#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

Unique Human Needs: Growth

I am energized to spend this week reflecting on Tony Robbins’ list of unique human needs. Here’s the list in its entirety followed by a brief reflection on the quality of “Growth.”

Unique Human Needs

1. Certainty: assurance you can avoid pain and gain pleasure
2. Uncertainty/Variety: the need for the unknown, change, new stimuli
3. Significance: feeling unique, important, special or needed
4. Connection/Love: a strong feeling of closeness or union with someone or something
5. Growth: an expansion of capacity, capability or understanding
6. Contribution: a sense of service and focus on helping, giving to and supporting others


Part 5: Growth

When I first went to see a therapist my cover story was pretty thin. To her inevitable opening question – “So, what brings you here?” – I gave her my well-rehearsed reply, “As a professional coach I think it’s important to tend my own garden so I can be most helpful to other people.”

This was a valid intention, just not an honest one. “I’m doing it for them” has a noble ring to it, its thin veneer a convenient way to mask the truth that I was in a lot of pain. And being in pain, I was afraid to talk about it because I knew I would have to feel it more before I could feel it less.

That pain was a tangle of old and unresolved stuff, mainly about abandonment, that reared up in full toxic force in the first years of fatherhood. I experienced deep feelings of anger toward my young son, feelings that both frightened me and filled me with shame. I knew that I had to figure out where all of that negativity was coming from, my initiative newly motivated by the fear of a future estrangement.

Thankfully, at that time I was in the company of new colleagues who were relentlessly encouraging of my growth and who had the insight and experience to normalize the idea of therapy as a powerful tool for meaningful change.

In the list above, Tony Robbins describes Growth as an expansion of capacity, capability or understanding. 

Through my work with a therapist I came to understand capacity as having room to consider the needs of others from their perspective rather than through the lens of my own. In other words, I had more empathy because I had more emotional space.

I came to understand capability as an enhancement of my ability to notice more about myself and others. I was sharpening my lens, getting better and better at anticipating and responding to my internal impulses while more quickly attuning to the externally expressed needs of others.

I came to appreciate understanding as an awareness of the complex dynamics that are always present in team and organizational settings. Seeing more allowed me to be more helpful and productive in all domains of my life.

My growth through therapy helped me to become a better team member, a better leader, a better coach and consultant and, most importantly, a better husband and father.

As it turns out, the garden metaphor was an apt one, especially from the perspective of preparing for the winter months. In that case, a hard pruning is required before any new growth can appear. It can feel brutal to employ the shears so aggressively but until it happens the old growth will remain as a barricade to the new growth that finally emerges.


closeup photo of sprout

Photo by PhotoMIX Ltd. on Pexels.com

 

Build Capability Before You Need It

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.


clear glass with red sand grainer

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

“Because it is a big change.”

On the cusp of his retirement from the NBA, future hall of fame player Dwyane Wade gave an interview to ESPN in which he discussed how he intends to adjust to life after basketball:

“I’ll be in therapy. Seriously,” Wade said. “I mean it, it is going to be a big change. I told my wife, I said, ‘I need to do therapy, and we need to do a little bit.’

“I was always against someone that don’t know me telling me how to live my life or giving me instructions. But I need someone to talk to about it. Because it is a big change. Even though I got a long life to live, other great things I can accomplish and do, it’s not this. So it’s going to be different.”

One observer commented that this is a “mature” approach. I would call that a major understatement. For a male, professional athlete to so plainly state his need for help and his commitment to receiving it is a very big deal.

While therapy has been de-stigmatized throughout much of our society it is not something easily discussed among men, especially those in positions of power and authority. In the business world we call therapy “coaching” and though it is inappropriate to conflate the two (one looks back, the other looks forward is a simplistic distinction) we are well-served to remember that when a client and a trained professional of any discipline commit to doing real work, good things usually come of it.

Thanks to Dwyane Wade and others like him, there will be more men who choose to make themselves vulnerable and seek the help they need. And each time that happens our world will become a better and a safer place.


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.

The Best Advice

The best advice I ever received came from the book, “The Art of Possibility” by Ben and Rosamund Zander. It goes like this:

Don’t take yourself so damn seriously!” (aka, ‘Rule #6′)

I remember thinking, “How did they know!!!” (Yes, three exclamation points.)

The second best piece of advice I ever received was to see a therapist.

Doing so is how I learned make the space to apply the best advice I ever received.

I don’t believe that therapy is the only path to follow but it worked for me and it continues to pay dividends.

I’m not fixed or finished, by any means. I’m a work in progress and will forever be. It’s just that the time and energy I invested in clearing a path to understanding has made it possible for me to reduce my self-interest, my selfishness, my neediness and my need for control.

That reduction has forever changed the quality of my relationships, my capacity for understanding and empathy, my openness to new experiences. It has increased my sense of humor and my perspective. It has encouraged my acceptance of everything that’s beyond my control and a deeper commitment to everything that is.

And that’s what motivates my work today. I understand what’s possible and I want it for others. And for the people they lead. Especially for them.


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.

Duc in altum

In my ongoing effort to attract a hip and progressive audience to my blog I decided to finally employ the aggressive outreach strategy of using latin phrases as post titles.

I know, I know, I’m way behind the curve on this one but I figure better late than never.

So what about it? What about duc in altum?

It means, “put out into deep water.”

The story goes that Jesus not only hopped into Simon’s fishing boat (referencing Jesus is also a crowd pleaser, by the way…) but that he started giving orders. And once they were under way he said something like, “Look, Simon. Here’s the deal. If you want to do this. If you REALLY want to do this, hanging out along the shore line is not good enough. You need to go all in. And going all in means taking on all the risk so you can receive all the reward.” (That’s not a direct quote.)

I think about the time we took our daughter’s fishing at a mountain lake. It wasn’t going well. And a man saw that it wasn’t going well and offered to help. He said, “Your bait is fine, you just need to put it where the fish are.” Surprise, surprise, they were in deeper water.

I think about the time a boss said to me, “If you want to become a good coach, you should really consider going to therapy.” So, I did. At first for him but soon enough, for me. Much deeper water.

I think about how I stayed on the fringes of our church community. Not a Roman Catholic, but doing a good impression. Our new priest asked me to join and I said, “I’ve thought about it a lot but I have too many questions, too many concerns.” And he said, “I’d like you on the inside to help us wrestle with those questions and confront those concerns.” And so I joined. And I was in much deeper water. And, with each devastating heartbreak, it keeps getting deeper. And I’m sticking with it.

I think about a conversation with my wife, Theresa, on the eve of our wedding anniversary: What’s going well?, How are we stuck? What do we need to do differently?” We took a deep breath and swam out to deeper water.

And I think about my friend, Jim and his beautiful vessel, Shamrock, that lies directly in the path of Hurricane Florence. He has her anchored upriver but he tells me, “that will not provide any assurance that she will weather this one unscathed.”

In deep water, there are no assurances. There is only the truth that until we go we will never know.


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.