The Story We Tell Ourselves

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Situational awareness is a skill of insight, anticipation, and respect for personal boundaries in social and organizational contexts.

It is the skill of perceiving reality as it is, not as we want it to be, or how others see it, but as it is.

Situational awareness is knowing how to be yourself regardless of the context you are in.

This series on situational awareness is principally about how we learn to relate to people in situations outside of our comfort zone.

To do this we need something more than tactics for making conversation. We need to be able to know who we are, what matters to us, and why.

What I've learn by working with a wide variety of people and groups, who are in the midst of change, is that we need a story that we tell ourselves. This story distinguishes us in every situation we are in. It is a story that enables us to know who we can trust, and who we can't. It is a story that tells us, don't go there, or, let's find out more.

Another way of understanding this story is as a foundation, a platform, upon which we stand, while everything whirls around us. It is the story of our inner strength and commitments in the context of the external world.

It is not necessarily a story that I will tell people. This story is private, not public. It isn't a branding or a promotional story. It is, rather, a story of the values that matter to us, that we are unwilling to negotiate away by our accommodation to others. It is the story that enables us to walk into any situation and not feel compromised.

In this post, I'm going to describe two ways to create this story. One way out of reflection on who we are and what we want. The other through a more analytical approach using the Circle of Impact. 

Let's start with the first method which creates the story by looking at a couple of  scenarios.

Seeing the Situation

For example, when you go on vacation, what do you want to gain from it. Are you like some of us who enjoy adventure and discovery, or, like others, seek to be quiet and still. What appeals to you here is a part of your story.

I know folks who love going to the beach. They love sitting in a chair at the beach, reading a book, watching the waves come ashore, and then going out for a seafood dinner at night. They don't enjoy a manic schedule of biking, card playing and trips to the outlet malls. They have come for peace and quiet.

In this instance, that is their story. As a result, they need to be honest with their family members who love an action oriented vacation. That is the story which they tell themselves.

As a result, both types of vacationers need to be honest and respectful of the other. Both have to give in a bit, let the other have their approach, and plan to join them for some of the time that they enjoy, whether quietly on the beach or riding a jet ski jumping waves.

Here's another scenario. You are invited to a business after hours networking social event by a friend in your industry. You've never been to one of these meet-n-greet things. You don't really know what to expect. You are meeting your friend there. As you walk in the door, he texts you to say that he is running late, and will be there in 15 minutes. What do you?

The story you tell yourself, about who you are and what matters to you, guides your response in this awkward situation. You can stand outside and wait for him. Or, you can go in, register at the door, get your name tag, get something to drink, and stand near the front waiting for your friend. Or, you can immediately begin to introduce yourself to people you do not know. If you are somewhat shy, this may take some effort. However, I believe, what you will find is that many of the people in the room are experiencing the same uncomfortableness.

If being uncomfortable in social settings is the story you tell yourself, then you will be. If, on the other hand, the story you tell yourself is

"I'm not here to impress people. I'm here to listen, and learn, and make one new contact with whom I'll schedule a follow up meeting."

In effect, the story is a plan of action which sets specific boundaries, and is focused on one goal. Once there, and the goal is met, then, a release of pressure will be felt, and our story changes.

This shyness thing used to be me. Those of you who know me personally may find that hard to believe. But it is true. The story I told myself in those days was

"What do I say? How do I start? What if I look weak and silly?"

It took time but the story I told myself changed. I began to walk into those situations looking for someone whom I could befriend. I would not go to a mingling of 3 or 4 people, but to the person who was standing by themselves. I'd introduce myself, and just start asking questions. Each question was not planned other than the initial one,

"So, what do you do? How do you spend your days?"

After they told, me, I'd ask a question about that thing. If they said,

"I sell insurance."

I'd respond with,

"What kind?"

Then they say, something, and then I asked, something like.

"How do your new customers find you?"

Or,

"What is generally the first question people ask you when they come to you for insurance?"

My story shifted from being about my fear to about my curiousity and interest in the other person. The rapport that comes from asking questions is the kind that builds trust, at least when the questions are kind and respectful. Now, I am not afraid to meet any person regardless of who they are.

Another Approach

The story we tell ourselves is not about what we do, but about who we are. If your sense of identity is murky, then the story you tell yourself will be too. As a result, it may then be helpful to take a more analytical approach to developing your story. My Circle of Impact model can be a help.

3dLeadership - Purpose-Vision-Values

To develop the story that we tell ourselves, we don't start with the Three Dimensions of Leadership - Ideas, Relationships and Structure. Instead, we work from the Four Connecting Ideas - Values, Purpose, Impact and Vision. Let's take them one at a time.

Think of this discovery process as a conversation between us right now over coffee or dinner. Just the two of us talking. We aren't looking for the perfect answer, but an honest, beginning point of understanding. We've just met, and I'm just asking questions because I'm curious, not nosey, just interested getting to know you.

Values:

I ask:

"If you didn't have to work for a living, and you had access to all the financial resources you would need, how would you spend your days, and why?"

"What do you think are the values that are important to you in doing those things? Do you think those values define you more than any other? Do they please you, make you smile, get you excited about the day ahead?"

In discovering the values that matter to us, we are identifying the foundation upon which we have built our lives. These values help us to establish the boundaries that guide us. If this is new to us, then we may have to live into this awareness. These values may not be evident, active or relevant at a particular moment, with some people, and then, some comment, triggers in us an awareness. This is how we grow into the values that matter. We try many, discard many, from our emotional investment in them, and then come to realize what is truly important to us.

