A few years ago, some of my Silicon Valley executive coaching clients asked me if I had seen the Bob Newhart “Stop It” video. It was making the rounds in their company. When I saw it, I understood why they wanted me to watch it.
I have been learning about and teaching basic neuroscience principles for the past three and a half years. I use a brain-based coaching approach in my executive coaching practice. I have come to appreciate how much a basic working knowledge of our brains can help leaders function more effectively.
I first wrote this post in early 2011, just after I began teaching in the MBA program at Golden Gate University as an adjunct professor. Since then, I have become a full time graduate level professor and still maintain my practice as an executive leadership consultant and coach. This continues to force me to stay current with leadership research and weave that research into a pragmatic solution for clients and business school students.
Last fall, I was privileged to be included in the first group of global executive leadership coaches certified in My Brain Solutions (MBS). The Academy of Brain Based Leadership sponsored the certification training. MBS is the only scientifically validated assessment that truly measures brain performance and has been used effectively by clinicians for several years. It was developed by an independent consortium of over 200 neuroscientists, led by Dr. Evian Gordon. It was redesigned in 2014 to improve the effectiveness of business leaders.
In late June, 2015, I had the opportunity to visit the charming town of Kolding in Denmark. There, nestled atop a scenic city, we visited a ecently restored old castle. As we got to the top of the castle, we were delighted to see an exhibit of student work. We found out that the Kolding Design School offers both undergraduate and graduate degrees in design. The exhibits were from their most recent graduates.
I recently had the good fortune of meeting a very successful businessman who works globally. During the course of our conversation, I mentioned that I work with executive teams and teach graduate courses in team dynamics and leadership. He asked me if I knew the definition of a team.
“Yes,” I replied, and I would like to hear yours. He answered that the U.S. definition of a team is based on the acronym, TEAM. “Together everyone achieves more.”
We are still within the first month of 2014 and The Chinese New Year arrives on January 31th. The Water Snake symbolized the last Chinese year and was a year of reflection. In contrast, January 31st ushers in the year of the Wooden Horse. This year is all about action. Before the era of modern transportation (think cars, jets, rocket ships), horses symbolized speedy success in China. They were the fastest means to get from one place to another. Horses also symbolize a desire for freedom, passion, and leadership. If we follow the symbolism implied by the year of the horse, we will all need to mindfully set clear goals for this year. 2014 promises to be a busy year.
A colleague of mine, I’ll call him Aaron, is a professional dancer who has worked in a international professional dance company for five years. He and I got to talking about his work and the leadership tangles that have presented themselves. As we spoke, I realized that therewere some lessons to be learned for all leaders. Here is the first excerpt of an interview I conducted over a period of several weeks.
Last summer, we took a road trip from San Francisco, through Zion, Bryce, and on to Telluride, Colorado. While in Telluride, we took a fly fishing lesson from Marty at Telluride Fly Fishers. Marty was a great guide and very patient with this city girl! I had piled on several layers of clothes in anticipation of wide temperature swings in the Rockies.
Your intrepid Tangle Doctor has been tied up, so to speak, implementing new ways to untangle corporate leadership knots and teaching MBA students how to work well together and be effective leaders. So many tangles, so little time!
Recent research suggests that what we wear impacts how we feel and how we perform. As an executive leadership coach who often works with leaders to enchance their executive presence, this is really helpful information. I often coach women leaders to observe how other senior women, who they perceive as competent and powerful, are dressing. Often the differences, i.e., in accessories, shoes, etc. are subtle, yet worth noting. I sometimes advise clients to change and/or upgrade their wardrobe. I have also advised male clients to make sure that their shoes were polished (I learned this from my grandfather who always said you could tell a lot about a man by the appearance of his shoes.) My clothing advice was based on my own experience in the corporate world and observation. Now, with the power of this research, and recent articles, I feel even more confident in strongly arguing that clothes do make the man and woman!
I was astounded to read about the results of a recent study by a Yale university professor. Apparently, women who speak more are perceived as less competent. On the other hand, men who speak more are viewed as more competent. Professor Jennifer Brescoll suggests that how much we talk has implications for how powerful others perceive us to be. The frightening thing about this study is that women may interpret the results to mean that if they talk to much, they will experience a backlash.
