Positive Leadership, Positive Culture

Note: The first part of this passage was posted before. Here a new story has been added. I think the passage takes on greater value.

I know a woman who holds a first level job in a large organization. She told me of the day in which the workforce was suddenly downsized. People were told that they no longer had jobs and security officers immediately escorted them off the premises. Although it had been six months since the event, in telling me the story, my friend cried and her body actually quivered.

It seemed to me that she was as traumatized as if she had witnessed the rape of a family member. Still worse, she had to cope with the fact that the perpetrator was at large and she might yet be a victim. She said that, despite the fact she kept her job, her perception of the company and of her role in it has completely changed.   If she were ever able, she would leave the company. Many of her peers feel the same. They show up to work but they are fundamentally uncommitted. The company is now functioning with an army of unengaged people. The capacity to produce wealth is drastically reduced.

Why do intelligent people do this?

The key word is convention. The executives who designed the downsizing were following conventional, problem solving assumptions. They went to conventional HR leaders and conventional lawyers who gave conventional advice on how to solve what is now a conventional problem. Conventional thinking is based on transactional assumptions. It reduces the whole (culture) to the part (individual people). It focuses on the reduction of discomfort in those of power.   It narrows in on the immediate problem to be solved which is to get unwanted people (that is, human trash) out the door with least risk. It does not see the future of the culture. It does not recognize that every act of turning a person into an object stays in the human network and breeds fear, distrust and the pursuit of self-interest.

All of this is compounded by the limitations of conventional measurement. The financial implications of massive disengagement are very large but usually the loss is unrecognized and, even if it was recognized, no one would be held accountable. In such situations we actually expect and accept conventional, bad management and conventional, bad outcomes. We see them as normal and we see no other alternative.

What is the alternative?

I was part of a video project in which I interviewed a man who has been a successful, life-long entrepreneur. He believes in rigorous business discipline. He also believes in rigorous personal discipline. He strives to live at a higher level of consciousness.

During the interview, he shared the story of the “hardest thing” he ever had to do. He had an organization of 80 people. A recession hit and it was necessary to let 20% of his people go. He eventually gathered them and shared the dreadful news. When he finished, all 80 gave him a standing ovation.

This claim is surprising because it violates our conventional assumptions. A standing ovation is an act of collective recognition given for a demonstration of excellence. Why would people give a standing ovation to the person who just fired them? I posed this puzzle to 20 executives. In three minutes of serious discussion they came up with the correct answers:

  • The people knew the man was authentic and he would never deceive them.
  • They people knew he was acting for the common good.
  • The people knew he had tried every other avenue.
  • The people knew he genuinely valued them and was suffering with them.
  • The people knew he would do anything to help them get new work.
  • The people were witnessing excellence in leadership.

I shared this account with a friend who is a noted consultant. He told me of a downsizing in a large company that also produced a standing ovation. The event took place in an organization that has a strong reputation as a positive company. The CEO flew across the country with his eight top people. They held a meeting, shared all relevant data and announced the downsizing. They also announced that the next day each of the eight was assigned a room and would be there all day. Everyone was invited to meet and share what they felt. The eight were in discussions with employees the entire day. From 5 PM to 10 PM the eight met and shared what they learned. The next day another meeting was held. The CEO listed all the things they learned and shared the things they were going to do to help people as they transitioned. At the conclusion the people being fired gave a standing ovation.

Why did they do this? To answer this question, please revisit the above list. The two stories are the same story. While most authority figures live from the conventional mental map, a few live from the positive mental map. While they accomplish the immediate task — downsizing — they simultaneously create an even more positive culture. So it is with every immediate task.

This appears to sound mysterious and even objectionable. Yet consider this. In three minutes of deep thinking, 20 executives could come up with the explanation for the standing ovation. While our behavior tends to be driven by the assumptions of convention, deep within each of us, is an understanding of the path to organizational excellence or positive organizing. There are many external incentives that keep us from accessing this deep understanding. To bring the deep understanding to the realm of action requires that we commit to and sacrifice for the common good. It requires that we give our hearts as well as our heads. When we do we give the whole self and others give us standing ovations.

