Thursday, January 11, 2018

The Number One Leadership Activity to Drive Innovation

Guest post from Dr. Kumar Mehta:

Every leader wants to consistently create mind-blowing products and offerings that customers love and line up for.  They know that if they don’t innovate, they will be left behind, the world’s simply moving way too fast.  They are looking to institutionalize the innovation process.  This means building a culture where innovation happens every day.  It means creating an environment where innovation is not the domain of a select few individuals, rather every single person believes they can contribute to creating great products.  It means pushing the boundaries in everything you do.  It means a relentless focus on altering customer experiences in meaningful ways.
As a leader you can institutionalize innovation in your organization by creating an innovation biome, or a sustained environment where innovating becomes a habit.  Creating the innovation biome, however, requires all elements (teams, departments, priorities, etc) residing within your organization to act in concert and support each other. If your corporation seeks to alter its genetic code and transform itself into an innovative juggernaut, then it needs to operate with an exceptionally high degree of conviction and shared belief that innovation is a priority.  This is the number one factor that drives organization-wide innovation.

This starts with leadership.  You cannot tiptoe your way into innovation. You simply have to commit to your direction and share your conviction and vision with all related stakeholders, including employees, shareholders, customers, and partners. And everyone around you needs to share in that belief.
Shared belief has incredible power, probably more so than any other factor that drives change. Shared belief in a vision provides everyone involved with the confidence to go all-in and help make the vision a reality. Any ambiguity or second-guessing makes the already challenging task of moving a company in a new direction a lot harder.

Take for example Moore’s Law (the belief that chip capacity would continue to increase exponentially).  While this wasn’t a scientific law, it was a shared belief that has driven the forward progress of the computer industry for decades.  Or take for instance the shared belief inspired by President Kennedy as he boldly stated a vision and commitment to put humans on the moon and return them safely to earth.  A vision that was realized because everyone involved shared in the belief. 
Or learn from Apple’s example, when it launched the iPhone with a degree of commitment and conviction that made irrelevant one of the most desirable products of the time, its own iPod.  There was nothing wishy-washy about the launch of the iPhone, no “minimally viable product,” no “let’s wait and see how it does.”  It was full commitment from the leadership of the organization.  The company went all-in, knowing full well that they were risking the sexiest product of the time with an untested device. 

The more you believe in a vision, the more likely you are to achieve it and, in turn, make the belief real. Belief motivates people to take the necessary actions to make a vision come true, creating an upward cycle.
For the better part of the past decade, most people have considered Apple to be the most innovative company in the world. This is not because Apple kept proclaiming it was innovative; it is because it kept churning out one game-changing product after another. Now, everyone expects Apple to produce nothing short of breathtaking innovation. This shared expectation results in exactly that—breakthrough innovations. The perfect upward spiral. The belief is shared by everyone: Apple’s customers, employees, shareholders, partners, and even competitors.

The first step to creating an innovation biome is to make it clear, through words and actions, that innovation is a priority. Making innovation a shared belief requires actions that go far beyond appointing an innovation czar or developing an innovation dashboard. It requires thinking about innovation in everything you do. It requires not accepting mediocrity and ensuring that every offering, big or small, enhances a customer experience journey in a meaningful way.
Dr. Kumar Mehta, author of THE INNOVATION BIOME, has been at the forefront of innovation, research, and data analytics for over 25 years.  He founded Bridges Insight, an innovation think tank committed to researching innovation and helping organizations accelerate their rate of innovation. He has applied many innovation frameworks in his fourteen years at Microsoft and throughout his tenure building out innovative companies.  Mehta also serves as a Senior Research Fellow at the Center for the Digital Future at the University of Southern California and serves on the board of The Committee for Children. For more information, please visit

Thursday, January 4, 2018

What Good Is Vulnerability?