Executive leadership teams regularly develop values statements to explain what is most important to them in fulfilling the company mission. Teams go through exercises to identify values they hope to live by.
When you have a toothache, would you consult a car mechanic who took a year-long, part-time course in dentistry, even if you felt he had a knack for it? If your child has a high fever and hacking cough, would you take him or her to your neighbor for treatment, one who has two children of her own, and works as an accountant? Probably not.
Last night during his State of the Union address, President Obama spoke about the special forces who worked as a team to "take out" Osama Bin Laden. His point was that every member of the team was singly focused on successfully completing their dangerous mission. They relied on each other for communication, air cover, and support. When one of the rescue helicopters crashed, they didn't stop and point fingers and blame each other. They covered for each other. They helped each other up the stairs and made sure that every one got out alive. Every member of the team operated with mutual trust.
Nothing tangles potential organizational effectiveness than a top leadership team mired in unproductive interpersonal dynamics. These manifest as turf wars, political battles, and hidden agendas. The result is a lack of honesty and an inability to raise tough issues. Bad feelings between two key functional leaders trickle down to the rest of the organization. I once worked with a team in which two senior leaders had a visceral dislike of each other. Direct reports two to three levels down felt the tension, and were in turn mistrustful of each other. The result? Gridlock.
Think of a leadership team as a web of interconnected relationships. Mix in clashing egos, hidden agendas, and lack of trust. Agitate with different personality and thinking styles. Sprinkle in unproductive norms, power plays, and cultural and gender differences. Throw in a propensity to blame. Complicate matters with a complex business challenge--you know the kind--a frightening new competitor that threatens to eat your lunch, declining market share, a scarcity of cash to invest in needed resources--the kind of challenge that only this team can solve. The problem is, this team is mired in what I call a Strangling Team TangleTM. In almost every tangle, and I have named nearly two dozen distinct tangles, you experience unproductive working relationships, snarled lines of communication, and fuzzy lines of authority. Emotions run high and there is plenty of conflict, blame, and “us versus them” thinking and behavior. Sound familiar?
It is so easy to make excuses when things don't turn out as you planned. How often are you tempted to point the finger of blame? As an executive leadership coach, I have worked with leaders who have gotten in the bad habit of blaming others and are surprised when they don't get the results that they want.
Star leaders give willingly without a price tag attached to what they are giving. They operate from a “full cup” mentality. Their cup is full and they don’t need to take from others to fill theirs up. There is no price tag attached to their requests.
Leadership is both an inside and outside game. In this series of blogposts, I will share leadership wisdom I have gathered and found useful in my own leadership development and what I have observed in my work with executive leaders. As the Tangle DoctorTM, it is my opinion that leaders who create productive, accountable cultures are better able to minimize Organizational TanglesTM –unproductive working relationships, snarled lines of communication, and fuzzy lines of authority-- demonstrate the leadership qualities I will share in a series of blogposts.
Do you realize that every time you speak to peers, direct reports, and Board members, you have the opportunity to transform your relationship? Do you know that you can align your mind, brain, and conversations to create a more productive working relationship?
I recently began teaching in the MBA program at Golden Gate University. Being a full time executive leadership consultant and part-time professor forces me to stay current with leadership research and weave that research into a pragmatic solution for clients and business school students.
Last Friday, I facilitated a panel discussion for Fountain Blue's When She Speaks Women in Leadership forum. Approximately 50 women and 3 men attended the discussion about how to thrive in times of accelerated change. Each of the four women on the panel holds a responsible leadership position in Cisco, EMC, IBM, and HP. I was struck by the high level of both technical and interpersonal expertise each demonstrated. I was also struck by the pressures facing each of them, and our audience members. All are challenged to cope under rapid changes in their marketplace and technology. For instance, the advent of the cloud is causing each company to think through their product mix. Companies that used to develop products internally are becoming much more aggressive in looking for start-ups with innovative technology to buy and integrate. Top down, hierarchical management is being replaced with collaborative management.
