The Benefits of Adaptive Learning

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The other day, I stopped by to see a friend and colleague. On his desk was one of the best leadership books of the past decade, The Practice of Adaptive Leadership by Ronald Heifetz, Marty Linsky and Alexander Grashow. It is stellar description for leadership of the importance of the capacity to adapt to changing circumstances. Adaptation is a key skill for leaders who are managing change, while at the same time creating stable, sustainable enterprises.

Peter Mello and I had the opportunity to interview Marty Linsky on the book for two Weekly Leader podcasts, Part 1 and Part 2. It is worth hearing Linsky talk about the book and his work with Ron Heifetz.

Sitting there with this friend in his office, talking about leadership, how we deal with people in various situations, I came to a realization about myself, and about adaptive leadership.

In order to be an adaptive leader, we must be an adaptive learners.

I  realized, then, that virtually everything I know, I learned from someone else.

It wasn't like a being student in a classroom learning from a teacher. Rather, it was learning by listening and observing to the lessons embedded in a person's perceptions and experience.

Listening and Observing - keys to being an adaptive learner.

Informational or Contextual?

There is no way I can tell you what I have learned from any particular individual. It isn't that type of learning.

It isn't informational learning.

Rather it is contextual learning. Learning from the context of a person is learning to see how ideas matter within a certain distinct situation.

It isn't abstract, or detached from experience. Rather, it is how an idea that transitions from the idea itself to something practical and real, that's applied in a particular situation.

The use of values in an organization is an example.

There are two types of values.

There are the ones that are on a list that the company claims are their values.

Then, there are the ones that actually are practiced by the people in the company.

These two sets of values are not always the same, congruent or even aligned.  Depending upon different conditions, the same understanding of value will have a different application in an organization.

Company A espouses to be an open, transparent organization placing a high value on communication. Company B makes the same claim. The difference is in their context.

Company A is physically structured so that executives are separated into their own discrete offices. Communication is mediated by administrative assistants, and written information distributed throughout the company. If you want to speak to V.P. Joe, you go through his assistant Mary, or look at the latest memo.

Company B is physically structured around an open space concept. My friend Dana Leman of RandomKid share with me her experience of touring the Bloomberg offices in New York. She sent me a link ot a video tour of their offices. Regardless of your position, your office is in the midst of this open concept. The benefit is a greater exchange of ideas.

So, two companies can claim allegiance to the same values, but their application of those values be totally different. To understand the difference is to understand how to these insights and apply them in your own context.

Through my conversation with Dana, my perception of how to organize office space is different.

This is how adaptive learning happens. We listen for insights for applying ideas in various contexts. The more we learn from others the clearer our own understanding becomes, and how we can be adaptive leaders.

This kind of understanding is tacit and intuitive. It isn't an understanding derived from an analytical process. Rather, our brains synthetically weave together many thoughts, impressions, experiences, and feelings to provide understanding. The more this emergent awareness is allowed to take place the greater the capacity for adaptive leadership.

Adaptive leadership is a shift away from the old command-and-control method.

It requires openness to other people, their ideas, their experiences and an appreciation of their particular context.  The easiest way to begin to learn this kind of adaptive behavior is simply to listen and apply the good ideas that you hear each day. 

The Difference Adaptive Learning has made to me.

Sitting in my friend's office, I came to realize that adaptive learning had been my practice for over 30 years.

Listen and learn from people, whomever you meet, you can learn something from them.

Listen to them, ask questions to clarify what their experience was. Listen without trying to compete. Listen to learn.

Take what is heard and seen, then, reflect, process and apply what you learned.

Share what you learned with others. Express gratitude.  

This is how the Circle of Impact Leadership Guides came to be developed. Circle of Impact
From lots of conversations over the years, about what was happening in organizations, each one contributing a little piece of wisdom and understanding, creating a holistic perspective, I learned what I was suppose to see in leadership. In effect, these are not my ideas, but rather my catalog of what I've learned from other people. These lessons have wide applicability because this is the product of contextual learning, not simply the exchange of information.

The benefits of adaptive learning are many.  Here's what I've learned.

1. We learn that Ideas matter.

They are the key to understanding where we are and how we can adapt to the changes that are constantly confronting us. They connect us to people. They are tools for being more effective communicators. All learning at the most fundamental level is about ideas. Without ideas, we are left only with feelings. As a result, adaptive leaders must also be idea people who are interested in the ideas of others, not just in what they are thinking.

2. We learn that Relationships matter.

When we place ourselves in a position to learn from every person with whom we meet, every single one, we come to understand how our interaction within a social context is where the action of organizations is found. The greater our capacity for forming adaptive learning relationships, the greater our capacity to develop the adaptive capacities of employees.  Those adaptive capacities provide employees the opportunity to lead from their own specific work context. This is part of what I mean by the idea, Community of Leaders.

3. We learn that Structures are either tools for adaptive learning and leadership, or they are obstacles.

If the structure of a business does not provide a way for people to learn from one another, and to apply that learning, then it is stuck in a system of operation that is not sustainable. 

For many businesses, the structure of their organization is, seemingly, the only tangible, secure, stable, set, concrete, real thing that exists. It is a monument to the past, not a platform for constant adaptation and innovation.

4. We learn that learning matters more than knowing.

When our posture towards others is learning from them, we are less concerned about making sure they understand just how much we know.

It this is an issue for you, then practice asking questions about things you do not know. Read books in subject areas in which you have no background. Stop trying to reinforce you own knowledge, and start expanding it. Start listening for the wisdom and insight in others.

5. We learn that if we never stop learning, we also never arrive at a full and complete understanding of anything.

Adaptive learning isn't a tactic we deploy for a period of time to ramp up our current knowledge on a subject. Rather, adaptive learning is a lifestyle of openness to new ideas, fresh insights from people and a reflective approach to applying ideas by doing things differently one step at a time.

6. We learn that adaptive learning changes us so that adaptive leadership is possible.  

Adaptive learning simplifies the way we approach leadership. It becomes about the impact we need to have right now. The old way of strategic planning is having to change to become more adaptable. This approach produces leaders who are nimble, intuitive and able to take advantage of the changes that are constantly happening.To adapt is to change. To change in this way is to make a difference that matters, it is to create impact. Becoming impact focused simplifies leadership.

7. We learn that adaptive learning leads to adaptive leadership which leads ultimately to becoming a Community of Leaders.

An adaptive leader will be most effective in creating a culture of adaptive learning. To do so means that each person takes responsibility for their learning, their contributing and their responsibility to create impact. Adaptive learning starts with the personal decision to learn from others. This nurtures within the individual the personal intiiative from which all leadership originates.  It isn't just the individual initiating change. It is the whole organization as a community functioning as adaptive leaders.  This is what I see as a Community of Leaders.

Realizing that I have lived this way throughout my life, my gratitude grew towards the hundreds of people from whom I've learned. Many are no longer with us. Many have no idea of the impact that they have had on me. Many are friends who are my go-to-people for counsel when I need it. Many are random people whom I've met in passing whose stories and insight helped me gain a deeper appreciation of so many different ideas and ways of leading organizations. If you are one of these people, I thank you.


Connect, Communicate & Contribute

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Engagement is the hot leadership strategy these days. On some subliminal level, we know what it means. But on a practical level, it is much more difficult to define. It is like so many ideas during this time of epic transition in society.  Abstractions are easier to understand that actual actions.

I'm involved in a project with the Presbyterian Churches (PCUSA) in North Carolina to raise money for our ministries on college and university campuses. It is more than a fund raising project. It is an engagement one, as we engage all segments, levels and congregations of the North Carolina Presbyterian world to support our work with students, faculty and university administrators.As we have worked through the various strategies that we need to successfully meet our financial goals, we are at the same time affecting change in people's perceptions and actions. This is very much what engagement means in its current use.

Our engagement strategy is built around actions that we are asking people and their churches to take. In this sense engagement, isn't just marketing, but encouragement to action. The emphasis on action, rather engagement, is because engagement is an ambiguous term. It can mean only mental engagement. And ultimately that sort of engagement does not produce results. Actions builds confidence, and confidence builds strength. So the goal of any engagement process should be more people participating, action, doing, taking initiative in three specific areas that we have identified as critical to our success.

We are focused on three types of actions: Connection, Communication and Contribution. If we succeed in increasing the level of connection, communication and contribution, then our campaign will be successful. This is true for any organization.

The simple idea that lies behind connecting, communicating and contributing is the importance of personal initiative. If you want people to be engaged, then they have to take initiative. When their initiative is focused on making connections with people, communicating their mission in terms of a story, and intentionally and strategically contributing by making a difference that matters, then engagement ceases to be a cool abstract business idea, and a living reality within your organization.

I cannot emphasize enough that the key is creating an environment where people feel free to take initiative to connect, communicate and contribute. If there is fear or too many boundaries to cross or obstacles to overcome, then they won't.