Guest post by Constance Dierickx:

What I am about to say will annoy—no, inflame—some. Some people repeat words or
phrases as though the ability to pronounce a word is equivalent to understanding what it means or why it is important. Vulnerability is too important to be reduced to mere utterance and prescribed like baby aspirin. It’s little wonder that executives are cynical about leadership trends, those who sell them and the invalid assessment tools to go alongside. 

Concepts that smack of a “touchy-feely” philosophy are disregarded and mocked. That’s if things go well. If they don’t go well, an entire company will adopt a framework and before you know it, the whole company will look at people through the lens of a test result. This gets in the way of learning about people, but it does provide a defense. Defense against what, you may be asking? Defense against responsibility for bad decisions because you haven’t taken the time, don’t have the ability or don’t care enough to find out what your colleagues are great at and what they aren’t. 

Vulnerability allows people to get to know one another. The value of leaders knowing the people in their company is inestimable, but it cannot be achieved without interaction. Too often, leaders have three outbound lanes and one inbound. Communication is focused on what a leader wants to say, not what they need to hear and learn. 

When we listen, we realize things we didn’t know and understand people in a way we hadn’t before. For some, that feeling of “I didn’t know as much as I thought” is a painfully vulnerable one. For others, it’s fun to open up, knowing that doing so will force them to adjust, sometimes dramatically.

Clearly, different levels of openness are appropriate, depending upon the context. Indeed, healthy individuals are more or less open, depending upon the circumstances. Even so, I know you can think of people who are stuck at one extreme or the other. Effective leaders are strategic in their thinking about when it is best to be vulnerable (admit mistakes, imperfections, for example) and when they must be circumspect (such as when planning an acquisition).


While vulnerability is important to building trusting relationships, boundaries are the essential ingredient that permit us to regulate how vulnerable to be in a given situation. Think of someone you know who shares too much. On the other end of the continuum, how about a person you know who can’t part with the most benign bit of information? Both create awkward exchanges, impeding the development of rapport, an important precursor to trust and willingness to share information. 

Of course, as with most things, we don’t drive in the ideal lane all the time. We go along fine for a time, then drift. Usually, the consequences are minor. Indeed, being inconsistent, despite the bad rap it gets, is very human. Most everyone says more than they intend sometimes or remains tight-lipped when it would be more beneficial to speak up. Patterns of behavior are the best indicator of who we are.  

It’s no surprise that individuals have preferences and habits regarding vulnerability and boundaries. Organizational cultures also have various levels of tolerance for openness. This colors the relationship of people to one another and either promotes curiosity, learning, and innovation or inhibits it. If vulnerability is okay and the boundaries healthy, people can try things and succeed or fail without being psychoanalyzed as a result.

It is the job of leaders to establish healthy boundaries, foster a culture to support them and deal effectively with exceptions. 

Courageous Vulnerability

On September 28, Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria, superintendent of the Air Force Academy, addressed all the cadets at the academy, with his staff, instructors, coaches and other professionals in attendance. The occasion that prompted this action was racial slurs that had been found on some message boards at the academy’s preparatory school. There is no better way to understand what Silveria did than to
watch the video.

While it was reported a few days later that the act was committed by a cadet who initially appeared a victim of the act. Silveria’s response to the Colorado Springs Gazette is worth “Regardless of the circumstances under which those words were written, they were written, and that deserved to be addressed.”

Address the incident he did. The video of Silveria’s response has been viewed nearly 2 million times and rightly so. His actions are an outstanding example of how to deal with vulnerability and use it as a pivot point. He didn’t shrink from the events. One of the most impressive aspects of his speech was the assertion that it would be naïve to think that, but for this instance, things are perfect. He managed, in five minutes and 29 seconds to admit vulnerability and set clear boundaries.

Here are the lessons exemplified by Silveria:

1. Be matter-of-fact about imperfections, every leader and every organization has them.

2. Accept responsibility without dramatization.

3. Set clear limits about what is out of bounds and take action so these are not mere words   

Most situations in business aren’t dramatic nor are they public. Perhaps that isn’t as fortunate as it sounds. It’s easier to ignore too much or too little vulnerability and boundaries that are loose or rigid when things are smooth, especially when a business is admired and/or profitable. There are always currents beneath what appears a smooth surface. Leaders who manage well in high-stakes pay attention to the dynamics in their organizations all the time, not just when the cameras are rolling.

