Leadership

Leadership begins with the transcendence of the conventional mental map.  Leadership is not a job, it is a calling.  It means that a person is willing to go beyond convention for the good of the whole.  The leader embodies the purpose.  The leader reinforces the purpose in every interaction.  This gives rise to positive organizing.  The process of positive organizing is a process of action.  When purpose moves people to action, they become more motivated.  They learn and grow, and they often exceed expectations.

The Positive Organization (p. 41)

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The Big Day

The blood, sweat and tears of the last year are finally being rewarded today.  I am thrilled to announce that The Positive Organization is now available for purchase.

I hope you enjoyed the excerpts from the book that were posted over the last week and a half.  Any feedback is always greatly valued.

Friday’s blog post gave a little bit of context for a tool called the Positive Organization Generator (Generator for short).  The paper version is included at the end of the book.  We feel like this tool has the potential to positively impact people and companies in many ways, so we decided to make it available to everyone.  Today we are also launching a free digital version.

Please have patience with our current Beta (remember: free) version.  We will continue to update and improve it as we hear from you.  We sincerely hope you find value in it, and that you will share your stories with us as you try it.  You can find it at: https://www.liftexchange.com/generator.

The Positive Organization Generator

At the end of the book, there is a tool that I call The Positive Organization Generator.  I believe it can empower each individual who uses it to make real change in their organization.  The following story from the book describes how the tool works, and one of the first groups to use it.

I met with the top 200 people of a large corporation. Their industry was turning upside down, and they were facing a rapidly evolving external world. They had spent the previous day conceptualizing their strategic future, and now they wanted me to help them think about their culture and how to insure the implementation of their new strategy.

I opened by telling them I believed that, within two hours, we could actually initiate culture change in their company. I said this with complete confidence; they, of course, “knew” that it was impossible. An outsider cannot initiate culture change—especially not in two hours.

In the first hour, we had an unusually honest discussion about leadership and the nature of organizational change. We explored the fact that instead of moving toward an ever more positive culture where people sacrifice for the common good, most organizations maintain conventional cultures full of self-interested people. The people continually splinter, and the organization moves toward a slow death.

I asked the participants to reflect on the strategy work they did the day before, take everything they heard in the discussion of their future, and reduce it to three to five bullet points specifying what was going to be demanded of their particular unit. This took two minutes.

Next, we looked at the Positive Organization Generator, the tool you will find in the appendix. Using the first part of the tool, they had some time to diagnose the current culture of their unit and to specify what their desired culture looks like.

Finally, we looked at a list of 100 positive practices from other companies. I explained the following:

  • This is a list of 100 practices. The organizations claim that these positive practices changed their culture for the better. We do not know if the claims are true, but it does not matter. Our objective is not to adopt or imitate the practices. Instead, you will use the practices as inspiration for the creation of your own, new practices.
  • The first step is for you to examine the 100 practices and identify the ones that most interest you.
  • Now, focusing only on the practices of most interest, ask this crucial question, “How can I reinvent this practice?” Reinvent means to recreate, reconceive, redesign, or refashion. You are not to adopt the practice, you are to reinvent it.
  • In reinventing the most interesting practices, the objective is to create new practices that meet three criteria.
    • <BSL>First, the practice is reinvented to your unique situation.
    • Second, the reinvention process is real; you feel genuinely excited about the prospect of implementing the practice.
    • Third, it is a practice you can implement without asking permission.

With these instructions, they went to work. When they finished the effort, I asked them to share their new practices with each other. As I walked by one table, one of the participants uttered an interesting statement. He exclaimed:

“We really can make change!”

As I later debriefed the larger group, I cited that comment and asked if anyone else shared his feeling. Many hands went up. These were the leaders of the company, and yet they were surprised to learn that they could make change. I suggested that in doing the exercise we were moving from assumptions of constraint to assumptions of constraint and possibility.