What does it mean to Connect, Communicate and Contribute?

Here's a starting point for each.

Connection: Connection

We all move through our lives in relationships with others. Some people are family, others are friends, many are colleagues and the vast majority are people who are nameless faces that we pass by along our life's journey.

There are three keys to connection.

The first key is that through our connections we open ourselves up to a broader, more diverse context.  The perspective we gain helps us to better understand who we are and how we fit in the social and organizational settings where we live and work.

The second key is our connecting strengthens community. When I introduce one person to another, the opportunities that can grow from that connection far out weight the ones we have without those connections. Living in isolation, which is not the same as being an introvert, weakens the institutions that society depends upon for its strength.

The third key is that when we connect, we are placing ourselves in a relationship of potential mutuality of contribution. I can pinpoint people with whom I connect with around the world for whom our mutual support for one another is an important foundation strength for our lives. We don't connect just to receive something from someone, but also to give in mutual benefit.

Communication: Communicating

With the growth of social media, everyone is a communicator. However, what do we mean by communication?

The most common fallacy regarding communication is that it is about what I communicate to others.  It is the old model of information distribution as communication.

The kind of communication that matters, that engages people to participate and contribute, is one that is more like a conversation. It is a two exchange, rather than simply a one-way download of my opinion.

The real purpose behind communication is to establish a connection that builds an environment of respect, trust, commitment, and contribution. This produces real conversations that matter. This is how communication becomes genuine engagement.

Contribution:  

I have seen so many organizations during my professional career that were languishing because there was no spirit of contribution.By this I mean, the people who were the organization did not see themselves as the owners of its mission. They were employees hired to do a job.

A culture of contribution is built upon a foundation of appreciation and thanks.

Typically, people see thanks as a response to a gift of some kind. As a response, it is less an act of initiative, though deciding to write a note, rather than sending an email, is a greater act of initiative because the effort and cost are more. 

The purpose here is to understand how increasing contributions by people is a form of engagement. Five Actions of Gratitude - blogpixRED

The Five Actions of Gratitude are acts of personal initiative. They are intentional and strategic. They are acts of mutuality that provide meaning and reality to the connections that we've made. Let's take a quick look at each to understand their function as sources of contribution. I've written more extensively about this under the title, The Stewardship of Gratitude.

Say Thanks: Too often saying thanks is a way we close a conversation. That is not what this is. Instead, we are expressing a perspective that identifies how the connection to someone, group or community has made a difference to them.  Our giving of thanks contributes to the strengthening of the ties that bind a social or organizational setting together.  I've heard it said that Saying Thanks is the "lubrication" that greases the wheels of society, making them run smoothly.  This is part of its contribution.

Give Back: When we give back in service, we are giving, contributing to a person, an organization or a community that has given to us. This is the heart of what we know as volunteerism and philanthropy. For many people, this is where our most significant contributions are made.

Make Welcome: This act of hospitality, or Hostmanship as Jan Gunnarsson suggests, creates an environment of openness, inviting people to join as participants who give, create, contribute their gifts and talent.  Openness and hostmanship are not automatic actions. They are intentional actions of initiative that create the opportunity for an organization to develop a culture of open contribution. Where there is openness to contribute, there is engagement.

Honor Others: When we practice honor, we elevate the human connection that exists in an organization or a community. I cannot think of an more important contribution than to create an environment where each person is honored with respect and thanks for the contributions that they make. Do this, and the motivation to contribute will grow.

Create Goodness: If we were to live to create goodness, we'd spend our days as contributors, and less as passive recipients of others creative goodness. My vision of this is to see an organization where every single employee take personal initiative to create goodness that makes a difference that matters.  To do this means that we'd face all those obstacles and cultrual barriers to engagement, and create a place where people can discover a fulfilling life of contribution as creators of goodness.

Strategic Connection, Communication and Contribution

These actions of personal initiative are not tactics for failing systems to buffer themselves against the harshness of a declining situaiton. Instead,these are strategies of change that help leaders and their organizations make the necessary transition from the organizational forms of the past into those that emerging. These are strategies of engagement because that create a different social environment for people.

At some fundamental level, we'd have to address the organization's structure to determine to what extent it can support a growing environment of connection, communication and contribution. This is the most difficult question because are embedded forms that are resistant to change. They do not adapt well to creative forces from outside of their own control. Yet, the engagement are identifying with these three strategies is an intentional relinquishing of control so that people are free to create their own ways of contributing.

In this sense, leadership shifts from a control mandate to a facilitating, equipping and visioning one. Leaders create an environment of openness so that personal intiative can create new structures for contribution. As a result, leaders become the keep and nurturer of the values of the company. They are constantly reminding everyone of these values of personal initiative, creativity and contribution.  They are protective of this openness that produces engagement.

The future belongs to those people who can create an organizational and community environment where personal initiative to connect, communication and contribute becomes the culture. When we do this, engagement transitions from being the hot topic of the moment to the reality that we find live with every day.


The Kindness / Gratitude Connection

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A friend of mine recently commented that his business and professional relationships were transactional, not relational.  In describing them, he meant that while they were congenial, the motivation for the relationship was quid-pro-quo.  

I'll scratch your back if you scratch mine, and will only scratch yours if you scratch mine.

A transaction-based relationship exists as a function of a reciprocal economic exchange. It is a sophisticated form of negotiated shared mutual self-interest. It's nothing personal. Just an agreement between two or more people, or the culture that exists in an organization or community.

In a transactional culture, the institutional relationship centers within a game of power, influence and control. The reward in such a relationship is the validation of self worth by the organization.

Communities, where a transaction-based culture exists, is oriented around the status of the influential and prominent, and the line between those who are and are not is clearly maintained as a part of the culture.

As my friend shared his experience with me, the context reminded me of the organizational leaders whom I interviewed in the mid-1990s. In those interviews, I asked,"If you were to lose everything this afternoon, who would stand with you?"  Most answered with silence. One or two offered, "My mother?" None said their business partners, their friends, their spouse or children.

One reason the psychic effects of the recession have been so severe is that self-worth for so many business and professional people is rooted in this transactional institutional relationship. In effect,

"I am my position, title, job responsibilities and compensation package."

Displaced from this organizational setting after years of service, cast adrift into a sea of other unemployed professionals, it quickly becomes apparent that these transactional relationships cannot sustain us through life's disruptive transitions.

Like the leaders I interviewed, many people are finding that their confidence in the support and security of their institution is disintegrating. As accomplished professionals, who successfully maneuvered the challenges of operating within a transactional business environment, they now realize that they are on-their-own to chart their future course in an unknown landscape where organizational connection matters less and less, and human connection everything.

The Gratitude Response

For almost three years now, I have been on a journey of discovery related to the practice of gratitude. It all started with my reponse - Say Thanks Every Day - to Daniel Pink's Johnny Bunko 7th Lesson contest. My 7th lesson quickly became The Five Actions of Gratitude, and my thinking on gratitude most fully expressed in my 2010 Weekly Leader series, The Stewardship of Gratitude

As with most of my projects, questions are the driver of discovery.

FiveActionsOfGratitude

At first, I wanted to understand gratitude, and how it can build stronger relationships and strengthen organizations. 

Then, I began to ask a question that got behind my original one.

When I am grateful to someone, to what am I responding?

After considerable of reflection, I finally concluded that it was human kindness.

By kindness, I mean acts that represent a certain kind of attitude and behavior that we have about people and our relationships with them.  I'm not just talking about family relationships, or close friends, but all our relationships, personal and professional.

Here's are some examples that inspire me to celebrate this human motivation.

A friend wrote me to tell about how she had been transferred to a different department within her company. While the change was good for her, it put her former boss and co-workers in a difficult position. Here's her description of what she did.

I told my ex-boss and current boss, that for my own conscience and personal conviction, I felt strongly wanting to help my ex-dept (esp my ex-bosses) as they were in very difficult times. I decided to take my few days of leave and go back to my ex-dept to coach and help them. Many, could not understand why I needed to go to this extent to help (by taking own leave) and jeopardizing my appraisal from my new dept by going the extra mile to help my ex-dept. I was not bothered because I knew what I was doing and I felt that loyalty, compassion and being there for my ex-bosses and colleagues were the most important things in life compared to how my new dept assessed me in my new appraisal.

My friend's former bosses and colleagues meant something to her. Her relationship to them was not a transactional relationship, but a professional relationship with a genuine depth of caring.

Another example that remains in my memory are the people I met in New Orleans and along the Mississippi Gulf Coast who had left the home communities, sold their homes or shut their utilities off, lock the doors and moved to contribute in the relief and recovery of the region following Hurricane Katrina. Six years later, some are still there making a difference as the region rebuilds.