 

Reflection

What is a positive culture?

What is positive leadership?

How does a positive leader create a positive culture?

 


 

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A Culture of Learning

We visited a class in which students had been learning about positive leadership and organizations. They knew much, for example, about the notion of high quality connections, or how respect, trust and collaboration lead to expected and unexpected collective and individual benefits.

We wanted them to understand that every organization has a culture and it determines things like the quality of connections between the people.   These characteristics then have a long-term impact on individuals and on the collective workforce. We started with the idea that a business school has a culture and we told a story.

A woman, who was graduating, raved about the positive impacts that the school has had on her life. She now had an upward career trajectory and was grateful. From her statement, we could conclude that the culture of the business school was perfect for producing the outcomes it is intended to produce.

On the other hand, she said that there were also negative impacts. From the time she arrived, she felt a sense of competition and a need to perform. This permeated everything and led her to feel the need to be “on stage” and to “look smart.” This often led to a feeling of fear and isolation. In the process, she said that she felt like she actually lost her sense of humor and her sense of spirituality. She also said that she experienced few high quality “learning” connections in the classrooms. Nor did she form as many high quality connections outside the classroom as she would have liked.

We asked the students to examine the culture of the business school by engaging in an unusual exercise. We asked them to imagine two, contrasting gods. One was the god of the “knowing” culture. The other was the god of the “learning” culture. We suggested that most organizations are cathedrals built to the god of knowing.

It might be useful to them in the future, if they could differentiate between the cultures. So we asked them to create a portrait of both cultures and determine which one existed in the business school. To help them, we gave them the following matrix, with the first three answers included.   We then asked them to insert the rest of the answers. You might like to give it a try.

  The Cathedral to the God of Knowing The Cathedral to the God of Learning
Which punctuation mark captures the image of this God? A period A question mark
In which culture are people objects, and in which are they verbs? Objects Verbs
What is the role of the high priest? Dispenser of expertise Facilitator of learning
What is the role of the common people?    
How do the common people relate to each other?    
What are the important virtues?  

 

 
What are the unforgivable sins?  

 

 
Which Cathedral does your organization most reflect? How?    
What happens when you spend a long time in each cathedral?    

After they filled out the matrix there was a very lively discussion. There were some strong themes: We are not nouns, we are verbs; The first cathedral is everywhere; It will turn us into nouns; The concepts of positive leadership and organization are tools for building and living in the second cathedral.

 

Reflection

What have I been in each cathedral?

To what god is my organizational cathedral built?

How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?

Discovering the Underlying Template

In 2015 Jim Harbaugh accepted the job as football coach at the University of Michigan. Over the next 12 months he became a perpetual motion machine with an electrifying effect on play, recruitment, the university, town and even the country.

Close to the 2016 signing day for new recruits, Harbaugh appeared on the Dan Patrick show in San Francisco. There was a light-hearted moment when Patrick challenged Harbaugh to convince a young man named Seton O’Connor to hit himself in the face with a pie. The humorous event, which can be seen here, actually reveals a lesson worthy of our attention.

At the start there is a brief moment of awkwardness for both people.   Then we watch Harbaugh do things that seem natural to him. First, instead of trying to persuade, Harbaugh uses inquiry. He asks Seton if he remembers George Halas, coach of the Chicago Bears.

Normally asking a question like this creates engagement. The only problem is that Seton looks at Harbaugh blankly. To the shock of everyone on the show, he cannot answer.

Pause for a moment. If you were Harbaugh, on television with this awkward situation, what would you do next? I believe most of us would get nervous and become increasingly ineffective. What does he do?

Harbaugh says, “I want you to put this pie in your face better than it has ever been done before.”

Despite his disorientation, Seton suddenly focuses. He says, “You want me to do it with enthusiasm?”

