefully, assist the person to move from breakdowns to breakthroughs.
A quote Glaser uses in the book resonated with our key principles in Stakeholder Centered Coaching:
“Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.” JOHN F. KENNEDY
I think this sums up ‘feedforward’ very well. You cannot change the past; yet the future opens up unlimited possibilities.
Another graphic displayed in the Glaser’s book deals with trust. She calls it the Arc of Engagement. As you move from left (low trust) to the right (high trust), there are stages people progress through. Conversations and coaching can facilitate people’s movement through these stages. And, she points out that all conversations do not facilitate moving to the right.
Arc of Engagement
Resistor - > Skeptic - > Wait & See -> Experimentor - > Co-Creator
Low Trust Conditional Trust High Trust
In the early years of coaching I thought I could move someone from resistor to co-creator quickly. Although that has happened on isolated occasions, my experience tells me that is it more apt to be a gradual progression. As a leader, we must decide whether time will permit development. We are always assessing the current positives compared to the future needs.
Glaser writes about how leadership can create positive movement. She refers to this with the term “leadershift.” Glaser also relates the shifts with a bit of neuroscience. The following are five useful shifts that create high trust and positive results.
Leadershift #1 - From Fear to Transparency. Making threats transparent and focusing on quelling fears shifts your neurochemistry. When fear emerges, have co-creating conversations with someone you trust. Ask them to listen for opportunities to reduce the fear. Ask for help reframing the perceived threat and seeing it from a new perspective.
Leadershift #2 - From Power to Relationship Building. Relationship building shifts your neurochemistry. When power issues emerge, have a co-creating conversation with someone you trust. Connect with the person openly about the challenges you are facing. Ask for a neutral perspective. Ask them to listen to you and reflect back your concerns. Be receptive and open, not judgmental. This will quell your amygdala and open the space to release some of your worries and concerns.
Leadershift #3 - From Uncertainty to Understanding. Understanding needs and aspirations shifts your neurochemistry. When you see that you are starting to make up stories to help you interpret another's actions and are creating movies with an "us against them" theme, or when you are feeling diminished in status or left out, have a co-creating conversation with someone you trust. Connect openly about the challenges you are facing. Have them ask you about your needs and aspirations for the future. What role do you want to play? What contribution do you want to make? What would you like to accomplish next? Then ask the person to listen to you and reflect back your needs, aspirations, hopes, and dreams, not to judge them. This will quell your amygdala and activate your prefrontal cortex, which is where new visions for the future reside.
Leadershift #4 - From a Need to Be Right to Mapping Shared Success. Step back from your position and become curious about others' perspectives, knowledge, and successes. This intentional shift releases dopamine, which creates curiosity in your brain. When you are curious and ask questions of others, the heart connects to your brain, engaging you to open up. Talk about mutual success. Define success together, make meaning together, and create the story together that describes the reality you want to co-create. This stimulates more oxytocin and will create new bonds of friendship, trust, and understanding.
Leadershift #5 - From Groupthink to Group Cohesion and Partnering. Step back from the conversation and ask people to take time out to reflect on their decisions. Ask them to step aside from what they agreed upon to see if there is anything that was left behind—any great idea that was overlooked. Look for gaps, and work the gaps between reality and perception. This gives people permission to bring forward ideas that could benefit the whole group that might have been left behind. This narrows the gaps and reframes them from "my idea" to "our idea," and keeps the conversation open to go to a higher level of group processing.
In Part III of the book, Getting to the Next Level of Greatness, the focus deepens the understanding of trust and reality. Glaser expresses a couple of acronyms to help with learning and remembering the process.
Trust Is the Foundation of Great Leadership. She quotes Boris Groysberg and Michael Slind, which is expressed in their book, Talk, Inc., “leaders who engage their organizations in conversations that reflect intimacy, inclusion, interactivity, and intentionality are able to bring people together and integrate their efforts.”
There exists plenty of literature on the how trust affects the organization, productivity, and the sense of community. The following is one acronym with two different outcomes.
The first acronym deals with the dynamics when there is lack of trust. The progression often goes like this:
- R = Reveal less than what we know or what is helpful to move forward
- E = Expect more than what is possible
- A = Assume the worst of others
- L = Look at situations with caution
- I = Interpret communications with fear
- T = Tell secrets we promised not to tell
- Y = Yes people to avoid confronting truth
Using the same acronym, with different behaviors, can produce amazing results.
- R = Reveal more
- E = Expect less and over deliver
- A = Assume the best of others
- L = Look at situations with an open heart
- I = Interpret communications through truth and facts
- T = Tell the truth
- Y = Yes people to confront truth
So, how do you build trust. Here are five steps that can increase trust from the leader’s perspective. This can be a fractal for a small work team, a large department, and the entire organization.
- Be present – people want to see the leader who is engaged
- Tell people where they stand – lots of research say people want feedback even though it may be hard to hear. Otherwise they make it up.
- Provide context in every communication – Nothing is an isolated event.
- Catalyze co-creating in conversations – people stand behind what they invent
- Use honesty at all times, Tell the truth—tactfully and within the appropriate context. Context, in this case, does not mean spin. Don't make a situation sound better than it is, even if you can. Honesty has been number one for effective leaders over the years.
We end with a template for reducing trust or enhancing trust in communities. The left side below, moving from top to bottom, is how a group might experience a downward spiral in trust. Sometimes in response to fear, the response is use of power. The more a leader uses power, uncertainly results from our colleagues not knowing what will happen. The more that uncertainty exists, based on fear, needs to be right. This may lead to no one providing honest feedback which causes groupthink.
Power Relationship building
Being Right Shared vision of success
Groupthink Truth & empathy
On the right, moving from bottom to top, increases TRUST in the system. When truth and empathy are a foundation, a give and take of ideas ultimately results in a shared vision. Most people will develop an understanding of the purpose of their actions and how that relates to the organizational mission. Stronger relationships are built in the process by being transparent in thoughts and feelings.
To order this book: https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_c_1_21?url=search-alias%3Daps&field
Stakeholder Centered Coaching
Why this book?
Charles Duhigg’s last book was titled “The Power of Habit.” He defined how habits were formed and how our responses get programmed into our behavior. Duhigg provides a chain of events, CUE ---ROUTINE---REWARD. This is similar to what Marshall wrote about in Triggers. Marshall’s chain of events was – TRIGGER ---- (Impulse - Awareness – Choice) – BEHAVIOR. We can’t control triggers. What we can control is the routine of how we respond to the triggers. Duhigg provides many stories of individuals and teams demonstrating behaviors that lead to increased skills in leadership and creative solutions to problems. Each chapter starts with a story, sometimes two and then Duhigg puts the results in context of the story.
Smarter Faster Better.
Duhigg, Charles. (2016)
New York: Random House.
There is a lot of talk in business about wanting productivity. One issue to solve is what is our best use of time, resources, and energy to get productivity and the best results. One generally accepted observation is where there is a good team generating good solutions, the team is typically being led by a good leader. Smarter Faster Better helps us understand how these leaders get results?
The key is in how these leaders facilitate motivation both personally and professionally within team members. “The anticipation of choice itself was associated with increased activity in [the brain which affects motivational processes].” Allowing people to make choices has a positive effect on their motivation and their thinking. Effective team leaders know that “People who know how to self-motivate earn more money than their peers, report higher levels of happiness, and say they are more satisfied with their families, jobs, and lives.”
Motivation can be learned. That means we have some control over how to get motivated. When people say motivation is innate, that takes the choice out of the equation which means motivation is not really in our control. That reduces responsibility and accountability. We want leaders and employees to believe they do have some control over their work lives. Actually, people who believe they have some control over their life live longer.
One way to increase motivation, using control as a contributor, is for people to be able to make decisions. Those who do not believe they have any input into decision-making tend to sit back and act less accountable. Another helpful hint, in the book, is if you are writing a book, write the conclusion first. If you want to get better at the outcome, get specific about what you are trying to accomplish first, then make a plan on ‘how’ to get to the goal.
In the work life today, fewer and fewer young people have been involved in sports, clubs, and activities. Without that experience, it is imperative that leaders create a team focus on collaboration, creating psychological safety to contribute. Many researchers have studied ‘internal locus of control,’ also called efficacy, as a major element of generating ideas, working effectively on teams, and taking responsibility. A team of psychologists wrote in the journal Problems and Perspectives in Management in 2012. “Internal locus of control has been linked with academic success, higher self-motivation and social maturity, lower incidences of stress and depression, and longer life span. People with an internal locus of control tend to earn more money, have more friends, stay married longer, and report greater professional success and satisfaction.”
