Bob Lieberman's Blog

Tools For Initiating and Managing Change

Whole-Hearted Leadership

I've written so much about process that I'm afraid I've been neglecting the human side of leadership. I had a little reminder today I thought I'd share with you.

I was involved in a very minor email misunderstanding with someone I wanted to collaborate with after having just met him. In a nutshell, the first couple of email exchanges left me feeling ignored, and him misunderstood. Since I've been working with Marshall Rosenberg's NVC conflict resolution model for many months now, I used NVC language in working out this conflict of mutually hurt feelings. (Read the first chapter of Marshall's book here.)

I think I did a pretty good job of being respectful. Possibly not. I received a very warm response from the other party, several paragraphs of real communication that I valued. But the first sentence set a tone that undercut the warmth. He said "I'm sorry if I somehow offended you."

Here's the whole-hearted part: Friends, if you apologize for somehow offending someone, what you're telling them is that you're willing to apologize but you think they're too sensitive. 

You won't get very far as a leader with that approach, because whether the reader/listener realizes it or not, the distance is evident, and empathy is not happening. Now leave out the somehow: "I'm sorry if I offended you." Try them both on, go deep, and then see if you think there's no difference!

This kind of fine distinction is important when you're leading a high-stakes, complex project or for some other reason need to rely on the complete inspired engagement of your colleagues.  A few somehows every day will make the difference between "Yeah, babe!" and "Darn!", and you can see where that will take you.

You want "Yeah, babe!" whenever possible. Of course communicating with so much sensitivity can be a challenge, for me as much as anyone. To help myself learn, I subscribe to the behavior modification school of character development, also known as "fake it 'til you make it." My version goes like this: I become aware and that permits me to notice. Upon noticing, I change my behavior. My actions and speech are connected to my heart, so my changed behavior influences my heart directly. And it influences my head indirectly because it's reinforced by the positive results I experience as you respond to my more empathetic behavior. Pretty soon I really am sorry I offended you, and you can tell. 

What does this sensitivity get me? It gets me your trust and loyalty, your willingness to be honest and take chances, and your concern for my needs (and by extension the needs of the project or organization). Those characteristics open you and me and our colleagues up to the real creativity that makes the right things happen.

So next time you hear a somehow – try to be kind. And next time you find yourself speaking one – kindly notice. The rest will take care of itself.

Tenacity & Persistence In Leadership

If you've been reading along with me, you may have gotten the impression that I think production is the root of all evil. If so, let me reassure you to the contrary. Just one look at the economic crisis of today tells me that without lots of production there would be no economy. Eventually we'd all starve and die. 

In my model, production is the imposition of our will onto reality (as opposed to exploration, which is the acceptance of reality despite our will). So I do believe there's a place in the scheme of things for the pure imposition of one's will, and today I was reminded of that very clearly.

I spent quite a while this morning with a customer service representation from a very large company whose service I depend on. I had called to request credit for a service outage a few weeks ago.  What made this call different was the circumstances of the outage. At the time, their technical support staff hadn't a clue and had denied that anything was wrong (sound familiar?) Over the course of several days, I spent two hours with four or five agents, each denying that anything was wrong, and each going through the same list of triage questions they are required to ask me, and getting nowhere. Due to my tenacity, the problem was finally resolved after ten days.

So today, on the phone with customer service, I wasn't going to be satisfied with ten days worth of credit. Instead of accepting that default minimum offer, I demanded more – but in a way that showed respect for the agent and for myself. There was quite a lot of back-and-forth, and eventually "I'm sorry I can't do that, sir" changed to "Yes, I can do that for you, sir." I wasn't seeking revenge, mind you, just fair value for all of my time wasted.

This experience was my daily reminder that tenacity is a legitimate part of the production activity. Production is the application of will to reality, and sometimes reality doesn't seem to want to be pushed around. Persistence may be necessary. Technical and logistical problems, especially, can often be resolved with pure persistence, so long as it is respectful.  

So, yes, there are times when you need to Appreciate – Explore – Challenge. Many more times than we think, actually. But there are also those times when you just have to dig in. The mark of a creative leader is to know which is which.

As the song says, "You gotta know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em."