#18 – Build Capability Before You Need It

This is #18 in the series, “50 Ideas Worth Fighting For.” Here’s another one that I like a lot.


Since we know that nothing lasts forever, a healthy, necessary and realistic point of view for leaders to take is that whatever is working right now will not necessarily work next year. Rationally, we understand that. Emotionally, however, we are too frequently loathe to question ourselves when things are going well as if we might jinx our good fortune. Harry Potter taught an entire world of wizards that it was not only ok to “speak his name” (Voldemort, that is) but it was actually necessary to do so to have any chance of defeating him.

What follows are the direct and specific actions I believe leaders must take if they are to be successful in building capability for the future. I have divided the list into three categories: Developmental, Strategic and Cautionary.

DEVELOPMENTAL

1. Go to therapy. Don’t walk, run. Since many leaders are narcissists and all leaders have narcissistic qualities they are more fragile than they appear to be. (Both Michael Maccoby and Manfred Kets de Vries have written extensively and powerfully on the subject.) When they are wounded by criticism and questioning of their leadership they often don’t heal very quickly and may actually go to great lengths to even the score. As you know, it can get pretty ugly. And, since everything else I am about to advocate involves building infrastructure to question the system, leaders need to build a tough and thoughtful resilience to bear it well. They need to learn not to take every new idea for improvement as an indictment of their leadership but rather as a response to an invitation to keep getting better. For that to happen, those narcissistic wounds are better worked out in the therapist’s office than in the conference room. (If you’re wondering if someone’s a narcissist you can always just ask them.)

2. Send all key leaders to therapy. For all of the reasons stated above.

3. Or at least provide them with highly skilled coaching support. A great coaching relationship can and often does feel “therapeutic” (one senior leader I worked with referred to it as “couching”). The key is to have a safe, trustworthy partner to work through the holistic challenges of work, home and health. All necessary subjects for an effective executive to discuss and work on regularly.

4. Be more human than otherwise. That is to say, thoughtfully reveal your vulnerability, things you’re working on, the challenges you face. Items #1-3 will be very helpful in equipping you to do this. When you become accessible to your team as a human being you increase your power by strengthening your connections. Those connections become the lifeline for communication. And communication is at the heart of learning how to get better.

5. Treat people like adults. Respect them enough to be transparent about what’s going on. Be clear about what you need. Expect them to do the same for you. You’re not their mom or dad. You don’t have to protect them from the truth. You do need to give them a chance to rise to the occasion. If they can’t or don’t you’ll have the information you need to support them in their own development.

STRATEGIC

6. Make every leader accountable for a meaningful annual report of what needs to change in his or her function in the coming year. There is always something to improve. ALWAYS. Building in this kind of evaluative, reflective process expands our capacity for having hard discussions and normalizes the process of doing so. And this is to be done in open dialogue with the whole team, starting with the people who are actually doing the work each day. A simple question for them: if you could change one thing that would allow you to be more effective in fulfilling your job responsibility, what would it be? (Note: if you don’t get useful answers the first time around it’s probably because they don’t trust you enough to be honest. Earn that trust by keeping at it in a sincere and authentic way. If that’s hard for you, see item #1.)

7. Determine how you will change first. No meaningful change happens until the leader decides to change. Figure out what change in your behavior will help bring about the larger change initiative and get busy. “Be the change you want to see in the world” is not an invitation but an admonition.

8. Hold Pre and Post-mortem meetings for every project. In the pre meeting ask as many people as possible what they think could go wrong. Learn to anticipate the bumps and get your team ready to respond. The post-mortem is more of a no-brainer but usually overlooked because we’re already off to the next thing. Even a couple of simple questions – again, asked of all involved – will build openness and a greater capacity for learning: What worked? What didn’t? What did you learn about yourself and our team? 

9. Expect leaders to coach their teams and teach them how to do so. Here’s a fine job description for a key leader: spend time everyday understanding the business and how all the pieces fit together (educate your team about same); critically consider what’s working and what’s not in your function and engage your team in frequent dialogue about same; make plans for improvement by seeking as much perspective as possible; assign responsibilities to follow through on plans; provide coaching support and resources to ensure success; recognize and celebrate publicly and tangibly. This is a talking, engaging, coaching, critical thinking, relationship job. It is not a protect, defend, isolate, manipulate, scheme and otherwise preserve hierarchical hegemony job.

