Posts Tagged ‘trust’

More Red Flags for Managing Better – Part 2

October 16, 2014

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One of management’s most important contributions to enterprise performance is talent development. The example we provide is a powerful influence on others. Our choices in attitude and action matter hugely. To discern who needs your leadership, supervision and related attention, be vigilant about signals others display.

In my last post I described some poor examples. Here, I add six more descriptions to point out too-common misbehaviors. Only through awareness and intervention can we enable better attitudes and actions. In bold face, I note the “red flag.”

1.Won’t or can’t articulate ethical or appropriate behavior. Avoids thoughtful observation and commenting on blunders, mis-steps or errors in judgment. Unwilling to prompt exploration, discovery or provide constructive actions. Red flag: Avoids coaching.

2.Never follows through. Offers empty promises. Consistently deceives and simply fails to show integrity. Red flag: Isn’t trustworthy.

3.No updates, context or guidance sets others up to fail. Clear, communications that sense, interpret and support forward action is vital. Red flag: Expects others to mind read.

4.Rigid, uncompromising, limited perspective, won’t acknowledge other experience or situational context. Red flag: Inflexible.

5.Dulling, oppressive, controlling, overly pessimistic, no big view. Red flag: Cannot inspire.

6.Assassinates, plays “keep-away,” grabs others’ ideas, manipulates and puppeteers. Often this kind culture is created if people lack skill and knowledge or are insecure. Little or no accountability accelerates it. Red flag: Bullying.

For me, items 1, 2 and 6 are weighted. Why? Because feedback, trust and competence are essential building blocks for organization performance.

It’s a challenge for all of us to manage better in both our work and lives. Mature, well-intentioned peers and supervisors must speak up. Many of us know amazing mentors and sponsors who do. A little bit of courage conquers any risk and creates trustful interdependence. Things go better if we can rely on each other!

Lisa Wyatt, Ed.D. is chief strategy officer and partner in Phillips Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See: www.pwkinc.com

 

Strategy Is Not A Plan

April 13, 2014

Mach

An Italian historian, diplomat, philosopher and author, Niccolo Machiavelli was influential  during the Renaissance. He is considered the founder of modern political science and well known for The Prince, a book about unscrupulous politicians. Machiavellianism is most often associated with strategies founded on deceit and psychological manipulation. While these strategies offer many politicos inspiration, other leaders offer more positive, ethical examples.

Strategy Generates Power

Regretfully, because of overuse and ubiquitous application, the word “strategy” has lost meaning. Lawrence Freedman’s new book, Strategy: A History, suggests strategy employs whatever resources are available to achieve the best outcome in situations that are both dynamic and contested. He suggests strategy generates power. Perhaps we too often mistake strategy as a simple way to get to a clear and final result.

Instead, Freedman counsels that strategy is simply a thoughtful means to get from one stage to another. Each new stage has its own challenges, risks, assets and potential. Strategy needs to be devised, and revised as circumstances evolve. Strategy is not synonymous with a plan. Plans support forward movement and actions, but they may or may not be strategic. Even so, high-quality implementation of a strategic plan – one built on choice points that considered alternatives – can be a significant challenge.

Strategy Development

Certainly both strategic processes and strategic thinking are essential in managing and leading. Don Knauss, CEO, Clorox Company says he learned strategy development from the Marine Corps. The acronym SMEAC provides a framework: situation, mission, execution, administration and communication. These five factors  require attention and deliberation.

As a leader, trust-building is an intentional strategy in the culture he promotes. Knauss said in a recent interview that “the less you use the power you’ve been given, the more authority people will give you…It starts with integrity…You get things done much more quickly when people trust you.”

Evidence, Facts & Results

Personal lives, government, organizations and programs all need strategy. Whether you are losing weight, staying married, providing healthcare, managing a “conflict” in a foreign country or improving education – your chances at success increase if there’s a strategy. Better still if it’s evidence- and fact-based.

Winston Churchill’s insight is relevant, too. He said, “However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results.”

Lisa Wyatt, Ed.D. is chief strategy officer and partner in Phillips Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See: www.pwkinc.com

Culture Counts

October 1, 2013

PopeFrancis

There’s no escaping an over weighted factor in organizations: culture. It drives and  limits the potency of any enterprise or community.

