Walking the Tightrope

Leaders walk a tightrope – balancing the need for change against the willingness and ability of the organization to implement those changes successfully.

Since “change imposed is change opposed”, how can a leader bring change into their organization? Especially if the change will add even more load to key individuals who are already stressed out. If the leader insists on implementing the change, the best people might leave, causing their work to be split among the survivors who already feel overloaded, thereby increasing the probability that they might leave, too.

One approach is:

· Focus on the vision and mission of the organization. If the vision and mission is to use the organization’s products and service to help make a better world for our children, it is one (major) reason why the employees work there. Seeing how the proposed change will help them accomplish their mission will be an incentive to implement the change. However, if the vision and mission is to maximize return to the shareholders, this tactic will probably not be very effective. (Incidentally, contrary to what most people believe, data conclusively show that for-profit companies that honor people and respect the planet deliver substantially higher returns to investors. Thus, for-profit companies can have vision and mission statements that truly engage their workforce.)

· Ask what the individual is currently doing that can be 1) discontinued, or 2) offloaded to another person. Discontinuing is the better alternative, because then the total workload actually diminishes. Value Stream Mapping is a Lean tool that can help an organization see what adds value to the customer (and should be continued), and what does not add value to the customer (and therefore is a candidate for discontinuation). Offloading is less desirable because it merely shifts the work, and because most people (including the “offloadee”) have little or no slack in their workday.

This approach works because it honors the people and works with them. It’s the antithesis of the corporate version of the Golden Rule – “The person with the gold makes the rules!” This approach is better for the long term than forcing change, because forcing change frays the underlying relationship and goodwill, which is the foundation upon which all organizations operate.

What do you think? I’d enjoy your feedback, or, even better, an e-mail exchange (gary) or phone call (971-221-8155)

Gary Langenwalter

Forget Independence!

I broke my foot when I was hiking recently. My foot is in a walking boot, which is better than a cast because I can remove it when I want. However, the doctor said that if I want my foot to heal, I have to stay off it. Thus, I cannot do myriad activities that I used to take for granted – mowing the lawn and other house maintenance chores, walking (which I really enjoy), etc. To keep from putting weight on my foot, I use a knee scooter, which is MUCH better than crutches! But it has zero sideways mobility, which is really frustrating the kitchen, because I can’t just turn around and get something.

Net/net: I now have to ASK people to do things for me, which I never had to do before. And I am grateful for handicapped parking spaces and elevators, which I never used to use.

How does this relate to leadership? Like most other executives, I still have the underlying mantra of self-sufficiency: “I can do it myself”. My ability to do things independently has been a source of pride. I am now learning a lesson in INTERdependence. A truly effective leader is willing to let, or even ask, others to do things for them.

There are 3 stages of social maturity:

· Dependence (when we’re children)

· Independence (as we move through our teen years into adulthood), and

· Interdependence (when we finally realize that we can’t do it alone).

An Ubuntu saying summarizes interdependence quite nicely: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” John Donne echoed that thought 400 years ago: “No man is an island…” The attitude of interdependence fundamentally contradicts our culture – and most of our ideas about leadership. It is diametrically opposed to “management” – in which the boss tells the subordinate what to do and how to do it. Interdependence fosters effective teamwork, and it supported by facilitative leadership.

One other thought, this time about the old maxim: “Tis better to give than receive”. If we only give, or tell, and we don’t allow others to give to us, we’re depriving them of the ability to use their gifts, to make their contributions, to feel really good about who they are. In this way, the practice of being in control is actually selfish. It lets us feel good and powerful and productive at the expense of others.

What do you think? Does this sound reasonable? Or do you disagree? I’d truly enjoy hearing your thoughts and experiences.

Gary Langenwalter

Jumping to Conclusions

Several years ago, I was consulting with Division X of a large company; the president of the division had a reputation of being against change. Corporate had decided to implement a new system, starting with 2 other divisions, then coming to Division X. During an initial meeting at Division X, the division president was “not feeling well” and called in by speakerphone. A while later, Corporate created a 1-day workshop for the leaders of Division X. On the day of the workshop, the CEO and COO came to Division X to kick off the meeting; the CEO spent most of the day in the meeting to underscore its importance. When I arrived at the workshop, the division VP Ops told me that the division president was staying home because he was ill. Given the president’s previous actions and attitudes, we both assumed that he was signaling his disapproval of the new system.