I have the same respect for the hundreds, maybe thousands, of nameless people, who in the midst of the 9/11 destruction of the World Trade Center towers, the attack on The Pentagon and the bringing down of Flight 93 in rural Pennsylvania,  cared for people whom they did not know, yet were in need. Their acts of kindness and sacrifice are, for me, why we commemorate this day each year. They are a living reminder that not everyone bases their actions on a mutual economic exchange.

These examples, and many others, are for me the Kindness / Gratitude Connection.

Kindness

Adam Phillips and Barbara Taylor describe kindness, in their book On Kindness, this way.

"... life lived in instinctive sympathetic identification with the vulnerabilities and attractions of others."

Kindness is not the first attribute that we'd use to describe a business. Yet, it is one that we may identify as why we are loyal to one.

Kindness is an expression of empathy.  People who are kind and empathetic are able to see in other people the challenges they face and the potential that they have.  The empathy connection, like kindness, builds relationships of strength to overcome serious life challenges.

Kindness is a leadership capacity that transcends the formal structure of the organization. 

Leaders who can engage people with kindness and empathy are able to find resources of motivation and commitment that are non-existent in a transactional relationship.

Kindness in its fullness requires a level of personal maturity that enables us to look beyond our individual interests. In kindness, we can see the dignity, value and potential of other people.

Think of the many professional situations we encounter everyday. We walk into a room. There are a dozen or more people in there. What should our intention be?

If our intention is to be kind to each person, then we enter the room with the purpose of honoring them. To do so I must see that my presence in the room is not about me.  It is about the connection that can be made between me and another person, and of the room as a whole body of people.  My purpose is not to get something, but to contribute.

Does everyone in the room deserve this sort of treatment? Obviously not. But it isn't about treating people as they deserve. That is the transactional mindset. Rather, being kind in a business and professional context is about my acting in such a way that we all are able to achieve higher levels of impact that we could have.

Yes,

I am suggesting that the practice of kindness and gratitude is a strategy for strengthening organizations. And, that without it, a company is weaker, less able to manage change and adapt to their opportunities.

Yes,

I am saying that a transactional mindset is inherently unpredictable and organizationally divisive, and contributes to economic instability in organizations and the global economy.

Yes,

I am actually saying that leaders who only know how to work within a transactional model are weaker, and, their displays of control and ego are masks for fear and a sense of inadequacy.

Treating each person with respect, empathy and honor doesn't mean that we are simply nice to them. It is means that we listen and treat their ideas and their actions seriously. By treating them with honor, we are able to be constructively critical. Without honor, our criticism easily becomes self-serving and destructive.

With honor and kindness, we build understanding between us that elevates our mutual strategic thought processes. This is often what is missing in executive efforts to increase team communication and decision-making. It isn't about the analytical process, but about the relationship that builds understanding, unity and commitment.

A reason why so much of social networking, whether in person or online, is a waste of time is because its based on a transactional perspective. When we seek to be kind, to contribute to the welfare of others, to practice the Five Actions of Gratitude, then the social dynamic changes. 

As my understanding of Gratitude and, now, Kindness has grown, I'm also seeing how my best online relationships are mutual expressions of The Kindness / Gratitude Connection. 

The Power of Mutual Reciprocity

Genuine accountability in relationships requires openness, transparency, and a mutual willingness to adapt and change to make the relationship work. We share a mutual intention to submit to one another's critique and counsel.

When mutual accountability works, the relationship transcends the transaction and begins to move toward a relationship that reflects the kindness / gratitude connection

Kindness fosters giving. It opens up social settings to opportunities that do not exist except when relationships are healthy and vital.  Givers are the source of this openness. Philanthropy is an embodiment of the kindness of strangers giving to causes and institutions that matter to them. Their giving creates the strength that makes a society work.

For this reason, gratitude is more than a function of social etiquette to which my grandmother would earnestly approve.  Rather, It is a fundamental part of every human relationship that completes the act of kindness by giving back in gratitude.

In many ways, the kindness / gratitude connection is a type of love.  Here is the beginning of Trappist monk Thomas Merton's, No Man Is An Island.

"A happiness that is sought for ourselves alone can never be found: for a happiness that is diminished by being shared is not big enough to make us happy."

"There is a false and momentary happiness in self-satisfaction, but it always leads to sorrow because it narrows and deadens our spirit.  True happiness is found in unselfish love, a love which increases in proportion as it is shared.  There is no end to the sharing of love, and, therefore, the potential happiness of such love is without limit.  Infinite sharing is the law of God's inner life.  He has made the sharing of ourselves the law of our own being, so that it is in loving others that we best love ourselves.  In disinterested activity we best fulfill our own capacities to act and to be."

"Yet there can never be happiness in compulsion.  It is not enough for love to be shared: it must be shared freely.  That is to say it must be given, not merely taken.  Unselfish love that is poured out upon a selfish object does not bring perfect happiness: not because love requires a return or a reward for loving, but because it rests in the happiness of the beloved.  And if the one loved receives love selfishly, the lover is not satisfied.  He sees that his love has failed to make the beloved happy.  It has not awakened his capacity for unselfish love."

"Hence the paradox that unselfish love cannot rest perfectly except in a love that is perfectly reciprocated: because it knows that the only true peace is found in selfless love.  Selfless love consents to be loved selflessly for the sake of the beloved.  In so doing, it perfects itself."

"The gift of love is the gift of the power and the capacity to love, and, therefore, to give love with full effect is also to receive it.  So, love can only be kept by being given away, and it can only be given perfectly when it is also received."

The expression of kindness is analogous to the expression of love between people. Paraphrasing Merton, we could say. 

The gift of kindness is the gift of the power and the capacity to be kind, and, therefore, to give kindness with full effect is also to receive it.

The gift of gratitude is the gift of the power and the capacity to be grateful, and, therefore, to give gratitude with full effect is also to receive it.

The fulfillment of love for Merton isn't the expression of it. Rather, it is the mutual benefit that comes from mutual giving and receiving. This is what the Kindness / Gratitude Connection means.

My purpose is to show that gratitude is not just some nice thing that we do. Oh, isn't she nice. She sent me a thank you note. My point is to show that the expression of kindness and gratitude changes a professional relationship from a transactional one to an adaptive one..

When we act towards others with kindness, we open up possibilities in our relationship with them that would be more difficult to discover if my only interest was closing the deal. We become much more aware of the situations that we each have, and those that we share. As a result our communication level is deeper, and our willingness to help the other out is greater.

The Future is Kind

Everywhere I turn I see organizations and institutions failing because they think they can sustain the past into the future. The transaction-based professional relationship and institution are relics of a much more homogeneous, economically predictable time.  It is the model of the 20th century that worked.

The 21st century is vastly different. The organizational forms of the past are disintegrating, to the point that all that is left is the commitment and desire of people to sustain the place of their employment.

The future is going to be secured in relationships of mutuality, kindness, honor, empathy and gratitude. 

These relationships will transcend all the boundaries that we spent the 20th century seeking to overcome. Where they remain are places still committed to sustaining the past.

The beauty of the 21st century is that it is open to everyone because it is built upon our relationships with one another. It is not just an ethical perspective, but a strategic development one. Making the Kindness / Gratitude Connection a strategic focus on a business, the kind of relationship we need to manage rapid, accelerating global change can be realized. The real beauty of it is that it is not institutionalize, but personalized in each one of us.

If we want to be successful in every aspect of our lives in the future, then learn to be kind, giving, grateful and honoring of the people in your life.


Creating an Open Culture of Gratitude*

Five Actions Gratitude- horizontal

The executive leaders of businesses are not just strategic decision-makers and systems managers, but the creators of culture.  This culture is the human dimension of their organization. It is how people interact, communicate, collaborate and operate ethically. 

There are some aspects of a healthy culture that transcend time and place, industry and organizational purpose. One of those marks is openness.

Two questions drive this interest for me.

What is an open culture?

How can the practice of gratitude contribute to it?

Think of a culture of a business as being the product of the ideas and relationships of people connected to it.

A culture has distinguishing characteristics, activities, branded products and services. and specific processes that represent that culture. It is also the connecting ideas of purpose or mission, values, vision and impact that are given life by the people within the culture. A culture is what binds people together as a group, a movement or an organization, and provides them a way to interact and support what matters to them collectively.

Cultures can be open or closed, healthy or dysfunctional, unified or confused, sustainable or dying.

The key to creating a healthy, sustainable culture is openness.

The Marks of an Open Culture

In an open culture there are low barriers to contributing.

A new person can join, and immediately make an impact. There is no process of jumping through hoops to determine whether you are worthy of contributing. I see this particularly in social organizations, whether a club or religious congregation. In an open culture, people join and start participating and contributing right away. Their contribution is valued and recognized.

Another characteristic of an open organizational culture is a high incidence of personal initiative being taken by members. In my mind, initiative is the beginning of all leadership. Without initiative, there is no leadership, only passive followership.