Notice that now the conversation is not about if he will put the pie in his face, but about how he will do it.

Harbaugh nods and replies to the query about the level of enthusiasm, “Unknown to mankind, better than anyone has ever done before.”

Seton seems excited but then looks at the pie and pauses. Harbaugh notices the pause and asks, “Do you want me to give you a three count?” He is referring to the count that a quarterback gives to a center so as to trigger the snapping of the football.

Seton nods his head. Harbaugh gives the count and Seton puts the pie in his own face with enthusiasm. The group explodes with glee.

It all seems so funny yet in this scene is a microcosm from which we can learn much. What Harbaugh does is clearly spontaneous and natural. Yet his efforts follow a recognizable pattern. While it may be an unconscious pattern, he is operating according to the positive mindset and the principles of transformational influence.

He can stimulate people to think and behave differently. We call this transformational leadership. Transformational leaders change cultures and people. They inspire high performance. The seemingly silly scene is a microcosm of transformational leadership.

Transformational leaders create interest or engagement. They often do this by asking questions. This was the first thing Harbaugh did.

They also provide inspirational motivation, a desirable image of the future. Instead of giving instructions, Harbaugh gives Seton the opportunity to pie himself as no one has ever done it before.   Even though he is uneasy, Seton finds the challenge inspiring and intrinsically motivating. He is ready to go.

While inspired, Seton, nevertheless, pauses. Transformational leaders also supply individual consideration and support. While they ask people to perform at high levels, they are also sensitive to individual needs and they use their creativity to help individuals commit and move forward. Again, without much conscious thought, Harbaugh offers to give the three-count. Seton is ready to act.

Some argue that leaders are born, not made. It may be that some people are naturally inclined towards transformational influence, but no one internalizes the positive template without going through their own transformative learning processes.

We were invited to meet with a group of young professionals in medicine. They wanted to discuss how to become change agents. We started with two questions. First, how did they define the word leader? They responded that it was someone who can stimulate people to feel, think, see and do things in a new way.

Next, we asked them to differentiate between a novice, an expert, and a master. One person said a novice is someone who is just learning. An expert is a person who learns to effectively lead his or her own organization or group. A master is a person who takes the principles of leadership and generalizes them in such a way that they can effectively lead any organization or group.

The answer exceeded our expectations. They were implying that there is a generalized theory of leadership that allows a person to effectively inspire change in any situation. We have already made this claim about Harbaugh. Two other illustrations come to mind. The first was a world leader. The second is relatively unknown public school teacher.

There is a movie called Gandhi. It well illustrates his development from novice to master. At the start of his career Gandhi was awkward in his attempts to influence. Yet he continually reflected on his experiences, tried new experiments and grew into a master. At the end of his life he was able to enter nearly any situation and stimulate people to feel, think, see and do things in a new way. He, like Harbaugh, had a generalized set of action principles that he could use in any situation.

The public school teacher was someone we had met personally, a woman who struggled to get her credentials and who took years to learn how to excel, eventually becoming highly effective in the classroom. Referring to her experience as an undergraduate in an education school, she told us, you learn the “rules” of teaching. Then you go to your first class and you learn that every child is different, that each one has a unique set of needs that you have to learn how to work with each unique child.

“Then,” she said, surprising us, “you go to the next level.” Fascinated, we asked her what that was. She said that she eventually learned that every child was the same. No matter what a child says or does, every child wants to be respected, every child wants to succeed, and so on. No matter what the superficial signals suggest, they all have the same set of intrinsic needs. She told us that once she discovered they are all the same, she could effectively teach any group, old or young, gifted or special education.

This woman, like Gandhi, reflected continually on her experiences, tried new experiments and kept growing. She went from a novice at empathy to an expert who could understand and attend to the needs of each child. Operating as an expert she kept growing until she made a profound discovery. She learned to scale empathy. She learned to empathize with the whole. Now she is a master of influence. In any situation, like Harbaugh on the TV show, she can identify the collective needs of the group or individual and focus her efforts to influence on those needs. She can therefore teach/lead anybody anywhere. She is a master change agent.

