Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Building a Better "Mousetrap"

I am kind of excited. I am in the process of pulling together a group of collaborators to talk about the importance of building a strong employment brand and engagement.

I am excited on a couple of levels. Anyone that knows me knows that I am passionate about these subjects to a level where folks get tired of hearing me. I can't help it, I just fervently believe that this kind of a model working together is just bluntly superior to any other organizational model in the long term, and it works for all kinds of organizations; private or public sector and for profit or not for profit.

I am also excited about the opportunity to educate people about what engagement is and engagement is not. Engagement is not satisfaction and engagement is not "happiness". Engagement is discretionary effort freely committed to by employees in support of a common set of goals, values, and objectives. It is also viral. Your customers and your community will "catch it" to if it is done right.

The last reason I am kind of excited is that this initiative as we envision is a collaboration between the local educational community, the business community and others to begin building a framework for an economic plan for a community that has desperately needed one for a long time; and we are planning to do it together.

We are also going to explore root causes and the real foundation of engagement and strong brands and show local businesses two key things:
  • This isn't just about big businesses with big advertising budgets
  • The basic building blocks are pretty easy and there are resources in every community to help "spread the virus".

I like "win-win" solutions, and personal responsibility, and action rather than inaction. Think local, act local. I like it!

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Sunday, January 31, 2010

Doing "What Matters"

I had the opportunity to attend another brilliant presentation this last week by a man I admire a great deal, president emeritus of the University of Oregon, Dave Frohnmayer. Although President Frohnmayer may be best known for the 15 years he spent as university president he can also list Dean of the U of O school of law, Oregon Attorney General, state legislator, and Rhodes scholar. A true renaissance man.

He was speaking to a combined group of community leaders and "aspiring" leaders in the form of students from a local private university. Much of what he said resonated with me, but there were particular aspects of his presentation that really struck me.

One of the most interesting themes he discussed was our evolution as people, especially those of us who aspire to lead or manage others. He said that as we are young and we begin our careers we start with the question-
What do I want to do with my career?
We hear this question and discussion a lot from young people; how do I best manage my "career"?

The next evolution he describes is the place where we ask the question-
What do I find fulfilling or meaningful?
I know I have certainly spent some time pondering that question and I rather suspect that I am not alone.

The last question or stage was the challenge he put to those who lead-
What matters?
The point of this question is that we move beyond the "I" and begin to examine our contributions in the larger context of society and the world. It is an interesting point. Should we have people in leadership roles that haven't evolved to that place?

The other part of what he discussed particularly resonated with me; he encouraged everyone, but especially leaders to see themselves and others in terms of their whole personhood. Some of you know this is a familiar place for me.

He referred to people as diverse as Jung and Machiavelli as recognizing that we all carry a "shadow side" and that the most effective leaders recognize this in themselves and others. They don't try to deny it, they incorporate it in their leadership style and acknowledge it in others. They have people around them whom they trust and have the courage to point out to them when this "shadow" becomes a detriment rather than an asset or neutral. He also talked about how the recognition and "mastery" of your shadow elements is evolutionary and occurs over time.

When I first entered the work force like President Frohnmayer suggested I spent much of my time focusing on my "career". Now that I have had three or four "careers" I recognize that a career is a journey you to a certain extent look back on rather than plan.

I have found for me personally that the second and third questions have intertwined. I believe passionately that a different way of people relating to each other in organizational settings is better for the individual, the organization, and society in general. In my case that model is what we now call engagement or employment branding.

Those of you familiar with me also know about my fascination with "Whole People", my belief that this idea of partitioning people off in the "work self" and personal self is ineffective and kind of silly.

The last JFHF3HCJD6FE few years have been an interesting part of my personal journey so I found it somewhat validating to hear from someone I respect that perhaps I am not doing it "wrong" after all.

So what I would leave you with are two questions-
  • Have you determined what matters to you?
  • If you answer yes are you pursuing it, and if no do you have a plan to change that?

Look forward to hearing from you.....

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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Reflecting on Leadership

What an interesting week on the leadership front.

President Obama gave his first two commencement speeches in two very different venues. At Arizona State there was a lot of controversy over both inviting him as well as the decision not to award him the customary honorary degree. The reason cited was that he has not completed his "body of work". He agreed and in fact challenged the new graduates that just as he has not completed his body of work they are only beginning theirs.