In a closed culture, the initiative is reserved for the authority figures. They decide what the group does and doesn’t do. This high control environment means that personal initiative is resisted and those who may be more independent, creative and innovative in their attitudes and behaviors are discouraged or punished for being so. In an open culture, people recognize that they have the opportunity and responsibility to create new and better ways of realizing the impact of their organization. So, they take personal initiative to make difference that matters.

A third mark is that openness creates a higher level of adaptability. In a closed culture, the mindset becomes defensive and resistant to change. The assumption is that a culture is fixed in time, and remains the same over time.  Rather, what is fixed are the values that drive the culture. The expression of those values can change over time. But the values don't.

Jim Collins and Jerry Porras in their book, Built To Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies, make the distinction between core values and cultural practices.

“Core Values are the organization’s essential and enduring tenets – a small set of timeless guiding principles that require no external justification.”

Cultural practices, in their model, are those practices that have replaced the core values as the drivers of the company. These practices have lost their connection to the core values with the result that the company becomes closed to opportunities through change.

In an open culture, values matter. 

Your mission or purpose can change. Your vision can change. Your understanding of the impact that you want to have can change. They can because you are adapting to changes that are occurring simultaneously throughout the landscape of your business.  What guides you through change are your values. 

In an open culture, people find a culture where there are low barriers to contributing, their personal initiative to make a difference that matters is welcomed, and the company adapts more easily to change by being rooted in its values.

The challenge to creating an open culture is implementation. It is one thing to have well defined connecting ideas. It is another thing to know how to act upon them within the structure of the organization.

What I've discovered is that the practice of gratitude, as characterized in Say Thanks Every Day: The Five Actions of Gratitude, is a set of strategic practices that support an open culture.

The Five Actions of Gratitude as Openness Strategy 

Each of the five actions is an outreach of openness to others. It is not protective, defensive, exclusionary or elitist. It is open, grateful, giving, welcoming, respectful and creative.

Five Actions Gratitude

To Say Thanks is appreciate the actions and impact of another person.

It is recognizing another person or group’s contribution to your life and work. It is also a type of self-awareness that sees the beneficial place of others in our life

To Give Back is to recognize that I want to give back in service to persons, groups or communities some measure of the goodness that I’ve received from them.

This is not a payback of a debt owed, except as a debt of gratitude. It is an act of thankful contribution.

Imagine if this was the culture of your office right now. What would it would it look like. Maybe, what you’d see is a higher level of not just contribution, but sharing of work and responsibilities so that it gets done, and done well.

To Make Welcome is to create an open environment for people to take initiative to contribute.

With openness comes personal responsibility to make the workplace a better place to work, to innovate ways to better serve customers, and to resolve problems and issues before the grow into a crisis.

This is the key action for creating an open culture. It requires a specific kind of leadership that permits others to lead along side one another. It is a culture of shared responsibility and opportunity.

To Honor Others is to treat people with dignity, respect and kindness.

These are values that characterize the best of relationships. The are the basis for a culture of gratitude and trust.

The reality for most businesses is that these are rarely evident with any degree of strength. Why is it so?  My guess is that these practices require effort and commitment.  They do not easily translate to a company's bottom-line. They are not typically the qualifications for executive leadership. These values only create efficiency when the culture has reached a level of maturity. As noted above, it is this culture that produces the adaptability that is so essential for sustainable growth in the current business environment.

To Create Goodness is the outcome of an open culture that invites personal initiative to make a difference that matters.

Creativity is born in the initiative of a person. It rises from their values, their sense of purpose, the questions that lead them to explore new ways of doing the things and finally to make a difference that matters.

Goodness is the impact of an open culture. As the ancient Greeks understood goodness, it is a way to understand the fulfillment of purpose. It is way to understand wholeness, completeness, integrity and success. It is the fulfillment of the potential that resides in each of the connecting ideas. It is that intangible quality that brands the experience that people within a company's culture comes to measure the organization by.  It is the product of personal initiative, which flourishes within an open culture.

Creating an Open Culture of Gratitude

These practices are not just good ideas, which they are, not just good things to do, which they are, but more importantly a systemic strategy for the effective functioning of every organization. In order for a system of gratitude to be developed, the system that currently exists must be changed or replaced. It may be a small change or a large one, but turning your organization into an open culture of gratitude creates an environment of shared leadership that attracts the best talent to join you.

Leading in an Open Culture of Gratitude

I hear from people that gratitude is this sweet, grandmotherly sentiment that has little relevance to leading organizations. Obviously, they didn't know my grandmother. Instead, to practice gratitude as I've outlined here requires personal maturity, inner confidence, and a willingness to trust. Instead of it being trite, it is the most transformative, courageous thing an executive leader can do. 

To transform an organization’s culture from a closed one to an open one is dependent on the person at the top changing. It is a simple change, but a very difficult one. It is difficult because it is not tactical, but personal.

In order for an open culture of gratitude to grow, you have to decide that you are not the go-to-guy for everything, that you can’t make every decision, resolve every issue, be the king or queen on the throne, and be the one who dictates the course of your business. You can't even be the expert at creating an open culture of gratitude. You have to realize that you are a facilitator of talent, and that the value of that talent is only realized fully when each person is free to exercise their personal initiative for the greater good of the customer, other employees, the business and the community.

This is a change of mindset, of attitude and behavior. This is the supreme test of the character of the leader. Can you let go and let you people lead? If you can, then you can create an open culture of gratitude. If not, then you will be following those who can do it.

Openness is the key, and gratitude is the strategy that elevates openness to a practical, functional level.

Be grateful, giving, welcoming, honoring and creative and you’ll find new depth of impact emerging from the parts of your organization that have never produced to their potential. It all starts by being open and grateful.

* An earlier version of those post appeared as one of The Stewardship of Gratitude columns in Weekly Leader.


The Future of Trust

Trust

An interesting conversation is taking place about The Future of Money.  A global community is engaged in discovering  alternative ways of viewing the way commerce is conducted. They want to move economics beyond the transactional level to the social. What these bright innovators recognize is that trust must be at the center of all interactions in society. This is why I'm paying attention to this conversation.

This video captures the scope of this discussion.

The Future of Money from KS12 on Vimeo.

The video was produced as a part of a presentation that Venessa Miemis gave at the Sibos conference of the financial services industry in Europe. In her presentation she said,

There is a class of young, intelligent, creative, passionate people who have become disillusioned with the debt-based monetary system, and are busy creating new infrastructures, right now, that are allowing a commons-based peer-to-peer infrastructure to emerge - in parallel to what currently exists. And the foundation of this economy is based on trust, and on transparency, and on the ability of distributed networks to self-organize.

For the community concerned with the Future of Money to realize a financial system based on trust they will have to address the place of culture.

Social scientist Francis Fukuyama's book Trust: The Social Virtues and the Creation of Prosperity places trust at the center of cultures that prosper.

Trust is the expectation that arises within a community of regular, honest, and cooperative behavior, based on commmonly shared norms, on the part of other members of that community.

Fukuyama describes culture as an inherited ethical habit. 

Trust as an inherited ethical habit produces a culture that is predictable, open, honest and where mutuality is important.  The reciprocity aspect of trust is how it becomes a culture. It is shared and exchanged between people. It creates a value within the culture because trust elevates the possibilities that come from the relationship.

Trust, therefore, has a strategic, developmental, entreprenurial value upon which organizations and communities can create the future.

Over the past few months, I have been writing about the shift that I see taking place. You can download a compilation here.  I see this shift as moving us from a lower-level reality of self-focused individualism to a higher one of a shared community of responsibility and contribution.

This shift is necessary because the time of the imperial self is fading in the wake of its own exhaustion as an ideology and the growing complexity and interconnectedness of our global society. It isn't simply the idea of the influence and impact of one person upon the whole world. Rather, it is the need for higher-levels human interaction to fulfill the opportunities that are being presented each day.  We need each other precisely to fulfill our individual sense of calling to make a difference that matters. It is the matters part that drives us into social arrangements that require us to be better people. It is ironic that as the world shifts from the individual to the social, it is providing a better context for the development of human potential as a result.

At the heart of this shift in human history is the importance of trust as a core condition for human community 

What is the source of trust? 

Trust is an outcome of attitudes and behaviors that we share. When I trust you, it is based on my respect of you and an appreciation of who you are, in other words, of your dignity and value as a person. 

When a person lacks dignity and self-respect, I know that it will be hard from them to treat me with dignity and respect. As a result, it will be difficult for us to trust one another.

If trust is the outcome of mutual respect and dignity, then it is also a recognition of our interdependence upon one another. Our mutual respect means that we can see in the other person strengths and potential that is worth affirming and elevating. As a result at the heart of the experience of trust is the practice of honor.

Honor and Trust

When my Say Thanks Every Day: The Five Actions of Gratitude project first began my perception of honor was that it was about recognizing the accomplishments of people. While I still see that, I've come to realize that there is more to it.

