The Genius of And

 

In the classic business book, Built to Last, Jim Collins talks about avoiding the “tyranny of the OR” and embracing the “genius of the AND”.  He explained that “a truly visionary company embraces both ends of a continuum: continuity and change, conservatism and progressiveness, stability and revolution, predictability and chaos, heritage and renewal…”

When my clients are considering options, they often say, “I could do A or B.”  My job as the coach is to help them explore what might be possible if they leverage the genius of the and.

If you tend to succumb to the tyranny of the OR  you might think:

  • Either my team member changes her behavior or I’ll have to fire her.

If you leverage the genius of the AND  your approach can be:

  • My team member needs to change her behavior and I can help her by setting clear expectations.

Although this can be challenging for people who are more comfortable with black and white than grey, I invite you to find a middle ground by identifying the best of both options  — that is the genius of the and.

Honoring the Past

Have you heard (or made) any of these comments when a new leader is brought in to change things?

  • I’m excited!
  • I’ll wait and see how it goes…
  • That isn’t the way we do things here.

The people who are excited typically like change and can adapt easily.  Getting the “waiters” and the “naysayers” on board can be more challenging.  Some experts advise against trying to convert the naysayers but they may have institutional knowledge or customer relationships that are too valuable to lose.

The naysayers are often people who helped build the company or the department.  While they may acknowledge that things aren’t perfect, they are proud of their contributions.  Honoring the past and inviting their input can help them embrace change and move forward.

Swimming Upstream

What if we train them and they leave?  What if we don’t and they stay?

This nugget of wisdom was passed down to a seasoned leader from one of his mentors as a lesson in the importance of investing in people development.

As a leadership development professional it’s always encouraging to hear a commitment to the long view.  How do you maintain that view when the pressure is on to achieve quick results in the short term?

You have to be willing to swim upstream and persuade other leaders to do the same.  Consider these techniques:

  • Highlight the ROI of development efforts – retention, promotion and increased productivity
  • Have leaders nominate high potential participants for development programs and identify measureable goals for each person, then tie those goals to ROI
  • Conduct exit interviews to understand perceptions of the company’s investment in people and how that affects recruitment and retention
  • Ensure that your development programs don’t assume a “one and done” approach — build on a foundation over time

If you train them and they leave you would ask them what they’re gaining.  If you don’t and they stay – ask yourself what you’re gaining.

Don’t Burn Your Fingers!

Last month I described the results of a session on creating a “Secret Sauce for Successful Leaders”:  vision, communication, confidence, positive role modeling, reliability, trustworthiness and transparency with generous dashes of encouragement, motivation, appreciation, fun, coaching, caring and steadiness.

In our “How to Avoid Burning Your Fingers” exercise, the group identified the following potential distractions to implementing that Secret Sauce recipe:

  • External market factors
  • Loss of business
  • Morale / Negativity
  • Resistance
  • Communication
  • Safety or other incidents
  • Talent
  • Resource management
  • Personal distractions

Could you choose the perfect dessert for each member of your team without asking them what they want?  Our last item on the menu for this session, “Why We Shouldn’t Skip Dessert,” explored the importance of celebrating successes in ways that motivate each individual.  Here are some of the techniques that were mentioned:

  • Listening
  • Trust
  • Positive reinforcement
  • Support
  • Involvement in decision-making
  • Meaningful work
  • Autonomy
  • Training & development
  • Career advancement
  • Money

I invite you to create your own secret sauce recipe, develop a plan to put the lid on potentially painful distractions, and serve each of your team members a dessert that will motivate them to succeed even in a challenging market.

Leading Through a Downturn

I recently facilitated a session for leaders in the energy industry. Those of us who have worked in and around this industry for many years know that it is cyclical but that doesn’t make it any less painful when we’re in a downturn. We also know that leadership can have a huge impact on whether companies and people survive or thrive. Warren Bennis, an organizational consultant and author of many books on leadership, said, “A leader doesn’t just get the message across. A leader is the message.”

These were some of the ingredients the group identified in our exercise to create a “Secret Sauce for Successful Leaders” recipe: vision, communication, confidence, positive role modeling, reliability, trustworthiness and transparency. They also suggested adding generous dashes of encouragement, motivation, appreciation, fun, coaching, caring and steadiness.

Next steps included “How to Avoid Burning Your Fingers” – developing a plan for dealing with potential distractions that might prevent them from using their secret sauce — and “Why We Shouldn’t Skip Dessert” — celebrating successes in ways that motivate people. I will share more on these two topics next month but I welcome your questions or comments in the meantime.

Vulnerability Can Be Your Greatest Strength

I’m working with a senior executive who recently joined a new company. He wants to build strong relationships as a foundation for major changes he will be implementing, so I suggested a new leader assimilation process – he would invite his team members to submit anonymous questions on topics such as his strengths, weaknesses, decision-making style, communication preferences, etc. and then answer them in an open forum.

This is a powerful way to demonstrate vulnerability and begin to build trust and engagement. It is also an opportunity to set an example and inspire others to see that vulnerability can be a strength. To my client’s credit, he is willing to admit that he doesn’t have all the answers and to ask his colleagues for support – a big challenge for someone who has always been the go-to guy.

Brené Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work whose TED Talk on “The Power of Vulnerability” is the fourth most viewed of all time, says, “Vulnerability is the birthplace of connection.” Once you make that connection, you have a strength you can leverage.