One man raised his hand. He could hardly contain himself as he described a new way to positively engage both customers and suppliers. Others wrote down his idea. We followed this with more sharing. When we reflected on what was actually happening in the room, the participants said:

  • We are coming up with ideas that will turn our individual areas more positive.
  • We are creating ideas that we really believe in.
  • We are getting ideas from each other.

I asked how many believed they would actually go back to their own units and do something. All the hands went up. I asked them what would happen if each one only implemented half of their ideas. Someone responded, “That is a lot of positive change.”

They all believed that an organization is a hierarchy of authority and that change happens from the top down. Yet, I was suggesting that an organization is also a network of relationships and that change can be an emergent process that flows from the bottom up. It can happen without any centralized coordinating mechanism. It can emerge from the enactment of new practices.

The Eco (Not Ego) Perspective

The person who lives from the conventional mental map is likely to be skeptical about the ability to transcend self-interest, yet research suggests that it does happen. The desire to transcend self-interest and to make a positive difference in the lives of others is called “prosocial motivation.”

Research indicates that people who experience prosocial motivation are more likely to take initiative, assist others, persist in meaningful tasks, and be open to negative feedback.

The research also shows that people who pursue the common good, are more likely to motivate others, stimulate them to new ideas, and inspire their creativity. These facts suggest that prosocial people orient to the positive mental model. They shift from a focus on the “ego-system” to a focus on something called the “eco-system.”

The term “eco-system” in this context comes from the work of Otto Scharmer and Katrin Kaufer. They see the “eco-” perspective as an orientation that people take when they try to move themselves and others from an entrenched way of seeing to the embrace and enactment of the emerging future.

According to Scharmer and Kaufer, “This inner shift, from fighting the old to sensing and presencing an emerging future possibility, is at the core of all deep leadership work today. It’s a shift that requires us to expand our thinking from the head to the heart. It is a shift from an ego-system awareness that cares about the well-being of oneself to an eco-system awareness that cares about the well-being of all, including oneself. . . . When operating with eco-system awareness, we are driven by the concerns and intentions of our emerging or essential self—that is, by a concern that is informed by the well-being of the whole.”

The authors go on to propose that responding to the emerging future requires an internal shift. Judgments must be suspended and attention refocused. One must let go of the past and embrace the future that is trying to emerge through us. This is what they mean by “presencing” the future. We must become a present manifestation of the future that is trying to unfold. They argue that this is, perhaps, the most important of all leadership capacities.

As we shift from the ego-perspective to the eco-perspective, we become “driven by the concerns and intentions of our emerging or essential self—that is, by a concern that is informed by the well-being of the whole.”

Facilitate Emergence (Trusting the Process)

There was a CEO of a large corporation—I will call him Dan—who was a brilliant man with a thirst for action and achievement. During his first five years as CEO, he not only globalized the company but also drove it to impressive levels of profit. Wall Street was delighted. As he entered his sixth year, things grew more difficult. He had stretched the system as far as it would go. As he wrestled with his challenges, he began to talk about the need for values and the commitment to values. He wanted to develop a high-performance culture.

“Sooner or later, every leader comes to understand how little power he or she really has. I will take you back to when this was just a North American business. A person could get things done continuously, consistently. As we became more complex and the environment more intense, it became impossible to get things done through the force of leadership. Everything in my mind has always been so clear and logical. I felt, if we just do what we know how to do every day, this thing will work. I had this grand scheme and grand design and grand vision, and I thought I could articulate it and get people lined up. It did not happen. It absolutely did not happen. I think that I had to come to grips with the fact that it is not enough for me to be committed, to have a plan and understand where we are going. I realized I had to get everyone engaged and committed.”

There is an important lesson here. Dan was so brilliant and forceful that, for five years, he was able to “will” his company to success. He then discovered the limitations of power. The conventional mental map suggests that a CEO is a king with unlimited power. Yet Dan discovered that force of leadership and brilliant expertise is not enough. To move to a higher level of corporate performance, Dan had to have a company of “engaged and committed” people. Dan was becoming bilingual. He had just discovered the positive mental map, which added complexity to his current mental map. This meant that he was ready to learn about the emergent process.

