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"In our era, the road to holiness necessarily passes through the road to action."
Dag Hammarskold

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Leadership Notes -- Thoughts on Leading People and Making a Difference in Organizations

Word count this issue: 421

Estimated reading time:  2:45 minutes

 

Last week I introduced some of my thinking about connectivity saying that you may have thousands of followers on social media, but that does not mean that you are connected. To be truly connected to another person in the digital (r)evolution, we need to make some conscious choices about the the nature and quality of the connections we are making. And for all of our connections through media and devices, our brains are wired for face to face communication.

 

I then introduced the idea of Dunbar’s number where it appears that we can handle a maximum of about 150 people in our ‘in-group.’ For many of us though, the 150 people who are in our in-group look and sound like us. One of the challenges is that we can fall into a group think trap. If you want innovation and creativity, you need to have diversity.

 

I see the three main elements for strong in-group diversity; respect, safety and fairness. Last week we looked at respect, this week, let’s explore safety.

 

The very best leaders are the ones who open themselves and their teams to new ideas, and new people, especially those who are different from the status quo. By pushing our own and our teams comfort zones our confidence and sense of safety grow. This holiday season, many of you will be generously donating to charities that support the less fortunate in your communities. Great, well done. And writing a cheque or sending an e-payment or clicking on a “donate here” button are acts of safety; you do not have to actually face the people who are less fortunate, you simply send them money. To push your safety zone, take the money to the charity’s office, or better yet, see if they need a volunteer for a shift or two. Go and meet people who appear different. In other words, push your safety boundary. There you will see the power of diversity and creativity. The more I can find myself working with people who are not like me, the safer I will feel. 

 

May you push the boundaries of your comfort zone this week.

 

Leadership Notes will not be published between Christmas and New Year and will return on the first week of 2017.

 

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to you and yours, and I wish you a healthy and happy New Year.

 

 

 

Leadership Notes -- Thoughts on Leading People and Making a Difference in Organizations

Word count this issue: 406

Estimated reading time:  2:45 minutes

 

Well the polar vortex is providing clear blue skies and cold temperatures here on the Sunshine Coast of BC. We are in the midst of projects with clients and getting the house set up for the Christmas break. I’ve been thinking recently about connectivity.

 

You may have thousands of followers on social media, but that does not mean that you are connected. To be truly connected to another person in the digital (r)evolution, we need to make some conscious choices about the the nature and quality of the connections we are making. And for all of our connections through media and devices, our brains are wired for face to face communication. Simply put the more face time you have with another person, the more likely the two of you will be in each other’s in-group. Think for example how easy it is to have a mean spirited “shouting match” with a total stranger on social media. In part, that is because they are not part of your “in group.”  The evolutionary biologist Robin Dunbar suggests that we can ‘know’  (they are in our in-group) about 150 people. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2013-01-10/the-dunbar-number-from-the-guru-of-social-networks . You can manage that number up or down a bit, but it seems we are wired to max at about 150 people in our ‘tribe.’ After that we start to form break away groups and silos.

 

For many of us though, the 150 people who are in our in-group look and sound like us. One of the challenges is that we can fall into a group think trap. If you want innovation and creativity, you need to have diversity.

 

I see the three main elements for strong in-group diversity; respect, safety and fairness. We’ll look at each one over the next few weeks.

 

Respect

 

We all need to feel that we have value and are an integral part of the group. That value is exhibited in our mutual regard. Respect is entirely reciprocal; if you want respect from another person, you have to respect them first. See out common ground, look to the gifts they bring to the team, and to your work.

 

 

May you respect more and be respected more this week.

 

Leadership Notes -- Thoughts on Leading People and Making a Difference in Organizations

Word count this issue: 423

Estimated reading time:  2:45 minutes

 

Greetings from a cold and snowy Vancouver. We are shivering and sliding around today, as a pacific storm hits a cold front. That doesn't happen very often here, where having lived here for 30 years I can count on one hand the number of white Christmases. 

 

The weather has got me thinking about risk management, and old adages like ‘better safe than sorry.’ You may recall the family movie from a few years ago, The Croods https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4fVCKy69zUY where a risk averse, “never leave the cave”, prehistoric family are thrust into wonderful and terrifying new world. 