Constance Dierickx, PhD, specializes in working with organizations in high-stakes transitions, including mergers, acquisitions, divestitures, CEO succession, strategic change, and crisis. She has worked with clients such as AAA, AT&T, Belk, Boys and Girls Clubs of America, DIRECTV, IBM, NextGear Capital, Olive Garden, and others. She has advised over 500 executives, on five continents in 28 industries.
High-Stakes Leadership: Leading Through Crisis with Courage, Judgment, and Fortitude describes the critical aspects of leadership needed in high-stakes. Leading requires the courage to make conscious decisions, judgment to separate information from spurious data and short-term trends, and fortitude to remain true to oneself and one’s mission.

New Year’s Leadership Development Goals 2018 Edition

The beginning of a new year. A fresh start! For many leaders, it’s a time to reflect on accomplishments for the past year and establish goals for the upcoming New Year. 

It’s also a good time to set leadership development goals, either as part of a formal development planning process, or just because it’s a proven way to continuously improve as a leader.

While leadership development goals should always be specific and relevant to the individual leader and linked to the organizational context, there are a few common ones that most any leader could benefit from.
This year’s edition includes one action step to take for each goal.

1. Become more self-aware (and aware of others). I’ll learn more about my strengths and weaknesses. More about my own emotions and how to control them, about other’s emotions and how I am coming across to others, and how to harness this awareness of self and others to be a better leader. I’ll take a multi-rater assessment or figure out some other way to get an accurate assessment as to how I am perceived by others. I’ll take stock of my values to become clearer on what really drives my behaviors and what’s important to me.

Action step: I’ll take at one assessment.
2. Delegate more. My unwillingness or inability to let go is causing me to work long hours, preventing me from having the time to be more strategic, and is retarding the development of my team. I’ll do some serious self-reflection, or work with a coach or mentor, to figure out what’s causing me not to delegate. Is it my own ego? Is it a lack of confidence in my team? Once I get to the root cause, I will create a list of everything I do and make hard decisions on what to delegate, who to delegate to, how to do it, and by when. I’ll have conversations with each direct report and my manager, asking them for their input on what they think I should be doing less or more of.

Action step: In order to begin the process of learning to let go, I’ll let my dining companion order my meal the next time I eat out.

3. Be more strategic. I’ll improve my ability to see the big picture and take a longer range, broader business perspective. I’ll learn to step back from the day-to-day tactical details of my business and focus on the “why”, not just the “what” and “how.” I’ll learn to speak the “language” of strategy and apply these concepts to leading my organization.
Action step: I’ll read one book on strategy and apply a strategic framework to my work.

4. Be a better listener. I need to learn to pay attention and demonstrate to others that that I value what they have to say. I’ll use active listening, open-ended questions, body language, and eliminate distractions that get in the way of my ability to listen.

Action step: I will put down and mute my smartphone during meetings and conversations (at home and at work).

5. Become a better negotiator. I’ll learn the “art and science” of negotiation, and use proven negotiation techniques to collaborate and reach win-win outcomes with my manager, direct reports, peers, suppliers and customers.
Action step: I’ll learn a proven negotiation framework and apply it to one personal and one business opportunity.

6. Learn to resolve conflict. I need to stop avoiding conflict – and start dealing with conflicts head on in a more constructive way. I’ll learn different approaches to dealing with conflict – my preferred approach – and how and when to use more effective approaches. I’ll then apply what I’ve learned and tackle a lingering conflict that needs to be resolved.

Action step: I’ll learn a conflict resolution process and apply it to a nagging business issue that I’ve been avoiding for way too long.