We delight in the fact that she is a public school teacher and not a CEO or a world leader. She has a job that tends to be depreciated. Professionals in pursuit of power would not think of going to the local public school to find a master of leadership. Yet she illustrates an important fact; master change agents emerge in every profession and context. As people pay the steep price for acquiring the positive perspective, they become more and more masterful. Eventually they gain a theory of influence that allows them to inspire positive change in any situation. They may make mistakes, like asking about George Halas, but they tend to recover. If we look for them, even in strange places, like a TV show, we can choose to learn from them and we can accelerate our own efforts to become masters of positive influence.

Reflection

What is the steep price that has to be paid to become a master of positive influence?

Who, in my personal circle of relationships, has paid the price, and what can I learn from that person?

How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?

A Positive, Empowering Organiztion

Occasionally there is a story of positive organizing that is so potent it must be told.

On August 12th I posted a list of characteristics for people who embrace the positive mental map. I listed 13, although there are many more. Here is the original list.

People who embrace and live the positive mental map:
• Embrace the common good
• Feel confident
• Seek growth
• Overcome constraints
• Expand their roles
• Express their authentic voice
• See and seize new opportunities
• Build social networks
• Nurture high-quality connections
• Embrace feedback
• Exceed expectations
• Learn and flourish

My daughter recently shared a story with me about a 23 year-old CEO who emulates every single one of these characteristics. I’d like to re-tell her story, highlighting the above characteristics throughout her story to illustrate how this CEO took her vision and created a positive organization. (Follow this link to the original story.)

Veronika Scott grew up with parents who were addicts and not a lot of hope. She was given an opportunity that she seized with both hands – a college scholarship. (seek growth, overcome constraints) It was in one of her classes at the College for Creative Studies in Detroit that the epiphany for her business was born. A teacher challenged them to create a product that would fill a need rather than something faddish. (See and seize new opportunities)

Homelessness is a problem in Detroit so Scott visited a homeless shelter. Her welcome was less than warm, but she persisted in interviewing them, trying to find a need she could fill and building relationships with them. (Build social networks, feel confident) Finally she decided to design a coat that transformed into a waterproof sleeping bag.

One day when she was handing out the sleeping bags, a homeless woman started screaming at her that they didn’t need sleeping bags – they needed jobs. She didn’t get upset, instead she recognized the truth in what this angry woman said (embrace feedback) and it occurred to her that she could hire the homeless women to help her make the coats. (Learn and flourish, expand their roles)

Scott said, “Everybody told me that my business was going to fail – not because of who I was giving my product to, but because of who I was hiring. They said that these homeless women will never make more than a peanut butter and jelly sandwich – you cannot rely on them for anything. And I know my ladies enjoy proving everybody wrong.”

Since late 2010, Scott and her 10 formerly homeless employees moved into a graffiti-covered building in an old Irish manufacturing neighborhood in Detroit where they have made more than 1,000 coats. Most have been distributed to homeless and this year she plans to make four times that many. (embrace the common good) She calls her company The Empowerment Plan.

She is starting to get the kind of publicity to raise real funds – $300,000 donated this year – with a goal of $700,000. These funds will help her hire more women and give warmth to more homeless folks. (nurture high quality connections)

In an interesting twist, she showed her coats at an Aspen fashion show where they generated a lot of interest. Now those Aspenites want the coats too. She is hoping to start a for-profit sister company to design the coats for the retail market and hire homeless to work there as well. (make spontaneous contributions) The Universe has an interesting way of rewarding passion and a focus on the common good. (exceed expectations)

Living from the positive mental map is a win-win. It has created a new life for Scott in which she is thriving. She has invited others to join her and is meeting a need for a large number of homeless people (warmth), and a smaller number of homeless women (jobs). The positive feelings are spreading and people want to contribute to the cause. Not only do they want to contribute, but they want to buy this product because it is a smart design. Scott will have the opportunity to create more jobs for people in need, to make a profit, and to help the larger economy. Truly an empowering plan.