At first, I began to ask some questions

What is it that we are recognizing when we honor people at banquets, awards shows, etc?

We are recognizing their accomplishments, their contributions, their acheivements in life and to specific organizational and social contexts.

Why do we recognize these achievements of these people, and not others?

Because those we recognize represent the values that unite us a group.  They signal to others what it takes to be a fully functioning, contributing member of our society. In essence, our recognition is symbolic of our values and beliefs as a people.

What if we reverse the sequence? Instead of recognizing people after their accomplishments, what if we recognized them, or rather affirmed them, for their potential accomplishments. Why can't we honor the talents and abilities of people in order for them to recognize the opportunity they have to make a difference.

Consider this.

You walk into a room of strangers. You don't know them. They don't know you. You feel a bit intimidated by the experience. Who are these people? Are they important or invisible? Are they interesting or boring? You don't know. Do you wait for someone to start a conversation, or do you take the initiative? If you take the initiative, what are you going to talk about? You're nervous, so you talk about yourself. You try to impress them with your own importance so they think you are important. Yet we know this doesn't really work. We come across as self-important egotists.

If instead we approached this scenario from the perspective of honor, then we walk into the room with the expectation of honoring each person. This means that we must discover what it is that is worth honoring in them. We must, therefore, ask questions about them. And once we find out some noteworthy things, we honor them by affirming and envisioning how they can make a difference.

Since I shifted my perspective to honoring the potential in people, I find it is much easier to trust them. There is a bond that forms.This is so because as soon as I recognize their potential, I become a partner with them in realizing it. Here's an example.

A few weeks ago I was at a conference in the mountains of Virginia, at a beautiful place called Primland. One evening after dinner, we were sitting outside of the Lodge where there was a firepit. A young man named Josh came out to start the fire. We began to talk with Josh about the property, where he was from and what his aims in life were. He was a student at a local community college, and wanted to be a professional writer of poetry and short stories.

So, here is this nice young man, who expresses himself well, talking about his writing. I ask him if he has shown his writing to anyone. He tells us that his father knows a best selling novelist, and wants to connect them up with each other. Good idea. Life is made from connections. He hasn't done this because he doesn't think he can show his work to the novelist yet. He doesn't say it, but he doesn't want to be embarassed if it isn't any good.

Here's an opportunity to honor someone who has not become accoplished in life, but who has potential, and needs both encouragement and some guidance. To honor him, I offer my help to read and critique his writing so he can go see this novelist with the confidence that he has something to offer than can make a difference. A simple offer that requires him to accept and act for trust to be realized.

When we honor someone in this way, we show respect and we establish the basis for trust to be shared between one another. Of course there will be people who reject our honoring of them. But those who do accept it complete the connection required for trust to live in a relationship. Imagine a group or society where this is the practice of the community.

Honoring others is a pathway to trust. Now pair this with my post of a few weeks ago, Honor and the Lost Art of Diplomacy. Here's part of what I wrote.

To live with honor and to practice diplomacy in our daily lives is not easy. It is countercultural, even prophetic in its application to our world today. It means that while we may disagree with another person, we can also honor them with respect, even if their behavior is a demonstration of a lack of their own self-respect.

I understand, therefore, that as we enter this new Presidential election campaign season, that your candidate is dishonored when you treat his or her opponents and supporters with dishonor.

I understand that your reasons for not voting for your candidate's opponent are not the same as having positive reasons for voting for them.

I understand that while pollsters say that negative campaigning wins votes, that it also poisons the well of respect that is required for the diplomacy that civic leadership demands.

I understand that dishonor in any context easily finds it way into others. Consider carefully what kind of atmosphere you want in your social and organizational life. The line between politics and the rest of life and work is razor thin.

I understand that to be honorable and diplomatic does not mean you give up your values and principles. It means that you do not win by destroying the other person. You lose by dishonoring your own values.

To practice honor and trust in this way is transformational. It sets up conditions in organizations and communities where people can discover their true contribution to society, and form the relationships that are needed to realize that calling.

To look objectively upon our world is to see a world where trust, respect, honor and mutuality are in great demand. When we treat others with disrespect and dishonor, we act without dignity.  The effect is destructive and toxic. It divides, isolates and creates inequities, poverty and war. I'm no optimistic Pollyanna who believes that we should all just get along. I'm a realist in understanding the competitive ground upon which we walk each day. There is more to trust that just respect and honor.

The Trust Connection Structural Hole

Over a decade ago I first read Ron Burt's Structural Holes: The Social Structure of Competition. Then, I had a beginning confirmation of what I knew intuitively. That the person who is able to establish relationships of trust is the one who will have a greater competitive advantage in a disruptive, rapidly changing world. In the diagram here, Mr Blue has a competitive advantage over Mr. Green and Mr. Red. His advantage is in brokering a relationship between them.  His ability to connect them together advances each of their opportunities to make a difference.

From the Burt's introduction ...

My argument is that much of competitive behavior and its results can be understood in terms of player access of “holes” in the social structure of the competitive arena.  Players are connected to certain others, trusting of certain others, obligated to support certain others, dependent on exchange with certain others….the holes in social structure, or, more simply, structural holes, are disconnections or nonequivalencies between players in the arena.  Structural holes are entrepreneurial opportunities for information access, timing, referrals, and control.  ...

But their individuality is the key to understanding competition.  The substantive richness of competition lies in its imperfections, the jostling of specific players against one another, each looking for a way to make a difference.  In the substantive details of imperfect competition lie the defining parameters of competition.  They are the parameters of player individuality.  Competition is imperfect to the extent to which multiple players together dominate a market, is an insufficient answer.  The central question for imperfect competition is how players escape domination, whether it is domination by the market or domination by another player.

This is the focus of the structural hole argument – a theory of freedom instead of power, of negotiated instead of absolute control.  It is a description of the extent to which the social structure of a competitive arena creates entrepreneurial opportunities for certain players to affect the terms of their relationships.

Competition is one way of understanding the social relations of people.We see it most destructively in predatory business practices and divisive, dishonorable politicing.

Its complement is collaboration.  If at the heart of competition is the competitive advantage that one brings because the other person, then at the heart of collaboration is the recognition of the advantage that another person brings to an endeavor. The most enlightened industries are ones where members become collaborative competitors.

I venture here because trust is essential to both competition and collaboration.  Structural Hole 2 Let's look at this expanded version of the diagram above.

Originally, Mr. Blue brokered a relationship between Mr. Green and Mr. Red. Now we see a network of relationships that is much different. Mr. Green now is the principal broker of relationships by simply bringing two rather than one new relationship into the network. As this network grows in complexity, the key to its healthy functioning is the quality of the relationship that exists.

Healthy competition strengthened by respect, trust and honor elevates the network beyond a transactional relationship, centered upon how to secure one's own benefits from the network. Instead, the network is transformed from a collection of individuals to a collaborative community that shares common values, goals and benefits.

The Future of Trust

Trust is developing as a strategic, emergent reality that transforms relationships of acquaintance into a communities of respect, honor and mutuality. It is the basis for the kind of economic system that is being explored by The Future of Money community. It is the kind of attitude and behavior that we should expect from elected leaders. It is what we should expect from ourselves.  This is the future of trust.


The Two Levers of Culture

Organizational culture is an important driver of any business. 3891544806_a7b01c8a63_b But culture is often seen as some vague organizational presence, typically personalized in the senior leader or owner. Culture is much more. 

For example, take a person. Hair, skin color, gender, height, shape, family lineage, geographic location and many other facets of a person are the things that distinguish us. But our hair, or lack of it, does not define us a whole person. It is all these things and more. The whole of a person is very similar to what we think of as the culture of an organization or a town. 

The culture of an organization therefore is something whole and complete, always shifting and changing as the context and the people within the organization change. Changes that are happening on a global scale are requiring us to pay more attention to precisely what is the culture of our businesses.

The shift that is taking place in organizational cultures is not incremental, but transformational. The mechanistic culture of the Industrial Age, think Henry Ford, defined the culture of most businesses over the past century. Today a more organic culture based on human interaction is emerging.

Australian Futurist Ross Dawson sees this Transformation of Business being driven by the following developments.

Flexible organizational structures

Distributed innovation

Tapping talent

Dynamic strategy

Scalable relationships

Governance for transformation

What drives these drivers? People, and the changes that they bring to their work in organizations.

A New Kind of Culture

Zappos.com is known for being a unique place to work. Its organizational culture stands out as distinctive. It is one of many businesses that have figured out how to engage its employees so that they want to give their best to their work.

Read the latest edition of their culture book (free for the asking at Zapposinsights.com), and page after page are brief stories by employees of their love and commitment to Zappos. Is Zappos the answer to the question about what the culture of work will look like in the future? No more so than any other business is the answer for every other business.  Zappos does provide an indicator of the kind of cultural change that is possible.