That evening, I talked with my business partner about the concrete-head division president – what to do and how to do it. One of my major tasks as a consultant was to help implement the new system at the division. I mentally created lots of scenarios for truly powerful coaching the next time I was able to have a 1-1 with the division president. My favorite scenario was 2 questions:

1. Do you think that the new system will indeed be implemented at Division X? (The only logical answer was “yes”, because corporate was rolling it out across all divisions. It was already working in 2 other divisions, and corporate would insist that our division be on the new system.)

2. How do you want to be perceived by your people, and by corporate: a) fully supportive, b) mildly supportive, c) neutral, d) mildly opposed, or e) adamantly opposed? You get to choose. (I would hope that the light would click on – that anything short of c) would damage his ability to lead his own people in the division as well as his career.)

So, self-righteously armed with that great scenario, I arrived at the division the next morning to hear that the president had been in briefly looking totally green around the gills, then had gone home to finish recovering from the stomach flu. Several others were also out with the flu.

I’m glad I had confined my disparaging comments about the president to my business partner, whom I could trust to forget them completely once I updated him on the situation. Anything else could have seriously poisoned my working relationship with the client.

To put a moral to this story: jumping to conclusions is like jumping off a diving board. Sometimes there will be water, and you’ll be ok. Sometimes, the water will also contain sharks. And sometimes there will be only a concrete pool bottom where the water should have been. Unfortunately, we don’t know what’s down below when we jump.

I welcome your feedback.

Gary Langenwalter

Effective Leadership Trait #3 – Skilled Communicator

Highly effective leaders are skilled communicators. Most people assume that communicating is about speaking. Not true. Rule # 1: Excellent communication skills start with listening, THEN devolve to speaking. Only by listening first do we earn the trust of the person we’re talking with. Only by listening first do we earn the right to be heard. Only by listening first do we have the ability to speak to the other person’s interests, to their listening. Listening is the first characteristic of a skilled communicator.

When I was about 6, I was somewhat of a chatterbox. My grandfather, a gentle soul, asked me, “How many ears do you have?” A bit puzzled, I answered “Two.” “How many mouths do you have?” (Even more puzzled) “One.” “Do you think the good Lord had a reason for giving you 2 ears and 1 mouth?” (Oh.)

You’ve heard the expression, “Dance like nobody’s watching.” I suggest, “Listen as if the person is going to tell you the most important thing in the world.” Most of the time the topics will indeed be mundane. But there will be gold nuggets. AND, the speaker will feel truly honored, creating a relationship for future conversations.

Secondly, a skilled communicator continually looks for feedback from the listener – do they understand it? Do they agree? A skilled communicator also pauses while talking, to allow the listener to digest what has been said and to formulate a response. The difference between introverts and extroverts can be striking in this regard. An extrovert does not know what they are thinking until they say it, so they tend to talk quickly and volubly. An introvert needs time to process what they have heard so they can formulate a response. They are equally intelligent – they just need processing time.

Third, a skilled communicator uses persuasion rather than power and position. Didn’t you hate it when your parents or a teacher or coach or drill sergeant said “Do it because I said so”? Aristotle said that to communicate effectively, one can appeal to:

· Ethos – who we are,

· Pathos – emotions, and

· Logos – logic

Ethos is the most powerful. Effective speakers try to identify with their listeners, and have their listeners identify with them. Presidential candidates try to identify with the man in the street, or the soccer mom. Finally, whoever tells the stories defines the culture; they combine ethos and pathos. Look at advertisements – most of them tell stories (with pictures, words, and music), rather than merely citing facts and figures. They use the stories to persuade, and then add facts and figures so the potential customer can logically justify the decision they made.

Coming next: Compassionate Collaborator

Gary Langenwalter

Effective Leadership Trait 2 – Puts People First

What do highly effective leaders do? They put people first. They help others meet their highest priority development needs. It seems counterintuitive, but the data prove that putting other people first makes an organization more profitable. An effective leader puts people first by:

· Displaying a servant’s heart

· Mentoring

· Showing care and concern

Servant’s Heart: A servant leader cares deeply how their decisions and actions will affect others – they want others to benefit. So they don’t make decisions purely on financial grounds. They realize that for a company to thrive, the communities in which it operates must also thrive. They inherently use a win-win rather than a zero-sum win-lose model for making decisions and operating. Example: the executives of Burgerville volunteer an hour a week reading to local elementary schoolchildren, because they know that if a child is not reading by the 3rd grade, that child is destined for a life of struggle and poverty. In fact, the slogan of Burgerville, a privately-held for profit organization, is “serve with love”. They don’t talk about “customers” – they talk about “guests”.