CAUTIONARY

10. Don’t pretend to do any of the above. Up to now, I’ve offered suggestions on what to “do.” Here’s my first and only “don’t do.” Any inauthentic attempt at any of the above will be sniffed out immediately and seen for the manipulative tactic that it is. You gotta mean it or don’t even bother. Good people will leave and you will be surrounded by scared people all too willing to tell you that you’re great and that what “we’re doing” is just right and will certainly last forever.

Until it doesn’t and you end up in therapy anyway.


collection of construction safety helmet

Photo by Skitterphoto on Pexels.com

What About the Other 19?

Yesterday, I wrote about the Business Roundtable’s newly released Statement on the Purpose of a Corporation, a declaration signed by 181 of its 200 member CEOs.

Nineteen corporations decided not to sign on to a statement that broadens the purpose of a corporation from “shareholder primacy” to a “fundamental commitment” to all of their stakeholders. In other words, it’s no longer sufficient or sustainable to be just about the money. Corporate interests must now include employees, suppliers, communities and the environment.

Those who did not sign include the Blackstone Group, GE and Alcoa.

While no one will be surprised if this new statement fails to result in systemic change, considering that it lacks any measure of accountability, it is a big symbolic step forward that has already met with significant resistance.

The Council of Institutional Investors said, “Accountability to everyone means accountability to no one. It is government, not companies, that should shoulder the responsibility of defining and addressing societal objectives with limited or no connection to long-term shareholder value.”

This reactive dualism is not surprising in the least. Rather, it is an instructive reminder of the prevailing limits of the corporate imagination and just how far we are from making the modern workplace more fully human.

In today’s New York Times, Andrew Ross Sorkin summed it up nicely, “For whatever progress may have been made Monday, it is hardly clear the debate is over. In fact, the fight for corporate identity is just beginning.”

Whether you are an owner, a leader, an employee, a supplier or a customer, I hope you see the possibility that exists for you to fight for that new corporate identity where you work and live. Raise your expectations, of yourself and your colleagues, and trust that an expansive application of accountability is the best strategy for long-term growth you can possibly employ.


 

The Purpose of Business

Today, the Business Roundtable, a group of 200 CEO’s, announced that 181 of its members signed off on a new statement of the purpose of a corporation. This is a massive shift from the one-note philosophy of “shareholder primacy” to an approach that is reflective of a modern workforce – a modern society – that deserves and demands “meaning and dignity.”

This affirmation of a more wholistic, human-centric approach to business will require accountability of the highest order. Please read the statement below and consider how you will bring it to life and sustain it within the walls of your own workplace.


 Statement on the Purpose of a Corporation

Americans deserve an economy that allows each person to succeed through hard work and creativity and to lead a life of meaning and dignity. We believe the free-market system is the best means of generating good jobs, a strong and sustainable economy, innovation, a healthy environment and economic opportunity for all.

Businesses play a vital role in the economy by creating jobs, fostering innovation and providing essential goods and services. Businesses make and sell consumer products; manufacture equipment and vehicles; support the national defense; grow and produce food; provide health care; generate and deliver energy; and offer financial, communications and other services that underpin economic growth.

While each of our individual companies serves its own corporate purpose, we share a fundamental commitment to all of our stakeholders. We commit to:

  • Delivering value to our customers. We will further the tradition of American companies leading the way in meeting or exceeding customer expectations.
  • Investing in our employees. This starts with compensating them fairly and providing important benefits. It also includes supporting them through training and education that help develop new skills for a rapidly changing world. We foster diversity and inclusion, dignity and respect.
  • Dealing fairly and ethically with our suppliers. We are dedicated to serving as good partners to the other companies, large and small, that help us meet our missions.
  • Supporting the communities in which we work. We respect the people in our communities and protect the environment by embracing sustainable practices across our businesses.
  • Generating long-term value for shareholders, who provide the capital that allows companies to invest, grow and innovate. We are committed to transparency and effective engagement with shareholders.

Each of our stakeholders is essential. We commit to deliver value to all of them, for the future success of our companies, our communities and our country.

Source: The Business Roundtable

Workshop

The bees set up shop under a piece of plywood on the side of our home. At first I thought it was just a swarm that would move through quickly enough. As they lingered, I got curious and found them hard at work.

I don’t love the idea of a beehive so close to the house. My first inclination was to get rid of it. But we decided to wait and see what would happen and, so far so good.

Here’s what I’ve noticed: they don’t mind having me around. They go about their business and I go about mine.