Another study focused on senior citizens who would not adhere to rigid schedules, set menus, and rules imposed by the living facility. These seniors had higher quality of life, reduced medications, and had improved attitudes. Researchers said that even being able to refuse to eat a piece of cake gave them a sense of some control over their life.
Amy Edmondson (2012) has written the best book I have read on Teaming. It is referred to in this book and focused on the best teams have psychological safety, honors honesty for admitting mistakes, and the necessity of the best teams to learn from their experiences. She studied many different organizations. If people are punished for their errors, less reporting of problems occurred.
There were examples in this book from Pixar, Google, etc. about what makes the most productive teams. It turns out that putting the smartest people in the room didn’t make the difference. It was ‘how’ the teams interacted that made the most difference. It was how people were treated in the team environment that made the difference.
Duhigg reported that two behaviors that all the good teams shared.
- All the members of the good teams spoke in roughly the same proportion, a phenomenon the researchers referred to as “equality in distribution of turn-taking.’ Conversation ebbed from assignment to assignment—but by the end of the day, everyone had spoken roughly the same amount. “As long as everyone got a chance to talk, the team did well,”
- The good teams tested as having “high average social sensitivity”—a fancy way of saying that the groups were skilled at intuiting how members felt based on their tone of voice, how people held themselves, and the expressions on their faces.
Most of us know that you don’t have to be best buddies, BUT, we do have to treat each other with respect, listen, and be genuinely interested in team success. People need to know they will be heard.
Another key point is that leadership modeling is key to setting the stage for teams to work together. Duhigg goes on to quote Laszlo Bock, former HR Director at Google. “The biggest thing you should take away from this work is that how teams work matters, in a lot of ways, more than who is on them.” We don’t need superstars, we need people who can learn, work collaboratively and contribute ideas to the team.
Bock brought up a series of slides. “What matters are five key norms”
- Teams need to believe that their work is important.
- Teams need to feel their work is personally meaningful.
- Teams need clear goals and defined roles.
- Team members need to know they can depend on one another.
- Teams need psychological safety.
Duhigg continues to quote Bock, “to create psychological safety, Bock said, team leaders needed to model the right behaviors. There were Google-designed checklists they could use:”
- Leaders should not interrupt teammates during conversations, because that will establish an interrupting norm.
- They should demonstrate they are listening by summarizing what people say after they said it.
- They should admit what they don’t know.
- They shouldn’t end a meeting until all team members have spoken at least once.
- They should encourage people who are upset to express their frustrations, and encourage teammates to respond in nonjudgmental ways.
- They should call out inter group conflicts and resolve them through open discussion
Without good leadership, effective teams who work together, and the belief my comments count, teams sometimes default to whoever is perceived to be the smartest or the most experience. This results in what Duhigg calls, “Cognitive Tunneling.” When we think we have the best decision or are willing to accept a decision without open discussion, we narrow our focus and possible solutions are negated. This kind of thinking really limits our ability to find creative solutions and leaders are key in keeping dialogue open so everyone has a chance to talk.
A team of researchers wrote in Political Psychology in 2003. “A high need for closure has been shown to trigger close-mindedness, authoritarian impulses, and a preference for conflict over cooperation.” Beware of premature closure. In a crisis, high control is needed. Most of the time we are not in that situation. Good decisions take time and the back and forth dialogue.
Another good point I got from this book was that superstars were more likely to be drawn to difficult assignments early in their career. They focused on learning and problem solving rather than be complacent. NOTE TO SELF: I want to get better at recognizing that.
Leaders and experienced professionals can get engaged in reverse mentoring. Yes, experienced people have organizational savvy, AND newer team members sometimes bring new skills and perspectives to the team or organization.
Duhigg identifies superstars by the stories they tell. Newbies are constantly asking questions, making new connections, and picking the brains of the experience staff. They are trying to make sense of the world from their point of view.
A great quote in the book comes from an airplane pilot from Quantas, de Crespigny. “You can’t delegate thinking, Computers fail, checklists fail, everything can fail. But people can’t. We have to make decisions, and that includes deciding what deserves our attention. The key is forcing yourself to think. As long as you’re thinking, you are halfway home.” AMEN.
The quote above speaks to the following quote from a highly-focused organization on results only. “People respond to the conditions around them. If you’re being constantly told to focus on achievable results, you’re only going to think of achievable goals. You’re not going to dream big.” In my experience, it is a both/and, not an either/or. The balance between good thinking and good results creates conditions for longer term teams who show better results.
Good leadership and productive teams are hard work. Bo Peep was wrong. Leave them alone and they’ll come home…. Not true. “Good employees are always the hardest asset to find,” said Baron. “When everyone wants to stick around, you’ve got a pretty strong advantage.” I am always wary of the organization if there is high turnover. Yes, people move on to learn more. If a leader can’t keep the best, something is usually wrong. “Employees work smarter and better when they believe they have more decision-making authority and when they believe their colleagues are committed to their success.”
At the end of the book, Duhigg writes about innovation. He tells a story of Disney. He quotes, “Every movie sucks at first. This conundrum of how to spur innovation on a deadline—or, put another way, how to make the creative process more productive isn’t unique to filmmaking.” “As the economy changes, and our capacity to achieve creative insights becomes more important than ever, the need for fast originality is even more urgent.” Anyone who thinks the world will be stable isn’t looking at the same world I am.
Yes, values of honesty, integrity, compassion, etc. probably should not change. However, as the old adage states, intended consequences sometimes happen, unintended consequences always happen. It seems that the real question is how will we respond when the unintended consequences happen. Therefore, ongoing thinking and conversations will be one way to engage in ongoing learning.
Continual learning is a cornerstone of some of the best companies. IDEO continues to find creative solutions to problems. Most of these solutions come from combining and recombining ideas from different sources. One story in the book said that bike helmets came from watching people carrying their boats from lake to lake. Most people know that Velcro came from trying to remove burrs from a dog. Airbag technology came from hand grenades and so on.
Duhigg finishes the book with a quote from Steven Johnson about creative problem solving. “When we teach people a process for reframing choices, when we give them a series of steps that causes a decision to seem a little bit different than before, it helps them take more control of what’s going on inside their heads.”
You can order this book from Amazon:
Stakeholder Centered Coaching
Why this book?
Kouzes & Posner focus on leadership and how important it is to personal and organizational learning. They present ways for leaders to learn as a person as well as their role in leadership, namely to extend learning to others in the organization, and provide ways to develop skills in all business and government sectors. Later in the book they identify Marshall Goldsmith’s questions expressed in his book Triggers. There are great questions that deepen our own and others’ reflection called Self-Coaching Actions at the end of the chapters.
Kouzes, James & Posner, Barry. (2016)
San Francisco: Wiley & Sons.
We need leaders everywhere in the organization no matter what your position is. Lazlo Bock (2009) in his book Work Rules defines leadership as being responsible for contributing ideas to solve problems rather than sitting back and letting people, with titles, without input make decisions. There is a shortage of leadership in the world at all levels.
Noel Tichy (1997) in his book Leadership Engine posits leaders have two main responsibilities. First, be the head learner; and second, develop leadership in others for the organization. Learning to be a better leader also enhances your feelings of self-worth and meaningfulness. Kouzes and Posner make three important observations about leadership.
- Leaders are born and so are you.
- Leadership makes a difference.
- You are already leading, just not frequently enough.
This leads to two important questions: “How do I learn to be a more effective leader?” and “How do I help others develop their leadership skills.” All of the body of work of these respected authors have promoted their five tenets of effective leadership.
- Model the Way
- Inspire a Shared Vision
- Challenge the Process
- Enable Others to Act
- Encourage the Heart
Concerning the first one, people are always watching. That is why modeling is so important. Neuroscience has identified “mirror neurons” that influence behaviors by watching others. The adage by Ralph Waldo Emerson fits, “What you do speaks so loud that I cannot hear what you say.” All five of these leadership skills are further refined in the book.
Professor Heidi Grant Halvorson at Columbia Business School points out, there’s a vast difference between “being good” and “getting better.” A main goal of Learning Leadership, as well as Stakeholder Centered Coaching is, how do we get better. As the world gets increasingly complex, leaders will need a wider repertoire of strategies and, be able to create new ways of solving problems.