At Notre Dame, the most prestigious Catholic college in the U.S. the controversy was around his position on women's choice as it relates to abortion. His position here was that the two sides would never be reconciled, but we should take steps to stop demonizing those whose viewpoints is different than our own. Not just about abortion, but about many things.

It was interesting today watching the press reaction to Congress' vote on denying the funding to close Guantanamo Bay. They wanted to get the administration to take a position on whether or not that represents the President's first "failure". The Congress apparently has legitimate concerns about the disposition of the detainees and felt the closure is premature. They kept pressing for recognition of a "mistake". The Administration responded that while the Executive Order may have been premature, it did galvanize action.

We really want to classify things as right or wrong, as a win or a loss. I am not sure that is leadership, in fact I am pretty sure it isn't.

On a positive note a colleague of mine was elected to a position on the school board in our community yesterday. I am pleased on a number of levels.
  • She is an "includer" and a thinker. I have worked with her in a number of capacities and rarely heard her express "right" or "wrong" positions.
  • She is a listener. She weighs things carefully and thoughtfully before coming to a decision or conclusion.
  • She is committed. Her personal history shows someone who has served her community in a number of capacities over an extended period of time. This is not any easy time to serve.
  • She was endorsed and supported by people from many different perspectives and on differing sides of issues.

These things are important to me because we are a very polarized community. It is very important for many people to be "right". As a result we have no defined road map for how we move forward as a community. We have very high unemployment, budget shortfalls for our schools, and not much of a plan for coming out of it. Perhaps her election is a sign that we are beginning to recognize that progress begins with relationships and willingness to hear the other person.

Last week I mentioned Bill George and his new generation of leaders who focus on "stakeholders" not shareholders. I think she might be one of that new generation. I wish her luck and I offer her my continuing support.

This Monday we celebrate Memorial Day, a tribute and an homage to those who served and those who died to preserve our rights to disagree, personal competency and a number of other core values that we hold dear.

I wonder what those who passed and those who remain think about where we are today not only in terms of our economy, but our values and where we go from here.

I like the fact that the president of Notre Dame mentioned that even while he disagreed with the President on many core issues he was proud of a President who called for discussion and tolerance for differences rather than demonizing those whose viewpoint is different from your own.

I also agree with President Obama and Senator McCain that Guantanomo became a symbol that I didn't care for and that now the issue is not if, but when we close it; and that is a good thing.

What do you think......?

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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Failure, Loss, and Other Character Builders

Steve Tobak, Jeffrey Pfeffer, and Stanley Bing are three of my favorite author/bloggers these days. All three are well respected authors with multiple books under the belt and the reputation and credibility to be very comfortable not being politically correct. As you might suspect the state of the current economy has given all three plenty of material to work with as they both proactively share their views on how we got here and respond to the questions of others.

All three have spent some time lately talking about leadership and character and what it takes to achieve and maintain true leadership stature. The topic of failure is especially an interesting one.
I spend a bit of time on the social networking site LinkedIn (have you seen what’s on TV these days) both asking and responding to questions. For those of you unfamiliar with it, LinkedIn is kind of FaceBook for those of us with 40 in our rear view mirror.

I have always been intrigued with what constitutes failure for different people so on Sunday evening I posted a three part question:
· What is your most significant “failure” to date?
· What did you learn from it?
· What if anything would you do differently?
Well, I got to tell you folks, did I apparently hit a hot button. Within 24 hours of my posting my question I had over 25 responses from all over the world! So far as of right now with less than 48 hours into it I am up to 46 answers and counting!
The answers themselves are very interesting. They range from philosophical to analytical with everything in between. About one in three actually answered all three of the sub-questions. Some of the responses were deeply sincere and intimate, they really gave me a brief window into the people behind the answer and I have added several new “connections” as a result.
Although I tried not to pre-bias the responses I received; I agree with Tobak, without “failure” you never really appreciate success and take the risks necessary to make meaningful progress. I also believe failure is when you stop trying and just embrace the status quo.


There was also a question about character on LinkedIn; are you born with it, or is it shaped over time. Once again I have a bias. You may have the attributes, but until they have been tested you really don’t know about your character.

One of the people I got to “meet” as a result of my question was an awesome young woman from Canada (I can say she is awesome because I checked out her profile on LinkedIn and got to read some of her questions and answers)
As part of our exchange she shared with me some of her own personal experiences about failure, loss, and the building of character.

