Leaders Manage Meaning


When we connect with others through our framing, we shape reality.  What’s more, if we “manage meaning” when others are unable, we emerge as leaders.  ~Gail T. Fairhurst

This past week I experienced one of the many perks of living in downtown Chicago – a night at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO).  The musicians casually filed in, warmed up their instruments, carefully tuned following the first violin’s lead, and then quietly and reverently waited for the conductor to enter.  He enters and is welcomed with applause. The conductor could have turned his back to the audience, raised his arms, and began the first piece. But he didn't.

Instead, the conductor turned to the audience and described the first piece in great detail.  He told us about the composer, Dvorak, and how the piece was written toward the end of his life. He went on to describe the visual images throughout the piece, what we would sense, how it would flow, and what was being communicated throughout the music.

All of this reminded me of the very important and artful skill of leadership that we many times rush past – framing.  As Fairhurst states, we shape reality when we take the time to connect through framing. Framing might be accomplished through a story, a metaphor, visual images, or group exercise. As an example, it's taking the time at the beginning of a meeting to set the stage. On several occasions when I've known that those in the meeting have varied opinions and the discussion could create tension, I tell the fable of Three Blind Men and an Elephant.  It acts as a reminder that even though we may see the situation from different perspectives given our individual experiences, that doesn't mean any one of us is right and all others are wrong. 

Framing can better prepare individuals for an effective meeting and framing can also communicate vision and priorities. I recall a meeting with a college strategic planning committee that was struggling to articulate their collective vision. At one point, the president (finally!) stated his vision through framing and it seemed to connect with the committee members. Then the president, somewhat stunned at their surprise, said, “That's what I said in my inaugural speech three years ago.”  Somehow, he thought he could frame his entire tenure as president in one speech at his inauguration. Framing vision and priorities is something that leaders must do constantly, not once a year at an annual meeting, or once in a career.

One of the most effective examples of framing might be Martin Luther King's I Have a Dream speech. The vast majority of the speech was framing. He was "managing meaning" when others were unable. I'll admit few of us are orators even close to the likes of Dr. King. But we can each find our individual art of framing. My church has a periodic guest speaker who uses visual aids in the form of props to an extreme.  But he uses those props to "manage meaning" and frame his message. I recently heard a speaker who artfully used fables to frame complex ideas.  I frequently facilitate meetings with leadership teams and I try to come up with a participative exercise that sets the tone and direction for the meeting.

Back to my evening with the CSO. Because the conductor took the time to "frame" each piece, I have no doubt I that my concert experience was much richer had he not taken the time to shape reality for the audience. Bravo, CSO, bravo!
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Dr. Kathryn Scanland is the president of Greystone Global LLC, a consulting firm focusing on strategic planning, leadership development and organizational design. This post is republished with permission from Tuesday Mornings.
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Four Things Strong Leaders Always Do (Plus an Invitation to Learn More)


There was a time when I looked forward to December as a time to slow down a little: sure, there were always extra parties to attend and shopping to be done, but my work calendar thinned out in the weeks preceding the end of the year. And on my emptier work days, I could look forward to a lighter To Do List and a few less meetings. 

Not so anymore. If your schedule feels like mine, you're on a collision course with end-of-year deadlines. The To Do List is growing by leaps and bounds. 

Through our research at the Center for Values-Driven Leadership, we spend a lot of time asking leaders how they spend their time. One CEO of a Inc. 500 company recently told us he spends 75 percent of his time, or more, on developing a positive culture. Not on spreadsheets, or dashboards, or metrics (though he watches all those things carefully as well). The result is a fast growing company that outperforms its closest competitor by 40 percent. 

Dr. Kim Cameron, of the University of Michigan’s Center for Positive Organizational Scholarship has found that positive leaders are often exceptionally invested in people and culture. His research indicates that positive leaders always have these four items on their To Do Lists:

To Do #1: Foster a positive work climate. Specifically, positive leaders focus on creating environments that welcome compassion, forgiveness, and expressions of gratitude. Such expressions help transform people, which in turn helps transform the organization.

To Do #2: Foster positive relationships among members. Kim and his colleagues found that creating positive mentoring relationships, and helping people find the right fit on the right team, went a long way toward achieving extraordinary performance.

To Do #3: Foster positive communication. When given information about their best-self, their strengths, and their unique contributions, team members are able to capitalize on these strengths to the benefit of the organization.

To Do #4: Associate the work being done with positive meaning. When people experience a sense of calling in their work, performance is elevated and individual well-being is enhanced. Leaders can help people see how their contribution is meaningful and supported.