 

There appears to be a tension within us somewhere between “never leave the cave” and “oh wow, that is really cool, I want a closer look.” Our brains are wired towards the former; likely for our own survival, but we are a curious species. One of the challenges we face though in the 21st Century is how “never leave the cave” becomes our only fear driven perspective. It leads to racism, to misogyny, to homophobia. And it leads to in and out groups within organizations. 

 

From a leadership perspective, in addition to the moral problems with exclusionary beliefs and actions, our brains do not work very well under threat. We move to narrow tunnel vision, mere compliance (rather than commitment) and the loss of creativity and innovation. I would hazard a guess, that somewhere in the strategic plan of your organization is some mention of a need to increase creativity and innovation. 

 

Here are three ways that you can increase creativity and innovation in your team.

 

Always discuss risk coupled with reward. Our brains will focus on what we are talking about and if we are only concerned with risk, that is where we will stay.

Put diverse people on teams. Mix up project teams by gender, age, and skin colour, as well as expertise. Diverse groups take longer to make decisions but their decisions, once made are always better.

Celebrate mistakes, sincerely.  Mistakes that have grown out of trying something new are signs of learning and creativity. It may not have worked, but at least we now know that. 

 

Our work in these times is about revolution; examining the assumptions we have had in the past, and turning them over as required. To live in a world where we cannot leave the cave, is to stagnate and die.

 

 

Leadership Notes -- Thoughts on Leading People and Making a Difference in Organizations

Word count this issue: 316 

Estimated reading time:  2:30 minutes

 

I heard a great phrase in a conference call with a client the other day. “Talent is a garden.” I wonder, what does that phrase mean to you?

 

Here’s where I went with it. Gardens are places of growth and new life. There are new plants and old plants, and some in between. There are roots  and leaves, and all of them need soil to grow. There are good bugs and bad bugs, and there are even weeds that sometimes get in, and have to be pulled. There are seeds that fall and germinate, and others that fly off into the wind. And the best gardens are tended and cared for.

 

The talent garden in your organization is similar. It should be a place of growth and new life. You need to mix and match old and young, wise and excited. You need traditions that root you. You need new ideas, like new leaves stretching for new opportunities. You need lived values that are the soil in which the garden grows. There are systems and tech that support and can, like some bugs, wreak havoc. Sometimes, people who do not fit, people with different agendas get in, and while sometimes, like weeds, they can be attractive in their own right, they are not what the garden needs at this point. The new ideas and possibilities, the seeds that get generated sometimes work in our garden, and sometimes they need to move to other gardens to flourish there. And your garden does not just happen; forethought, imagination and vision are required to create the best gardens.

 

 

So what do you imagine your talent garden needs to look like in 5 years and what are you doing right now to begin to create that garden?

 

Leadership Notes -- Thoughts on Leading People and Making a Difference in Organizations

Word count this issue: 455

Estimated reading time:  3:00 minutes

 

Have you seen meme’s of people with confederate flags and saying, "you lost, get over it" recently on social media?

 

 

Yes, for many they are funny, even poignantly funny, but the interesting aspect for me is that they are great examples of how we can often see other people’s foibles, follies and biases, but we’re not so good with our own. As leaders, we must consistently be working on our own self-awareness. Trust me, while you have probably not been wearing a Confederate flag on your lapel and told people they lost, get over it, you (and I) have said or done something equally equally ironic, you (and I) have just not been aware of it. 

 

Pretty much anytime you think or say that the problem is the other person, you are not aware that your behaviour, your perspectives, your actions, are at least as responsible. For example, I have this happy little story that I am not racist. At a workshop on fighting racism, a fellow clergy person of colour told me that he would never join a group of white clergy people talking in a group together because he feared wouldn’t fit in the conversation. I realized that I could count on one hand the number of times I did not fit in because of the colour of my skin. I recalled how uncomfortable that had made me feel. And to think, that this person experienced that discomfort every day. My own happy little world that “colour doesn’t matter to me” was ignoring a fundamental experience of friends and colleagues. Every time I had said, I’m not racist, someone somewhere would be rolling their eyes. What had I ever done to ensure that this colleague of mine was welcome to join our circle? Hadn’t I even thought, oh, he’s got his own friends over there (the other clergy who were people of colour)?!

