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.
Unequal Power EquationIn boss/nonboss relationships, the power equation is not equal. A boss influences one's pay, promotional opportunities, assignments, and one's jobs. It takes a level of awareness, emotional intelligence, and clear intention for a leader to create an environment in which there are no retributions for speaking the truth, and as Samuelson points out, bringing problems and asking for advice.
In my experience, one of the key contributors to the creation of strangling tangles is the story we tell ourselves about what we should say or not say in conversations. When we view others as more powerful, we are not likely to tell the truth. On the other hand, when we can truly say, "I am powerful and competent and you are powerful and competent," that is the beginning of a good conversation.
How can an organizational consultant help?
As Samuelson observed, discussions facilitated by an outside person model a process for frank, honest conversations. I am a firm believer in not becoming what one of my teachers called a "heart and lung" machine for my clients. My goal is to teach clients to have honest, open conversations all the time, not just when I am around. When the stakes are high, though, I believe that a skilled organizational consultant can bring the heat down and help two people, a small group, or a team, address tough issues.
Make It Safe for Others to Give You FeedbackSamuelson internalized the feedback process that was modeled by her bosses early in her career. They hired an outside consultant to facilitate conversations. She learned early on that she played a part in the equation. Her bosses made it safe for her to speak freely. She also made it safe for them to offer her feedback. Feedback giving is a two-way street. And as Samuelson observed, when you make it safe for others to offer you feedback, they only want to help you more.
I coach clients to enter conversations feeling powerful and competent, and to view others in the same way. Often, I help facilitate these difficult conversations. Modeling the way, as a mentor, coach, helps level the playing field.
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