7. Be a better coach. I need to spend more time coaching and developing my team. I’ll shift my leadership style away from always directing and telling and learn to guide and develop my direct reports. I’ll learn and practice the “G.R.O.W.” coaching model with each of my direct reports until it becomes natural and a part of my leadership style.
Action step: I’ll practice asking more open-ended questions and giving less advice when my employees come to me with problems.

8. Develop my team.  I’ll learn more about what it really means and takes to become a high performing “team”. I’ll do a formal team assessment to learn about our strengths and weaknesses, then work with my team to establish an action plan to improve. Possible improvement areas: building trust, establishing structure and processes that encourage and enable teamwork, and practice “shared leadership”.
Action step: I’ll conduct a session with my team (or any team I’m on) to develop a list of team norms.

9. Lead Change. I’ll learn from the classics: John Kotter, William Bridges, Peter Senge and others and apply these proven models and techniques to a significant change that I need to drive this year.
Action step: See above.

10. Stretch myself with a “strategic challenge” project. Work with my manager to come up with a developmental “learn by doing project”. Something above and beyond my regular duties that gives me an opportunity to learn and apply new leadership skills. I’ll apply many of the skills I’ve been working on under “live fire”, where the risks and rewards are high.
Action step: Select at least 3 of the goals above, complete the steps and apply what I have learned to a specific challenge or project.

Do any of these leadership development goals sound like they benefit you? If so, does it look overwhelming? It doesn’t have to be. You can work on all 10 at the same time during our 6-day Leadership Certificate program! The program includes a 360 assessment and other assessments with one-on-one coaching. My colleagues and I at the University of New Hampshire will work with you to develop each of these critical skills and more! Learn leadership lessons from best in class business school faculty, executive coaches and peers using a proven leadership development model. I hope to see you at our next program in the fall of 2018!

Thursday, December 28, 2017

How to Make Certain Your Team Doesn’t Flatline Before the Finish Line

Guest post by Craig Ross:

When teams lose the heart, focus and energy they need to succeed, it isn’t pretty.
Imagine you’re running a meeting with two cross-functional teammates: Chen is participating via video and Ava is sitting at the table across from you. As the meeting nears its end, you suddenly think to yourself: “I’m not sure my teammates are committed to our plan. They don’t seem focused, nor are they making our work a priority.”

Your heart quickens. You are aware of the consequences if the team doesn’t execute the plan.
If you’ve ever been in this situation, you’re not alone. We’ve observed many of leaders at all levels who recognize this numbing moment: The point where the avalanche of competing priorities buries the team, causing team members to lose focus, commitment, and thus begin to flatline.

This doesn’t have to happen to your team. You can quickly elevate your team’s attention to what matters most and mobilize hearts and minds forward to the finish line.
First, what do many people do in the scenario described above when they sense a lack of engagement in teammates? With the best of intentions, they ask, “So, what do you think? We’re ready to go then, right?” To which Chen nods his head. (Or was that an interruption in the video feed?) And Ava lifts her eyes up from her smartphone and replies, “Sure.”

“Good then,” the well-intentioned leader nervously says. “Let me know if you need my help with anything. And let’s check progress next week. Okay?”
Chen, however, has already signed off; the screen is black. Ava smiles as she picks up her laptop, then puts her phone to her ear and begins a different conversation as she walks out the door. And the numbing gives way to flatlining; one more objective is heaped on top of countless others.

To save a team from flatlining, we as leaders must not do what is normal, and must instead do what’s natural. Normal is to get deep into the details by asking standard, boilerplate questions. You likely recognize these inquiries:

·         What has to be done?

·         How will we get there?

·         Who will do what?

·         When and how will we measure progress?

·         (Oh, and what’s for lunch?)
These questions are essential for great execution. And, they’re normal: Everyone is asking them everywhere. And that’s the point. Meeting after meeting, day after day, with functional plans conflicting with the objectives of other teams…few can sustain the repetitive, low-conscious thinking being required of them. And this doesn’t even include adding the stress in the lives of each teammate outside the workplace. Kids, spouses we’d like to see at least once in a while, aging parents—it is no mystery why people go numb. There should be little question why in the normal meeting people tune out and the team flatlines.