Shortly after making that statement, there was a meeting of the company’s top 100 leaders. The objective was to deal with some difficult issues around collaboration and compensation. A gifted HR leader designed the meeting. He recognized the difference between a technical problem that is solved through the application of existing knowledge and an adaptive problem that is solved through collective learning (3). He indicated that the real issues would be put on the table, and an authentic conversation would occur.

Dan was conceptually committed to the process. We all knew, though, that when the inevitable conflict began to surface, he would have a strong temptation to take control. The HR leader explained that Dan needed to stop himself from taking control. Several people would be working as facilitators and would help the participants own their conflict and keep moving. He told Dan to “trust the process.”

The HR leader then went out and had a coin made. The coin said, “Trust the process.” He told Dan he needed to put it in his pocket, and, whenever he wanted to take control, he needed to squeeze the coin and hold back.

The issue of collaboration and compensation was introduced at the meeting of the top 100 leaders. The major issue was that people were compensated according to the continent on which they worked, and it was causing silo behavior. The company was not functioning as a whole. As the issue was addressed, the predicted conflict emerged. During one break, a very concerned participant told me he had never seen the company so divided; he was fearful of what might happen next. Teams continued to meet and discuss the issue. In the afternoon, we assembled as a large group. One team articulated what kind of collaboration was necessary and proposed a radical shift in the compensation system. Another team made a similar proposal. In a short time, there was a consensus. The people had embraced a shift that was far beyond what Dan would have dared to propose.

Later, the HR leader asked Dan what he was feeling when the conflict was high. Dan said, “I was squeezing that coin so hard, I think I bent it.”

At the heart of the conventional mental map is the assumption of knowing. An expert solves a technical problem by applying knowledge. At the heart of the positive mental map is the assumption of collective learning. People pursue a purpose they do not yet know how to accomplish. As they move forward, they learn and adapt, eventually producing a new level of understanding and order. For someone living from the conventional mental map, emergence is difficult to comprehend, and trusting the process is nearly impossible.

Reflection:

What does emergence mean to me?

What does it mean to trust the emergent process?

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

Orient to the Common Good

I know a consultant from Asia who works with senior business leaders. In his national culture, there is an extreme emphasis on hierarchy and seniority. People in his country are careful to defer to people of higher status.

He told me the story of a large company that was struggling. One reason for the struggle was that the CEO tended to receive little honest feedback from his direct reports. The CEO was operating with many blind spots, and the corporate difficulties were growing in magnitude. The company was moving toward a slow death.

The pain grew so intense that the senior team invited the consultant to work with them. He spent much time with the direct reports. He worked hard to get them to embrace the common good and to take the risk to give the CEO more honest feedback. He trained them on how to be simultaneously respectful and honest.

A two-and-a-half-hour meeting was scheduled. For the first hour and a half, the CEO was uncomfortable. He communicated his discomfort, and his many implicit messages were clearly interpreted by the direct reports. The meeting was teetering on the brink of disaster.

The consultant described his own anxiety. In his country, a man as powerful as the CEO could easily destroy the consultant’s career. Performing this sort of intervention was a great risk.

Fortunately, in the last half hour of the meeting, there was a change. The CEO began to see the value in what was taking place, and he opened up. Authentic communication began to flow both ways. People were amazed with the change. The meeting became a positive intervention that led to a lasting shift in the communication patterns of the top management team. The people were becoming more focused on the common good, and the culture was turning more positive.

The problem facing this organization is common. Armies of professionals live in fear of speaking truth to power. Unfortunately the pattern is hard to change, because it is driven by the desire for self-preservation.

Operating from the self-interested assumptions of the conventional map, one survives by competing for limited resources. Life is a game and you win by being clever, not by embracing a higher purpose, living with integrity, serving the common good, and co-creating the emerging future.

By operating from an eco-perspective, the consultant was modeling moral power. He was inviting the CEO and the executives into a repaired moral system. As they chose to change, they also moved from the ego-perspective to the eco-perspective. Because they did, they could turn their organization more positive.