Culture reflects the prevailing norms and values of people. It’s that consistent vibe that permeates what people say and do. It can be authentic, cooperative, transparent, kind, innovative, and results-focused. Or, perhaps it is competitive, selfish, and false. Fostering culture is a leadership function.

Two examples of people in very different contexts offer some insights on this vital topic.

Ramon Nunez, CEO of LiveHive, a software maker identifies four principles he relies on in his company. First, trust. Second, interdependence. Third, integrity. Fourth, customer-focused value. His sequence of factors is important. He says, “If you can’t trust your team members, there’s something wrong…either the team has to change or how you work needs to change.” In a challenging performance context, Nunez intends to build strength and sustainability. He is one of 16 children in a Mexican family and migrated to the U.S. as a teen. His perspective and business success offer an exciting story.

Pope Francis, the new leader of the Roman Catholic Church, has garnered notice for his explicit cultural messages through his words and actions. Instead of imperious and self-promoting, he’s gentle and modest. In contrast to single-minded and certain, he suggests an open mind and naiveté. In his critical role as a spiritual and institutional leader, authority seems to originate from sincerity and humbleness. Frank Bruni’s recent editorial in the New York Times captures a rich portrait of Pope Francis and contrasts it with prevailing American culture. Instead of commanding, Pope Francis invites. Bruni calls this a “radical whisper.”

While culture is often set from the top – it’s possible for anyone to contribute. Your example, on a big factor, can influence your colleagues in important ways.

Lisa Wyatt, Ed.D. is chief strategy officer and partner in Phillips Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See: www.pwkinc.com

Fresh Air and Trust

May 13, 2012

If there were public ratings of your trustworthiness…How would you do? Does it matter?

“Trust is like fresh air; we only notice it when it becomes scarce or polluted,” write Graham Dietz and Nicole Gillespie, business-school professors in the U.K. and Australia.

Most of us consider being trustworthy an important character trait. Some consider trust naïve or foolish. However, even for the less virtuous, there’s a case to be made for it.  Trusted leaders create more value, and employees who feel trusted are empowered and deliver better performance.

Teaching Trustworthiness

Dietz and Gillespie suggest we can teach people to be trustworthy. According to these experts, trust is complex but begins with an assessment of others’ trustworthiness. They say it is comprised of three factors: ability, benevolent motives and integrity. If someone has “enough” of these three attributes we begin to rely on them in ways that can pose risks to ourselves. Judgment is made through our own personal exchanges, knowledge from others, or referent cues like a job title, role, and affiliations. 

Scandals, when corruption or some malfeasance is made public, come in many forms: bribes, obfuscation, falsification, cronyism, intentional duping, nepotism and known incompetence. Trustworthiness can be undervalued and undermined by organizational culture because of modeled behavior, financial pressures and mis-use of power.

Scandals Create Skeptics

Regrettably, scandals in the highly regulated private sector and nearly unregulated nonprofit sector suggest trust and trustworthiness are not broadly shared priorities.

Recent private examples include Olympus, Siemens, Goldman Sachs, and JP Morgan Chase. Nonprofit examples are easy to identify, too. Like, the Central Asia Institute (think Three Cups of Tea), Princeton Review (the Feds want $50M returned), Angel Food Ministries, Feed the Children, and the Catholic Church (child sexual abuse).

Like false sincerity, it’s possible to do the same with trustworthiness.  Real motives and incompetence can be masked by managing communications.  Once caught, people and organizations have become quite skillful in delivering the right public apology, displays of faux-contrition and micro-qualifications (e.g.; “I did not have sex with that woman.”)

Identifying and challenging great fakes requires the ability to interpret intentions, navigation of multiple expectations and needs, and a careful review of how organizational climates promote or preclude trust.

A Trust Barometer

For more than a decade, the Edelman Trust Barometer has measured informed public opinion in 23 countries regarding trust in government, business, the nonprofit sector and media. In 2011, the U.S. tumbled, in its composite score, now above only the U.K. and Russia.

Edelman, a full service global public relations firm, suggests the “Fortress Framework” era is over. This “old” scheme refers to protecting brand, controlling information, standing alone and a sole focus on profit. They say the new trust architecture requires transparency, engagement and social benefit.

Trust Matters

When it comes to issues of trust, skepticism may be a healthy response to reality.Trust and trustworthiness do matter, particularly because complex work requires collaborators, partners, allies and multiple stakeholders. No doubt, without trust chances for success wane.

