Disruptive Times Call for Compassion, Learning, and Conversations

Posted on March 10, 2021

Leadership in disruptive times is no easy feat. To succeed, leaders, executives, and managers must lead with careful consideration and mindful intention. Richard Boyatzis, a Professor in the Departments of Psychology at Case and Organizational Behavior at Case Weatherhead School of Management writes, along with his colleagues, in the book, Resonant Leadership. Disruptive times call for leaders to support learning and to have compassion, mindfulness to center and calm, and emotionally intelligent conversations.

Practice compassion: Fear of overwhelm keeps us from recognizing the feelings (and existence) of others, and often, even our own fears. Ironically, the key to overwhelm is an ongoing practice of compassion. As a leader, how do you make compassion a daily practice?

Mindfulness teacher Tara Brach, PhD, has developed a great tool leaders can use. In her book, Radical Compassion: Learning to Love Yourself and Your World with the Practice of RAIN (Viking, 2019) Brach details a four-step meditation that quickly breaks the grip of fear, judgment, shame, and other difficult emotions:

1.     Recognize what is happening

2.     Allow life to be just as it is

3.     Investigate with a gentle, curious attention

4.     Nurture with loving presence

Grounded in modern brain science, the practice of RAIN helps leaders uncover limiting beliefs, fears, and our tendency to feed a sense of urgency that chokes the very creativity we hope to inspire.

Support learning: Learning and development are more than teaching employees the knowledge they need to perform the basic requirements of their job. Learning encompasses a broader process to increase skills and abilities across a variety of contexts.

According to a 2019 employee survey reported by Statista, the top five skills employees need to develop are influencing and negotiating (46%), having difficult conversations, design thinking, leading and managing change, and coaching.

Likewise, effective leaders pursue personal and professional development opportunities to improve their competence, self-awareness, and other-relatedness. They grow in ways that are transformative, not just transactional.

: Recognize and acknowledge fear and uncertainty.

In the recent Oscar winning movie, American Factory, documentary film makers take a thoughtful look at how a Chinese billionaire opened a factory in an abandoned General Motors plant located in Ohio. It is a deeply nuanced view of globalization, the decline of labor and organized labor, and the impact of artificial intelligence through automation. And your employees are talking about it.

Are you engaging in these conversations? How?

Despite all the advances in technology and innovation, organizations succeed because of people. As USA sailing team skipper Rome Kirby says, “Stuff happens at a pretty high speed. The pace of the game now has changed a lot, so we got to make decisions and communicate at a pretty high pace…when you get it right, and sail well, it’s the team that wins the race.”

That’s why CEO and helmsman Nathan Outteridge brings home the gold medals. He and some of his team mates have sailed together for as much as ten years. According to Outteridge, ”The F50 is a one-designed boat, so all the foils, all the rudders, all the wings, everything is the same. The only reason one boat goes faster than another is because of what the people onboard are doing…if each person doesn’t do their role properly, performance suffers.”

Remember: your communications should be logical and consistent with facts and experience. To understand nuances, explore both sides of the coin. While you want to strike an emotional chord, avoid using fear. Instead, address the interest of all stakeholders. A qualified executive coach can help.

What Great Leaders Do in Disruptive Times

Posted on February 17, 2021

We’ve moved past the industrial age to the information age, where data, blockchain, and quantum computers may prove to be the great disruptors in every economy, sector, segment, and industry. Understanding the basics of these technologies can help leaders address fears and engage all stakeholders in the development of strategies and tactics for sustainable technologies and disruptive innovations.

When this topic comes up in the organizations where I consult, we examine assumptions. What do you know about disruptive innovation? What do your employees know? Here are just a few topics to consider:

Data: Facebook, Google and Twitter now collect 5.6 billion bits of data per day. And in just the first three weeks of February 2020, HBR published 11 articles on the subject of data. How are you using data? Do your employees understand how their data is being collected and used?