Jan Singer, of Spanx said: “Never stop learning. If you have it all figured out, you’re dead. You have to be open, and you have to listen and learn. You may feel a bit exhausted from all the learning in college, but find what energizes you and keep learning. The more serious you are about learning, the more questions you should ask.” Seems like a good suggestion for all of us.
Kouzes and Posner address some of the myths about leadership in our belief system that are important to learning:
- THE STRENGTHS MYTH – the strengths approach has been misapplied to mean that you should take on only tasks in which you are strong. The emphasis on strengths has fundamentally discouraged people from challenging themselves to become better leaders. Ignoring feedback about areas that you are not good at, is inconsistent with a lot of research on learning.
- THE SELF-RELIANCE MYTH – the best leaders know they can’t do it alone. World-class athletes all have coaches. We all need to engage support in your learning and growth.
- THE IT-COMES-NATURALLY MYTH – K. Anders Ericsson, said, “Until most individuals recognize that sustained training and effort is a prerequisite for reaching expert levels of performance, they will continue to misattribute lesser achievement to the lack of natural gifts, and will thus fail to reach their own potential.”
High intelligence does not guarantee great leadership. Many smart people do not possess the social intelligence skills to be successful. Several authors have written that more leaders fail because of relationship issues rather than book knowledge. Most managers fail in their careers because of poor relationships with their direct reports.
McGill University Management Professor Nancy Adler finds that the best way to access the insights you gain from your experiences is to reflect on them daily. Write down all the ways you can think of that you could become better at asking for feedback. Here are some questions as an example of the Self-Coaching Actions at the end of a chapter.
- What difference do I want to make?
- Are my actions making the difference I want to make?
- Do my actions help bring out the best in myself and others?
In 1986, Charles Garfield wrote in Peak Performers that ‘internal locus of control’ was the main factor in the best performers. This was based on the work of Albert Bandura who researched self-efficacy. Efficacy is defined as the belief you can do something that will make a difference. Teacher efficacy has been shown to be a critical attribute in helping kids learn. It is one of the most important elements in assisting ourselves to learn and to grow while helping others do the same.
Becky Schaar, of Google realized from her “personal-best” reflection the need: “to understand what you deeply believe in because people won’t follow you, or even pay much attention to you, if you don’t have strong belief.”
No leader ever made anything extraordinary happen by keeping things the same. Obviously, this involves change, and change means risking, trying something new. The challenge is to create psychological safety in the organization that signals taking risks is supported. Some questions for leaders to consider are:
- What type of culture is needed for leaders to behave differently or advocate for a new solution?
- How do you create that environment for others?
To try something new and/or develop a culture that encourages responsible risk-taking requires courage. There are many ways courage shows up in leadership behavior e.g. speaking the truth when it is unpopular, having hard conversations with employees, making the call when our values are being tested, etc.
Maintaining the status quo is the breeding ground for mediocrity. PEOPLE DO THEIR BEST WHEN CHALLENGED – Our research, Kouzes and Posner, shows that:
- Opportunities to challenge the status quo and introduce change open the door to doing one’s best. Challenge is the motivating environment for excellence.
- Challenging opportunities often bring forth skills and abilities that people don’t know they have.
- People who become leaders don’t always seek the challenges they face. Challenges also seek leaders. When there is a crisis or major problem. the situation seek out people who can solve them. Those leaders step up when needed for solutions.
This book points out the importance of seeking help with your own career, no matter what level in the organization you are currently leading: “Find someone who has an interest in your development.” Seek out people you learn from and those who would be good mentors. Benjamin Bloom, investigated the development of talent in 120 elite performers – unless there is a long and intensive process of encouragement, nurturance, education, and training, the individuals will not attain extreme levels of capability in these particular fields.
A great piece of advice in this book is - YOU CAN’T IGNORE YOUR WEAKNESSES – If you want to be the best leader you can be, you will have to attend to your weaknesses. You can’t delegate or assign to others those leadership behaviors you aren’t comfortable doing. Ignoring weaknesses doesn’t banish them, and doing so often just makes them worse because they’ll continue to stand in the way of what you want to accomplish. “We have to deal with them so they’ll quit dogging us.” This is possibly the best example of the courage needed to learn leadership.
As previously mentioned, the authors suggest the use of Stakeholder Centered Coaching methodology of BUILDING GOOD HABITS WITH ACTIVE QUESTIONS. As Marshall Goldsmith, wrote in Triggers: Asking active questions each day is a “magic move.” “The act of self-questioning—so simple, so misunderstood, so infrequently pursued—changes everything.” In active questioning, Marshall recommends that you start the question with “Did I do my best to . . . followed by whatever action you intend to take.
Some of the results from the active questioning approach versus passive-questions, show positive improvement. The active questions produced twice the effectiveness compared with the passive questions. Examples of active questions and the Self-Coaching Action at the end of the chapter are:
- Did I do my best to remain positive about my abilities today?
- Did I do my best to focus on exciting future possibilities today?
- Did I do my best to challenge and stretch myself today?
- Did I do my best to learn from other people today?
- Did I do my best to practice a new leadership skill today?
Bock, Lazlo. (2015). Work Rules. New York: Twelve
Garfield, C. (1986). Peak performers. New York: Avon Books.
Goldsmith, Marshall. (2015). Triggers. New York: Crown
Tichy. N. (1997). The leadership engine. New York: HarperCollins.
Why these books?
Edgar Schein has been a giant in the field of OD for decades. Instead of writing a separate summary of his last three books, I decided to combine them into one summary. These books offer excellent examples of real organizational issues. In his last book he adds Lessons Learned, which are really beneficial to reflect on for anyone whose aim is to increase organizational effectiveness. I believe you will see several connections with Stakeholder Centered Coaching from the father of Organizational Development. As Peter Block (2011) said in a recent book, we all owe a debt of gratitude from Edgar Schein and his work in helping organizations be better.
Schein, Edgar. (2009). Helping. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler.
Helping is a basic relationship that moves things forward. Help is only help if it is seen as help. We all know from experience that for help to be given, AND accepted, ‘Trust is must’ between the helper and the receiver.
We all need help because, most of the time, we cannot accomplish our goals and jobs without others. If we can do it alone, we wouldn’t need coaches, feedback, or organizations. Completing tasks require communication that is often times reciprocal. Many times, reciprocity is affected by our history with family, friends, and the organizations we work in. In most cases, new relationships require trust building that will be influenced by previous experiences. Without a baseline of trust, help will be slow or limited.
Schein points out possible traps for both the receiver and the helper, along with what the helper may not know before attempting to help:
Five possible traps for the receiver/client
- Initial mistrust. Will the helper be willing and able to help? Such caution is normal and appropriate but may cause the client to hide the real problem at first. …
- Relief. Having finally shared the problem with someone else who may be able to help, the client certainly feels relieved. Along with that often comes a welcome sense of dependency and subordination …
- Looking for attention, reassurance, and/or validation instead of help. …
- Resentment and defensiveness. The client may look for opportunities to make the helper look inept. …
- Stereotyping, unrealistic expectations, and transference of perceptions. … the client calibrates everything the helper does against these expectations and judges the quality of the growing relationship on this basis rather than on the help given.
Six possible traps for the helper
- Dispensing wisdom prematurely.
- Meeting defensiveness with more pressure.
- Accepting the problem and over-reacting to the dependence.
- Giving support and reassurance.
- Resisting taking on the helper role.
- Stereotyping, a priori expectations, ‘counter-transference,’ and projections.
Five things the helper does not know at the beginning
- Will the client understand the information, advice, or questions being asked?
- Will the client have the knowledge and skill necessary to follow the helper’s recommendations?
- What is the client’s real motivation?
- What is the client’s contextual situation?
- How do clients’ experiences shape expectations, stereotypes, and fears?
The helper can choose to be an expert who provides information, a doctor who will diagnose the problems and prescribe a solution, or a process consultant who will focus on the relationships and specify what kind of assistance will help. Schein then outlines the conditions for help to be effective.
Principles and Tips:
Principle 1: Effective help occurs when both giver and receiver are ready.
Principle 2: Effective help occurs when the relationship is perceived to be equitable.
Principle 3: Effective help occurs when the helper is in the proper helping role.
Principle 4: Everything you say or do determines the future of the relationship.
Principle 5: Effective helping starts with pure inquiry.