Lisa Wyatt, Ed. D. is a strategy architect and partner in Phillip Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See : www.pwkinc.com

Safe & Sound At Work

February 5, 2012

This photo displays the  teamwork that’s essential  to complete a tough job.

Would you risk your life with people at work?

Perhaps more relevant: Is trust or fear most prevalent in your workplace? Are there non-stop “plays” about whose influence will prevail and who you will support?

Safety is a vital issue and key to culture in our organizations. The “safety” I reference has little to do with Occupational Safety and Health Administration standards. It has everything to do with integrity and accountability. About a year ago I read a great interview with Dominic Orr, CEO of Aruba Networks. He talked about one management principle he relies on and its benefits. The principle is intellectual honesty.

Less Politics

Orr has intentionally built a culture which yields a competitive advantage for his organization. This CEO stomps on politics at work. Politics are practically about who gets what. A classic definition is “the acquisition of power.”

Orr considers politics  a distraction that requires great energy to perpetuate and manage. He is very aware of human nature and says politics precludes focus. Without accountability, the challenges of any enterprise can easily be translated to ego that involves defending roles, “territory,” statements or actions.

He insists on (and models) behavior which supports  far more vital concerns. Simply put and publicly stated: “less politics.” Politics, according to Orr, are about ego and defending positions – when humility and exploration that ensures learning serves both relationships and results far better. He “breaks up potential blocks of ice that may become icebergs” in his organization.  Instead, pressure is on clear, crisp expectations and measureable milestones.

Banished Inhibitions

So, what’s his action recipe?  Orr encourages plenty of feedback to preclude any inhibitions about sharing perspective and authentic contributions . He seeks unfiltered and active comment about how he (and others) manage. It is safe for employees to speak up, to contribute and to challenge.

He also freely provides candid, private guidance to employees.  So that staff know energy and attention is on the issue – not the person – emails may include sections that indicate: “start of intellectual honesty moment” and close with “end moment.” Orr tells people to avoid “digging in” on their perspective.

Although individuals are held accountable, far better decisions get made when multiple views get aired and rational criterion applied. An environment that prizes intellectual honesty allows this to happen. It feels safe. It also enables reflection as a routine habit so that both learning and progress occurs. Without the discipline of candor, parallel drama about who’s up and who’s down is fostered and the real work can’t get much attention.

People Trip Sometimes

Recently, the news carried a big story about a cruise ship running aground. “I tripped and fell in the lifeboat,” said the Italian captain who departed a sinking ship prematurely. Obviously, fear and chaos can influence judgment. In this case, the captain probably thought an honest response was too risky. But, his manufactured retort simply garnered more scorn.

All of us are momentarily “stupid” – sometimes. Judgment lapses and in time we feel foolish about a bad choice. The critical issue is how we act next. Disclosure that acknowledges the error, whether caused by emotion, pressure or some other factor, shows humanity. It can endear you to others and build strong bonds.

Seek Mind-Share

Creating a safe culture means there is authentic trust, interdependence and accountability. It is an indicator of a sound organization. The world and our work is so complex we must engage mind-share and commitment at work – not simply time. Leaders who manage well set the example of intellectual honesty. This provides the conditions for people, organizations and communities to soar.

Lisa Wyatt, Ed. D. is a strategy architect and partner in Phillips Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See : www.pwkinc.com

Two Ears & One Mouth

November 27, 2011

It’s an under-rated skill, but it is the one most people deeply appreciate in others: listening.

Great Reception

Our reception of others’ expression is listening. Most North Americans give weighted attention to talking. Glib talkers, people who are articulate get loads of stage time. While any capable communicator must have both verbal and writing skills, we too often underestimate listening.

A great listener pays attention to the speaker and demonstrates the ability to understand, interpret and evaluate what’s said. Why is this so critical?  Listening well accomplishes several things: it generates rapport, establishes shared meaning, and provides information. These are essential to both relationship and understanding. The reception that occurs is the launch pad for dialogue. Listening can help avoid mistrust – it can build trust. It can resolve conflicts. It offers vital insight for constructive use. It provides key inputs for transparency and learning. Listening also supports a safe, healthy culture.

Thomas Gordon is credited with the idea of “active listening.” It requires us to:

suspend a point of reference,

preclude judgment and

to avoid other mental action.