Whatever is at the top of your end-of-year To Do List, make time for these four items. You can learn more about positive leadership practices from Dr. Kim Cameron at our upcoming Senior Executive Roundtable:

  • January 11, 2013 | 2 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.
  • (with networking reception to follow)
  • Tellabs Campus, 1415 W. Diehl Road, Naperville, IL
  • Registration (including two books): $50/person | Teams welcome
Our speakers are global experts on positive leadership: Dr. Kim Cameron of the University of Michigan’s Center for Positive Organizational Scholarship; and CEO of the Beryl Companies and Inc. Magazine columnist Paul Spiegelman. Learn more and register today at www.cvdl.org/Roundtable
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Amber Johnson is the Center for Values-Driven Leadership's corporate relations and social media advisor. She is a non-profit and small business communications professional. In addition to blogging about business for the CVDL, Amber writes about marriage and other topics on her personal blog

Positive Relationships Spur Exceptional Performance: Three Tips on Connecting Appreciation and Performance

This post originally appeared in our
November eNews.

Most of us know how to show gratitude and appreciation to friends and family, but it can be tougher at the office. Yet, research from a variety of sources confirms the link between gratitude, appreciation, and improved performance. You can expect more from people when you take time to say thanks. Here are three examples.

Positive relationships spur exceptional performance.  We know instinctively that people work harder when they are appreciated. What you may not know is that it will make you happier too. In his book Positive Leadership, Dr. Kim Cameron of the University of Michigan shows that it’s what people give to a relationship, rather than what they receive, that accounts for the relationship’s positive effects. Give gratitude, and you’ll feel better about yourself, your employees and their performance. 

Note: Kim Cameron will be joining us on January 11th for a Senior Executive Roundtable, Positive Strategies for Extraordinary Leadership. Registration required. $50/person, teams welcome. Learn more

People who feel valued will work for meaning rather than just money. Author Daniel Pink’s book Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us, concludes that most of us aren’t purely motivated by our salaries or bonuses. Give people tasks that require intelligence and compensate them fairly, and they’ll be motivated by what they find meaningful. Show appreciation for your team by helping them connect their tasks to meaningful outcomes. “Thank you, Ryan, for your exceptional work in serving that client. She told me you made a great impression - we’ll likely get her business, and it’s due in large part to your great work.”
Learn more: See a quick video summarizing Pink’s book in our blog post, Carrots & Sticks are So Last Century.
 
Engaged employees are the future of your business. The four authors of It’s My Company Too!, a new book published by Greenleaf Press, introduce a new pinnacle of employee engagement: entanglement. Entangled employees, they write, are what drive the business forward: they innovate, they lead, they push back. And how do employees get entangled? They work in a strongly positive culture that offers autonomy: in essence, they’re appreciated. Entanglement may at first sound like a negative term, but as it’s been redefined, it’s the best business leaders could hope for in employees, and it revolves around gratitude.
Hear more: Read a review of It’s My Company Too!

This holiday season I plan to make a daily point of expressing gratitude to my colleagues. I hope you’ll find inspiration to do the same: and let us know the effects of gratitude in your company. 
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Jim Ludema, Ph.D., is the director of the Center for Values-Driven Leadership and a Professor of Leadership and Change at Benedictine University. 

Restrictions Will Set You Free!


We're paralyzed by infinite possibilities. Give yourself some intentional restrictions in life and you’ll finally get inspired to act.  Restrictions will set you free.  ~Derek Sivers

We tend to think that a blank canvass will spark creativity. That if we remove enough barriers employees will suddenly become inspired and innovation will flourish in every corner of our organizations.  Could it be that the exact opposite might be true?

Derek Sivers is a musician and the creator of CDBaby.com, which became the largest online seller of independent music. Derek provides this example:

I say to you "Write me a piece of music. Anything at all.  Go."  "Umm…anything?” you say.  "What kind of mood are you looking for? What genre?"
There are too many possibilities. The blank page problem. How do you begin with infinity?
Now imagine I say, "Write me a piece of music, using only a xylophone, a flute, and a shoe box.  You can only use four notes: B, C, E, F, and only two notes at a time.  It has to be in ¾ time, start quiet, get loud, then get quiet by the end. Make it sound like a ladybug dancing with an acorn.  Go."
Ah…your imagination has already begun writing the music as soon as it hears the limitations.  This is easy!
Those of us in developed countries have a blank page. We can do anything. Anything we want.   And that's the problem. We're paralyzed by the infinite possibilities.
I've seen this thinking within organizations frequently and I've done it myself. Give people lots of freedom and they'll be creative. Instead, they become paralyzed. They return to their offices and keep doing what they've been doing; nothing innovative or even new or different materializes.      