A few years ago she had a beloved pet that had aged and developed health issues to the point where she and her mother thought it might be in the animal’s best interest to put it down. Among other issues the dog had gone completely blind. They chose not to and the great part of the story was the pet’s ability to adapt to its infirmity and persevere for two more years without too much deterioration in its quality of life. The story became even more compelling when a series of other events occurred in her life including:
· Her Mother’s diagnosis with cancer
· Major surgeries for both her father and father in law
· A diagnosis of infertility
She said she draws some of her inspiration from her conversation with her Mother about her (her Mothers’s) terminal diagnosis. Her mother told her “just as Baby (their pet) adapted, I will adapt and persevere”.
Currently her mother has continued to fight her disease and she has soldiered on through the other “speed bumps” that life has put in her path.
So where am I going with this. I believe in this time and in this place it is character and the willingness to learn from “failure” that will define true leaders, not MBA’s and technical skills. It is engagement and trust and relationships, not capital and technology. We have relied on those for too long and look where we are as a result.
True leadership and character and formed and tested through adversity. Show me someone who has never failed and I see either a leader; who recognizes that failure is when you quit, or a score keeper who plays not lose rather than to win.

I also think leadership comes as a gift from others; when you have lost and persevered you have started to build not only the “skills” to lead, but the empathy and compassion that true leadership requires. You don’t get that in graduate school, you get that in life.

As to my young friend I see real leadership in her future. She has suffered adversity and persevered, she has the courage to soldier on, and she has a wonderful articulate way of sharing her experiences as a way not to evoke sympathy, but rather to create empathy. That my friends is what true leadership is based on….

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Sunday, January 11, 2009

Lessons From Interesting Places

Some of you already know that I have found some of my greatest insights about engagement and working with people from some very interesting places. One of my favorites is the work of Monty Roberts, the original "horse whisperer". Monty's model of encouraging horses to "join up" with you rather than forcing them into a particular behavior was very seminal to me in creating my Compliance to Commitment(TM) model.

Today I was reading some tips from Cesar Millan, the "dog whisperer", and he offered some great insights that bear repeating.
  • Live a balanced life. Milan comments that dogs do best when they have an opportunity to get exercise, have structure, and receive affection every day. I don't know about you, but that sounds remarkably like an environment of engagement to me.
  • Trust your instincts. He points out that animals don't "speak" English. As a result they pay close attention to body language, energy levels and other non verbal cues for guidance. Sounds like pretty good advice to me.
  • Be direct and consistent in your communications. This one is huge. How many times are we oblique or unclear or inconsistent in our communications? This causes confusion and frustration. I firmly believe that 99% of the people in the world show up every day wanting to do the right work and do it well. Poor communications, inconsistency or other human errors get in the way.
  • Learn to be a great listener. Animals are great listeners. They never interrupt you and they never give you unwanted advice. They also never take ownership for your problem or allow you to shift responsibility for solving your issue, they just listen.
  • Let go of baggage. Cesar mentions how in dog packs there are no grudges. Issues are resolved and you move on. Think about our organizational environments if we could follow that credo.
  • Live with a purpose. Millan points out that when dogs don't have a purpose they can develop bad habits ranging from anxiety to aggression. Sound familiar? Our role as leaders and managers is to create clarity and purpose for our employees, to remove the ambiguity. Think about it. When employees understand the purpose of the organization and where their contributions fit in they spend little time being agitated or anxious. If they cannot buy into the purpose perhaps they are in the wrong "pack". The point remains however that the leader defines the purpose, it is not left to individual "pack" members to figure it out or to determine their role.
  • Celebrate every day. For dogs and other animals each day is fresh and without comparison. For me this translates into looking at each project and assignment as a new opportunity to contribute. I tell young people that your career to a great extent is something you look back on. Don't be so concerned about your "career" that you forget or don't take the opportunity to enjoy each job or role you have a chance to participate in. I have had positions or assignments that I didn't enjoy as much as others, but I have tried to train myself to look forward not backward.

There is no "rocket science" or particular wisdom here, but 2009 looks like it will present most of us with some challenges as well as opportunities. We will choose how we react to them. I don't know about you, but I find some of Cesar's tips pretty valuable. My dogs don't seem nearly as anxious about 2009 as I am. Maybe they know something I don't......

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