Mentoring: I was grateful to have a mentor as I was starting my career – he was more than just a “boss”. I would like to have had more mentors as I changed fields and professions. I’ve found that mentoring others is truly rewarding. Even (especially?) if you didn’t have a mentor, becoming one provides benefits to both you and the mentee. It’s a great way to pay it forward. Everybody wins!

Showing Care and Concern: This concept is countercultural, even revolutionary. Competition is so engrained in American culture that we don’t even consider its cost. Competition for the promotion; competition for the raise; competition for the customer. Negotiating to get the best possible deal for me, or for my company. But when we were children, our mothers taught us to care for others; they taught us to share. Every well-established religion has care for others as one of its foundations. Our companies, and our society, cannot survive, let alone thrive, if we do not actively care for others. Care for others expresses itself in win-win, instead of win-lose.

Next week: Skilled Communicator

Comments? Feedback? I’d like to hear your thoughts.

Gary Langenwalter

Rabid Fans or Civilized?

I was in Santa Clara last weekend during the Pac-12 football playoffs between Oregon and Arizona. My flight from PDX to San Jose Thursday evening had so many Duck fans that we could have turned off the engines, stuck our Duck-feathered arms out the windows, and flapped. That evening at the hotel, a couple Oregon fans and a couple Arizona fans were checking in; the fans were civil to each other, exchanging pleasantries.

Saturday morning breakfast at the hotel revealed Duck fans (still wearing green and gold) and the Arizona fans (wearing their school symbol), chatting as we all got our food. No gloating, no recriminations, no hard feelings. Fans who had spent hundreds (thousands?) of dollars to see a game understood that it is just a game, and that life will go on.

The spirit of civilization trumped blind partisanship. That’s a good thing, because it is the basis on which we can move forward.

I saw the same phenomenon when we lived in Stow, Massachusetts, which was governed by Town Meeting (true democracy in action – only the Town Meeting had the authority to make important decisions, including budgets). At the close of the meetings, I watched to men who had been vociferously opposed on several issues walk out arm in arm, chuckling, and head to the nearest pub to celebrate another “fun” town meeting. All rancor had disappeared.

Where have you experienced this phenomenon? Could this be replicated at work? At home? In other organizations that you serve?

Gary Langenwalter


Be Right or Be In Relationship – Your Choice

Every waking moment, you get to choose: you can be right or be in relationship. This is true everywhere: at work, at home, with your friends.

Life is that simple, and that difficult. Deciding that relationship is more important that being right means you consciously choose to “be wrong”, to be willing to let go of your hard-won truths. In almost all organizations, people are expected to be right – to make the sales forecast come true, to keep expenses to the budgeted amount, to spend only X minutes (or Y seconds) on a customer call… The Goal, Goldratt’s business novel that has sold more than 6 million copies, been translated into 21 languages, and taught in more than 200 colleges and universities, states, “The goal of a business is to make money.” The end of making money justifies the means of doing whatever it takes, as long as it is legal.

However, a little-heralded book (Seven Pillars of Servant Leadership, Sipe and Frick, 2009) demonstrates clearly that for-profit businesses that are based on relationship outperform numbers-based businesses by more than 2 to 1 (24% to 11% annual ROI). And Jim Collins’ “Good to Great” companies earned only 17.5% during the same period. The 11 servant-led companies include Southwest Airlines, Starbucks, Marriott International, and FedEx.

Being right feeds the need to be in control. It manifests itself in power-over, in hierarchy, in fear. It assumes a zero-sum, win/lose, competitive world. It is based in competitive individualism, “it’s all about me.”

Being in relationship supports creativity and messiness and holism. It manifests itself in peer-to-peer, self-organized teams and groups, and in love (even in the workplace!) It creates a win/win, cooperative world, in which all persons benefit. It creates supportive community.

You can be right, or you can be in relationship. You get to choose, every waking moment.

I welcome your comments.

Gary Langenwalter