Testing has shown that restrictions actually aid creative thought. An art guild in Colorado took that finding literally and created an entire show based on restrictions. Each artist was limited to a 1' x 1' canvass. They believed that if they put certain limits on things, it would force artists to see things in different ways and stretch their abilities.

Disney believes that when you have unlimited resources, you can afford to be sloppy with your designs. Restrictions introduce a set of rules that you cannot change so you are forced to be creative in order to come up with a solution.

Think about something you have wanted to accomplish but it's stalled; it's not moving forward. Identify specific restrictions, work within those restrictions, and then watch your creativity and innovation soar. Your restrictions will set you free!
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Dr. Kathryn Scanland is the president of Greystone Global LLC, a consulting firm focusing on strategic planning, leadership development and organizational design. This post is republished with permission from Tuesday Mornings.
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New Book Redefines "Entangled," Sets New Framework for Building Strong Corporate Culture

Is employee entanglement the way to build an exceptional organization? At first glance, the idea is a bit disturbing. I squirmed a little when I read this use of the word "entangled" in It's My Company Too!, a new business book published by Greenleaf Book Group Press.

Entangled has messy connotations to me: maybe they meant engaged? I wondered. Or embedded? But no, three pages in the authors make it clear: they mean entangled. Why that word? Because entangled implies a state of tension, of being stretched - a familiar state for small businesses, like those featured in the book, in the current economic environment. But, as the authors describe it, for entangled employees in entangled organizations this tension exists because of their clear vision of where they want to be, and a firm knowledge that they aren't there yet. The entanglement tension creates a drive that helps organizations out-perform their peers.

"Entanglement is the critical force that separates world-class from common performance, providing an organizational competency that makes leaders among peers," write the authors. "It's these distinctive competences that make imitation impossible and competitors irrelevant."

Eight Not-So-Easy Pieces
Using the analogy of a puzzle, the authors identify eight "not-so-easy" pieces that great companies put into place to gain employee attention, build discretionary thinking, and excel in the marketplace:

  • Having leaders who do extraordinary things
  • Building an ethical organization
  • Focusing all the human capital
  • Using process to guide performance
  • Increasing an individual's self-efficacy
  • Giving employees freedom and responsibility within a culture of discipline
  • Hard-wiring discretionary thinking and actions
  • Guiding the transformation process to remarkable performance
None of these concepts are original to the book. What is original is the chemistry created by the combination of these ideas: when functioning together, it creates exceptional organizations. This is evident in the examples of the eight organizations featured in the books. 

One company that especially works against the odds to create an entangled workforce is Mike's Carwash, an Indiana company with revenues around $60 million annually. In a business that often experiences high turnover within its lower-educated workforce, Mike's has decreased turnover by 25 percent, achieving exceptional standards within their industry, by concentrating on discretionary thinking, a trait they select for in the hiring process and train for once a new employee is on board. Team input drives strategic planning and shapes important customer service decisions. The Mike's workforce, writes the authors, "knows it can not only make suggestions and utilize discretionary thinking but also exercise its right to do what will delight customers." 

Combining Practical Knowledge with Researched Insights
Delight is a concept that repeats itself throughout the book - customers are delighted, employees are delighted, results are delightful. But It's My Company Too! is not just a book of anecdotal stories and insights. Author Ken Thompson, Ph.D., is a professor of management at DePaul University; authors Tom Walter (CEO of Tasty Catering and a regular contributor to this blog) and Ray Bendetto, DM, are business owners and members of the Academy of Management. Co-author Molly Meyer helped launch creative firm NuphorIQ. Together they combine well-researched insights with observations from the inside of exceptional companies. The result is delightful. 

It's My Company Too! is available on Amazon or through the authors' website
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Amber Johnson is the Center for Values-Driven Leadership's corporate relations and social media advisor. She is a non-profit and small business communications professional. In addition to blogging about business for the CVDL, Amber writes about marriage and other topics on her personal blog

How to be a Good Coach: Tips for Employee-Focused Leaders

  by Tom Walter

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Tom Walter is a "serial entrepreneur" who has launched nearly 30 companies. He is the CEO of Tasty Catering, named one of Winning Workplaces best small companies in 2010. He is the author of the forthcoming book, It’s My Company Too! This post is republished with permission from Serial Entrepreneur
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Being a good coach means putting others before yourself and always making decisions for the good of the team.  Here are a few tips on how to take coaching principles into the workplace in order to be an employee-focused leader.