(If you are interested in learning more about Veronika and her company, you can find them on Facebook.)

Reflection:

  • Which of these 13 characteristics are found in your organization?
  • How can you identify and follow your own passion to empower yourself and others?

A Shocking Illustration of Taking a Life Statement Seriously

We are free in any situation to focus our attention as we see fit. In the short run, how we focus our attention determines what we achieve. In the long run it determines who we become. If we hold an image of a result we want to create, our behaviors will begin to align with our mental picture. Our picture becomes a stabilized point of potential and our energy begins to flow towards and organize around the picture. We become creators of an emerging future, this includes our own future.

As we move towards our purpose, we tend to develop hope and enthusiasm. That hope and enthusiasm gives us the capacity to persist in the face of adversity. Our hope and our enthusiasm also does something else. It radiates to others and attracts their attention. As others feel our energy, they seek to understand our aspiration. Some may choose to invest in our aspiration. People of purpose become leaders because they symbolize a desired future and radiate energy that comes from doing so. Consider an unusual illustration.

In many programs I teach executives to write life statements. Often the initial reaction is resistance. They see no reason to waste their time. So I invest in helping them see the many possible payoffs. Usually they become interested and engaged. This happened with a group of government leaders from the senior executive service. At the end of the week I had a shocking surprise that has since added to my conviction about the value of writing life statements.

In the class was a man of Asian background. Occasionally he added comments to our conversation and I began to form some impressions. He was unassuming, much more of an introvert than an extravert. His comments seemed sincere and wise. He readily participated in our various exercises and willing supported others. I was drawn to him. When I introduced the notion of writing a life statement, he became animated. During a break he told me that he had been working on his own life statement for ten years. I was impressed and asked him to share any insights he might have.

At the end of the week, the executives are invited to share and coach each other on the material in their life statements. This is often a profound experience, as it was in this case. At the end of this session my friend again approached me.

He first explained that he had originally had a degree in computer science and then went back for a degree in humanistic psychology. I noted the great contrast and he nodded. He again pointed out that he had been working on his life statement for ten years. While he was a great believer in life statements, he said this course took him to a new level of awareness. He could now incorporate far more into his life statement and he was anxious to do so.

He pulled out his phone and showed me his original life statement. It was like others I had seen but with one big difference. Drawing on his computer science background, he had integrated an impressive set of metrics. He then explained that every week he gives himself a score on each metric. Then recalculates what he should be doing.

I told him I did not know of anyone who exercised that much discipline around their use of their life statement. Curious, I asked him how old he was. The answer completely shocked me. He was thirty-two! I would guess that the average age of the people in the senior executive service to be around fifty. I was stunned and told him so. He smiled, thanked me, and went on his way. Later I told this story to the person who co-teaches the course, Kim Cameron. Kim’s eyes lit up. He said, “Let me show you something.”

One of things that Kim does in the course is review the research on the energy networks in organizations. The research suggests that having a network of positive energizers is a big predictor of organizational performance. Kim then invites the participants to do a simple exercise in which the participants evaluate and score each other on how much positive energy each person radiates.

Keeping the data anonymous, Kim produces a computer map showing the energy network in the room. Each actor is represented by a circle. The size of the circle shows the degree to which others feel energized by a given actor. Kim pointed to a circle that was twice the size of any other. He asked me, “Who would guess this to be?” It was the same thirty-two year-old man.

How could such a young, quiet man have so much positive impact? The answer is that he is an extraordinary man of purpose. He is a highly centered human being who radiates positive energy into everyone he encounters, including his much older peers. I left this experienced inspired and determined to help more people write life statements.

 

Reflection

Why do people resist the notion of writing a life statement?

How do people of clear purpose influence others?

How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?