In the 2010 Zappos Culture book, CEO Tony Hsieh explains the Zappos culture.

“For us, our #1 priority is company culture. Our belief is that if we get the culture right, most of the other stuff – like delivering great customer service, or building a long-term enduring brand and business – will happen naturally on its own. … So what is Zappos culture? To me, the Zappos culture embodies many different elements.  It’s about always looking for new ways to WOW everyone we come in contact with. It’s about building relationships where we treat each other like family. It’s about teamwork and having fun and not taking ourselves too seriously. It’s about growth, both personal and professional. It’s about achieving the impossible with fewer people. It’s about openness, taking risks, and not being afraid to make mistakes. But most of all, it’s about having faith that if we do the right thing, then in the long run we will succeed and build something great.”

Tony Hsieh understands what Daniel Pink, in his book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, describes. Pink sees that people today are not motivated to excellence in their life or work by fear of punishment or just by financial rewards. Instead three personal factors - autonomy, mastery and purpose – are the key motivators.

Two Levers of Culture

At a deeper level, organizational culture is a values structure, especially those focused on purpose and mission, and respect, trust, openness and mutual reciprocity.

We can describe this human centered system by identifying two levers. These levers provide energy and strength to the system. One is self-leadership. The other is the functioning of the organization as a Community of Leaders.

Self-Leadership

The old industrial model of leadership was built around the idea that leaders control and the rest follow. That worked when followers lacked education and training, and business systems were relatively simple and predictable. Today, nothing is simple, and the complexity of organizational systems is such that talent has become an important differentiator between businesses.  Talented people need development and the right culture to be able to reach their potential.

These changes also mean that each employee has greater responsibility for their work than ever before. That responsibility is carried out through their own personal initiative.

Personal initiative is the origin of all leadership. Without it, nothing begins or is sustained. In the past, this initiative came from a small, select group of people in positions of leadership. Now, leadership is less a role and more the way a person conducts themselves within the culture of the company.

Personal initiative is product of self-leadership. It comes from the individual him or herself. It is that expression of inner motivation that turns a person who is only there to do the job assigned into a person who is a creator and contributor to the developing success of the company.

Where does this drive for personal initiative that is leadership come from?

It begins with values. Not generic ones that appear on rest room walls with not so subtle reminders to do your best. Rather these values are personal ones that transcend the individual and form a basis for collaboration. These are the kind of values that are expressed by Zappos employee Darrin S. in the 2010 Zappos Culture book.

One of the best bits of advice I've ever received was, "Surround yourself with people that make you want to be your best self."

My Interpretation of "best self" is this:

- Purpose greater than one's own personal interests.

- Fear of stagnation

- Relentless quest for the truth in decision making.

- A thrill for the unknown when the right answer is difficult to determine.

- Trust in the effort of others.

- Genuine desire to watch others succeed.

Zappos has a high concentration of people with these values and the Zappos Culture is a product of these people.

People like Darren are self-motivated to lead from their individual place within the company's structure. They look for ways to contribute, to innovate, and to create an impact that matters.  Grow up a company filled with people like Darren and the company is transformed into a culture of committed contributors.

Community of Leaders

Two experiences inform my understanding of the phrase "community of leaders."

One was a project where issues that began at the lower level of the company's structure would get passed up the line until it reached the head of the business unit. Instead of the issue being a dispute between two people or the performance of one person, as the issue was passed on, it changed into being a dispute between the union and the company.  It was a culture problem. Managers and supervisors avoided taking responsibility because of a culture of mistrust.

The second experience was the tour of a local hospitals where we had the opportunity to meet and dialog with department heads and floor leaders. My opinion of the organization changed as I found middle-tier leaders who not only had a tactical and technical grasp of their specific area of responsibility, but also had a strategic grasp of the region's healthcare issues with an understanding of how the hospital was positioned to meet them.

A Community of Leaders is a way to describe an organizational culture where self-leadership is wide spread. It is more than just a collection of self-led people. It is an emergent culture where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The key change is relational and social.

As I describe above, a culture that avoids responsibility is not a culture where the relationships function well. Lack of respect and trust in any social system is sclerotic, creating an environment that is rigid, unresponsive and unable to adapt.

How many times have I been in a planning meeting with an organization and the group is pushing for greater accountability, not greater trust.  In effect, they are looking for scapegoats to blame poor performance on.  It is a symptom of a failing culture.  If people are not willing to take initiative, to build open, respectful relationships, then something is wrong. I know this is the norm in many, many organizations. Conduct anonymous surveys of employees, and you'll hear it. The social/ relational dimension of an organization is not a second level area of leadership, it is the connectional, the ligament, the glue of the system.

A Community of Leaders is an organization whose self-led members contribute through the leadership of their own personal initiative to build relationships of respect and trust. In order to see this, we have to think a bit differently about how an organization can be a community.

There is the formal structure of departments, business units and process. And then there is the informal structure of relationship. It is this latter structure that needs development in most organizations. It is developed by creating a culture of respect and trust. 

What can an executive leader of a company do to create a community of leadership culture?

First, YOU cannot create it. WE have to create it.

It cannot be controlled or mandated. It must be permitted to happen. There must be openness and freedom for people to take initiative to create the social environment that allows them to show up like Darren S. of Zappos to be their best every day. All you can do is support and facilitate, and most important join them as a co-participant.

Second, you have to understand what people want. Three Goals of Life-Work - Simple

 1. People want their lives and work to be Personally Meaningful In other words, there are ideas, values, a sense of purpose or personal calling that they want to express in the way they spend every day.  Work is personal, and becomes professional as it defines and guides their relationship to the company. The more a person’s core values are in synch with his or her work and aligned with the company’s mission, the more significant the workplace becomes as place to invest oneself in high endeavors and excellence in performance.

2. People want their lives and work to be Socially FulfillingThey want their relationships to be whole and healthy, for respect, trust and openness to be valued and practiced in the workplace. This is more than just about the functioning of a project team or a business unit. There is unfulfilled desire that informs the cynicism and fear that is prevalent in so many organizations.  It is a belief that better work results from relationships of trust and respect.

3. People also want their lives and work to Make a Difference that Matters This desire is more than just to being successful or having a fun.  People want to see the product of their effort at work creating a lasting benefit for their customers and clients.  The sense of accomplishment that comes when one’s mission or their company’s mission is fulfilled through their contributions is what I identify in people. To Make a Difference that Matters is to create change. 

Third, you have to be an example. If you are, then people will follow you. Deeds are much more important than words. If you are starting from square one, then let me suggest you take on developing the Five Actions of Gratitude as a discipline of relationship building within your company.

The Five Actions of Gratitude are five strategic actions that elevates the collaborative work as an organizational asset.

The Five Actions of Gratitude are:

Say Thanks in gratitude to those who make a difference that matters in your life and work.

Give Back in service to those who make a difference that matters.

Make Welcome in open hospitality, inviting people to take personal initiative to make a difference that matters

Honor Others in respect and recognition, as the foundation of healthy relationships.

Create Goodness through one’s own personal initiative to make a difference that matters in life and work.

What I have found is that the greatest change happens within us. The world's needs are not as insurmountable as our own fear and reticence to change.  It may be part ego, but what I find more often is that it is our lack of confidence in being able to succeed.

To take these three steps:

1. Letting go to let a community of leadership culture to develop,

2. Facilitating the development of a corporate culture which allows for people to find their life and work to be Personally Meaningful, Socially Fulfilling and To Make a Difference That Matters, and,

3. Making the Five Actions of Gratitude the basis of your personal and professional relationships,

will initiate a process of personal change that creates the opportunity for others to join you.  As a result a cultural change will take place that will release the unrealized potential that resides in every company. 

People are the levers of strength and change in organizations. Encourage their self-leadership and the result is a community of leaders. This is the future, possibly the only future that we have.

SelfLeadershipInLife-Work
Self-Leadership in Life and Work is available for download.


What is Good?

Moran-sunrise -KathrynMapesTurner Moran-Sunrise by Kathryn Mapes Turner

This is the question that was the basis for the only philosophy course I took in college. The course, Philosophy of Art, I had hoped would explore the artist impulse that people have to create. And to be able to define what distinguishes a good piece of art from one that isn't.

Unfortunately, the course was neither about art nor how to distinguish what is good. Instead, it was a course in semantics, of how one talks about art, and why art can't be defined.

It wasn't that the professor spent portion of every class denigrating people who had religious faith. It was rather that we talked around subjects, never about them, and therefore never reaching a point of understanding or resolution.

He would take a seemingly innocent or benign idea, like goodness, and through a process of analytical reductive reasoning show us how there is no true idea of goodness. This simple and effective tactic left most of us in the class scratching our heads about what the class was about rather than questioning what we believed about anything.