Listen
This is the most important part of communication.  Part of your job as a leader is to optimize your employees’ time at work.  This might mean allowing them to vent for a few minutes to you in the morning if it helps them clear their heads and get on with the rest of their day.  Otherwise, they might have a nagging thought constantly interrupting their work, or worse, they might end up complaining to a co-worker and simultaneously disrupt other people’s work.
Support
Show your employees that you support their decisions.  When your teammates know that you have their backs, they are more empowered to make decisions on their own and challenge themselves to take on more of a leadership role.
Mentor
As a leader with experience, offer your point of view when you see employees faced with certain dilemmas.  Coach them to a higher emotional intelligence and toward greater problem-solving skills, and offer them perspective when their particular dilemma grows out of proportion.

Workplace Bullying: One CEO's Alarming Discovery


Photo by Eddie~S via Flickr. 
Jeff Talbert* was the CEO of a fledgling company when, in an instant, he made a troubling discovery. More than a third of his 17 person staff was actively engaged in bullying another colleague.

The revelation came when Talbert scrolled through an email and found a chain of messages that had been inadvertently forwarded. Here was proof that six members of his team - some of them his most competent staff members - were sending anti-Semitic, degrading messages about the targeted colleague. They'd gone so far as to create a daily email of the target's offenses and short comings.

"The tone was hateful," says Talbert. "It was truly ugly stuff. I couldn't believe what I was reading."

Just a few years out of business school, and with a rapidly growing business on his hands, Talbert was faced with an ethical dilemma: do I fire some of my best staff and possibly sink the company in the process, or do I turn a blind eye?

Toothpaste, Leadership, and the Art of No


The art of leadership is saying no, not yes. It is very easy to say yes.  ~Tony Blair

One of my personal pet peeves is the time it takes to stand in the toothpaste aisle and simply stare at the shelves until I finally find the specific brand and option that I want to buy.  Now I understand why it takes so long.  In an article I just discovered from February 2011, I learned that 352 distinct types or sizes of toothpaste were sold at retail, down from 412 in March 2008!  I’m also grateful to read that Procter & Gamble has significantly reduced the number of oral-care products because they've come to realize that fewer is actually better!

We've become a society of options—options for everything—health care products, TV channels to watch, satellite radio stations to listen to, music to download, etc., etc.  The name of one of the most successful companies to not only survive the recession but actually thrive right through it says it all— Amazon!

As individuals we've come to expect an abundance of options and organizations are no different.  There’s an “opportunity” or “need” around every corner.

In the not so distant past, it could have been argued that one of the requirements of leadership was to know what to say "Yes" to.  But when abundance [think toothpaste] far outweighs scarcity, the table has turned.  Now it’s critical that leaders develop the art of saying "No."