This isn’t easy. There are many barriers to effective listening. They include distractions, trigger words, limited vocabulary, attention span, emotions and psycho-social and physical noise. Time and skills are challenges to being a great listener. Listening does take time. It requires being present to another individual or, when in a group, to several people. 

Destructive Mis-Use

The “passive violence” of indifference is often shown by no appetite or disinterest in listening.However, like sincerity, it is possible to “fake” listening. We’ve all seen people do it. When we recognize that tactic – it can cause offense. It’s a disingenuous action that conveys disrespect. It simply takes information or interrogates without goodwill. This behavior can be particularly destructive to relationships. It burns bridges.

When participating in small groups or individual conversations, watch yourself and others for these errors:

Pseudo-listening. Polite physical presence with no internal registration or meaning.

Shift response. Moving conversation to a self focus as you compete for attention and make your own needs primary.

Glaze over. Your mind is on other issues and active with concerns completely unconnected to the speaker.

Stage hogging. Grabbing “air time” to filibuster with your own verbal delivery that conquers and dominates others.

Authentic intention is crucial to active, genuine listening. The “test” of a capable listener is the relative capacity to repeat, paraphrase and reflect the speaker’s intent.  It means you can exactly mimic, similarly rephrase and confirm with your own words. Some think that our “equipment” as humans signals a practical wisdom: two ears and one mouth are significant. These levels of interpretation indicate accurate reception with increasing sensitivity.

Better managing and leading requires us to listen carefully. Listening shows sustained interest in others. And, when you’re the speaker, how does that feel?

Lisa Wyatt, Ed. D. is a strategy architect and partner in Phillip Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See : www.pwkinc.com

“Tiger Teams” Win Consistently

October 30, 2011

Any “recipe” for high-performance requires a conscious adaptation to context. Coaching in team sports offer wonderful metaphors that transfer to the challenges found with improving performance across the private, government and charitable sectors. Sometimes great examples come from unexpected sources…

Consider Battle Creek’s tiny St Philips Central Catholic High School. Their school mascot is the tiger. It has about 150 kids – in the entire school. It’s small but it’s strong. The coach and students deliver a Class D volleyball state championship team year after year. In fact, five years running. Their example – if you look closely – offers some terrific lessons from the volleyball court that could be useful for managing and leading more effectively.

The Tiger recipe has four big pieces.

1. Team First. Nothing comes before the team. While some “star players” pass through – it’s the whole that gets the most attention. It’s the vital force of cooperative, coordinated play that scores points. While each athlete has a function in their relative position – the entire team, on the court and the bench, wins or loses. To underscore team – two critical, interactive areas are emphasized: practice and culture.

Practice ensures players master the basics. Practice also develops skills and intentional, strategic routines. It ensures interdependence, commitment and encourages trust. Practice takes lots of time. Through practice synchronicity emerges naturally. Culture gets built piece by piece through special traditions. Vital details like an encouraging quote before games, shared meals, common hair ribbons and planned celebrations for a service ace or point-winning block contribute to norms. Discipline is consistent. Late to practice and other mishaps have the same penalty regardless of a player’s proficiency on the court. Negative attitudes and other issues are addressed promptly.

2. Build The Bench. Many students spend loads of time watching, practicing with and cheering on their teammates. In any given season – nearly half a team warms the bench. The team carries extra players to be sure it has deep strength in each position. The coach has an intentional development plan. She isn’t lining up just this year’s win but the next several. All players earn a spot on the court through practice effort and, ultimately, performance. A bench means there’s always a “plan B” if someone moves, gets an attitude or is injured.

3. Test Against The Best. The St. Phil coach seeks a tough game schedule during the regular season. She enters her team in tournaments with far larger, taller, stronger teams from Class A, B and C schools. Some have thousands of students with significant athletic programs.  The Tigers are expected to play well and win often. They intentionally sharpen their game against very tough competition. While consistently smaller in size – the quality of the team play, their nimble synergy and sheer will translates to frequent upset wins. At long odds, the integrated and cohesive whole out-plays other teams.

4. Relentless Positive Focus (RPF). All along the journey of pre-season, the game schedule and into play-offs there is a “relentless positive focus.” When a playing error occurs – teammates are quick to pat a bottom, slap a hand and encourage attention to the next move. There is joyful energy and intensity about the “work” and there’s a shared commitment to the results. The coach’s attitude challenges and encourages the players. She asks for a big appetite. A RPF aims the players at the one reason they play: to win. It translates to a stellar win-loss record of serial state championships.