For probably ten years, I would occasionally dream about this professor. Dream about us debating in class, and me changing his mind. I don't think the professor was so clever to think that he'd make philsophers of us all by tearing down our belief systems. Rather, I think he was convinced that truth could be understood in the analysis of language. And yet, that truth was not true in a values or universal sense, but true to the use of the words in that context.

I think he was an intellectual nihilist, yet did not live that way. He believed in something, and for him it was his art and athletic endeavors. It was what he truly valued. And I'm convinced they gave him a social context of friendship through which universal values were evident in their interaction.

What I understand today is that my professor's approach to understanding could not produce a kind of understanding that is whole, but rather small and fragmented. 

As a kid, did you ever take a part a toy, and then try to put it back together, only to have some parts remaining? The toy is something whole. Something more than the sum of its parts. Language is something whole, more than grammar and patterns of word usage.  

Say the word tide, and it conjures up a range of images. But you don't know what I mean. If I add high or roll to it, two very different images come to mind. The words are parts. Sentences, paragraphs, essays, chapters, and books are wholes. Not necessarily complete wholes, but some whole none-the less.

Art Loeb - Pisgah trailsTo describe the whole of something, or to describe an object as good, is not to describe its parts, but something else. 

For example, this image is of a portion of a map of the Pisgah National Forest in North Carolina. For many of you, it is just lines, shading, markers and names. You can tell it is a map, but it doesn't go much further than that.

The map can serve as a guide, an introduction, to what a person can find here on a visit.  Come this summer, you can visit the Fish Hatchery or swim in the cold waters at Sliding Rock or hike up to John's Rock. Each place is represented on the map. Each a place that has meaning for people who visit here.

For those of us who have spent time here, the map is much more. It is a visual connection point to memories and images of places, people, situations and experiences that we've had in locations noted on the map.

For example, just off the map image there is a place call Mt. Hardy.  Seen at the center of this picture.  Mt Hardy from Devils Courthouse 1 On the map, it is just a name of one of hundreds of peaks to climb. Yet, on a June night in 2003, it was a place of fascination and horror, as we watched lightning flash and strikes all around as a group of us camped.

The place on the map represents more than a name. It is something whole and complete, because we experienced it as more than a name on a map. It is a place that will forever stay with those of us who camped there that night.

When we say something is good, we are not trying to analyze its component parts to identify what makes it good. We are saying something about the whole of the object.

I'm convinced that human thought is rationalized emotion. We feel something, and our words provide us a way to connect with those deeper parts of our lives that we know exist, but have a hard to time expressing. We use things like maps and art to provide a connection between those parts of us that are only understandable as something whole and complete.

When we talk about what is good, we are talking about values that capture for us something whole and often times something that is greater than us. These connections, to me, represent the emergent reality that I wrote about here. We are not just our thoughts or just our emotions. We are not just a bank of talent or a fulfiller of tasks along an assembly line. We are whole beings who cannot be understood in any complete way by analytical reduction. Our wholeness rather is understood as unrealized potential within a particular setting. Wyoming When we look at a work of art, like this painting of Wyomng, that I found online many years ago, we can get really close and look at the technique of the artist, the picture fades and the brush strokes emerge. Then step back, and the picture takes on its wholeness again.

What is good about this painting can be described on many levels. There is the technique. The thematic material. The use of color and perspective. But all those are only parts of the picture. When they are all combined together, do they create a painting that we can say is good? Possibly, but it has a lot to do with the values that we bring to the experience.  And our values are products of our interaction with people in society.

I believe that our lives can be like this painting. Excellent in the execution of the brush strokes and use of color, but even more significant because of the picture itself. When we find wholeness in our life and work, we are more than the sum of activities that we do each day.  We become a work of art whose life and work is good. Create Goodness picture

When the Five Actions of Gratitude appeared in my mind one morning driving through northern Mississippi, this is the sort of thing I saw in the fifth action, Create Goodness.  A couple quotes from my Weekly Leader column.

The ancient Greek Philosopher Aristotle taught his students that “every action and pursuit is considered to aim at some good….what is the highest of all practical goods? … It is happiness, say both ordinary and cultured people; and they identify happiness with living well or doing well.” By this he means that the actions born from our individual initiative, through our relationships, in our work and the daily course of our lives aim at goodness, defined as happiness or living or doing well in life and work. ...

Contemporary philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre in describing Aristotle’s thought on this point wrote,  “ What then does the good for… (humanity) … turn out to be? … It is the state of being well and doing well in being well … . “ The word that Aristotle uses is eudaimonia (eu-day-mo-knee-a), traditionally translated as goodness. Its meaning is much more complex that simply as an adjective for describing a piece of pie or last Sunday’s football game. It touches on ideas related to fulfillment, human flourishing, happiness and completeness. The good person is one whose whole life is an integrated combination of thought, feeling, initiative, interaction, and action, resulting a good life or good work, or a better product, community or world.

What is Good?

It is a life that is complete and whole, fulfilled, meaningful and makes a difference that matters. The good life is a complete and happy life.  It is a life connected to others just as their lives are connected to ours. And when we find that completeness, our lives are like a painting that evokes values that create goodness and elevate the lives of others. We also become like a map which is a reference point, an example, of what is possible, and for those who know that we have become a reminder of what the experience of a complete life is like.


Circle of Impact Leadership Guides

Several years ago, I began to create diagrams of the conversations that I was having with people about their life and work in organizations. The result were these conversation guides. They are the product of hundreds of conversations.

I developed them to provide a way to see complex ideas and whole situations in organizations in as simple a way as possible. They serve to provide a way to reflect on the big picture of what is happening at a particular point in time. The following are brief descriptions of each of the guides that I primarily use in my consulting / coaching work.

1. Creating Impact In Life & Work During Times of Transition Creating Impact In Times of Transition - Life-Work Coaching

The purpose of this guide is to shift people’s perception from change to transition in their experience. A transition perspective provides a way to see how the past, present and future are logically connected in a process of change. As a result, being able to recognize transition points makes it possible to gain an awarenes  s of what one must do to move to the next level in either their personal or organization’s life.

From this perspective, we pass through transition points where we make decisions that, in part, determine how we manage change. We know we enter a transition point when our performance begins to plateau or declines, or the work that we have been doing becomes harder. The awareness that we need to gain is an understanding of those strategies, actions, behaviors, or philosophies that have brought us to this transition point, and whether they are the ones to take us to the next level. In effect, we have to decide what we need to stop doing, and what we need to start doing.

2. How Leaders Manage Change To Create Impact ChangeTolerance

Leaders must manage the change or transition experience in their organizations. To do so, they must understand how people experience or view change. This guide provides a simple way of seeing a range of feeling and action. Above the dotted line, people either adapt or initiative change as a part of the on-going experience of life and work. Below the line, a person’s attitude toward change becomes more problematic. To resist too much is to fail to recognize that change is a normal and necessary part of life and work. To embrace change too passionately creates an unstable and unsustainable life or work situation.

The ideal situation is a mixture of adaptation and initiative. For the leader, this requires situational awareness of the conditions that are impacting the organization. For example, economic changes, technological developments or competitive pressures are environmental conditions that require constant adaptation and agility. To initiative change comes from clarity about the strategic direction of the organization, and the steps required to accomplish those goals.

3. What We Want From Our Life & Work  Three Goals of Life -Work

These core motivators of our life and work are ways we practically measure our involvement in the social and organizations that we are a part of every day. To be Personally Meaningful means that our beliefs and values are a central part of our experience. To be Socially Fulfilling means that our relationships are whole, healthy, and the social environment is respectful, supportive, caring, as well as open and hospitable. For our lives and work to be described as Making a Difference that Matters means that we see the impact of who we are and what we do. In effect, we are identifying the change we create by who we are, how we think, and what we do. The difference that matters is a product of our acting upon the values and beliefs that are personally meaningful, socially and relationally healthy ways, to accomplish a purpose or mission that defines who we are.

4. Circle of ImpactCircle of Impact - Life-Work Coaching

This is a picture of my understanding of the nature and function of leadership. It is a complex picture because leadership is not one thing, but many things operating at the same time. I’ve reached the conclusion that leadership begins with personal initiative, and that it is not primarily an organizational role, but a way of functioning as persons. As a result I see organizations as communities of leaders, each following their own personal call to make a difference that matters in collaborative, coordinated way.

In this perspective, there are three dimensions to leading – Ideas, Relationships and Structure (of both a social and an organizational type), that correspond to the organizational functions of Communication, Collaboration and Coordination. Once a person focuses on becoming a person of impact, the value of this perspective grows. Take any issue, and one of the three dimensions can be identified as the key problem area, if not each one. The solution comes from working with all three dimensions together. For example, if communication is a problem, then it isn’t just being clear about what to communicate (ideas), but also understanding what people are looking to hear from you (relationships), and how that message is to be communicated in a manner that is most likely to make a difference (structure).