Reflection:

When have I observed a problem like the one described here?

When have I shown the kind of leadership shown by the consultant?

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

Connect People to Possibility

Once a finance officer told me, “My job is supposed to be negative. I have to look for what is wrong. My job is to say ‘no.’ I expect people to hate me. I do not expect to be friends with the people who work for me, either. I find my friendships outside of work.”

The image is dismal but prevalent. I have talked to hundreds of professionals—just like the woman I’ve quoted—who make similar assumptions. They accept their fate because they believe that what they experience is a reflection of the reality of business and of organizational life. They live in the reality of constraint; an invitation to a better future is met with great suspicion.

Beneath that suspicion, though, there is often is a hidden orientation to possibility, a hope that things might be better. I was impressed by the authenticity of this seemingly “negative” woman. She made her statement after asking me what my keynote address was on. I indicated that the topic was creating positive organizations. It was then that she expressed her negative assumptions. The interesting thing, however, is what happened after the keynote. She cared enough to attend the follow-up workshop. This meant, despite what she had said, that there was a small germ of belief in possibility and a small spark of hope—enough to motivate her to be present.

During the next hour, we reviewed some concepts, and then I exposed her and the other workshop attendees to the Positive Organization Generator. The tool contains 100 unusual, positive practices used by real companies. These concrete practices tend to capture the interest of even skeptical people. I ask participants to examine the practices with an eye toward customizing them to their own needs.

At the end, I challenged several of the participants to convince me that they had at least three positive practices they were ready to go home and try. I made it a point to include the “negative” woman, and she shared the three practices she wanted to try. She was going to go home to make a first attempt at creating a more positive organization.

Even in the greatest skeptic, there is a spark of hope, a desire for a more positive experience. The job of a leader is to light that spark in the people, by helping their teams to see the possibilities they cannot see.

Reflection:

What do I believe about the nature of work?

What do I believe about the skeptics?

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

Authentic Conversations

I was interviewing a CEO. He was a financially focused and hard-driving Wall Street executive. He told a story of a young employee who made a mistake and lost some money for the company. As I listened to the story, I knew I was talking to a man who had acquired the positive mental map. Here is why.

The young man who made the mistake visited the CEO and began to tell his story. The CEO sat quietly, listened to every word, asked if there was anything else. When the young man was clearly finished, the CEO thanked him for the visit, reassured him, and then sent him on his way. After telling the story, the CEO asked a question, “Do you think that was my instinctual response?”

He said his natural reaction would have been to become irate and to jump all over someone who had made such a mistake. Why did he not follow his natural inclination? Over time, this CEO has learned something counterintuitive: Following his natural instincts would only get him the short-term reward of exercising his authority and venting his frustrations.

While it might appear that a punitive response would have corrected the problem, he would, in fact, have only created a much bigger one. In attacking the employee, he would have created a conventional, closed culture in which truth will not speak to power. It would also become likely that the employees would not relate to each other in authentic ways. In a conventional, closed culture, people live in fear. Some executives actually believe this is a good thing. They want their people to be afraid. It increases the executive sense of control. Yet, people who live in fear tend to underperform. The conventional, fear-based logic is a logic in which everyone loses.

The evolved CEO also understands another point. A senior executive never has a conversation with one person. The entire organization is continually heeding the signals emanating not only from the words of the senior person but also from his or her behavior.

Every conversation is a building block of the organizational culture. A conversation with one is a conversation with all. Because this particular CEO has learned to transcend his natural orientation, he regulates his own behavior and chooses to enact the assumptions typical of a positive mental map.

In most organizations, that does not happen, and both truth and power decay. In managing your own unit, you may be wise to evaluate the extent to which you create a culture that lets truth speak to you.

Reflection:

How to I react to mistakes by others?

What do I believe about conversations and culture?

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

 

Imbuing Your Organization with Purpose

Gerry Anderson is the CEO of Detroit-based DTE Energy. He once said, “Creating organizations of excellence and energy is the most real thing you can do.” He didn’t always believe that, but the challenges he faced as a CEO pushed him to become bilingual. One of the most important things he learned from the positive mental map was the importance of imbuing purpose in your company and your people. Some of the things he learned came as a result of a visit to USAA.