To solve this, leaders can and must go beyond the boilerplate execution questions by making inquiries that research shows naturally make people think about what matters most.
We’ve found something consistent in the 39 countries we’ve worked in: People want to think at higher levels. They want to be inspired. They want to break free from the mundane. And while people recognize the following five categories of questions that mobilize hearts and minds, they also agree that they’re not asking them enough. Not even close.

Consider the meeting with Chen and Ava. Imagine what would have happened when the leader of that meeting would have accomplished by asking questions like these.
5 Classes of Questions that Trigger Hearts and Minds


·     “Quick guys, before we leave let me ask you: How is delivering on our plan entirely aligned with our purpose as a team?”

·     “How does delivering excellence on our plan communicate to the rest of the organization that we’re delivering on our purpose?”

·  “What do you see our customer doing differently or better because of our ability to deliver successfully on this project?”

·    “What will we be thinking and doing more of as a team as we demonstrate that we are successful?”

·    “We’ve all got a lot on our plates. Is delivering on this project a high priority to you? And if so, why?”

·    “We all know the external rewards for delivering this project successfully. What I’d like to know: What intrinsically motivates you to give your best now?”

·    “How will we know we’re functioning as one team as we move forward?”

·    “What will we agree to do if we discover we’re behind schedule or challenged in our responsibility?”

·    “What ultimately is it that we’re trying to achieve as a team even beyond hitting our numbers?”

·    “What is our objective as it relates to how we’ll function as a team while we deliver on the business imperative?”
These five classes of questions make people think in ways they often don’t get to during a typical day. This means that using these questions isn’t normal. But if what’s normal is seeing too many teams flatline due to the pressure of endless and competing priorities, why keep doing the same thing? By asking these types of questions, you mobilize hearts and minds, which causes a higher level of consciousness among the team. This is how you make sure your team crosses the finish line: mobilize hearts and minds.

Craig Ross is CEO of Verus Global and co-author of Do Big Things: The Simple Steps Teams Can Take to Mobilize Hearts and Minds, and Make an Epic Impact. For 20 years Craig has partnered with C-suite executives and leadership teams across numerous industries in global organizations, such as P&G, Alcon, Oceaneering, Cigna, Nestle, Universal, Ford, and other Fortune 100 companies. Combining a passion for uniting people and a conviction that organizations achieve extraordinary things through teams, Craig delivers practical and real-world expertise to those he serves. With his high-energy and dynamic approach, he equips client-partners with the how to shift their thinking and actions to drive greater outcomes and activate their greatness.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Eight Ways Leaders Inspire Us

Guest post from Andy Cunningham:

Great leaders inspire others to take action. They confer a feeling of meaningful contribution. And they seek to improve the human condition. They come in many different flavors, but they all have one thing in common: followers. The reason for this is that somehow, some way, they inspire those around them. Here are eight of the ways.

1. Vision: Some leaders, like Steve Jobs, have the power to see what’s next and with that power they attract people who are committed to changing the world and adopting that as a lifestyle. Tee shirts worn by members of the Macintosh team in the early 1980s boasted “90 hours a week and loving it.”

 2. A Worthy Cause: Appealing to an inner sense of social responsibility with a point of view makes leaders like Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States of America, amass followers who want to make a difference. Her opinions on important social issues such as gender discrimination, abortion, and search and seizure have been the catalyst for a virtual RBG movement.

3. Superior Talent: People who choose to work with leaders who possess off-the-charts talent, like Michael Tilson Thomas of the San Francisco Symphony who has won 10 Grammy awards, do so with the hope that some of that talent will rub off and make them better at their craft. A former child prodigy and third generation artist, Tilson Thomas was awarded with the National Medal of Arts in 2010 by President Obama.