I've been a student of leadership and organizational behavior for a long time. In my own recent research, I found that a CEO who is open and approachable is much more likely to get learn about early warning signals, before they become bad news. This has been validated by research studies. Leaders who are agreeable and access the extraverted part of their personality are easier to approach. They are more likely to listen without judgment and not bite off the head of those who bring unpleasant news. They create a culture of openness that trickles down throughout the organization. In cultures of openness, individuals aren't afraid of speaking up.
One of my favorite things to do on Sundays is read the New York Times. I especially enjoy Adam Bryant's Corner Office. Yesterday was no exception. Adam interviewed Martha S. Samuelson, the President and CEO of the Analysis Group. Samuelson underscored a point that I consider central in my work as an organizational consultant. A skilled outside consultant can ask questions, solicit feedback, and offer feedback in a way that removes the power dynamics.
Okay, I admit it. I am a fair weather San Francisco Giants fan. I tuned in to the team in the last weeks of the series as they began their championship playoffs. I found myself playing catch up, learning the names and stories of the players. All of a sudden I really cared. As the Giants came closer and closer to winning the World Series, a goal that eluded them for 56 years, I put on my Tangle Doctor hat. How did the team's management orchestrate this turnaround? What can business leaders learn from a team that seemed so unlikely to win a championship trophy?
In a recent episode of AMC's Mad Men (Season 4, Blowing Smoke), a fledgling ad agency is faced with the fallout of losing one of its key accounts, a major cigarette company. Even though the show is fictional and takes place 50 years ago, the situation and reaction of the firm's senior partners felt eerily current.
Over the past several years, I have consulted with dozens of women leaders who want to excel in the executive ranks. Many have already made it to the S. V.P. level, and some to E.V.P. or even CEO. Others are Directors wanting to move to the V.P. level. Typically, the person hiring me states that the individual has received feedback that she needs to improve her executive presence. Sometimes, the request is for assistance in improving influence skills. Other times, the assignment is more general as in, "we feel she is a high potential and needs some help in moving to the next level." Sometimes, the request is for a C-level female executive who needs to improve her emotional intelligence.
Consider this. Economic pundits have declared that volatility is the New Normal. Markets are fluctuating wildly day to day. Executive officers, guiding their companies, are afloat in a sea of uncertainty. Investors generally take fewer risks during volatile times. It takes guts to invest when the downside may be greater than the upside. It also takes courage to make major business decisions.
I was working with an executive coaching client recently who mentioned that some organizational cultures emphasize peace over truth. I hadn't quite thought about it this way and found the statement profound. In this case, my client was a very forthright individual, and he was being asked to tone down his style. I have also worked with executive coaching clients who needed to be more assertive and strong in speaking up. Both individuals needed to adapt to cultures who emphasized either peace or truth.
As the leader of my own firm, the hardest thing that I have had to do during these challenging times is manage myself . . . and my own fear. The newspaper headlines do not help. This morning, one of the top headlines in the Wall Street Journal screamed "New Fears as Credit Markets Tighten Up." This was like a red light, siren alert: Marcia, arm yourself, and hold on, it is getting worse. As an expert in human and organizational dynamics, I intellectually know that I am "catastrophizing." That is, I am taking one data point and in my mind, extending it out to its worst possible consequence. I know that this is not healthy emotionally, psychologically, or strategically. It is difficult to shore up my confidence and come up with creative business solutions when my mind and body are frozen with fear.
This morning, I was browsing the Wall Street Journal online, looking for some good news. I came upon two articles byDana Mattioli. Her first article, "Despite Cutbacks, Firms Invest in Developing Leaders," brought a smile to my face. Apparently, many firms realize that they need to continue developing their leaders if they are to thrive during these turbulent times.
What follows are the three surefire steps:
Tina Turner made a singing comeback in 1984 with her hit song, "What's Love Got to Do with It?" My husband, a family law specialist in San Francisco has recently worked with some male clients, who I call alpha males, struggling through their respective divorces. Tina Turner claims that "love is a second-hand emotion." However, from what I am hearing, anger, blame, and transference are first-hand emotions and reactions. Going through a divorce at any time is a trying and emotionally draining experience. However, the stress and tension is now exacerbated by the economic decline. Individuals who have enjoyed unfettered economic success, and the ability to buy and demand whatever they desired, are now finding their world crumbling beneath them.