How to Attract (and Keep) Olympic-Caliber Employees


By Thomas Walter with Molly Meyer

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Tom Walter is a "serial entrepreneur" who has launched nearly 30 companies. He is the CEO of Tasty Catering, named one of Winning Workplaces best small companies in 2010. He is the author of the forthcoming book, It’s My Company Too! This post is republished with permission from Serial Entrepreneur
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In a previous post, we compared an entangled employee to an Olympian, versus an engaged employee, or collegiate athlete.
Just to recap, the engaged employee has risen to a level above most other employees. He has skills, commitment and dedication but doesn’t exhibit the same kind of care for the organization as if it were his own organization, or the coach perhaps, like the collegiate athlete. The entangled employee, or Olympian, however, lives for the organization… and he likes it.  His goals and dreams are synonymous with the organization’s, and he is constantly thinking about them and acting accordingly.  The entangled employee believes so much in the success of the organization that when the organization achieves something great, he feels fulfilled and happy.
Having a workforce full of entangled employees is like having a team of nonstop problem solvers, go-getters, self-starters and over-achievers. Employing Olympians means having a highly productive, highly motivated workforce that invests themselves whole-heartedly into each task at hand.
Employees don’t just become Olympians by accident.  They don’t wake up one morning and say, “Hey, I think I’m going to be an Olympian for my organization today.” They have a special combination of drive and determination mixed with a set of values and beliefs that perfectly match the organization’s values and beliefs.  And, they are cultivated in the right organizational culture and nurtured under the right leadership.
Populating your workforce with Olympians is neither easy nor instantaneous. The full journey is something that can’t be mapped out in a single blog post, but we will give you several ideas about the process so you can start planning your transition into the big leagues.
How to Hire an Olympian
As with hiring any employee, hiring an Olympian begins with the basics. Here are some tips to look for during the hiring process that might tip you off that this employee has Olympic potential:
  • Look for team activities on the applicant’s resume. Working successfully in a team is a crucial ingredient to any successful workplace.  Athletes and team competitors know how to motivate others, have leadership qualities and know how (and expect) to sacrifice for the good of the team. All of these qualities are priceless (and crucial) when it comes to Olympic potential.
  • Ask about volunteer roles. Volunteering shows passion, and it reveals that the applicant has the capability of feeling passionately about something.  Volunteers make the ultimate commitment—doing something completely for free, a characteristic of born Olympians.
  • Ask key questions related to culture  Learn what runs deeper than skills and knowledge with these questions: Describe the culture in which you are most productive and happy; Describe the leadership style that will bring forth your best work and effort; Do you prefer working alone or as part of a team; and, What would your former employees say about you? Potential Olympians will have good, honest answers to these questions, because they know how they work best and are always striving to improve themselves.
  • Note any questions asked of you. Applicants that ask questions of you—not just those that could have been answered by perusing your company website, but questions that dig deeper—prove they already have an interest in something more than a paycheck. Look especially for questions about the company’s vision and core values and how those core values are enacted throughout the organization. This shows they care about what your company is, what it can become, and how it will become that way, all indicators of potential entanglement.

How to Keep an Olympian

How One Small Business CEO Went from Bully to Best-in-Class

Johnson, on campus at Benedictine University where she is
a student in the doctoral program in Values-Driven Leadership. 

CEO Indigo Johnson is a strategic, forward-thinking, dynamic leader. What you might not expect (but what Johnson would be quick to tell you) is that until recently she was also a bit of a bully.

Johnson runs a human resources company, Careers in Transition. And even though she advised other companies on how to manage their personnel, she struggled to maintain her own – her best talents kept walking out the door, or were shown it.

A veteran, Johnson says she learned early on that the Marine Corps tears you down in order to build you up. “You become a transformed person,” she says. “You can take the beach to take the world. And when I started my company I took the same approach. But most people don't take a job with a company to be torn down. I'd pull people to try and get them to grow. Then they'd die.”

“There was a time that I’d just fire you,” Johnson says. “I gave you no chance to change. If you’d put it on your resume that you could do something, and then it turns out you can’t do it well, I’d just let you go.”

A year and a half ago, Johnson joined a cohort of executives in a doctoral program in values-driven leadership and as part of the first months of classwork had to take a hard look at her leadership style. She realized she was hiring the right people, but not giving them the space to make mistakes and grow. She wasn’t using their strengths; she was harping on their weaknesses.

“I had to take a look at what the literature is saying about true leadership,” says Johnson. “Then I had to look at the gap in my leadership style. I came back from the course and had to sit down with my leadership team and say I'm sorry. I haven't given you the chance to grow. I'm committed to creating a culture that's inclusive. And I'm going to be accountable for it.”

Inspired, Johnson made some strategic changes and began to adapt a more nurturing style of leadership. Now she helps her staff find their strengths, gives people time to grow into their jobs. When she finds someone who is a strong culture fit but lacks a needed skillset, Johnson trains them for it or brings in an outside contractor. “We spend the time up front to figure out what people need,” she says. The results speak for themselves: Careers in Transition has a three-year growth rate of 1500%, landing them on Inc.’s Top 500 list for the first time this year.

“The water here is swift and deep,” Johnson says, referring to her quickly growing company. “Now we’re trying to be transparent about that so you can make an intelligent decision if this is the right place for you.”
These days, in addition to the recent honor from Inc. magazine, Johnson can see the difference her focus on employee development has brought to the company – her staff is growing and loyal. It’s no surprise that one of Careers in Transition’s corporate values is the concept that We can always do better. Johnson says there’s room to grow, for her and her employees.
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Learn more about Johnson’s PhD program. Designed for senior business leaders, the program combines the fields of corporate sustainability and responsibility with strategic leadership and organization change. Find more information at www.cvdl.org/doctorate, then attend an online open house on November 8th.

How One CEO Helps Humanity Kick the Plastic Bag Habit

Keller, as Bag Monster. The costume is created
from 500 plastic bags, the approximate
number used per American each year. 