4. Self Improvement: Leaders like Suze Orman, who was named one of “The World’s 100 Most Powerful Women” by Forbes, provide powerful and personal incentive for people to reach beyond themselves and gain control of their financial lives.

5. Team Building: Some leaders just know how to build teams that move mountains; and they do, even in the presence of failure. Repeatedly facing insurmountable odds, Elon Musk, entrepreneur, investor and inventor, attracts people who are challenged by naysayers. 

6. Winning: Those who create cooperatively functioning groups offering members the opportunity to be a part of something bigger than themselves tap into a spirit that unites people in a common purpose. Coach Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs, which has the highest all-time NBA regular season win-loss record percentage, knows how to put a team together, how to win and how keep a fan base engaged. 

7. Tribal Affiliation: Because humans are tribal by their very nature, leaders who offer a sense of belonging, like Mark Benioff of the immense Salesforce ecosystem, gather up people in droves with their influence and inspiration. In Benioff’s case he went a step further and applied his charisma and leadership to inspire other leaders to move from success to significance.

8. Opportunity: Advocating equal opportunity for women, leaders like Gloria Steinem, social activist, author and entrepreneur, inspire millions with courage and bravery and manage to change the status quo to create opportunity for others.

About the Author:
Andy Cunningham is the founder and president of
Cunningham Collective, a marketing, brand and communication strategy firm dedicated to bringing innovation to market. She is also the author of Get to Aha!: Discover Your Positioning DNA and Dominate Your Competition (McGraw-Hill). An entrepreneur at the forefront of marketing, branding, positioning and communicating “The Next Big Thing,” Andy has played a key role in the launch of a number of new technology categories and products (including the Apple Macintosh) over the past 35 years. Today she advises startups, serves on several corporate boards, is a Henry Crown Fellow and a trustee at the Aspen Institute.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Hey Leader… PHAT is Good For You!

Guest post from Dean Lindsay:

I read a funny cartoon in Fast Company magazine a good while back.  It was of two fish
swimming next to each other.  One of the fish had a hook dangling from its mouth.  That fish said, “Oh, it was a scary couple of minutes, but now I am making a fortune as a motivational speaker.” 

A few times over the years I have been referred to as a motivational speaker and at first I really didn’t care for it. It doesn’t bother me so much anymore, it kind of helps my day rate.  Anyway, I had this image of a motivational speaker as being a kind of smarmy, slightly out of touch and over-the-top “people person,” who sprinted through crowds giving everybody high fives, before ascending to the podium to share his rags-to-riches-to-rags-to-riches story. 

He or she might then encourage seminar goers to turn to their neighbor and repeat a soulful mantra like, “I am.  I will.  I can,” followed by a cleansing breath, a mindful hokey pokey, the sharing of a deep secret and a good cathartic cry.

But as I sought the fundamental meaning of being motivational, I came to realize that each of us has the need and the opportunity to be motivational every day of our lives. 

Effective teachers are motivational.
Effective parents are motivational. 
Effective leaders are motivational. 
I sure as heck better be motivational.  As a leader, you had better be too.  Why else would others listen to us or be led by us? 

The word “motivation” can be broken down into two root words:  Motive & Action.

Motive: an inner drive that prompts a person to act in a certain way.  Motive is the goal or object of one’s action.  Other words for motive include reasons, purpose, intention. 

Action: the doing of something.  Examples of actions include:   Do, rent, read, act, try, sign up, show up, eat, move.

Motivation, therefore, is: the inner drive to do, to try, motivation is the internal reasons to act.

Simply put:  Internalized Reasons Create Movement.  It is not a goal that motivates, but internalized reasons behind a goal that propels action. 

Shakespeare wrote, “Strong reasons make strong actions.” For others to choose to take the strong actions we need them to take, they have strong reasons. These reasons have to way heavy in there mind. These reasons must be PHAT!