A colleague of mine just sent me this video clip--Gesto de Amor. This was a first place winner for commercial short films at a Cannes Film Festival. This film illustrates a large and personal act of generosity. I have found that small acts of generosity--listening deeply to others, giving others the benefit of the doubt, asking questions before reacting-- all contribute to collaboration, better thinking, and higher productivity. What act of generosity have you performed today?
Wall Street Journal reporter Kara Swisher interviewed Carol Bartz, CEO of Yahoo, at the recent All Things Digital Conference. I was struck by Bartz's assertions that organizational structure has limited Yahoo's ability to innovate. Bartz's comments validated findings from my own research. I was interested in uncovering the organizational enablers that contribute to the unwinding of organizational tangles. I define tangles as those interpersonal, political, and human dynamics messes that tie organizations up in knots. What I found in my research is that an organizational structure that ensures clear levels of authority and accountability creates clear channels of communication, and removes the fuzziness that stalls forward progress.
Based on my more than 20 years of experience as an organizational change strategist and executive coach, the following ten best practices will ease the pain of large-scale change and ensure successful implementation.
Jason Zweig, author of the Wall Street Journal's Intelligent Investor, writes that "smart people trying to do good, honest work on behalf of others" may have been responsible for the financial crisis. Zweig's article masterfully lays out some of the challenges that investment committees, boards of directors, and state boards of trustees can face in decisions to invest or not invest. His insightful column also can provide advice to corporate leaders making decisions regarding strategy and strategy execution.
A Strangling TangleTM paralyzes organizations and can lead to plummeting profits, lost revenue, and precipitous falls in market share. There are a number of causes for Strangling Tangles. Based on my experience and research, organizations with corporate cultures that discourage speaking up and sharing bad news are particularly vulnerable. Leaders play a huge role in building, maintaining, and changing corporate culture. One way leaders can change the culture is by learning and demonstrating active listening skills.
According to recent studies, executive leaders who possess emotional intelligence are more likely to outperform their peers than those with high intellectual horsepower. In other words, it is not enough to just be smart. A leader needs to be intellectually smart and people smart.
This past Sunday, I was so upset about the AIG bonuses that I wrote a letter to the editors of the San Francisco Chronicle and New York Times. I received a call from the Chronicle's editorial section on Monday, saying that they planned to run my letter. I am happy to report that it was the lead editorial in today's (March 18) letters to the editor section (page A12).
Earlier this week, I received a call from a sergeant in our local police department. He didn't leave a specific message, although he said he was from the narcotics division and asked me to call him back. Last August 2008, I had parked my car in front of our home in a nice neighborhood in San Francisco. When I went outside, the whole front of my car was gone. The hood, bumpers, and half of my engine. Needless to say, I was angry and shocked. I eagerly called the sergeant back, thinking that they had caught the criminals who had destroyed my car.
On January 15, 2009, US Airways flight 1549 took off from New York's La Guardia Airport. By all accounts, this was a routine takeoff, like many that occur day in and day out. However, on this particular flight, something unexpected occurred that required leadership, quick thinking, and skill. The plane hit a flock of birds, disabling both engines. Captain Chesley Sullenberger III deftly guided the plane for a safe landing in the Hudson. All passengers survived. This miraculous story offers great insight for leaders who want to avoid catastrophes, or what I call Strangling Tangles. A Strangling Tangle is a complex business challenge, further complicated by messy human dynamics that leads to a precipitous drop in revenue or even business failure.
My corporate clients are in a panic. Their business reality, as they knew it before mid September 2008, has shifted. Companies with strong cash reserves are holding back on spending. Companies without strong cash reserves are shedding employees and cutting capital expenditures. The rules of the game have changed. Yet, we all know that some firms will not only survive, but thrive during these shifting times. What will make the difference?
I recently conducted a rigorous research study on how key stakeholders in an organization make sense of a seemingly intractable complex challenge exacerbated by human dynamics issues. The current economic mess is a wicked tangle because it involves multiple stakeholders, each with a different view of the situation. Each stakeholder not only has their own interests, but also a different idea of how the situation should be solved. The photo above gives a snapshot of the myriad of stakeholders enmeshed in this wicked tangle. When faced with wicked corporate tangles, it is helpful to draw a picture of all of the stakeholders, and identify their positions and underlying interests.