Andy Keller was an unemployed business school graduate when he spent a day landscaping his back yard. As a result, he needed to make a trip to the local landfill. What he saw changed the course of his life – the landfill was overflowing with plastic bags. With a little research, Keller learned the U.S. uses enough plastic shopping bags annually to circle the globe 776 times, if tied together.[1]

He bought a second-hand sewing machine and went to work, creating a reusable shopping bag that stores compactly in its own pocket. The bag gained popularity, and Keller’s small business, ChicoBag, is now the industry leader in compact reusable bags.

With his unemployment problem solved, Keller set out to tackle a bigger challenge: ridding the planet of one-use plastic bags. He’s made a few enemies along the way, which Keller explained at a recent panel as part of the Inc. 500/5000 conference. Here’s his story:

The Bag Monster

“We want to help humanity kick the single-use bag habit,” says Keller. “And we decided early on to be aggressive about it.” To get the message out, Keller invented the Bag Monster – a costume created from 500 plastic bags, the number each American uses annually. The Bag Monster is a walking, talking reminder of the waste single-use bags create. Keller wears the Bag Monster costume himself, at conferences like the Inc. 500/5000, and also at community events. It never fails to start a conversation. It also attracts attention.

Eventually, plastic bag manufacturers started to take notice: ChicoBag and its competitors were cutting into the manufacturers’ profit share. They decided to sue.

A Case Study in Doing What Needs to be Done

One of my favorite novels is Richard Russo's Straight Man, the tale of an aging college professor who finds he can no longer tolerate the world in which he works.

In one scene, the protagonist is desperate to avoid attending a staff meeting. (Ever felt that way?) He locks himself in his office with the lights out, determined to hide until the meeting is over. Unfortunately, he feels a desperate need to visit the restroom and he soils himself. Seeking an escape, and also thinking he might be able to eavesdrop on the meeting, he decides to exit his office through the ceiling panels. Things don't go quite as he expected. 

There are three insights we can gain from this:

1) You should read this book. 

2) When faced with an unpleasant task (like attending the protagonist's staff meeting) it's usually better to face the task directly. Avoidance and subterfuge usually have unintended, and unpleasant consequences. 

3) Lessons in leadership can come from unexpected places. We've discussed this before, in our post on leadership lessons from Game of Thrones, and one CEO's favorite childhood book. 

Do you have a leadership lesson from a surprising source? Share your stories here in the comments section or tweet us at @ValuesDriven. Your lesson may be used in an upcoming blog post. 
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Amber Johnson is the Center for Values-Driven Leadership's corporate relations and social media advisor. She is a non-profit and small business communications professional. In addition to blogging about business for the CVDL, Amber writes about marriage and other topics on her personal blog

REGISTER for our Online Open House for prospective doctoral students. 

If Sustainability Costs You More, You're Doing it Wrong. The Do’s and Don’ts of Sustainable Value Chain Management


There is a lot of anecdotal information on what makes a value chain sustainable, but very little data. To change that, we partnered with ASQ, the Institute for Supply Management, and Deloitte, on a multi-year research study to identify proven management practices and cost-saving approaches, and the initial findings are out.
The supply chain is where the ROI on sustainability gets real — in the triple digits according to this research. It’s also what separates “real” sustainability from “green washing.” That’s why many businesses and NGOs are looking at how to make the value chain (supply chain, distributors, partner organizations, etc.) more sustainable. While others have conducted research in this area, there are two things that make this research significant:

Leadership is About Expressing Yourself - Not Proving Yourself


Leadership is first being, then doing.  Everything the leader does reflects what he or she is.  Therefore, leadership is about expressing yourself, not proving yourself.  ~Warren Bennis

I recently attended a concert—and I’ve attended hundreds over the course of my adult life—but this time one of the musicians said something I don’t think I’ve ever heard uttered from the stage. She said, “thank you for letting us serve you with our music.”  When she made that statement I realized one of the reasons I had enjoyed the concert so much was that all three of the musicians in this group were on stage to simply reveal and disclose who they were. It was very much an expression of their lives and they let us (the audience) sit in and listen for the evening.

As Bennis suggests, expressing yourself could be contrasted with proving yourself. We’ve all known people dead set on proving who they are and we’ve all slipped into this chasm at one time or another. Our efforts become a means to justify, validate and convince others of our worth to the project, the department or the organization. It’s very hard to be drawn to someone trying to prove themselves; on the contrary, we tend to be repulsed by what feels like a very self-centered existence. 