Blockchain: A growing list of records (blocks) that are linked using cryptography. Each block contains a cryptographic hash of the previous block, a timestamp, and transaction data. The data in any given block cannot be altered retroactively without alteration of all subsequent blocks, which requires consensus of the network majority. Reuters has created a great graphic of this process.

Quantum computers: A handful of companies have introduced prototype quantum computers. The fundamental component is the quantum bit, or qubit, which can have a value of 0 or 1 at the same time. This allows quantum computers to consider and evaluate many outcomes simultaneously, thereby increasing their calculating power exponentially.

Mission, Values, and a Triple-Bottom Line

When was the last time that you reviewed your mission, values, and understanding of a Triple-Bottom Line?

Twenty-five years ago, John Elkington coined the phrase “Triple Bottom Line.” In 2018, he pointed out the misuse as an accounting framework, where profit remains center stage. In the HBR article Elkington explains, “The TBL wasn’t designed to be just an accounting tool. It was supposed to provoke deeper thinking about capitalism and its future, but many early adopters understood the concept as a balancing act, adopting a trade-off mentality.” The goal of the triple bottom line was to transform a system change; a disruptor to unsustainable sectors and a genetic code for next-generation market solutions.

The Triple-Bottom Line and Disruption

When the concept of the triple-bottom line was introduced, stakeholders included all people: from stock-holders, to employees, to consumers.

Rather than re-distribute wealth, could we pre-distribute it? Could we democratize the way that wealth gets created in the first place? These are just two of the questions Don Tapscott posed in a TEDTalk:

“Technology doesn’t create prosperity, people do. But here’s where technology has escaped out of the genie bottle. It’s giving us another opportunity to rewrite the economic power grid and the old order of things, and to solve some of the world’s most difficult problems, if we will it.”

When Fear Takes Hold in Organizational Culture

Posted on February 3, 2021

What place does fear have in your organization?

A fear-based culture is not always easy to spot, at least at first. When this topic comes up with my coaching clients we discuss indicators to watch for, including:

      1. Workers overly focus on daily goals.
      2. Supervisors overly focus on results, infractions, and order
      3. Problems are ignored
      4. Communication is via rumor
      5. Uncertainty and suspicion are status-quo
      6. Stress and illness are common
      7. The blame game (and CYA) run rampant
      8. Collaboration does not exist
      9. Advancement is rare
      10. Team-players are identified by their willingness to support the culture of fear
      11. Mistakes are not tolerated

Certainly, a healthy level of fear is vital for individuals and organizations. However, leaders contribute to a culture of fear by doing nothing; unfortunately, these leaders are often unaware that their leadership is fear-based.

Instead of trusting (and inspiring) their colleagues and employees, they employ fear as a means to control.

These leaders also create silos within their organization (isolating lines of business, departments, teams, and individuals) and set unrealistic goals and expectations.

Fear-based leaders may have good intentions, but when their own fears are left unaddressed, they manifest into a heightened sense of urgency.

Locomotion Goal Pursuit

In a recent HBR article, researchers examined what happens when leaders and organizations emphasize urgent action over thoughtful consideration.

In the study, Research: Organizations That Move Fast Really Do Break Things, (HBR 2020), a “move fast and break things” attitude exposes fast-growing organizations to significant risks. Psychologists refer to this tendency as “locomotion goal pursuit.” Organizations who emphasize urgent action over thoughtful consideration are more likely to have unethical decision making.

The researchers found that by offsetting a strong locomotion motivation with a strong assessment motivation, an organization can grow conscientiously.

Leadership in the Time of Disruption: The Great Paradox

Posted on January 20, 2021

 

Are you a disruptor, or an innovator?

Does it matter?

Well, consider this: Disruption changes how we think, behave, do business, learn, and live life. Disruptive innovation displaces an existing market, industry, or technology, and produces something new, more efficient, and worthwhile. While disruptors are innovators, not all innovators are disruptors.

Researcher, professor, and author Clayton Christiansen described disruptive innovation as a corporate effort to redefine quality, adopt new technologies, and anticipate customers’ future needs. To put it simply, instead of trying to best their competitors, disruptors change the game.