Like many, we had a group of friends over to watch the Superbowl last night. Some of us rooted for the Pittsburgh Steelers, while others were backing the Arizona Cardinals. That was good old-fashioned sports rivalry. However, we were all taken aback by the negative energy that emanated from some of the commercials. As reported in today's San Francisco Chronicle, many of the ads were downright aggressive and hostile.
I watched today's inauguration of President Barak Obama on a large screen television in front of San Francisco's City Hall. A large and diverse crown gathered and there was a palpable sense of expectancy and hope for better times and change. A change in leadership always presents the opportunity to right past wrongs and chart a new and more successful course.
Last night, Jon Stewart , host of the Daily Show , interviewed Bethany McLean , a contributing editor of Vanity Fair about the current economic crisis. Stewart opined that while we can understand the Madoff fraud, it is much harder to wrap our heads around the economic meltdown. Jon Stewart commented that money seemed to disappear in this crisis, and wondered how it could be recovered. This got me thinking. I coined the term Wicked Tangle, after the term wicked problems. I define a wicked tangle as a multi-system tangle that involves challenges without definitions and boundaries. Everything is intertwined, and the solution to one part of the challenge creates problems elsewhere. The Feds give money to the banks and the banks tighten their lending policies. You can never truly solve a wicked tangle. What differentiates a wicked tangle from a wicked problem is that the human dynamics of greed, ego, and lack of transparency both create and exacerbate wicked tangles.
Most professionals -- doctors, lawyers, dentists, and psychologists - are regulated by a written code of ethics. These standards dictate minimum, not optimal standards for purely ethical behavior. For example, even though an attorney can represent both a husband and wife in drafting a marital settlement agreement, a highly ethical attorney would not consider this course of action because it is not in the best interest of both parties. Even with strong rules of conduct, there are always gray areas and professionals often have to make hard choices.
At a meeting last week someone commented that many people stayed up to midnight on December 31, 2008, just to make sure they were awake to say good-bye to 2008. 2008 was certainly not the best of years. The economy began contracting early in the year, and by mid-September was spiraling downward, out of control.
In the past week, I have been repulsed by news of one of the biggest scams of all time. Bernard Madoff, head of Bernard L. Madoff Securities, allegedly conned scores of wealthy investors, lulled by promises of higher than average yearly returns. Madoff was the CEO of a company with over 200 employees. We don't yet have all of the facts. However, what is remarkable to me is that so many, including Madoff employees, did not question consistent financial returns that defy explanation. How could so many allegedly smart people believe that there are special algorithms that are immune from market forces? And how could so many ignore the red flags of a leader who became gruff and angry when questioned about his strategies?
Today's Wall Street Journal headline story outlines the case of Illinois Governor Rod. R. Blagojovich . The chief executive of the state of Illinois was arrested today for attempting to sell President-elect Obama's Illinois Senate seat. He was also charged with conspiring to bribe others and committing mail and wire fraud. Federal authorities also allege that the governor attempted to bribe the head of Children's Memorial Hospital in exchange for state funding. Further, the FBI alleges that the governor wanted Chicago Tribune reporters who were critical of him to be removed in exchange for a speedier sale of Wrigley Field.
When times are tough, it is human nature to batten down the hatches. However, when business is reduced to just a set of metrics and numbers without consideration to the human side of business, growth and productivity are unintentionally squelched. Several years ago some colleagues and I were making a sales pitch to the CEO of a large chemical manufacturing company set to make major large-scale change. We argued that there was a need to manage the human side of the change in order to get the desired return on investment. The CEO remarked that his employees would just have to "get over it." Fortunately, we were able to persuade the CEO and CFO that they could not afford to be distracted by employees who were not on board and aligned with the desired changes.
I have consulted to a number of companies struggling with merger integrations. Merger integration processes are ripe with opportunities for tangles. I have coined the term organizational tanglesSM to cover a broad spectrum of human dynamics challenges that block productivity and results. Based on my years of experience as a consultant to leaders, as well as my research, I have created a taxonomy of tangles. A tangle is characterized by strong egos, protected turf, and a propensity to blame others. A common hallmark of tangles is "us vs. them" thinking and behavior.