 

 

The very best leaders are the ones who open themselves and their teams to new ideas, and new people, especially those who are different from the status quo. The best leaders reach out across divisions of skin colour, socio-economics, gender and sexuality. They make others feel welcome, they inquire about other people’s experience. The best leaders push away from biases that assume that everyone’s experience of the world is like their own. And they learn from their mistakes and do their best to make amends, as I will be doing with my clergy colleagues who are people of colour. It took someone else’s experience and courage to point out what I couldn’t see in myself. I hope someone does that for you one day soon.

 

Leadership Notes -- Thoughts on Leading People and Making a Difference in Organizations

Word count this issue: 842 (This is an important piece)

Estimated reading time:  6:00 minutes

 

Good evening from a stormy Vancouver. It is one of those rainy nights that appears biblical in proportions! The theologian in me wonders if the frogs and locusts are next! 

 

Walking home from a coaching session with a client this evening, I was thinking about a conversation with an African American friend the other day. She was telling me about the experience of telling her adolescent children about the election results. I asked, “what did she tell them?” She said, “I told them nothing had changed.” She said a lot more, but it was that comment that got me really thinking.

 

I am a straight white male in my 50’s. I’m very liberal socially and left of centre economically and politically. I think of myself as the kind of man that women are safe around. I am an ally of LGBTQ people and see all humans as completely equal. I also own an apartment in downtown Vancouver and have a steady income which means I am very close to, if not inside the 1% globally in terms of wealth. As a priest friend of mine said once, if you own more than one pair of shoes you are wealthy compared to most people on the planet. I own several.

 

All of this to say, that from my perspective, much has changed. 

 

I think of it this way, if you imagine me standing in the middle of a group of concentric circles (like ripples) moving out. My happy little liberal world had a bright light shining on me and people like me. The rest of the circles, from my perspective were in shadow, and difficult for me to see. I might see something unnerving every now and then. I’d hear about a hate crime, I hear about a sexist or racist remark, but they were all in the shadows, from my perspective. 

 

It was kind of like being in a house in the tropics late at night. You learn to turn the light on before you get out of bed so that all of the bugs scatter across the floor before you step down.

 

Trump’s election turned a light on and the people doing the hate crimes, the racism, the sexism, they didn’t run away and hide. They were right there for me (from my happy little circle) to see. For me, everything changed. I could now see what I could not, or perhaps even would not see before. For people like my African American friend, nothing had changed; the racism, the sexism, the hate crimes were always there. But for me, everything changed, because now I could see. 

 

The closer into the middle of the concentric circle’s you are, the more disturbing the past 10 days or so have been. Our brothers, sisters and niblings in the circles farther away from the centre have been dealing with this for years, we’ve just been too blind to see it, or too comfortable to want to change it.

 

So now we have a choice, we can try to close our eyes and shut out the light, or we can stand up and face the sexism, and racism and homophobia in our own lives and in our own circles. In our organizations and teams, ensuring that all people are treated with dignity and respect, not because of who they love, or the colour of their skin, but because they are human beings. They are on your team because of their competencies, respect those. Help them grow into the human beings they are called to be, not to make them into clones of you or your culture or gender. Give them the opportunity to grow.

 

I watched an old friend do this masterfully a number of years ago. We had run into each other at an airport gate, on our way home from other connecting flights. He was travelling with a younger man, obviously learning the ropes in the business from my friend, the master. As we were talking the young man said something like, “oh, yeah, just like him, he’s so retarded.”  Without missing a beat, my friend turned to the young man and said, “that language and kind of thinking is not appropriate at all and needs to stop, right here, right now.” He then turned back to me and continued the conversation. He was careful to include the young man in the conversation after a minute of so of his guilty silence. It was a powerful message for a leader to send, and it was done non-violently and with an intention of helping the guy grow and develop.

 

The lights are on, there are bad things out there that those of us in positions of power and influence have missed. We cannot miss them any more. May this week be the beginning of a new day of stopping racism, sexism and homophobia in its tracks in the workplaces we have responsibility in.