The Paradox

In The Innovator’s Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail (Harvard Business Review Press, 2016), Christiansen shares his research on success sustainability, and the great paradox of two principles taught in business schools: that you should always listen to and respond to the needs of your best customers, and that you should focus on investments of those innovations that promise the highest returns. But according to Christianson, these two principles “sow the seeds of every successful company’s ultimate demise.”

Most sustaining technologies foster improved product performance; they are discontinuous, radical, or incremental, explains Christiansen. Disruptive technologies result in worse product performance—at least in the near-term; they underperform established products in mainstream markets. But, they have other features that a few fringe (and generally new) customers value.

Disruption Fatigue

Are we burned-out on the hype?

When I think of the word “disruptive,” it evokes memories of school children unable to self-soothe or stabilize their own feelings; passionate entrepreneurs sharing their vision; and bosses who are feeling the pressure from their bosses or shareholders.

What about you?

In an interview with The Guardian, Georgia Institute of Technology Professor Ian Bogost told Leigh Alexander that “The big difference between even disruptive innovation and plain disruption is that the former was focused on some improvement to a product or service or sector or community, while the latter is looking first at what it can destroy. Everything is fire and brimstone.”

When Christiansen first used the phrase “disruptive innovation” it evoked possibility, excitement, and hope. Today it signals uncertainty and change. Leadership in the time of disruption requires that leaders address fear, before it takes hold.

Leadership in the Time of Disruption

Posted on January 12, 2021


In the past decade, we’ve seen remarkable innovations and extraordinary technological advancements change the way we live, play, and conduct business.

Today, anyone with a smartphone has access to general artificial intelligence. We can easily manage everyday tasks (Google Assistant), send money (Venmo), travel about town (autonomous taxis in some U.S. cities), and answer our doors—from anywhere (Ring).

In the world of sports, racing sailboats have gone from large, single wooden hulls to aerodynamic vessels of flight. Their once canvas sails are now wings that carry the team on two or three small hydro-foils faster than the speed of wind.

Simulators and virtual reality are now a part of learning and training. Organizations have become data-driven cultures, led by Chief Data Officers, who work with data scientists and computers that process hundreds of hypothetical questions and answers.

And incredibly, we’re just getting started.

Disruptive Leaders

The most notable innovations are the direct result of disruptors: leaders who changed the game. They transformed existing markets (or created new ones) by focusing on convenience, simplicity, accessibility, or affordability.

I have observed how disruptive leaders learned to innovate more quickly, cheaply, and with less risk. But this is no easy feat, especially in today’s accelerated environment. For many, disruption causes anxiety, fear, and leads to disruption fatigue.

Ignoring the problem, or worse, feeding the fear, are not real solutions. Leadership in the time of disruption calls for a two-prong approach: improving current product performance and developing new disruptive technology.

In many cases, starting, re-tooling, and scaling a business is easier than ever before. But achieving and maintaining success is another matter. While rapid innovation and new technologies allow for faster speed to market, there are considerable risks and impacts.

Disruptive leaders have a clear understanding of current, as well as potential future disruptors. They examine their mission and vision. Success is achieved when leaders, executives, and managers lead with careful consideration and mindful intention.

Don’t believe everything you read on social media and 7 other tough lessons of the decade

Posted on January 12, 2020

This article highlights many lessons learned over the last decade regarding digital technology — both positive and negative.  A good review of how fast technology is growing and, with that, our growing dependence on it.  Important points here on –  privacy, our health record, news which can be deceiving and, the importance of getting our heads “out of the clouds” to remember who we are and what WE think.

The post ends with a great quote reminding us that we are human beings with an ability to reason and choose:   “As we grow even more dependent on our phones in the next decade, remember to lift your face from the screen, step away from your devices and spend time making connections that matter right where you are.”