Several years ago, I was on a cross-country flight. The pilot came on and told us that we were going to encounter some turbulence. He explained that we were going through a patch of rough air that was akin to being on top of pot of boiling water. He went on to say that he and the copilot were committed to finding calmer air space. As I recall, he explained that the bumpiness would last about 15 minutes. During that time, we could expect the ride to be quite bumpy. Having a clear picture of what was happening, why, and how long it would last certainly helped relieve the collective passenger anxiety.
This morning's San Francisco Chronicle featured a story in remembrance of the Jonestown massacres thirty years ago. In the front page article, Congresswoman Jackie Spier recalls her trip to Jonestown with Congressman Leo Ryan . For the past several weeks, the daily financial news has been grimmer and grimmer. Business leaders are faced with rising costs, uncertain revenue projections, and a shortfall of cash and credit.
According to Morgenson, E. Stanley O'Neal, Merrill's CEO, is described as an autocratic leader. Two of his lieutenants discouraged open communication between the risk management arm and the sales arm. One of the lieutenants was Osman Semerci. Semerci she wrote, "often played the role of tough guy . . . silencing critics who warned about the risks the firm was taking." He also "would chastise traders and other moneymakers who told risk management officials exactly what they were doing." We can only infer that important lines of communication and necessary discussions to determine true risk were cut off. Most likely, not talking about the obvious, unexpected, or anything out of the ordinary became the norm. Some employees described Semerci as intimidating. Like the frog who gets comfortable as the temperature of the lukewarm water rises, Merrill employees no doubt became used to the culture of fear and didn't speak up.
Yesterday, after the votes in the U.S. Presidential election had been counted and the winner decided images of the world's reaction to the election of Barack Obama filled our television screens. As I watched crowds and individuals from all over the world chant "Yes We Can" with tears in their eyes, I too found myself succumbing to a tsunami of emotion. Hope filled my heart as my eyes filled with tears. I cannot remember a more universal, positive, or global transcendent moment.
I talked about the volatility, uncertainty, and complexity in previous posts. In this post I discuss ambiguity, the fourth element of VUCA. In my executive coaching practice, I have encountered business leaders who have varying degrees of comfort with ambiguity. When things are ambiguous, they are not clear. Sometimes the situation itself is unclear. Sometimes the problem and/or solution are both unclear. Often, the very business environment itself is ambiguous. When leaders are not clear about what a particular event or situation means, they become frozen and cannot make decisions. For instance, in our current financial environment, we know that the Federal government has released funds to banks. What is unclear right now is how those funds will be disbursed, or if they will be disbursed, the level of risk, and if the stimulus packages will even work.
More than ever, not everything is knowable to an organization’s leaders. Owen Jacobs, who I referred to in yesterday’s post, argues that leaders may have all of the important elements of a situation but may not be able to connect all of the dots. The information may be coming from the outside environment, or within the organization. Therefore, in order to help their organizations connect the dots, leaders need to design their organizations so that information can more easily turn into knowledge, and that knowledge can be acted upon quickly.
In yesterday's post, I made reference to the term VUCA. VUCA stands for volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. Executive leaders have been increasingly challenged with VUCA, but in today's market, more so than ever. In the past six weeks, it feels like we have been collectively on an “E” ticket ride, although not at Disneyland! As the stock market has risen and fallen at dizzying levels, and with the credit markets in a vise, we have held our collective breaths. The business leaders I have spoken to or visited are struggling to make sense of the situation. Today, I will address the “V” in volatility.
Welcome! I have been meaning to write a blog for a long time. As I have watched the financial markets spin out of control, and my leadership clients express true concern about their futures, I could hold off no longer. I have been in the field of leadership and organizational development for a number of years. I am in this field because I am passionately committed to igniting leadership potential and organizational transformation. Six years ago, I decided to up my game by entering a doctoral program. I graduated with my Ph.D. in March, 2007. Through that intense process, combined with more than twenty-five years working with leaders in a multitude of corporations, small, medium, and large, I feel uniquely equipped to lend my voice to these troubled times.