They value family, hard work and making a contribution to something that is much, much larger than themselves. If I can play a small part in supporting that value system, I will only be the better for it.


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The Curiosity of a Visitor

It is impossible to convey the experience of visiting this waterfall through a single photograph; through any photograph, for that matter.

If you don’t hike the forest trail, if you don’t hear the first, distant thrum of the rushing stream, if you don’t reach into the cold water and brush your hand across the stones, if you don’t test the fallen log to see if it will bear your weight across the rocks, if you don’t watch and listen and revere both the stillness and the movement of the place, if you don’t swat the mosquitoes from your legs on the way back down the trail then, well, you cannot know.

And all of that took place in only a single one-hour window, late in the afternoon on the last day of July. What is happening there right now, I can’t possibly say. It is similar, yes, but it is not the same, and it would be hubris to claim, having been there once, that I know the place.

In that spirit, please consider the exercise of the annual performance review for what it really is, a singular statement of a year of work feebly attempting to stand as a representation of the whole.

It cannot and should not be done.

I implore you to treat each employee with the curiosity of a visitor to a wonderful new place. Each encounter is an opportunity to expand your understanding, but none ever completes it.

You might ask, “What will this visit help me to see that I could not see before?”


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Plaikni Falls – Crater Lake National Park – July 31, 2019 at 4:21 pm

 

Hiding in Plain Sight

“What is obscure we will eventually see;
what is obvious usually takes a little longer.”
{Edward R. Murrow}


Your team is hiding in plain sight. They are there, you can see them, they are working…all true.

But they are hiding, just the same.

What they are hiding is the depth of their creativity, their energy and their initiative because they do not (well, most of them, statistically speaking do not) feel engaged enough to do so.

In other words, most leaders of most workplaces haven’t earned the right to preserve, protect and defend the most important qualities of the human condition, those qualities that demonstrate who each of us is at our most open, and most vulnerable.

Knowing this as they do, they do not bring those best parts of themselves into the office. They leave them elsewhere for safe keeping…in the car, at home, online.

And the organization is impoverished for the lack of access to their best selves. Complex problems remain unsolved, possibilities remain unexplored, “craziness” remains unexpressed.

This is, technically speaking, a huge bummer.

But there is hope, here on a Tuesday, in the shape of you and your willingness to start a new kind of conversation in a brand new way. It goes like this:

“I would like to earn the right to get to know you at your most creative, energized and engaged. What would need to be true around here for that to happen?”


DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world.

On Solid Ground

My friend and thought partner, Molly Davis, published a great piece on Monday in which she talks about the earth beneath our feet as the best source material we could ask for to live lives of hopeful expectation. She writes:

“That sense of the solid ground upon which to stand is the place from which we can dare to hope. And we can dare to hope because it isn’t our feet firmly planted that hold us up, but the holy ground upon which we stand.”

The imagery conjured up by her writing took me back to a talk I gave a couple of weeks ago. I was invited to keynote a gathering of undergraduate students who were assembled for an academic competition and convocation.

During the Q&A that followed I was asked about my preparation for a talk like the one I had just given. These students were going to stand in front of a room of judges the following day to deliver their prepared findings so effective presentation-making was very much on their minds.

I suggested to them that once the rituals of preparation and planning are complete; once you have done your research and your homework, collaborated with your partners on a design and gone through as many rehearsals and critiques as you can stand, that once all of that is done the final and most important thing you can do is to get out of your head and back into your body.

To have cognitive awareness of what you will present is the starting point, but to have somatic awareness is the place from which you can truly deliver the goods. Until you feel it in your body, what you present will just be a collection of words coming from your head.

I suggested a few things to help them get into this more robust kind of physical presence. First, that it is important ahead of time to spend some time in the space where you will be speaking. I told them that the reason I was already in the room when they arrived was because I was getting a feel for the space. It was not a room largely different from those I have presented in before but I had not presented in that particular room and wanted to build up my awareness of what it felt like. (Incidentally, I noticed a strong and very pleasing floral aroma in the room, as if the janitorial staff had used the greatest cleaning products ever made! This contributed to my sense of positive affect and energy. It was a perfect support system for my physical awareness.) 

Second, I suggested that it is important to just feel your feet on the floor, on the ground, on the earth. This kind of intentional inhabiting of space creates in me a grounded and humble confidence. It reminds me that “I am right here.” It reminds me that “I am supposed to be right here, right now with these two feet on this ground in this room.” It reminds me that “There are no mistakes or coincidences but only the truth that I am here and ready to share readily and generously with those kind enough to listen.”