The Only Metric of Success That Really Matters Is the One We Ignore

Posted on October 10, 2019

This beautifully written article reminds us that, no matter how many self-improvement exercises we engage in…”The thing that makes us happiest in life is other people.” Learn how one might start building a social network of caring– as this author did after a loss in her life.

Why Play Should Be a Priority for Every Adult’s Life

Posted on October 10, 2019

 

 

This article is written by a psychologist who studies the “Good Life.”  Don’t we all want a little more of that? So play, according to research, is not only fun…but play and fun are instrumental to our well being, helps us be more creative, build better relationships and improves our mood. Positive Psychology superhero Christopher E. Peterson put it this way, play is “…a robust predictor of how satisfied we are with our lives.”  Read this article and then … go have some fun!

How to Stop Obsessing Over Your Mistakes

Posted on September 8, 2019

In my experience as a pscycholgoist and leadership Coach, I often hear the challenge successful people have in managing their thoughts around mistakes which they have made.  The pointers given in this brief Harvard Business Review article are timeless and quite effective.  And, to top it off, these “manage your mind around mistakes” methods are founded in social science research.

Be the Authentic Leader Your People Need

Posted on August 13, 2019

 

Many leaders are unaware of how their lack of authenticity chips away at people, breeding dissatisfaction, distrust, and disloyalty. Organizational effectiveness and productivity suffer when workers view leaders as inauthentic.

One out of three people distrusts his or her employer, according to the 2017 Edelman “Trust Barometer.” Four out of five don’t see authenticity in their leaders’ performance. When only 20 percent of leaders come across as genuine, they risk handicapping their organizations with insufficient influence, poor worker engagement and, ultimately, disappointing corporate results.

People want to be led well. They want assurance that their best interests are important and that their future is in safe hands. They need to believe their leaders will make sound, effective decisions. Inauthentic leaders destroy employee confidence.

The Real Deal

Authenticity is an emotionally vital state of well-being for employees—one that heavily relies on a leader’s consistent trueness, explains consultant Karissa Thacker in The Art of Authenticity (Wiley, 2016). The author suggests that leaders recognize this principle as irrefutable in order to enhance interdependence. The best leaders undergo continual self-assessment and improvement to convert habitual behaviors into authentic ones.

Being authentic encompasses several other key leadership mandates:

1. Be self-aware.
2. Earn respect.
3. Connect.
4. Convey credibility.
5. Earn trust.

Successful leaders optimize each of these behaviors to develop character and broaden influence.

Be Self-Aware

Great leaders know themselves well, notes Brenda Ellington Booth, a clinical professor of management at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Business.

When you recognize your limitations and weaknesses, you can openly admit to them, and learn to compensate and find workable solutions. Focusing on self-improvement, with an emphasis on asking others to assist you, is as authentic as it gets.

Leaders who fully understand and express their vision are clear about promoting it—and more successful in getting others to believe in it. People will follow a leader who has a passion for everyone’s future. Understand what motivates this passion within you, and apply it to your advantage.

When you identify the values that affirm you, there’s no need to focus on being popular. You grow stronger from these inner affirmations—not from others’ approval. Your objective should be to give your best, even when those around you don’t. Authenticity allows you to move forward, confident in knowing who you are and where you’re going.

Earn Respect

Being respected begins with showing respect to others, both upline and downline in your organization. Model respect for everyone and it will be contagious.

The phrase “leading by example” is more than a suggestion. Leaders who model the behavior they want their organization to exhibit make the most effective strides in establishing a healthy culture. Employees respect leaders who walk the talk and regard them as authentic. Who doesn’t want to follow someone who displays noble values in decisions and behaviors?

Humility, expressed as a willingness to listen to and learn from others, is one of the most effective ways to earn respect, asserts leadership coach Brent Gleeson in his Inc.com article, “7 Simple Ways to Lead by Example.” Humility is a particularly refreshing attribute these days, and it can prove to be a valuable tool.

Authentic leaders recognize they don’t have all the answers, and probably never will. Soliciting and appreciating others’ ideas showers them with affirmation, which commands respect in return.