Principle 6: It is the client who owns the problem.
Principle 7: You never have all the answers.
Helping lays the groundwork for his next book, Humble Inquiry (Principle 5 above), where Schein focuses on questions rather than answers. How do we get the most ideas for possible solutions? Isidor Rabi, Nobel Prize for physics, said one of the reasons he thinks he has been successful was because of his mother. When he came home from school she didn’t ask, ‘what did you learn in school today?’ Instead, his mother asked him, “Izzy, what good questions did you ask in school today?” Dr. Rabi said the focus of his responsibility was on asking questions and to be curious, were the foundation his own learning.
Schein, Edgar. (2013). Humble Inquiry. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler.
Most of us do not like conversations or meetings that spend time telling us what we already know. A summary of what we know, “Yes;” every detail, “No.” When others talk on and on about what we know a lot of the time we just zone out or become secretly irritated. On the other hand, when we are asked questions, we respond differently. Questions are more like an invitation to contribute. It is more of a feeling that what is being discussed has not be finalized, and my contribution might be useful.
Not all questions are equivalent. Humble Inquiry is the fine art of drawing someone out, of asking questions to which you do not already know the answer, of building a relationship based on curiosity and interest in the other person. What seems to really help move thinking along is asking the right questions.
Schein is very intentional by combining humility with inquiry. Humility is required for learning. Humility signals ‘I don't know, but am curious to find out how or what others know.’ How willing are we to genuinely learn from others? Humility is one of the things we look for in Stakeholder Centered Coaching to find good people who want to be better AND are willing to ask for feedback and suggestions. Think about it, if you already know everything, what’s the point of a conversation.
Schein relates the story in his book about his daughter coming down to his study to ask a question and he responded by saying she was interrupting his work. His daughter left crying. His wife came down and said his daughter just wanted to know if he wanted a cup of coffee. We can probably relate to this story because we’ve have done similar things - feeling guilty, making assumptions, and not clarifying the issue. The moral of his example is: Asking a question helps clarify what the other person wants.
Here are some things Schein has learned from his experience in “humble inquiry:”
- When the choice is between you or me, look for a way to explore us, the relationship itself.
- Ask an open question to get information that you need (a question that is not answerable with just a yes or no)
- When one is too busy with one’s own agenda but wants to display a caring attitude, what often works best is a small change in behavior, not a total revision of the relationship.
- A small change allows a brief interruption to get more information before making a big decision.
- The small change should invite joint problem solving.
- Small changes now avoid the need for big changes later.
- Humble Inquiry would have enabled a small change.
Control the process, not the content first. Content can follow and is enhanced when the process is right (Helping – refer back to the summary of his first book).
Here is some other learning distributed throughout the book:
- Don’t jump in telling answers until you know what the other person really needs to know.
- Don’t assume that the person with the question has asked the right question.
- Asking for examples is not only one of the most powerful ways of showing curiosity, interest, and concern, but also—and even more important—it clarifies general statements.
- Accessing your ignorance, or allowing curiosity to lead you, is often the best guide to what to ask about.
There are other examples with sample questions in the book specifically dealing with Diagnostic Inquiry, Confrontational Inquiry, and Process-oriented Inquiry.
Much of Schein’s work has great potential in meetings. Knowing that some meetings are not apparently safe to ask questions, most people complain about attending. These sample questions can help mediate a couple of problems with meetings. Many times there is encouragement to get into action before thinking.
Another problem with some meetings is “the culture of TELL.” We meet, the person with positional authority tells what to do, meeting is over. Most companies that are being successful have safe meetings with the goal of exploring options and creative solutions.
Schein ends with a series of questions to ask oneself, which if asked with genuine inquiry, can be useful:
- What is going on here?
- What would be the appropriate thing to do?
- What am I thinking and feeling and wanting?
A few additional questions, if the task is to be accomplished effectively and safely, are:
- On whom am I dependent?
- Who is dependent on me?
- With whom do I need to build a relationship in order to improve communication?
Developing Helping relationships is critical and using Humble Inquiry can lead to building trust and generating more effective outcomes.
Schein’s third book, Humble Consulting, relates how these tenets are applicable to being a consultant. Consultants, of course, can be external or internal.
Schein, Edgar. (2016). Humble Consulting. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler.
Process Consultation emphasizes the need to involve the client in the process of figuring out what is wrong and what can be done about it. This statement in the preface sets the tone of this book. As a consultant, I spent a lot of time telling. To be sure, there are times to be overt and direct. As a starting point, however, using some of the skills and strategies outlined in Helping and Humble Inquiry might produce better results without giving premature advice.
As Schein points out, many solutions are not technical ones. He quotes Heifetz as one who says complex problems today need more ‘adaptive solutions.’ The process of finding solutions is a more long-term strategy than the one problem/one solution mindset that can become more of a “Whack-a-Mole” strategy.
Being the expert and providing information and/or advice works, but only for simple, bounded problems. That process also fails when the problem is complex, culturally multifaceted, and constantly changing. Additionally, being the expert can set up the client to become dependent on your ideas and reduce their taking on responsibility of building problem solving systems.
Humble Consulting Requires a New Kind of Personal Relationship with the Client when working on messier problems and trying to get at what is really on the client’s mind and what is worrying him
Humble Consulting Requires a New Kind of Behavior in the Very First Contact. “Tell me a little bit more about what you have in mind?” “Why do you want to do this culture survey?” “What problem are you trying to solve?”
Humble Consulting Requires a New Attitude of Humility, a Commitment to Helping, and Curiosity. Honor the difficulties that the client faces and to focus on him and the situation, not on my own needs to sell myself, my skills, and my insights. I allow myself to become genuinely curious. It is honest, spontaneous curiosity that best conveys my interest and concern for the client.
“Humble Consulting Attitude.” Think of it in terms of the three Cs—commitment, curiosity, and caring.
- COMMITMENT: YOU HAVE TO BE EMOTIONALLY READY TO WANT TO HELP. Try not to worry about whether this will produce income or not; let your motive be to see if you can solve the client’s problem.
- CURIOSITY: YOU HAVE TO WANT TO KNOW “WHO IS THIS PERSON?” AND “WHAT IS THE SITUATION?” Be genuinely curious, because that will make you an active, engaged listener from the moment you are in contact with the other person.
- CARING: YOU HAVE TO GET PERSONAL AS QUICKLY AS POSSIBLE. Focus on the person and what the client-to-be says to you. Clear your mind as much as possible of preconceptions.
Another tenet in Stakeholder Centered Coaching is the discipline to follow through. In a good working relationship, I need to be able to predict how much I can count on you to make and keep your commitments and how open and reliable you will be in your communication with me.
At one level of consulting the outcome becomes pseudo help. We meet, we talk, we have great discussions. Yes, I have done this. I let myself become seduced by the problem or the organization. This produces little, if any, real or lasting change.
At the next level of consulting. Schein asks the question, “Is what we are doing really helping?” At this level we want to investigate the data, the culture, and the goal of our consulting. Another question that can be revealing is, “Why did you decide to call me?”
Schein cited an example whereby people at a meeting get frustrated by the agenda. The participants say they never got to the real issues. After two hours (or how ever long the meeting is scheduled) people walked away without real discussion of issues and possible solutions. Schein asked a question, “Where did this agenda come from?” Answer, “the executive’s secretary.”
They asked the secretary to join the meeting. Schein asked how she developed the agenda. She said she put down the items as the participants would call her. It came down to timing. There was no effort to prioritize the items prior to the meeting or at the beginning of the meeting. If this is a problem, why not prioritize what has to be decided during the time we meet? How many procedures endure because no one ask a question or challenges the process?
In this book Schein addressed several scenarios that are pertinent to many of our organizations. The only principle is that you should remain committed to being helpful. The most dangerous aspect of being the helper is to give premature advice and thereby to undermine your own credibility. The trap for the helper is that the client had considered it, ruled it out for various good reasons, and now wonders why the consultant has come up with such a bad idea.
In the end, the goal is to: 1) find out what the client is worried about; 2) what they see as the preferred future: and, 3) what are the immediate and long-term problems really need to be addressed. The combined wisdom of this trilogy by Edgar Scheiun goes a long way to make a positive difference.
Block, Peter. (2001). Flawless Consulting (3rd ed). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Why this book?