 

 

Small, Positive Practices and Big, Positive Outcomes

In some of our Executive Education Programs we have participants come back for a follow-up week. When this happens I do a review session in which I ask them what they went home and did differently. Here are four inspiring examples of small moves with large impact.

One man went home and thought through all the things he learned. He worked hard to boil everything down to one simple move that would have the highest possible impact. What he came up with was an act of positive deviance. It was brilliant simplicity. On the whiteboard in his office, he wrote, “What result do you want to create?” Every time a direct report came in with a problem, he simply pointed at the question. He did not talk, he pointed at the question. This caused a stir but soon people were coming in having already thought about their purpose. In engaging in this brilliant simplicity he was creating a culture of purpose. In the process he was also empowering his people. He said, “I stopped telling and moved to the power of inquiry, now things are changing.”

A woman left the first week deeply impressed about what she learned about her own resilience in the face of adversity. She wanted her people to better understand how bad experiences, met with purpose, turn into stories of growth and learning. She asked her people to pair up and each share a personal resilience story. This was way outside the culture so she started by modeling the process. She told her own story of personal challenge and recovery. She expected that some would tell very mundane stories. She was surprised when most people became fully authentic.   She reported that it was one of the most “profound and inspiring” things she has done as a leader.

Another person said his unit was in a tumultuous time and there is a lot of unhelpful “noise” in the group. There was little sense of success and celebration. So he required that each of his direct reports write him an email each week describing the person’s biggest success of the week.   This was resisted but he insisted. So he received one each week. Then something surprising happened. He started to get more than one a week. Once the process was legitimized his people wanted to share their successes. They could not do this in the previous, conventional culture. So now his is storing up the successes and pondering how to best use their stories in the next step of building a positive culture.

One man manages 350 staff people. There had been some talk of the value of flexible schedules so he told a subgroup that he would like them to design and bring him a flexible schedule plan that would work. They were dumbfounded but they took it on. When they shared their plan there were a number of unworkable elements but he did not critique any. He only asked questions and asked them to come back with another proposal.   They then “policed their own ideas” and produced a radical new program that immediately began to work. One woman, for example, was able to completely eliminate the cost of child care. They are not preparing to roll out the program for all 350 people. He claimed that he is experiencing a new level of “understanding, trust and empowerment.”

The above initiatives are seemingly small acts of positive deviance.   The person violated cultural expectations. Direct reports were surprised or resistant but over time their behavior changed. The culture in some way turned more positive. It would seem that any manager would read these accounts and be willing to do similar things. This is not the case.

Many mangers hear of positive practices, agree that they are valuable but do nothing. Why? Their fear of embarrassment exceeds their desire to improve the unit. I do not condemn this fear because it is the same fear we all carry.  It is why I invented the positive organizational generator. By giving people 100 practices, asking them to select the few most interesting and then reinvent them to fit their context, managers can create something they really believe in. When managers create their own positive practices, they are more likely to take action. It is crucial to remember that we all fear leading. We all need to be both inspired and supported. I hope these accounts inspire you to invent something you believe in.

Reflection

Which of the four practices do I find most interesting?

How could I reinvent the most interesting practice to fit my context?

How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?

Clarifying a Professional Life Mission

I was teaching the fundamental state of leadership to a group from a Fortune 10 company. One woman seemed to be paying deep attention. She later asked if she could have lunch with me. During the meal she told a fascinating story.

She had had several major life setbacks. As a result she had to pursue her professional career while raising children from two families. She has done this as a single mother. Although she presented herself with genuine humility, I sensed a great deal of quiet strength.

She told me she is a natural introvert who shies away from the limelight. This seeming weakness has led her to develop a curious asset. She builds highly collaborative and productive teams that allow her to “lead from the back.” Because her teams deliver, she is seen as a high potential leader.

As she listened to my presentation she began wondering about her future. To progress further did she need to thrust herself into the limelight? This is the question we explored at lunch.