Connect

Sincere leaders say what they mean and mean what they say, thus coming across as authentic. A genuine, relational approach to people shows them they’re valued, Booth notes. When they see a leader who’s interested in them, they’ll reciprocate, thereby satisfying their need for security and value, while fueling engagement and productivity. A leader’s vision is compelling under these conditions.

When leaders want to connect with people, it shows. Their actions draw people to them, and connections grow. Relationships ascend to the next level when you seek feedback from your staff, especially regarding how they’re being managed. Your willingness to listen demonstrates an authentic sense of vulnerability that reveals courage, candor and caring.

Convey Credibility

People don’t believe leaders who exhibit questionable behavior. Being true, inwardly and outwardly, avoids this potential pitfall.

Trueness to oneself is the most basic form of genuineness, which aligns with authenticity. Be the real you. Faking things is deceptive and eventually evident to all. People aren’t fooled for long. They’ll question and distrust inconsistencies. Being true to yourself requires healthy self-awareness and self-worth. Who you are is the person people will see, and it’s the noble character in you they want to see.

Consistency in trueness builds credibility. People know who they’ll face day in and day out, through good and tough times. Great leaders are mindful of this. They’ve trained themselves to proactively discern the high road and take it, with honorable motives. Noble character, lived out on a regular basis, is the anchor of authenticity that people need to weather any storm.

Outward truthfulness is also critical. Honesty shouldn’t be the best policy; it should be the only policy. Leaders caught in a lie inflict damage to themselves and those around them. A quick glance at today’s headlines should serve as a brisk confirmation. Nothing builds barricades faster than a leader who tries to deceive. Truthfulness is a pillar your culture cannot be without, so lead with it.

Exercise judgment when truth must be guarded. Confidentiality is required for credibility. Sensitive, personal or private information must be handled carefully and discreetly. Don’t jump to conclusions or make decisions based on assumptions or rumors. Once inappropriate things are said or misinformation falls into the wrong hands, it cannot be retracted. Tension soars, and credibility plummets.

Credible leaders avoid these kinds of risks. They use professional language, with the proper sensitivities, cautions and accuracies. This doesn’t mean there can’t be light or even humorous moments, but they shouldn’t be careless or reckless.

Earn Trust

You can earn trust by practicing the four previous attributes, but there are other ways to enhance your trust quotient and demonstrate authenticity.

Accountability is key. Establishing a system of personal checks and balances conveys the importance of responsibility. Submitting to the authority of peers or top leaders helps assure people that the decisions governing them can be trusted as prudent and beneficial for everyone (catering to their inward need for safety and assurance). This builds trust.

When you accept blame for errors and give credit for victories, you’re demonstrating accountability and setting the stage for greater trust. Your actions place value on the most appropriate people: those doing the work. Without your people, you accomplish nothing, so be sure to express appreciation. You’ll be rewarded with their trust.

The greatest leaders give their people the most freedom possible to make decisions, pushing authority down to the most foundational level. This is a powerful sign of trust in staff, and it is returned with something just as powerful: trust in the leader. Employees free from overcontrolling and micromanaging acquire a sense of empowerment that raises productivity and innovation.

Finally, authentic leaders are flexible. They adapt to shifting situations and go off script if needed, always keeping in mind their people’s well-being. Sticking to routines or insisting on preferences shows inflexibility, which is usually self-serving. Your willingness to change plans in response to a challenge or crisis, with authentic good judgment, is a sign of your trustworthiness. You’re putting your people’s best interests at the forefront, building a solid foundation of trust.

You owe it to yourself and your people to continually refine your character and insights, as well as think and respond in credible, authentic ways. Work toward making effective decisions and powerful impressions that draw your people into an engaging and productive unity you never thought possible.

Does earning this kind of respect and trust come easy? Not at all. It takes hard work, but the alternative should be unacceptable. Choose to pursue these authentic leadership traits, and refine them. Let an experienced leadership coach assist with the areas that challenge you the most.