The New IQ Leading Up, Down, and Across Using Innovative Questions
Written by a noted executive coach to the Fortune 100, Chris Coffey, and Los Angeles Business Journal Nonprofit CIO of the Year, David Lam, this book details how to literally change your life by making simple changes -- just by asking the questions detailed in the book. The authors share the foundational elements of Innovative Questions, this process of asking effective questions and making useful statements to turn around your conversations. The authors provide repeated and easy to try examples of how to radically change your interactions with others for the better.
This insightful new book provides relevant and immediately usable techniques that let you turn confrontational situations into truly productive outcome!
Peter Drucker is quoted in the foreword by Marshall Goldsmith, “The leader of the past knew how to tell; the leader of the future will know how to ask.”
An Innovative Question (IQ) is defined as “using a question or making a statement followed by a probing question to create a space for you and your conversational partners to make better decisions.” Such questions have the ability to get people to pause and think, often lead to an 'aha moment.' And, as a result, it focuses the parties on getting to the best possible result, known as an Ideal Final Result. In this book, readers learn about the questions and phrases that make up Innovative Questions and how to apply them.
Forward by Marshall Goldsmith
Lending credibility to Innovative Questions, world-renowned executive coach and leadership expert Marshall Goldsmith entices us with his insight on the book:
What I find so interesting is this book has been written from the student’s point of view…. Chris and David crafted the book incorporating Chris’ coaching philosophy and process as well as David’s execution. It’s a great premise and an incredibly insightful and entertaining read.
The fable is an excellent example, and, along with the more “how to” chapters, Chris and David have written a very good book that will help you, your team, and your organization be even more successful.
I hope you’ll read it and enjoy it as much as I did!
The new IQ:
Innovative Questions lead to thoughtful, reflective dialogue and debate rather than a recipe or the “old-style” command and control style of leadership.
Innovative Questions are easy to understand and learn to use with minimal preparation or time commitment.
Innovative Questions move past an often poisonous preprogrammed response.
The basic operating process of Innovative Questions is Space Creation, which achieves the best possible results for all involved. Innovative Questions allow this by creating clarity without insinuating blame. And when both parties participate more often than not a win-win outcome ensues.
The stated goal of the authors is to keep Innovative Questions as simple as possible but no simpler. Innovative Questions form a model that is understandable, efficient, effective, workable, and not time consuming.
The benefits of The New IQ include:
- Using a question or making a statement to open Safe Space for you and your conversational partner to make better decisions.
- Innovative Questions gets people to focus on getting to the Ideal Final Result.
- Innovative Questions helps create a more positive perception of you and turn conflict into positive outcomes.
Stimulus and Response
Humans only do three things: think, feel, and behave. The only thing we can truly control is our behavior, and behavior is an observable response to a stimulus. Innovative Questions allow us to get in between stimulus and response and create a thoughtful response instead of a knee-jerk, pre- programed reaction.
Cicero states, “Ability without honor is useless.” Borrowing the wisdom of Cicero, effective leaders are those that possess:
- A bedrock of principles
- A strong moral compass
- A vision for the future
- The ability to influence people to follow that vision.
These values also manifest themselves in an earnest desire to help the other person succeed and in allowing others to feel psychologically safe. The authors stress the importance of collaboration, consistency, and respect as the bedrock of principles for an effective leader’s interactions with others.
Getting clarity on the Ideal Final Result is the Holy Grail of the influence process. Clarity empowers us. Lack of clarity invariably brings unclear expectations, unclear commitments, and a failure to reach desirable outcomes.
Where getting clarity is the first step in the process, the Ideal Final Result is the desired outcome. In many cases it brings an entirely different, and better, end result than we were expecting.
The authors describe six questions of clarity:
- What is the Ideal Final Result?
- How do we define success?
- What measurements/milestones we will use along the way?
- What resources are there?
- Who is accountable for what?
- What are the consequences/rewards for failure and success?
The Fable: An Example of Innovative Questions
The Storm and The Calm is a fictional story (a fable) of a startup corporation in which a newcomer applies Innovative Questions to identify a strategic Ideal Final Result. The protagonist, John, identifies three necessary skills at the beginning of the story:
- Dealing with conflict.
- How to fairly convey points of view to fairly influence the outcome.
John articulates two fundamental elements that are needed to create Safe Space. First, individuals must feel “psychologically safe” to challenge different points of view and to present their own point of view. Second, teams must establish “ground rules” for interactions upfront.
As the meeting begins, we get to observe how people violate some of the pre-established ground rules, how they are dealt with. Through the use of Innovative Questions a Safe Space is created for constructive and positive dialogue and debate going forward.
As the meeting proceeds, John describes the many skills he has learned in working with a leadership coach. These include: 1) win-win; 2) the four goals of working through any problem or opportunity; and, 3) the definition of consensus
- Win-Win is defined as everyone has participated, their point of view is understood and has been fairly considered, and they support the final decision. The Thomas Kilman conflict model and Fisher and Ury negotiation models are incorporated into the analysis effectively.
- The four goals for working through problems/opportunities are defined as:
- Topic goal: What the actual words say.
- Relationship goal: How do I want to be treated? As an equal? As a partner? And, am I being treated that way? For example, “I feel that I am being respected by my peers as an equal.”
- Identity goal: How you want to think of yourself and how you want the other person to think of you in general. For example, “I'm fair and I think others see me as fair.”
- Process goal: What the actual process is in making a decision. For example, “How do I want to resolve this?”
- Consensus is defined as when everyone understands how and why the decision was made and the team commits to execute on the decision even if they argued against it in the decision-making process. Generally, the team needs to make peace with the fact that whoever has the position power in the room is the final decision maker.
As part of the team’s ground rules John defines argumentation as the study of effective reasoning for the purpose of incorporating a specifics set of skills to be used by the team. According to John, the major components of an argument are:
Claim: statements we want the listener to believe.
Evidence: the grounds for making the claim.
Inference: the main proof line from the evidence to the claim.
Warrant: the license to make the inference.
The fable provides an effective way to introduce influence and communication skills around: clarity on Ideal Final Results; using ground rules: consensus building; achieving win-win outcomes; brainstorming; dealing with conflict; decision-making; and, the art of argumentation. These are all skills that can be developed and become part of an individual’s behavioral DNA.
Mastering Innovative Questions
Building on the foundation of argumentation presented in the fable, Chris and David cover multiple aspects of Innovative Questions in the last 10 short chapters of the book. They discuss principles for change, the necessity of practice, and how important it is to understand any model before being able to master it.
In their discussions on human nature, Chris and David identify three important human elements:
- Emotions are part of day-to-day human experience.
- Leaders benefit when they allow their team members and stakeholders a Safe Space to talk about their emotions.
- Leaders have an obligation to work through a conflict.
The Innovative Questions model also works well with Situational Leadership™, allowing leaders and others to assess the readiness of individuals to perform well on a task. Questions such as the ones below allow leaders to quickly find out the likelihood of success for any of their peers or team members when starting on a project:
- How often have you done this before?
- What did you do to achieve your level of success?
- How confident are you that you will be successful in the future?
The book then turns to the inevitable: how will people respond to changes you are making in your leadership style? Chris and David frankly discuss apologizing for past mistakes and any foibles going forward, and being patient for your team members to come around to the positive changes you are making.
Ground Rules and Continual Improvement
Innovative Questions allow its practitioners room to set ground rules with its team, and also provide a great set of questions for assessing what happened and how to move forward in the most effective way. Questions that help with learning and moving forward include:
- What did you set out to do?
- What actually happened?
- How did it happen?
- What insights do you have?
- What are you going to do moving forward? or
- If you could do it again, what would you repeat and what would you do differently?
Wrapping It Up
The book ends with a transition to the real-life experience that David faced. It starts with an unsuccessful interaction with one of David’s staff members. Then the book shows, in detailed steps, how David worked with Chris to turn it around. Integrating pieces from throughout the book, it provides great insight to how effective Innovative Questions will be when used with skill.
The appendix includes a sample daily sheet for tracking personal improvement and over 200 Innovative Questions that apply to a multitude of circumstances. Ultimately, taking a few of these questions in to any meeting and making them part of your behavioral DNA allows you to improve your abilities as a team member, leader and manager. Mastering Innovative Questions helps you become a skilled and effective conversationalist, and reminds us of an essential Innovative Questions tenet: One who is skilled in the art of conversation can truly improve the result of almost any interaction.
Enjoy the book.
Download a sample Chapter
Book is available on Amazon
 As per Albert Einstein.