PHAT stands for Pretty, Hot And Tempting.  Basically PHAT means attractive and not attractive like I want to smooch you, but attractive like I want follow you, be lead by you.

It must weigh heavy in the minds of the people we desire to inspire to action (lead) that our ideas, our leadership, and our initiatives will help them personally move forward.  Organizations are only as strong as their team members’ personal goals and the team members’ belief that the organization’s progress helps them progress toward those goals.

Effective leaders learn about team members, employees, coworkers, and customers, uncovering their unique reasons to act.  The more we can get into the shoes, hearts, and heads of the people we desire to inspire to action, the more powerfully we are able to share why our initiatives, ideas, products, and services are beneficial and valuable to them.  It’s Influence.  It’s Persuasion.  It’s Attraction.  And, yes it's motivational.  Make your leadership PHAT (Pretty, Hot And Tempting)… it’s good for you, your team and your organization!!  

Dean Lindsay, author of HOW TO ACHIEVE BIG PHAT GOALS, is a graduate of the University of North Texas and served on the advisory board for UNT’s Department of Marketing and Logistics. He has helped build engaged sales leadership and customer service cultures at a variety of companies, such as New York Life, Gold’s Gym, and many more. For more information, please visit

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Developing Great Leaders: The Human Workplace Perspective

Guest post from Andy Swann:

To develop great leaders, we need to develop everyone. In the modern world of work, being a leader doesn’t require a job title, it’s something any or all of us can take responsibility for. Sure, some of us agree to be tasked with it, but that doesn’t mean those are the limits of leadership in any given organization.

Over the years, I have discovered many examples of instances where individuals and teams had taken the initiative to do something they believed was in the best interests of the organization, even when it put their jobs at risk. It’s this kind of entrepreneurial spirit that needs to be nurtured in all workplaces and forms the basis of great leadership in leading by example. Whether through giving permission explicitly, or creating the freedom for people to thrive in their own way, great leadership often just needs the organization to get out of the way and allow it to happen, rather than try to actively develop it.

Because organizations today are different.

In an age where increasingly, we can get robots to do the robotic jobs, what we really need people for is what they are great at – being people. It’s individuality that unlocks the future of great work and by unleashing people, we allow them to create impact in very real ways – through creativity, collaboration, communication, compassion and other human traits. These things are the basis of innovation, which in turn is the basis of a successful future, so by enabling people to thrive, we enable organizations to succeed.

Removing all restrictions and creating a free-for-all where anyone can do anything with no accountability will always fail, but by starting from a position of freedom and implementing only the absolutely required parameters (#1 don’t break the law!), people are given license and opportunity to try things in the interest of the organization. There is evidence of this working within organizations as simple as the software startup Rarely Impossible, through to the most complex global players like Schneider Electric and Microsoft. The question is about responsibility and empowering the individuals.

Our organizations are platforms for people, because for an organization to thrive, it only needs three things – the right people, in the right places, doing the right things. Leaders, both those tasked with the responsibility and those who assume it, are the guardians and enablers of that platform. Think of them as the helpful pointers that pop up when you use an app to show you how to get the most from the interface and use it properly.

This may seem like a simplistic view, but time and time again, the examples I encountered showed that when acting as a platform for people, organizations can achieve great things. When the basis of the organizational platform is the right people, everyone and anyone can be a leader, because the platform is set up to allow them to act in the interest of the organization at all times. Leadership becomes natural!

If an organization wants to actively develop leaders though, it needs to guide them as platform builders and skill them to:

·         Listen to user feedback objectively.

·         Provide solutions to problems (fix bugs in the platform).

·         Meet the needs of the user base.

In short, they need to be human.

Leadership expert Chris Barez-Brown believes that leadership should be refocused in two ways. If leaders are both creative and conscious, they become aware enough to understand what is required and do what it takes to remove that barriers to their colleagues (and the organization) thriving.

Developing great leaders is about enabling people to thrive and ensuring that in turn, they enable others. It’s simple, better and more human.