Joe Robles of USAA was on the board of DTE Energy. USAA is an insurance company that has a reputation for excellence. Gerry went to Texas to observe Joe’s company. They visited a call center, which is often a discouraging place to work. At this particular call center, however, Gerry did not find discouragement. He found people who were fully engaged in what they were doing. They had a positive work culture. They were bringing their discretionary energy to work.

What Gerry observed exceeded his expectations. He was fascinated, and he peppered Joe with questions about USAA’s culture. Joe then made a momentous statement. “The primary purpose of a leader is to connect people to their purpose.”

Earlier in his career, Gerry might have resisted this notion. In the conventional mental map, the purpose of management is to solve problems, to continually return things to equilibrium, to provide the financial incentive for people to do their jobs. But, in the positive mental map, the company is also a social network that needs to move forward collectively—learning, growing, and changing as a single unit. For this to happen, people need more than financial incentives. They also need to find meaning and purpose in their work. When they do, they give more and the organization gets more. Gerry could now see this and was ready to pursue purpose.

Joe showed Gerry a video on how the leaders at USAA connect people to the organizational purpose. Gerry was impressed, and when he returned home, he had his people begin to work on a similar video for DTE Energy. An initial test group gave it a standing ovation. Some union members working in the plants watched it and cried. In reflecting on this moment, Gerry shared what is now a core belief. “When people see their work as important, they are willing to give their discretionary energy.”

In a positive organization people bring their discretionary energy to work because there work matters and they feel they are a part of something bigger than self.

Reflection:

Do I bring my discretionary energy to work?

Do my people bring their discretionary energy to work?

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

Becoming Bilingual

In yesterday’s blog post I wrote about the contrast between the conventional and the positive mental map. The two maps look like this.

People

•    Pursue self-interests

•    Minimize personal costs

•    Feel fear

•    Prefer the status quo

•    Stay in their roles

•    Speak in politically correct ways

•    Fail to see opportunities

•    Compete for resources

•    Experience conflict

•    Become alienated

•    Deny feedback and fail to learn

•    Underperform

•    Personally stagnate

People

•    Embrace the common good

•    Make spontaneous contributions

•    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

Today’s post is about how we can add more “possibility” to our conventional thinking.

Most people try to negotiate organizational life by using the conventional map. A few people have life experiences that expose the limitations of the conventional map. When this occurs they may learn their way into the discovery of the positive mental map. When they internalize the positive mental map they do not discard the conventional mental map. Instead they become bilingual. They begin to speak two languages. An example may be helpful.

Alberto Weisser was the CEO of Bunge, a global food company. In his eleven years as CEO, the company grew by a factor of ten. While he was greatly successful, in his first year as CEO he nearly failed.

He tells of being trained in conventional assumptions of finance and then becoming successful because of his training. His success led to the certainty that the conventional map was the only map for a leader to follow. Yet when he became CEO and things did not go as expected, he was driven by the necessity to discover the positive mental map. Using it led to ten years of extraordinary success.

Reflecting on his development, Alberto made a final point. It was seemingly insignificant and would be easy to ignore. But as we interviewed other CEOs like Alberto we realized that the point is quite important.

Alberto told us that he does not always speak to others the way he was speaking to us. Many of the people he deals with are embedded in the conventional mental model. He has to take that into account and adjust how he communicates. He can do it because he once was where they are now. The once skeptical Alberto can still speak the language of control and constraint, but he can also speak the language of vision and empowerment. He is thus able to invite people who were like he was to become people like he is.

In the process of development, some people become bilingual and acquire the capacity to effectively invite others to create more positive organizational cultures.   One goal of Positive Organization is to accelerate the developmental process. The book is designed to help the reader discover the positive mental map now, and not after a major life crisis.

Reflection:

Am I bilingual?

Are my people bilingual?

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