The next morning she sent me a message. She wrote that some things had become clear. First, she concluded that did not need to “be in front” and to “lift her head above the rest.” She instead wanted to live for the “greater good.” Second she had written a personal life mission: “I want to lead by example and demonstrate, through positive leadership, that magic can happen.”

This may sound like a small thing. I think that writing that sentence represents a moment of great significance. Seemingly under pressure to seek the limelight, she has stated a purpose that frees her from having to do so. It is a sentence around which she can organize her life. Few executives ever commit themselves to the common good, free themselves from the need for recognition, and commit to building positive organizations. She was doing all these things. In writing her purpose she was turning her job into a calling and her career into a journey of self-actualization.

I am reminded of a statement from Picasso; “The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.” She is committing to do both.

Reflection

Have I ever turned a seeming weakness into a personal asset?

Have I ever clarified my professional life mission?

How could we use this passage to turn our organization more positive?

 

Becoming a Master of Positive Influence

I was invited to meet with a group of young professionals in medicine. They wanted to discuss how to become change agents. I started with two questions. I first asked them each to define the word leader. They responded that it was someone who can stimulate people to feel, think, see and do things in a new way.

Next, I asked them to differentiate between a novice, an expert, and a master. One person said a novice is someone who is just learning. An expert is a person who learns to effectively lead his or her own organization or group. A master is a person who takes the principles of leadership and generalizes them in such a way that that can effectively lead any organization or group.

The answer exceeded my expectation. I love the notion of a generalized theory of leadership that allows a person to effectively inspire change in any situation. Two illustrations come to mind. The first was a world leader. The second is relatively unknown public school teacher.

I have paid much attention to the life of Gandhi. There is a movie about his life that I like a great deal. It well illustrates his development from novice to master. At the start of his career Gandhi was awkward in his attempts to influence. Yet he continually reflected on his experiences, tried new experiments and grew into a master. At the end of his life he was able to enter nearly any situation and stimulate people to feel, think, see and do things in a new way. He had a generalized set of action principles that he could use in any situation.

The public school teacher was someone I had met personally, a woman who struggled to get her credentials and who took years to learn how to excel, eventually becoming highly effective in the classroom. Referring to her experience as an undergraduate in an education school, she had told me, you learn the “rules” of teaching. Then you go to your first class and you learn that every child is different, that each one has a unique set of needs that you have to learn how to work with each unique child.

“Then,” she said, surprising me, “you go to the next level.” Fascinated, I asked her what that was. She said that she eventually learned that every child was the same. No matter what a child says or does, every child wants to be respected, every child wants to succeed, and so on. No matter what the superficial signals suggest, they all have the same set of intrinsic needs. She told me that once she discovered they are all the same, she could effectively teach any group, old or young, gifted or special education.

This woman, like Gandhi, reflected continually on her experiences, tried new experiments and kept growing. She went from a novice at empathy to an expert who could understand and attend to the needs of each child. Operating as an expert she kept growing until she made a profound discovery. She learned to scale empathy. She learned to empathize with the whole. Now she is a master of influence. In any situation she can identify the collective needs of the group and focus her influence efforts on those needs. She can therefore teach/lead anybody anywhere. She is a master change agent.

I delight in the fact that she is a public school teacher and not a CEO or a world leader. She has a job that tends to be depreciated. Professionals in pursuit of power would not think of going to the local public school to find a master of leadership. Yet she illustrates an important fact, master change agents emerge in every profession and context. As people pay the steep price for acquiring the positive perspective, they become more and more masterful. Eventually they gain a theory of influence that allows them to inspire positive change in any situation. If we look for them we can choose to learn from them and we can accelerate our own efforts to become masters of positive influence.

Reflection

What is the steep price that has to be paid to become a master of positive influence?

Who do I know who has paid the price and what can I learn from that person?

How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?

Taking the Ego out of Leadership

I was in another part of the country at a driving range.  There was a man about my age hitting balls.  I asked a question about the distances to the targets on the range, and he began to ask me questions.  It was clear that he wanted to talk.  It turned out that he was a well-known golf instructor.  He had endless, delightful stories to tell.  I noticed that his stories were not so much about golf as there were about teaching golf.  I could see that for him teaching was an activity of delight.