Why this book?
This book offers ample examples of why the outlier contributor and the one's we might listen to the least, might be our most prized resource. In our Stakeholder Centered Coaching framework we encourage leaders to include among their stakeholders those who offer differing points of view and who the leader may have difficult, or strained, relationships. These individuals often, over the course of the change process, wind up being the most valuable to include. The book also offers insight into the role of timing, varied experiences, and the use of enemies to the likelihood of successful results.
Originals: How Non-Conformist Move the World.
Grant, Adam. (2016)
New York: Viking.
In some circles there is a belief that non-conformists can be hazardous to the organization. In the area of accounting, that may be true. Yet, if creativity as the lifeblood to fuel needed innovation, there is plenty of room outside the accounting department where non-comformity is needed. The question is how to benefit from the mavericks in the organization while focusing on results.
When considering the risk involved for the non-conformist and the organization, George Bernard Shaw’s quote seems to fit: “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” Of course, there are limits to anything. This book concentrates on the advantages of being open to creative ideas and people.
“Research demonstrates that it is the most creative children who are the least likely to become the teacher’s pet.” This is also an issue for managers and executives. Managing the creative type is not easy. Author William Deresiewicz wrote a book called Excellent Sheep (2015) which postulates students are taught to follow direction (ah, Frederick Taylor still has impact) as well as organizations who want conformance as the standard.
Here is a story in the book. “An angel investor offered $250,000 to Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak to bankroll Apple in 1977. It came with an ultimatum: Wozniak would have to leave Hewlett Packard. Wozniak refused at first. ‘I still intended to be at that company (HP) forever,’ Wozniak reflects. ‘My psychological block was really that I didn’t want to start a company because I was just afraid,’ he admitted. Wozniak changed his mind only after being encouraged by Jobs, multiple friends, and his own parents.”
When we look to the Steve Jobs and Bill Gates of the world, we think they are just different, more self-assured, and lucky. Not True. It may seem like they look for risk, in fact, they avoid it. Page and Brin of Google stayed at Stanford because they didn’t want to drop out of the Ph.D. program. They actually tried to sell Google for $2,000,000 in 1997. The offer was rejected. Lucky for them.
There are many other examples in the book of very successful people who kept their day job while working on new ideas. Endeavor cofounder and CEO Linda Rottenberg observes “They take the risk out of risk-taking.” Most of these creators don’t like risk any more than the rest of us do.
A growing body of evidence suggests that entrepreneurs don’t like risk any more than the rest of us. They tend to plan out scenarios, hedge their bets with what-if plans and have Plan B or C or D ready to go. “Originality is not a fixed trait. It is a free choice.” Scott Adams said, “Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.” Many times geniuses don’t recognize when they have a good idea developed. They just keep kissing frogs and eventually a great idea pops out.
One lesson in the book is having many great ideas increases your chance of the major hit rather than waiting for the one big earth-shattering product. “Mozart composed more than 600 pieces before his death at thirty-five, Beethoven produced 650 in his lifetime, and Bach wrote over a thousand. In a study of over 15,000 classical music compositions, the more pieces a composer produced in a given five-year window, the greater the spike in the odds of a hit.” What this means is most of what Mozart, Bach, and Beethoven wrote never paid in front of audiences or has lasted long enough to be heard today by a Symphony Orchestra. Edison’s “1,093 patents notwithstanding, the number of truly superlative creative achievements can probably be counted on the fingers of one hand.”
“If you’re gonna make connections which are innovative,” Steve Jobs said back in 1982, “you have to not have the same bag of experience as everyone else does. Having a wide range of experiences also helps in the production of new ideas. The data on Nobel Prize winners by researchers at Michigan State follows:
Artistic Hobby Odds for Nobel Prize winners v. scientists
Music: playing an instrument, composing, conducting 2X
Arts: drawing, painting, printmaking, sculpting 7X
Crafts: woodworking, mechanics, electronics, glassblowing 7.5X
Writing: poetry, plays, novels, short stories, essays, books 12X
Performing: amateur actor, dancer, magician 22X
Interest in the arts among entrepreneurs, inventors, and eminent scientists obviously reflects their curiosity and aptitude. Here are some more thoughts from the book:
- Time living abroad didn’t matter: it was time working abroad, being actively engaged in design in a foreign country, that predicted whether their new collections were hits.
- The more the foreign culture differed from that of their native land, the more that experience contributed to the director’s creativity. An American gained little from working in Canada, compared to the originality dividends of a project in Korea or Japan.
- The most important factor was depth—the amount of time spent working abroad. A short stint did little good, because directors weren’t there long enough to internalize the new ideas from the foreign culture and synthesize them with their old perspectives.
Intuition has some strengths and also some weaknesses. Steve Jobs made many great decisions based on intuition. He also made a foolish decision about the Segway. Erik Dane, a researcher says that intuition is helpful within the domain where we have experience. However, the same confidence can be negative when we apply over confidence in areas where we have little or no experience. Any strength overused can be a negative.
There is an old adage that says, “go out on a limb, that is where the fruit is.” It seems to us we should be on a familiar tree before going too far out. At the same time expressing creative ideas can be risky within an organization if there is not enough ecological safety. Einstein’s quote may help, “Great spirits have always encountered opposition from mediocre minds.” Keep reminding yourself that hubris about your thinking can also get you in trouble. There is a balance because surrounding yourself with people who stroke your ego can be as debilitating. The following quote by Howard Tullman explains, “Familiarity doesn’t breed contempt, it breeds comfort.”
“Do you believe you can effect change, and do you care enough to try? If you believe you’re stuck with the status quo, you’ll choose neglect when you’re not committed, and persistence when you are. If you do feel you can make a difference, but you aren’t committed to the person, country, or organization, you’ll leave. Only when you believe your actions matter and care deeply will you consider speaking up.” Charles Garfield (1986), Peak Performers, says that internal locus of control, or efficacy, is the number one contributor of the best performers on the job. Efficacy is the belief that you can do something about the situation. It is the opposite of “learned helplessness.”
Leadership is essential since it affects the system, “At work, our sense of commitment and control depends more on our direct boss than on anyone else.” This was born out by the Gallup Organization (1999) First Break All the Rules, where they posit people leave managers, they don’t leave organizations.
However, if you are able to attract a curmudgeon of a manager to your viewpoint, they can be your best support. “Disagreeable managers are typically the last people we seek when we’re going to go out on a limb, but they are sometimes our best advocates.” “It is often the prickly people who are more comfortable taking a stand against others and against convention.” As a Google employee put it, disagreeable managers may have a bad user interface but a great operating system.
Bill Gross, Idealab wanted to find out what drove success versus failure. “The most important factor was not the uniqueness of the idea, the capabilities and execution of the team, the quality of the business model, or the availability of funding. The number one thing was timing. Timing accounted for forty-two percent of the difference between success and failure.” So, having experienced people with political savvy can be as important as having a great idea. “Sprinting is a fine strategy for a young genius, but becoming an old master requires the patience of experimentation to run a marathon.”
There is more discussion in the book about timing, those who take longer to think through issues (some people call this procrastination). There are distinct advantages of reflective thought as well as intuitive quick thinking. Daniel Kahneman (2013) Thinking, Fast and Slow, goes into great detail of the advantages of both types of processing.
Another creative tool is espoused by Karl Weick. He says, “putting old things in new combinations and new things in old combinations.” When you remember some of the heuristics found in life, this may be one of the most important. Synthesizing, recombining, and reframing a problem can be extremely beneficial. There are many examples in business from Post-It Notes, Velcro, and Air Bags (hand grenade technology),
Here is another provocative point. “Enemies Make Better Allies Than Frenemies.” The book outlines how enemies are more consistent and overt with the objections. Those who are friends may have more hidden agendas that might be a surprise down the road. Michelle Duffy, University of Minnesota, explains, “It takes more emotional energy and coping resources to deal with individuals who are inconsistent.” This is a concept we encourage you to read more about.
In another Sommers’ Summaries coming up, the Bridgewater Company is referenced about their culture.“ In 2010, Bridgewater’s returns exceeded the combined profits of Google, eBay, Yahoo, and Amazon.” Bridgewater created a transparent organization structure that sustains safe, open dialogue to create the best possible future.” Before you criticize people, you should walk a mile in their shoes. That way, when you criticize them, you’re a mile away and you have their shoes.” Diversity of ideas is expected and nourished. “If you hire people who fit your culture, you’ll end up with people who reinforce rather than challenge one another’s perspectives.”