However, a RPF and the rest of the recipe have many other critical outcomes for these young women. They provide valuable lessons in commitment, equity, interdependence, focus and accountability. These principles are also ones “coaches” in every organization can encourage for consistent wins.

Lisa Wyatt, Ed. D. is a strategy architect and partner in Phillip Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See : www.pwkinc.com

Let Thoroughbreds Run

October 16, 2011

 

People capable of “doing their own thinking” are critical to high-performing organizations. Inviting, understanding and encouraging them is a vital function in leading change. The staff  you select and the conditions they work in are factors you can influence.

The Capecchi Story

As a toddler, Mario Capecchi recalls his mother taken from their home in the Italian Alps and sent to a concentration camp. He was nearly four years old. His mother, a poet and antifascist who would not marry Mario’s abusive father, had expected troubles. She had made advance plans with a family nearby who took in Mario. However, before age five, Mario was on his own. For years he survived as a street urchin. Most of one year he was hospitalized – likely with typhoid. At nine, miraculously, his mother found him. One might guess this would shape a resilient character.

Determined to study molecular biology, Capecchi went to Harvard to learn from James Watson, the co-discoverer of DNA. After some time, however, he decided that Harvard was not hospitable. The work environment limited him. Eventually, he landed at the University of Utah where a new department was being created.

In 1980, he was a grantee applicant with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) – a government entity that provides resources for science research. Capecchi identified three projects. Two were likely prospects, the third was a huge leap. He wanted to show it was possible to alter a specific gene in a mouse’s DNA. The difficulty of this work was of enormous – like finding and changing a single sentence in eighty large encyclopedias. It was a daunting and improbable search and replace task.

The NIH responded to Capecchi’s third plan as far fetched; but offered resources for the solid, incremental proposals. Ignoring their guidance, Capecchi took the money and put it in his risky gene-targeting research. He gambled his staff, lab, reputation and career. In 2007, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine for his work on mouse genes.  When the NIH renewed his grants the expert panel indicated: “We are glad you didn’t follow our advice.”

Control Can Oppress

Experienced and secure leaders build great teams comprised of individuals that feel capable about the expectation and authority to carry substantial responsibilities. Skilled staff appreciate the chance to test themselves and others in delivering results. However, common complaints by talented people often include a supervisor, colleague or boss with a focus on control. The selfish need for control creates problems in trust, feedback, collaboration and other vital features of healthy culture and savvy processes.

What lessons does Capecchi’s story offer?

Sometimes, managing and leading simply translates to enabling bright people with audacious ideas. Expecting both brilliant and stubborn in talent is too high a bar. Don’t block. Encourage and inspire new thinking. Let your thoroughbreds run.

 –Lisa Wyatt, Ed. D. is a strategy architect and partner in Phillip Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See : www.pwkinc.com

Crisis, Allies & Trust

June 20, 2011

Just three  months ago, Japan experienced unprecedented damage from an earthquake, tsunami and nuclear accident. These three catastrophic events created enormous upheaval with many deaths and huge challenges for leaders in all sectors.

 Black Out Conditions

Japanese  Prime Minister  Kan  became wildly popular 20 years ago for  his ethics and mission focus.  As health minister he  exposed his own ministry’s use of HIV  tainted blood which caused illness and death. This corruption was  long known by others but conveniently ignored. A savvy man, for sure, but in the recent crisis, analysts now say  he was “acting in  near black-out conditions.”  Fortunately, Kan’s work history, his instincts and a handful of trusted co-workers  helped him navigate. During the  crisis and long after, the thick politics between primary stakeholders in the drama have been  obstructions.

In hindsight, deep mistrust was a key factor in this situation. It added delay when urgency was vital, and it cost credibility with both citizens and nations alike. Because Kan could not rely on people in key positions the severe implications from multiple disasters was not obvious for many days. In addition, advisers in important roles were unaware of the resources available to them. The right information was not shared quickly.