I invited him to give me a lesson and he happily agreed.  After watching me take only three swings, he stopped me and made a stunning diagnosis.  I immediately knew that he was masterful.  I have had many lessons over the years.  His was different.  Instead of teaching me techniques, he told me he was going to teach me how to take my ego out of my golf swing.  He began to talk like Bagger Vance, the caddy-coach in the movie by the same name.  Pretty soon he had me taking swings that were stress free and the results were impressive.

As we were finishing he again began to talk about teaching.  He said, “I do not teach golf, I teach people.”

He was touching one of my most strongly held beliefs.  It is that content is an excuse for a teacher to be in trusting, generative relationship with a student so the student’s life can be transformed.  The same holds for leadership.  The organizational task is an excuse for a leader to be in a trusting, generative relationship with the workforce so the people and the organization can be transformed and perform at a new level.  Positive teaching and positive leadership are about relationships, excellence and the realization of untapped potential.

My friend went on.   “Another teacher will tell me that they just came from a bad lesson.  The student did not learn. I tell them that their report is not a story of failure in the student.  It is a confession of failure in the teacher.  If the student is not better when you are done, it means you are a not a teacher.  In the presence of a real teacher, students want to learn and they do.”

Again I caught fire.  If people are not fully engaged and exceeding expectations, the leader is not leading.  People often try to neutralize the positive lens by arguing, “Oh this is touchy-feely, soft stuff.”  This sentence is fear based.  It is a manifestation of the fear of intimacy.   The fear excuses conventional administrators from knowing themselves and knowing their people.  In conventional administrative thinking average behavior is not only acceptable, it is the expectation.  In the positive lens the accountability is astronomical.  If the people are not performing with excellence, the administrator is not leading.  The key is to take ego out of leadership.

I shared this notion and my friend resonated.  His eyes lit up, “That is exactly right!”  He spoke with enthusiasm as he explored the implications.  Clearly this notion had previously occurred to him.  He said, “Teaching is not about putting knowledge in people, it is about helping them acquire wisdom.”

That triggered this idea in me.   Positive leadership is about helping people learn the ability to acquire collective wisdom.  When a person has had a positive leader, they know it is possible to collaborate and excel.  They will then work to create such capacity.  In the process they become wise and so do their people.  Ego disappears.

Reflection

If it is possible to take the ego out of a golf swing, is it possible to take ego out of leadership, what would happen?

Am I currently aspiring to convention or to excellence?

How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?

The Unexpected Importance of Work-Life Balance

Creating a positive organization often seems impossible. To do so requires a leader who puts the collective good ahead of the personal good. Conventional assumptions suggest that people are inherently self-interested. People who accept this often assume that life is a zero-sum game.   “Pretend to care about the organization, but always take care of yourself first.”

It is, however, possible to change. Consider a case from Csikszenmihalyi (1997). The case describes Keith, a manager who worked seventy hours a week, neglecting his family and his own personal growth and hoarding credit for his accomplishments, in an attempt to impress his superiors and win a promotion. Nevertheless, he was still passed over.

“Finally Keith resigned himself to having reached the ceiling of his career, and decided to find his rewards elsewhere. He spent more time with the family, took up a hobby, became involved in community activities. Because he was no longer struggling so hard, his behavior on the job became more relaxed, less selfish, and more objective. In fact, he began to act more like a leader whose personal agenda takes second place to the well-being of the company. Keith’s boss was finally impressed, and he received his promotion.”

Keith’s shift was an exercise in deep change. He outgrew the assumptions of conventional self-interest and entered the realm of positive leadership.

As he made the change he became a more effective version of himself and others were able to do the same.

– Deep Change Field Guide (pg. 82)

Reflection

Have you ever seen a change like this one?

How could this kind of development be accelerated?

How could we use this positive passage to get better?