Ray Dalio, Bridgewater points out, “The greatest tragedy of mankind comes from the inability of people to have thoughtful disagreement to find out what’s true.”
Creating a safe culture to express, talk out ideas, and have a support system that honors diversity of thought is crucial in generating new solutions to problems that exist. “Research shows that surface acting burns us out: Faking emotions that we don’t really feel is both stressful and exhausting. If we want to express a set of emotions, we need to actually experience them.” For instance: Anger can create a sense of urgency but just reacting with anger might get you in trouble. Debra Meyerson and Maureen Scully suggest that the key is to be “simultaneously hot and cool-headed. The heat fuels action and change; the coolness shapes the action and change into legitimate and viable forms.” “But once the heat is on, how do we keep our cool?”
The book ends with recommendations for schools and how to deal with Originals.
Buckingham, M. & Coffman, C. (1999). First break all the rules. New York:
Simon & Schuster.
Garfield, C. (1986). Peak performers. New York: Avon Books.
Kahneman, D. (2013). Thinking, Fast and Slow. New York: Farr, Straus and Giroux
Why this book?
Stakeholder Centered Coaching is about improvement. As the environment and world changes, our knowledge, skills, and applications will have to keep pace. In this book Marshall Goldsmith identifies some reasons why people stay with what has been working believing it will always produce good results. He discusses strategies that will help leaders get feedback on what behaviors are working and what are not, our barriers to behavioral change, and how “feedforward” can increase productive results.
Why this book?
Pfeffer and Sutton outline five elements in our organization that widen the gap between knowing and doing. As the founder of Stakeholder Centered Coaching Marshall Goldsmith is fond of saying: “There is no evidence that the world is a better place because of what we know; the world is a better place because of what we do.” This book outlines some of the barriers that prevent individuals from getting things done. The five limiting processes can be used in coaching individual leaders and more structurally at a higher organizational level.
The Knowing-Doing Gap: How Smart Companies Turn Knowledge into Action.
Pfeffer, J. & Sutton, R. (2000).
Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.
The term GAP is used to indicate many differences between what we say or believe and what actually happens. Pfeffer and Sutton provide a very helpful template to more fully understand what gets in the way of behaving in alignment with your espoused goals and values.
Knowing different theories is important AND, as well all should know, insufficient. The importance to transfer knowledge into action, apply useful ideas, and focus on how to adapt new learning, is summed up by Lew Platt, former the CEO of HP, when he said: “I wish we knew how to execute what we know at HP.” If we can’t apply knowledge into useful application to the organization, the work gets stymied or at least delayed. If we learn by doing, the gap between knowledge and action shrinks. People learn to swim by getting into the water, not by reading books on swimming.
A point made early in the book offers a reason so many efforts to get results do not produce in a timely manner. So many systems built by consulting firms, information technologists, and knowledge gurus are separated from those who are closest to the work. This also leads to ineffective use of budgets, intellectual capital of the people working, and sometimes an arrogance of knowing what’s best from the office. Pfeffer and Sutton say: “Social interaction is often crucial.” Watch a couple of episodes of Undercover Boss on CNBC network. You will be amazed at what you learn when you walk in the shoes of the frontline colleagues.
Another idea in this book suggests that “knowledge” is viewed as a noun. This finite description can, or will, limit the possibility of gaining future knowledge. What if we focused on “learning” as an alternative? This active verb signals an ongoing process. Herb Kelleher, SW Airlines said, “We hire for attitude.” He said he can teach ticketing processes but he can’t teach attitude. Sounds like he is on to something.
Here is are the five elements that play out in real time:
- When Talk Substitutes for Action
- When Memory Is a Substitute for Thinking
- When Fear Prevents Acting on Knowledge
- When Measurement Obstructs Good Judgment
- When Internal Competition Turns Friends into Enemies
Anyone who has sat through endless meetings, long planning sessions, or been involved with the reverse “butterfly effect” (a great deal of energy with little result) will see one or more of the five elements playing out in real time.
- When Talk Substitutes for Action. There are distinct advantages from constructively talking about problems, processes, and purpose; but without taking action we cannot see whether or not the proposed plans work or wastes time and energy. Unfortunately, some people are content going to meeting and talking. How many of you have been in meetings that are reminiscent of the movie Groundhog Day where the same meeting happens over and over again. We have talked about the same issue month after month with no action that would move us forward.
When people think talking about something is taking action, valuable resources in time, money, and ideation suffer. Even when a decision is reached about a problem; that does not ensure action will be taken on that problem. “A decision, by itself, changes nothing.” Preparing written reports without action does not produce feedback that is needed and useful to the organization.
Pfeffer and Sutton warn us, “Mission statements are among the most blatant and common means that organizations use to substitute talk for action.” They go on to say: “There seems to be little connection between how much effort an organization devotes to planning or even how well it does planning and how well it performs.” Planning without actions is an academic exercise. When hiring, do we talk to the person and see if we like them? Do we actually have them do something so we can see what they do with an issue?
- When Memory Is a Substitute for Thinking. “People in organizations that use memory as a substitute for thinking often do what has always been done without any reflecting.” You hear: “We tried that before and it didn’t work.” Well, what did we learn from that initiative? What has changed in the context that it may be worth trying again? Do we have different staff with different skills?
A quote in the book by Stephen Quesnelle stated: “Sacred cows are the barriers that everybody knows about but that nobody talks about…They’re the policies and procedures that have outlived their usefulness – but that no one dares touch.”
Premature closure is a way to get out of facing problems. It also sucks the positive energy out of the room. It also can become a barrier to any alternative, more positive approach. People don’t like uncertainty so they run to conclusion as fast as they can. The authors quote David Kelley: “This is the best we can think of right now. But the only thing I am sure of is that it is temporary and it is wrong. We just have to keep experimenting so it keeps getting better all the time.” This quote signals learning continual because the landscape keeps changing.
And there is another danger that comes from a history of success. “As their successes accumulate, organizations grow complacent and learn too little,” as stated by the authors. Richard Pascale (1990), Managing on the Edge, said in his opening line: “Nothing fails like success.” We get lulled into believing we have arrived at the right answer and we resist ongoing reflection and thinking.
- When Fear Prevents Acting on Knowledge. Remembering one of W. Edwards Deming’s principles was Drive Out Fear, the authors reminds us that without a safe place ideas will stay hidden. In The New IQ by Chris Coffey (2015) he explains the need for having ‘safe space’ to create opportunities for deeper conversations. Taking risks must be honored and sometimes rewarded.
When fear exists, people don’t talk as much and they certainly will not take a risk on an innovating idea. Here is a quote which can have a dampening effect: Samuel Goldwyn: “I don’t want yes-men around me. I want everyone to tell me the truth – even though it costs him his job.” This quote from the book is an example of why people will not give honest feedback. The alternative is what David Russo said in this book: “We punish nothing. We reward creativity. Very much like Maria Montessori, we believe creativity should be followed, not led.”
The following suggestions are quoted in the Knowledge Doing Gap for driving fear out of the organization during Hard Times:
- Prediction: Give people as much information as possible about what will happen to them and when it will happen.
- Understanding: Give people detailed information about why actions, especially actions that upset and harm them, were taken.
- Control: Give people as much influence as possible over what happens, when things happen, and the way things happen to them; let them make as many decisions about their own fate as possible.
- Compassion: Convey sympathy and concern for the disruption, emotional distress, and financial burdens that people face.
- When Measurement Obstructs Good Judgment.
A perfect example of when measurement obstructs good judgment is - meet your sales numbers or find another job. You might get the numbers and lose the relationships with customers and colleagues. Whatever the metrics, they should be used as guides for actions since we can never have absolute control of all variables. The metrics should also be aligned with the behavior we want to see. Measuring sales at the expense of relationships may not be a long-term success indicator.
Another example is why GE, Microsoft, Google and others abandoned the ‘rank and yank’ measurement system for employees. Ranking everyone and eliminating the bottom 10 percent, in theory, would increase productivity. The result was eliminating some of the most creative team members and fear was created among those who still had a job. The cost of human resource replacement is high in money, time, and organizational knowledge.
When measurement obstructs good judgment there are many short-term consequences for the people and the organization. “Morale governs motivation which is key to timely product development; strong culture fosters a healthy work environment” and that “employees need rewards for key contributions and successes.”