Find Capable , Ethical Allies

In an important confluence of events, the plant manager at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant bucked the system.  Despite the pressure of crisis, Mr. Yoshida, who had built a reputation for ethical choices and capable behavior, acted  fast. He allowed seawater to cool the nuclear core and defied orders  from his employer. Experts say this decision almost certainly prevented far more damage.  A day after the tsunami, Prime Minister Kan took a trip to the nuclear plant. Kan met Yoshida and was impressed by his candor. The Prime Minister recognized an ally who would “do the right thing” and was highly capable.

The bold moves of a few thoughtful people  in  the  Japanese crisis offer important leadership examples. It reminds us that credibility is tested in small ways  — daily. People are watching. They see patterns of behaviors. Dishonesty, avoidance, denial are errors that could derail your objectives. Display trustworthiness through transparency, facts, and  thoughtful analysis. Acknowledge mistakes. It underscores your credibility and creates essential trust.

Trust & Mission-Focus

Suspicion is not a hospitable environment for high performance. It can (and does) dramatically affect decisions. Quality information and consistent credible actions contribute to trust. Acting consistently on shared values offers encouragement. It shows a commitment to common good, mission, and to ideals that are bigger than self. Do all you can to squash petty politics for efforts on the “right work.” In the midst of the routine or calamity, build trust and keep a mission focus. These are a welcome refuge for your colleagues.

If you’re hoping people will follow you – act in worthy ways.

 –Lisa Wyatt Knowlton, Ed. D. is a partner in Phillip Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. She is also an author &  W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow.See:: www.pwkinc.com

Making Progress: Costs and Risks

April 17, 2011

 

Before effective treatments were known for pneumonia and whooping cough, children died frequently in hospital wards. Every morning, hospitalized children would wake and ask about missing  friends: “Where did Charlie go?” The nurses’ common refrain was “He went home.” It was understood that home meant they’d died. The only way to preserve hope was to deny reality.

This poignant story is in Margaret Heffernan’s book, Willful Blindness. Across multiple sectors, cultures, and over time, she provides some thoughtful insights.   

 Shortcuts Are Costly

The Holocaust, Enron and MCI meltdowns, Madoff’s rip-off, Wall Street malfeasance, slavery and the Catholic Church’s sidestep of abusive priests  were all  man-made disasters. Why? Each reflected huge moral shortcuts. Harm was known but many preferred to ignore it. Daring to question an institution or a person can mean a loss of security. It is risk-taking.

 While denial can be a great coping strategy, it ought to be stricken from the quiver of accountable managers and leaders. It makes people and organizations “sick.” It has big costs. If your aim is creating change, there are many “uncomfortable truths” that require attention. To improve organizational performance and support growth, acknowledgement and action are essential.

 Big Progress

Big change can happen. The Marshall Plan is a historical example. It recast a large multi-country region and it’s future through the right work by and with important allies. George Kennan, a diplomat and architect of the Plan wrote about his agony and frustration in this change work. The effort to birth a great and bold plan was very, very difficult.

 More recent examples of important and intentional development efforts are creation of the European Union and reconciliation in South Africa . Step one is a close look at reality —  to understand and define  the current status. Sighting a feasible way forward depends on it. Heffernan writes that “unanimous decisions are incomplete…there is too much power…obedience…and conformity.” She counsels , if just one solution is visible, look again.

 The New Normal & Best Tactics

The high stress created by information overload, an excruciating fast pace, tremendous competition and/or an urgent mission does not excuse distance from moral reflection.  The preceding description of context is the new normal. And, it is present in any workplace or community. An analysis of the perilous implications from past ignorances can inform better tactics. Consider these :

  •  Look for what you cannot see. Many have said we didn’t foresee the catastrophe of 9/11 happening because were  weren’t looking for it. The information about it was present but we didn’t pay attention to it. Intentionally work to distinguish the trivial from the serious.
  •  Trust your intuition. It is well known that one indicator of useful critical thinking is discomfort. Your intuition provides inklings and suspicions – give it credit.
  •  Act sooner rather than later.  Before the stakes get big and stakeholders are deeply invested is the best time to raise questions. A failure to intervene early can feed the momentum of bad choices.

 Look, test, then act. People , organizations, communities  are desperate for leadership. Demonstrating integrity, the courage to meet the demands of reality, is directly connected to effectiveness.  Securing progress and sustainable results means you see both the risks of denial and the power of the truth.

Lisa Wyatt Knowlton, Ed. D. is a strategy architect and partner in Phillip Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. She is also an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See : www.pwkinc.com


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