Five Steps to Gaining Company-Wide Discretionary Thinking


If every employee gave just five or ten percent more than the required thoughts every day at work, how much stimulus towards performance excellence would result? Is it possible to raise the level of your staff’s discretionary thinking, company-wide, and find out?
Yes! It is possible, and those organizations that have been fortunate enough to discover how to stimulate discretionary thinking are reaping about 500 more positive thoughts daily. These thoughts from each employee are centered on enhancing the organization, helping to propel it toward performance excellence.
The average human brain produces 60,000 thoughts a day, and according to the Institute for Human Health and Human Potential about 8% of those are used at work. A thought can be as simple as “I need to pick up a pen,” to as complex as “We should alter our monthly tactical plan because…” Simple math tells us that, on average, we use 4,800 thoughts on the performance of our daily work duties. Increasing that number to 10% instead of the normal 8% would give you—and hopefully you guessed it—6,000 work-related thoughts.
Increasing the number of work-related thoughts doesn’t happen with a snap of the fingers, but there are several simple steps you can take to warrant more from your employees. Here are five tips on how to increase organization-related discretionary thinking company-wide:

Carrots & Sticks are So Last Century

As the parent of a Chicago Public School student, last week was a challenging one. More than just interrupting our newly established school day routine, and our regular traffic patterns around the city, the strike brought some big questions to light, including the question of how to motivate teachers and students to excel in the midst of challenging circumstances. This, of course, is a fundamental question of leadership and not just education.

The science of motivation has gone through some radical shifts in the last decades. While we used to assume that rewards were the way to motivate good behavior, we now know that only works to a point: if you pay people a reasonable amount, paying people more won't necessarily get you the results you want, or need. As author Daniel Pink says, "Carrots and sticks are so last century."

Pink, in his book Drive, highlights extensive research that shows if you want to motivate performance that is beyond mechanical behavior, you need to rely on:

Beyond the Rubber Stamp: Strategic Leadership and the Role of the Board


Why are Boards barely mentioned in the literature when talking about leadership in any form?

One of the most important roles of the Board, in addition to their fiduciary responsibility---or as a part of their fiduciary responsibility -- is to ensure the organization has a strategy that provides for the long term viability of the organization and that the underpinnings of the foundation are a set of values that reflect an ethical and moral organization

Based on a survey of 1,450 executives from 12 global corporations, among the 21 crucial competencies they identified as important for global leaders were “ability to articulate a tangible vision, values and strategy.” (Ireland & Hitt, 1999, p. 48) How is that vision, those values and that strategy determined and how is it measured? Does the CEO do it alone without input or accountability? Does the CEO just have a Board that “rubber stamps” their vision, strategy, values without taking into consideration the purpose of the organization?

Rowe talks about different leadership styles in his article on “Creating wealth in organizations: The role of strategic leadership”. (Rowe, 2001) In this article he talks about the managerial leader, the visionary leader and the strategic leader:

If a Tree Falls In a Forest ... (A Tribute to the Humility of Neil Armstrong, and a Call to Ego-Free Leadership)




If I achieve great things, and no one notices, did they still happen? Of course they did, so why the obsession with recognition? Why the concern over whether “we matter?”

Do we “matter?” I hope so. I believe so. But why, exactly, do we matter, and why should we matter? Our culture is absorbed with success (as it defines it) and impact (as it defines it)…. And praise for both. What if achievement and impact came without the fame? What if we actually said—insisted, repeatedly—“No” to the call of public adulation?

Neil Armstrong died on August 25, 2012, aged 82 years. He did a remarkable thing. He became the first of 12 people to step onto the moon. He and his crew employed their considerable talents, years of preparation, and no small amount of courage just to try it. Thousands of NASA professionals did their part to make it possible, and the nation committed enormous resources to meet President Kennedy’s decade-old challenge. Please enjoy the two minute tribute above.

Well…. after his unique experience, Neil Armstrong did another remarkable thing: He went home. He returned to private life. He didn’t cash in to seek public office. He didn’t cash in to seek money. And, he didn’t cash in to seek fame. He refused invitations from both political parties, he refused corporate sponsorships, and instead taught aerospace engineering near his home, at the University of Cincinnati. This Eagle Scout / Aeronautical Engineer from Purdue and USC / Korean War Vet / Navy Test Pilot / NASA Astronaut / Farmer didn’t just decline to seek fame. He refused it when it came to him.

How comfortable are we if our success is not praised, or not even noticed?