This alignment of the three dimensions is achieved through the Connecting Ideas of Purpose or Mission, Values, Vision and Impact. A Purpose or Mission is an identity perspective that says who we are and what we do. Our Values are those ideas that unite us as a congregation, and provide us the emotional commitment and resilience to do the hard work of change. A Vision is a picture of what it looks like for the people of this community working within their social and organizational structures to create the impact that is the difference that matters. It is a visionary perspective of the future fulfillment of one’s mission. As a result, it is important that a church or organization can identify what the impact of their life and work is, so that they can build upon it. Impact, therefore, is a picture of change or the difference that matters.

This is a complex picture of leadership as it functions in any setting. This guide is a tool for reflection and conversation that once learned can quickly become a way we see things happen in real time.

5. The Five Questions that Every Person Must Ask The Five Questions - Work-Life Coaching Guide

This is a practical tool for applying the Circle of Impact. Each question is intended to create clarity of perspective and understanding of what is happening. The first question is best asked as change happening within a specific time frame, like 18 months or five years. The second question asks “What is the impact of our ideas, relationships, and structures.” Once we have a basic understanding of our impact, then reflection upon the future will be much easier. We’ll be able to see progress or decline much more easily. The third question identifies those people and groups who are impacted by our life and work. This perspective enables us to know with whom we need to strengthen relationships or a group that may have been hidden from our view, with whom we need to give our attention. The fourth question provides us direction on where our future efforts should be. Our opportunities are based on the impact that we have, and are typically ones that we should be acting on right away. The fifth question looks at the barriers, constraints or problems that keep us from making a difference that matters. We want to resolve those issues so that we can get on with fulfilling our opportunities.

6. The Leadership of Shared Responsibility  Shared Responsibility - Leadership

The Circle of Impact is an emergent picture of leadership. By that, I mean, it is not a picture of just the different activities and tasks that leaders do. It is a whole, complete picture of leadership which is greater than the sum of its parts. This page is an emergent or whole picture of the community that is the organization, and its shared responsibility for leadership. As a result, the senior leader of the organization, from this perspective, cannot lead from a control orientation, but rather from engagement with people to facilitate their own leadership within their role in the organization.

This vision of engagement is of each person taking initiative out of their own sense of personal responsibility as a member of a community that shares responsibility for communicating, collaborating and coordinating the organization’s work. To share responsibility doesn’t mean that everyone does the same thing, but, rather, that everyone shares responsibility for their part.

7. Leadership in Organizational Structures Organizational Structures

This is a simple guide to help people see how an emergent, collaborative approach can be incorporated into a traditional, hierarchical organizational structure.  The purpose is to show that collaboration is not just a tactic or a behavior that groups can employ, but a structural component of an organization, just like hierarchy is. The key to blending these two structures is openness to the leadership initiative of individuals working within groups. For example, if the structure requires issues to rise to higher levels of management, then those responsibility for implementing solutions not only have less say in how to resolve those issues, but also less motivation to resolve them at the source. A more collaborative approach allows for those who are closest to the implementation of a decision to have greater influence over how to implement a choice of direction. A hierarchical structure that has high functioning collaboration throughout its system provide senior management a greater opportunity to focus on strategic decision-making rather than tactical problem solving. This is not a new or particularly innovative idea. It is however, an idea that should be seen as a strategic asset rather than simple a way to apply “soft skills” in the workplace.

8. Say Thanks Every Day: The Power of Gratitude in Life & Work Five Actions Gratitude

The previous pages are all about leadership. This page is about relationships and community as the core life of the organization. This perspective has developed out of recognition that one of the inhibitors to a higher level of relationship interaction in organization is a lack of an understanding of what constitutes a whole, healthy relationship. The core idea is that in society at large and in organizations specifically, that we are at a transition point. This transition point concerns how people live and work together. I’ve defined this shift as moving towards an approach to life and work from a place of gratitude, rather than from a position of entitlement.

Much has been written in popular psychology about the beneficial effects of being grateful. Gratitude, in my perspective, is not just a way for us to find happiness, but how to live in relationship to others in any social or organizational setting.

The five actions here can be reduced to five simple concepts. We say thanks. We give back in service. We make welcome people as guests in our lives through the practice of openness and hospitality. We honor others as the fundamental basis of all interpersonal relationships. We treat people with honor and respect, for without it community is difficult to achieve. Finally, we create goodness through our personal commitment to take initiative to make a difference that matters.

How To Use These Conversation Guides

The purpose of these guides is for reflection in conversation to achieve awareness leading to action. Print off the pages, and carry them with you. Begin use the Circle of Impact guide to identify the ideas, relationships and structures that are involved in the situation that is the current issue. Seek to understand how the Connecting Ideas are linking or aligning how you think, relate or organize the work that is needed. The key to using these guides is to ask questions, and let the conversation take you to a point of clarity.

If you need assistance, just ask. These guides are the basis of my consulting and coaching work. I welcome the opportunity to help you and your organization grow to make a difference that truly matters.


A Good Day To Say Thanks

                                                                                                   Circle of Thanks Picture

Our thanksgiving tradition is older than the nation itself. For many it is a time for family, for others a day of work, and for some a time of service to those less fortunate.

As my contribution to a more intentionally thankful Thanksgiving, I offer a guide for giving thanks. It is based on a simple little tool that I've created called the Circle of Thanks.This is the first tool that is specifically designed for one of the Five Actions of Gratitude. More are to come. I'll be posting them initially each week in my Weekly Leader column.

It is a simple idea.

List the people in four categories who have had an impact upon our life, or whom deserve our thanks. We list family, friends, work relationships and then those people who have influenced us over the years, whether we have a relationship with them or not.

Then list the gifts and contributions that we have received from them. This isn't like the gift of a tie or a box of choclates. It is something deeper, more personal.  It is a difference that matters that we've received that provides that context for giving thanks.

I suspect that the first listing of these people could be quite larger. My suggestion is work you way through the list until you reach a point where you can do this on a weekly basis.

Creating these lists is the first step.

The second is to prepare a list of whom you are going to thank this week, and what your response should be. Sometimes an email is enough. Other times, a gift, like flowers or tickets to a concert, can be a token of your appreciation that speaks more specifically than a simple note.

Last word:

To all those who have been reading my blog over the years, I thank you.

May this day, and each day, bring you thanks and peace.


Gratitude: Circle of Impact Conversation Guides

This is the last in a series of post describing the message and use of my Circle of Impact Guides.

Five Actions Gratitude

This guide developed out of a desire to identify how a person and an organization should act when gratitude is the motivation. Gratitude, I've discovered, is a response to another person's kindness.

Aristotle wrote,

Kindness is …
”helpfulness towards someone in need, not in return for anything, nor for the advantage of the helper himself, but for that of the person helped.”

I have written about this idea both here and here.

The purpose behind this guide is a belief that gratitude is not just a feeling, but a way we should live. Therefore, the Five Actions can be described in the following way.

We Say Thanks in Gratefulness.

We Give Back in Service.

We Make Welcome in Hospitality.

We Honor Others in Recognition

We Create Goodness through Personal Leadership that Makes a Difference That Matters

How To Use This Guide:

As a team, talk through each of the actions and identify specific steps that you can take to make each one a part of your team's experience.  It is important to understand that at some level each one of these actions is a gracious response to some person or situation.

For example, to Say Thanks Every Day is to recognize the kindness and generosity of others who have made a difference in your life and work. This is true even of your team who may be the beneficiaries of other teams or individuals.

One of the simplest practices is to write a note of thanks. It is better than an email, a tweet or a text message. It is a sign of effort to write a note and send it by mail.

Another example is how we practice hospitality. (I wrote about this in my review of Jan Gunnarsson and Olle Bloehm's marvelous little book, Hostmanship.) Making people Welcome is not just for when they come by for a visit. It is how new people join, and become full participants and contributors. The fewer the barriers to leadership, the higher the level of hospitality that is practiced. Hospitality is concerned with creating an open and opportunity rich environment for people. This is an action of gratitude because we are creating an environment that anticipates reasons to say thanks and offer recognition for the contributions of people.

It is in this kind of environment that people find the opportunity to Create Goodness out of their own sense of purpose or call to take initiative to make a difference.  When a person discovers and fulfills their purpose, that discover that without the assistance from others, some known and others unknown, that this fulfillment is possible. A result of this response in gratitude is that people find that their lives are Personally Meaningful, Socially Fulfilled, and the are Making a Difference that Matters.

When your team can identify how to develop your practices based on the Five Actions of Gratitude, you'll begin to see that many of the issues that formerly inhibited your work together begin to be resolved.

This is a conversation guide not a prescriptive formula. You and your team must decide what each of these actions mean in your context. The conversation will lead to a serious consideration of the importance of your relationships with one another, and how to make them work better.