The authors make the point: “Real control does not come simply from having a plethora of outcome measures. Control and improvement come from measures that provide information about processes, measures that give people immediate and understandable information about how they need to act.”
“Too many leaders confuse feedback with paperwork.” “Filling out a form is inspection, not feedback,” says Kelly Allan from (?)… “History has taught us that relying on inspections is costly, improves nothing for very long, and makes the organization less competitive.”
Metrics should be relevant to organizational values, long-term success, and be as controllable as possible by the person who is being held to the standards. “You might think that organizations would recognize the commonsense wisdom expressed in a line from Otis Redding’s song:” “Sitting by the Dock of the Bay” on the need for fewer, focused measurements: “Can’t do what ten people tell me to do, so I guess I’ll remain the same.” as quoted by the authors.
- When Internal Competition Turns Friends into Enemies. “The beliefs about competition are so ingrained that they serve as mindless, automatic, but powerful principles for organizing and managing individual behavior.” We have to be careful that the metrics don’t spur on internal competition where to win, your colleague has to lose. That shortsighted process will ultimately defeat the system. “Internal competition makes it even more difficult for people to put knowledge into action and to learn from each other.
Firms That Surmount the Knowing-Doing Gap. Those companies that have been successful have created the space for conversations that lead to action. And, after action is taken, feedback is and collected and used for reflection for continuous improvement. It takes leadership, and honest conversations about important issues, to create a culture where the gap is closed between knowing and doing.
Turning Knowledge into Action. The following quotes from the Knowing Doing Gap seem to capture why action is so important.
“CEO David Kelley likes to say that: “Enlightened trial and error outperforms the planning of flawless intellects.”
“There is no doing without mistakes. What is the company’s response?”
“Reasonable failure should never be received with anger.”
Clayton Christensen, famous author of The Innovator’s Dilemma and other valuable books wrote: “What companies need is a forgiveness framework, and not a failure framework, to encourage risk taking and empower employees to be thinking leaders rather then passive executives.”
Close the GAP – Release new energy for yourself and others to put great ideas into action.
Here is the link to order your copy
Coffey, C. & Lam, D. (2015). The New IQ: Leading Up, Down, and Across Using
Innovative Questions. USA: Prism Consulting, LTD
Deci. E. (1995). Why we do what we do. New York: Grosset Putnam, Inc.
Herzberg, F. (2008). One more time: how do you motivate employees? Boston: Harvard
Pascale, R. (1990). Managing on the edge. New York: Simon and Schuster.
Pink, D. (2009). Drive. London: Riverhead Books.
Walton, M. (1986). The Deming management method. New York: The Putnam
Stakeholder Centered Coaching
Why this book?
Dr. Gawande states that, even with the best intentions, mistakes can and will happen. He explains “the how” behind the safety record of the airline industry resulting in so few airplane crashes, and how this same knowhow was applied to hospital surgery resulting in a great reduction in medical errors. The connection to Marshall Goldsmith’s book Triggers is clear in the use of Checklist to help ensure successful behavioral change by executives and leaders.
Gawande, Atul. (2009). The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right. New York: Metropolitan Books.
The book begins by identifying two reasons why we fail in our attempts to get better at leadership, coaching, and organizational development. First, is simple ignorance. If you don’t know what leads to errors chances are more errors occur. Acquiring knowledge and skills can help reduce this cause of error.
The second reason for failure in our attempts to get better is not applying what we know. We might be more forgiving of ignorance but not using the knowledge we have is grounds for malpractice. In the airlines and medical field the consequences can be disastrous. Failure to overcome these errors in any organization wastes time, money, and energy.
It was the success of the airline industry to almost eliminate errors through the use of checklists was the inspiration for Dr. Gawande to adopt this practice in the medical profession and write this book. In complex environments, experts are up against two main difficulties. The first is the fallibility of human memory and attention, especially when it comes to mundane, routine matters that are both important and easily overlooked under the strain of more pressing events. A second problem is our human nature to make assumptions that are not true. Sometimes we get bored and we skip some seemingly less important steps to save time. When activities become routine, we assume everything will go as planned. This is often a mistake.
One antidote for such breakdowns is the use of checklists. The checklist can be invaluable for assuring that procedures are followed which are critical to successful outcomes. When it comes to passengers arriving safely to their destination, or a patient successfully coming out of surgery with a positive outcome, you would think the use of a simple tool like a checklist would be religiously followed. In one hospital, the infection rates plummeted from 11% to 0% within 10 days of adopting a checklist. It is hard to imagine a customer or patient who would not want a checklist used when flying or have surgery.
Gawande points out that a key for developing the checklist is asking those closest to the work to create it. In hospitals nurses are on the frontline. In his book Gawande recounts multiple stories about checking with physicians about washing their hands is a small change that save lives. The startling statistics on reducing deaths and complications from surgery from such small corrections based on the use of checklists is compelling. For a nurse to ask such a question of a physician only happened because they had the backing from administration to confront physicians. Otherwise the ego of many physicians involved in these studies would have squashed such questions.
The implementation of checklists in every organization requires a degree of nuance as well as executives committed to making the discipline of using checklists work. Complex problems are like raising a child. One rocket is like another rocket. But not so with raising a child…every child is unique. Although raising one child may provide experience, it does not guarantee success with the next child. Expertise is valuable but most certainly not sufficient.
Gawande emphasizes the importance of the communication within the team. A man is fallible, but maybe men are a little less so. Having more people involved increases the chance of finding a problem sooner. One interview expressed the following. “The biggest cause of serious error in this business is a failure of communication,” Airlines have made a policy clear that a co-pilot must speak up if there is a concern. Surgical teams a Harvard Medical Center, where Gawande practices has set up pre-operation meetings to make sure the team is working in concert and post-operation the team meets to review the procedure. In the Army, they have adopted a practice called the After Action Review (AAR) to learn from operations immediately after completion.
A major element of the communication within the team is inclusion. Bringing in all voices who have a stake in the process. The philosophy is that you push the power of decision making out to the periphery and away from the center. You give people the room to adapt, based on their experience and expertise. All you ask is that they talk to one another and take responsibility. That is what works.
A negative example given was FEMA during hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. They were relying on information from many sources. However, the top administrators were not using email that delayed information flow. Rather than relying on those at the site to make necessary decisions (inclusion), they waited for approval or clearance from the top. In this same emergency the group that performed the best was Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart was able to send 2498 truckloads of emergency supplies in quickly. When complexity happens, freedom to respond is important.
Dr. Gawande makes the point that: Giving people a chance to say something at the start seemed to activate their sense of participation and responsibility and their willingness to speak up. Organizations will continually need all the brains and skills we can muster to solve complex problems.
Back to checklists, here are some practical tips on their use:
- Good checklists are precise. They are efficient, to the point, and easy to use even in the most difficult situations. They do not try to spell out everything – a checklist cannot fly a plane.
- With a READ-DO people carry out the tasks as they check them off – it’s more like a recipe. You want to keep the list short by focusing on what is called “the killer items” – the steps that are most dangerous to skip and sometimes overlooked nonetheless.
- No matter how careful we might be, no matter how much thought we might put in, a checklist has to be tested in the real world, which is inevitably more complicated than expected.
- We adopted mainly a DO-CONFIRM rather than a READ-DO format, to give people greater flexibility in performing their tasks while nonetheless having them stop at key points to confirm that critical steps have not been overlooked.
In the surgical area, the hospital developed seven checks before anesthesia, nineteen during surgery and another five before leaving the operating room for the recovery room. In the eight hospitals that were used in the study of the potential benefits of using checklists, complications fell by 36% and deaths fell by 47%.
In our coaching using the Stakeholder Centered Coaching methodology with leaders it is not an immediate life or death situation like surgery or flying a plane. However, the implications to organizations could be on a slower path to life or death. Organizations are clearly affected by the decisions and actions of leaders higher up in the organization. The lessons from The Checklist Manifesto have enormous benefit for our clients as the use of checklists:
- Clearly defines specific behaviors that have been agreed upon between the leader and the coach
- Helps make the behaviors in the checklist visible through the act of writing them down
- Serves as a reminder, or memory aid, to the leader who has many, many things competing for his, or her, attention
- As in his book Triggers Marshall Goldsmith says: “They are active behaviors rather than passive ones.”
- Provide reinforcement to a leader that she, or he, is succeeding in improving as a leader