Lessons from a Sixth Grader: Conflict Resolution & Strategy


Kids show a capacity for logical reasoning
that most adults could benefit from emulating.
Photo used with permission from Flickr, Parker Michael Knight.
Recently I noticed that my son, Ethan, had become hesitant to spend time with one of his best friends (I’ll call him David). When I asked what was going on, he explained that he had grown uncomfortable around David because he frequently made hurtful remarks about other friends behind their backs but in Ethan’s presence.  Ethan was conflicted because he felt that by being around David, even without actually speaking or participating or agreeing, he was being disloyal to his other friends. He said he had confronted David a couple of times when he made one of these comments, but David laughed it off and did not seem to appreciate how upsetting it was for Ethan.

When I asked Ethan what it would look like if he could have it any way he wanted, he explained that he wanted to continue to be friends with David, but that he wanted David to stop talking about other people. I asked how he might accomplish that goal given that the only person’s behavior he can control is himself. Ethan replied, “Mom, I only see 2 options: First, I can stop being friends with David. Second, I can keep being friends with him and when he says these things, I can keep telling him to stop.” I asked him which of those would achieve his goal of continuing to be friends without the negative talk, and it was then he realized that neither would accomplish that goal. So, I suggested he think some more.

Holding Yourself Accountable to Finding the Potential in Others


Leaders hold themselves accountable for finding potential in people and processes.  ~Brene Brown

Brene Brown is one of those people who could honestly be characterized as “having gone viral.”  Her TED Talk, entitled The Power of Vulnerability was posted online in December 2010 and has amassed well over five million views.  It’s one of the top-viewed TED Talks right up there with Steve Jobs and Elizabeth Gilbert.  

I recently listened to a webinar Brown recorded and I like her definition of leadership: holding myself accountable for finding potential in people and processes. Note: it’s not about holding others accountable, it’s about holding yourself accountable. And it’s not about accountability for results, but accountability for finding potential.  Results are a consequence but the means is finding potential

I’m personally struggling with finding potential.  I certainly don’t disagree with it; I’m struggling with doing it. I have one particular client that is challenging me. I knew from the beginning that it likely wouldn’t be an easy ride.  They are a highly successful start-up that’s matured enough that they now need to move from the kitchen table to the conference table. They need to become more like an organization with some structures and processes that will support their continued growth. Said another way, they’ve outgrown being a start-up. The change from kitchen table to conference table is a significant transition and like many organizational transitions it can be uncomfortable. t leaves people asking, “If what got us here has worked, why won’t it get us there?”

This client is challenging for me because it seems much of what I suggest isn’t coming out right or being received in the way I intended. I feel like I keep fumbling the ball and I’d like at least a few good plays to move the ball down the field. So I’ve turned to Brown's definition of leadership for inspiration and guidance. Since I’m a person who likes to make lists, I’ve come up with a list of five specific things I could do to find potential in people and processes with this client.

1. List what I believe to be the strengths for each of the leaders and use that as the lens for changes I might suggest.

2. List the strengths of the organization and use that as the perspective or lens for suggested changes.

Entangled Employees are Olympians at the Office

By Thomas Walter with Molly Meyer

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Tom Walter is a "serial entrepreneur" who has launched nearly 30 companies. He is the CEO of Tasty Catering, named one of Winning Workplaces best small companies in 2010. This post is republished with permission from Serial Entrepreneur
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Maybe it’s just a coincidence that the Olympic Games are just finishing, or maybe that’s what sparked the idea for this blog post. Two years ago, when we set out to write our book on the phenomenon known as “organization entanglement” with fellow co-authors, Dr. Ray Benedetto and Dr. Ken Thompson, we compared an organization’s workforce to an athletic team. Specifically, we wrote about the parallels between a collegiate athlete and an engaged employee and the parallels between an Olympic athlete and an entangled employee.
With the book—titled, It’s My Company Too!—slated to release in October, and the Olympics in full swing right now, it’s high time we got cracking on this collegiate athlete-Olympic athlete analogy.
Comparing Olympians and College Athletes to Your Workforce
Think of your workforce as a team of athletes. What level of competition has your workforce reached? At the college level, your organization is certainly quite competitive. Not many athletes make it onto a college team; yet, being a college athlete is not the pinnacle of competition.

University of Michigan Signs on as CVDL Research Partner for ROV Study

University of Michigan's Center for Positive Organizational Scholarship has been named as a research partner for the Return on Values three year-study, a partnership between the Small Giants Community and the Center for Values-Driven Leadership.

The Return on Values (ROV) initiative explores the relationship between values, culture, and success in small and mid-size businesses. To learn more, visit our research initiatives page, or watch this four-minute ROV overview video: