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!
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.

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
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. 
Jim Ludema, Ph.D., is the director of the Center for Values-Driven Leadership and a Professor of Leadership and Change at Benedictine University.