Andy Swann, author of THE HUMAN WORKPLACE, leads the development and delivery of people-focused transition management at BDG Architecture + Design.  He is also the founder of Simple Better Human, a creative organization development consultancy. Swann runs the All About People conference and speaks around the world on the benefits of taking a more human approach to organizational development.
For more information, please visit

Thursday, November 30, 2017

The Key to Productive Relationships: Honoring Separate Realities

Guest post from Larry Senn:

Think about the last argument you had with a colleague or even a loved one. Chances are, it was because you saw, experienced, or truly believed something that was different from the other person. Most confrontations, arguments, break ups, and irritations stem from seeing things differently from others.

Many of this day-to-day irritation, anger, blame, and self-righteousness can be avoided by a simple concept called Honoring Our Separate Realities. A lot of needless conflicts can be avoided and time saved if we just remember certain truths about life:

- Things are not always the way they appear to us

- Others inevitably see things differently

- Our views and judgments are shaped by our backgrounds and experiences, as are the views and judgments of others

- It’s generally impossible to say who is “right” or “wrong” when matters of opinion and perspective are involved.

Everyone lives in a separate reality – and the only reasonable thing we can do as mature individuals is to respect those realities. If we don’t respect other’s realities, we risk living on the judgmental/blaming floor on the Mood Elevator* -- in this stage you will be much more argumentative, irritable, and angry. In addition, if you truly believe you are right and others are wrong all the time you will experience much less growth and learning because you believe you have all the answers and won’t be open to new ideas. This stagnates your personal growth as a leader.

How do we honor other’s realities?

As with most things, the first thing is to be aware that every person sees the world through their own set of glasses and their viewpoint has been determined by their beliefs, and professional and personal experiences. What they see is what they see. It’s not right or wrong; it is what it is.

This doesn’t mean that you can’t eventually have a conversation with them to understand how they see things, but the conversation will go much smoother if you first understand that what they see may be very different from what you see and that’s OK.

The next step is to pause when we hear a colleague saying something we disagree with.

Then ask yourself the following questions internally:

- What is their thinking? Why do they see it differently?

- How has their background, their experiences, or their education shaped their worldview so that they perceive something I don’t perceive?

These questions shouldn’t focus on who is right or who is wrong. These questions serve to open your mind to understanding how that person sees the world. It also expands your perspective to new  information, perspectives, and even relationships, if you allow yourself to try to see something from a different perspective

Another way to honor others’ realities is by being conscientious of how you communicate with others. If you make it clear that what you are saying reflects your personal point of view rather than implying to others you know the absolute truth, you’ll come off as less dogmatic and certain. Use phrases like:

- It appears to me....

- The way I see it…

- From my point of view…

- I think…(versus I know)

- If I’m not mistaken…

- I may be wrong, but…

By taking the time to listen and communicate in a way that will help guide you to honor other’s realities you will experience more time up The Mood Elevator. As with many pointers out of my book, use your feelings as your guide.

When we are overly certain about our opinions and ideas – being too bossy, in some ways – we tend to experience such feelings as defensiveness, judgment, self-righteousness, and impatience with others. As a leader, it helps to become acquainted with these emotions and learn to recognize them when they pop up. They are signs that you have stopped listening and learning, and instead are shutting out people and possibilities. When this happens, stop talking, sit back, take a deep breath, and try to shift to a mood of curiosity and interest.

* The Mood Elevator is a concept and awareness tool Senn Delaney uses to describe our moment-to-moment experience of life. It encompasses a wide range of feelings and together, these emotions play a major role in defining the quality of our lives as well as our effectiveness.

Dr. Larry Senn pioneered the field of corporate culture and founded in 1978, Senn Delaney, the culture shaping unit of Heidrick & Struggles. A sought-after speaker, Senn has authored or co-authored several books, including two best-sellers. His newest is The Mood Elevator, the follow up to his 2012 book, Up the Mood Elevator. You can learn more About Larry and his work at his website,