Third, I suggested that it is important to feel your body. Amy Cuddy advocates for the “power stance,” hands boldly on the hips or raised high in victory formation. Others recommend scrunching the shoulders up to the ears and holding them there before a big, vigorous release and shake down of your entire bodily form. All of this physical effort is designed to join your head to your body, your head to your heart, more importantly. It’s a physical way to trick yourself into a “ready” position, a place the rest of us will experience as presence.

Finally, to bring it all the way back round to Molly’s contribution today, this work of physical readiness for real presence is the only stance from which it is possible to be the ideas, the possibilities, the hopefulness you are trying to convey. You want us to believe you, to believe in you. We want to believe you, to believe in you. You’ll get us part way there with your thoughtful preparation and articulate delivery. You’ll bring us all the way home when you convey the power that can only be made real when you start with two feet on solid ground.


DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world. Connect with him on Twitter at @berrydavid.

Another Set of Eyes

You can’t take care of what you can’t see.

Call it a blind spot, call it being too close to the problem, but with only your eyes – and the limits of your perspective and the strength of your bias – you’re going to miss some vital information.

If you’re cleaning a bathroom mirror that might mean some streaks here and there.

If it’s something greater, something about how you do your work or lead your team, those few forgotten streaks might have greater significance.

One major difference between an amateur and a professional is the commitment to getting it right. And that means building feedback into the process early and often.

If you want to see yourself – your work, your contribution – accurately, become a professional. Hire another set of eyes.


DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world.

A Runner’s Mantra

Friday Morning Run

This road that I’m running is not good or bad. It’s not right or wrong.

It just is.

And if I keep running I’ll be onto a new road very soon.

……

This road that I’m running is not good or bad. It’s not right or wrong.

It just is.

And if I keep running I’ll be onto a new road very soon.

……

This road that I’m running is not good or bad. It’s not right or wrong.

It just is.

And if I keep running I’ll be onto a new road very soon.

 

DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world.

Unsaid and Undone

IMG_4307It matters to me to be good at things. Appearing competent is a hallmark of how I present myself to the world. And I am competent, very much so, in a lot of ways. And I’m not, really not, in a lot more ways.

Competence matters so much to me that I have a frustrating track record of not trying or starting things I don’t know I can be good at.

And then I deepen the dilemma by not asking for help. Because then I’d be admitting that I don’t know how to do it and, well, no thank you.

That said, I’m a lot better than I used to be. I’m not saying that asking for help is strength but I’ve come a long way. Still, there are times when the going feels particularly slow.

A recent sailing experience makes the point very well. After I had released a sail from the mast, as instructed by the captain, I left the slack of rope lying loosely on the deck. (I didn’t know what to do with it so instead of asking I just left it there. Great example so far, yes?) When the captain saw this he explained the importance of keeping the deck clear and showed me how to gather the rope, wrap it, tie it and hook it back on the mast.

Later on, working with that same piece of rope, I found myself in the same situation. With the rope lying at my feet I could not remember how to tie and wrap it so, you guessed it, I just left it there! What the hell was wrong with me???

A few minutes later, our captain saw this and asked me a much kinder version of “What the hell is wrong with you?” And, because I value competence SO MUCH I was ashamed of myself.

The captain, an enlightened and thoughtful leader, took some time to talk over what had happened between us and how it could have been prevented. We agreed that what I needed after his first demonstration of how to manage the rope was a chance to practice. We also agreed that I needed to take responsibility for asking for that, as in: “let me give that a try to be sure I’ve got it.” But since both of us were caught up in the pressure of the moment – high winds and a choppy sea – we neglected to take the next step. He didn’t make sure I had it, and I gave him no indication that he needed to! We were the perfect partners in crime.

Let me say that another way: we colluded to allow the conditions of our experience dictate more urgent behavior than was actually necessary. He didn’t know me well enough to understand my reluctance to ask for help and I was too deferential to his authority to ask for what I needed. If the boat was heading for the rocks, a loose rope on the deck wasn’t going to make much difference. No, this was a different brand of urgency, the kind that traps us into thinking we have to go faster than we really need to. As a result, we make small mistakes that eventually lead to much bigger problems.

Everything is not an emergency. You have more time than you think.

If you’re the captain, check for understanding.

If you’re on the crew, ask for help.

DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world.