These are the values that tell us who we are, and are the ones we want to have always present. I have five of these values, and I'm looking for them in every thing that I do. I, personally, have decided that if three of the five are not present in the opportunity before me, that I'll not participate. Knowing the values that guide and give meaning to our lives is a way of saying No to situations that are not supportive of the values that are important to us. This is why knowing what our core values are is so critical to being able to walk into any situation and function well.

Purpose:

I ask:

"How do you spend your days? How did you end up doing this kind of work? Does it give you a sense of purpose, a sense that you are making a contribution?"

The conventional thought is that we all have a singular purpose for our lives. I find that very limiting. Instead, I see purpose as an intentional focus on applying our values in a specific way in the situation that presents itself to us. Here's how this could work.

One of my values is integrity. It is so that I don't live with regret or fear, or, even the sense that I've compromised by values to accomodate some person or situation. The purpose of integrity beyond that is to provide me a basis of relating to every person from the same position of respect towards them. My purpose, then, in social situations is to act with respect, by listening, being honest and truthful, without being beligerent. The purpose of my integrity is to establish a basis of friendship that is open, mutual and filled with opportunity for shared work and contribution.

Purpose is a way of translating the values that matter to us into action. While our values may become clearer and more specific over time, they rarely change in any radical sense. Our purpose, however, can and should change. For purpose is the mechanism for focusing our values in the situation that is before us right now. Even if we are talking about our purpose as sort of a life mission, it still is subject to change. With our values as a foundation, we live out a purpose in an adaptive manner to fit the time and place in which we live.

While our purpose is about what we do in acting upon our values, it is also about the effect that we want to have.

Impact:

I ask:

"Tell me what difference you think your work makes? Why is it important? Who is impacted by what you do? What do they tell you?"

The way our world works is by an exchange of products or services by an agreed upon price. Money is the most tangible medium of measure we have. It is simple, straightforward, and for that reason obscures many of the signs of value that actually exist, yet we never really see.

To look at the difference a person makes, we have to look at what our expectations are, right now. This requires us, on both sides of a relationship, to have an idea of what we want, or, what our purpose is. If we can define our purpose, not as what I do, but rather the difference I want to make, then my story takes on a very different feel.

Let's return to our business after hours event. In that room, our purpose is what? Is it to meet people? Or, is it something more. Is it primarily about "my" interests or about the other person's?

My friend and colleague Meridith Elliott Powell told me years ago about her strategy for after-hours business events. Her focus was to go, meet people, and leave as soon as she had three follow-up meetings with new contacts. She would go to alot of these events, and built up a substantial client list through that focused approach to business relationship building. She's one of the best I know at this. I found her approach incredibly helpful, and focused on the purpose of the event, which is to initiate new business relationships. Then she works her "magic", she's really good, in the interaction she has with people within the context of their business.

When the story we tell ourselves is not about what we do, but what we create, the difference that we make, about the relationships that we form, then we approach everything with a different level of confidence. If we measure our lives by our activity level, then we never really see clearly the outcome of that activity.

Measuring by activity comes out of the old factory production model focus. The most tangible measure of that work was the paycheck. Measuring by impact is a change model focus. One is repetitive. Let's see how many events I can go to this month. The other is a creative relationship with people where together we learn to make a difference. How many relationships do you have right now that if asked they would say, "She makes a real difference in my work." And, then be able to describe precisely what that impact is.

The Four Connecting Ideas are not isolated from one another, but, are interconnected as a way to understand how things can fit together in our life and work. To be able to see the impact of our values and purpose in real life, then our perspective changes, and our story does too. It opens up possibilities that may have been present, but were hidden behind the production measure mindset.

Vision:

I ask:

"Where do you see yourself in a year? What's your plan for today?"

The vision we need is not some grand, epic adventure into the future. Instead, our vision is our story lived out in real time, right now. It is the story we tell ourselves every day that enables us to make decisions. In the context of the Circle of Impact, it is about people, and the organizational structures in which we live and work. Our vision emerges and is lived out every day through the story we tell ourselves.

A vision then is simply what I do and the decisions I make, based upon my values and my sense of purpose for this particular moment, all through a deep desire for impact, with the people that I work with and encounter everyday.

The story we tell ourselves is a guide in the unexplored land of today. It helps us to know the boundaries that will both protect us from the unwanted compromise of our values, as well as, opening us up to the possibilities in every human relationship and situation.

When we find the story we tell ourselves, and, we grow into it, it ceases to be a story "out-there" that we tell myself. We become the story. We become the living embodiment of the values, the purpose, the difference and the vision for being an authentic person regardless of where we are and with whom we are with.

The story that we tell ourselves is the secret to being situationally aware. If you are a person who finds him or herself overwhelmed by circumstances, people and change, then you need a story which helps you live in those moments that are threatening and uncomfortable. 

Where do you begin to write your story. Here are two suggestions.

1. Think of the situations where you are most comfortable. What are the values at work in those situations that you'd like to see in those uncomfortable situations.

2. Write a three sentence introduction of yourself that describes the person you believe you actually are. This is not what other people think of you, but you at your strongest, most impactful, most free and at peace self. Write it down, carry it with you, and edit it until you've found the story you really want to tell yourself. Then toss it away, and let your story unfold.

It all starts with personal initiative. One step. Then another. And another. If you need to share your story with someone outside of your world, send it to me. I'll not critique, but will ask questions to clarify, so you can be clear. Then you can go live the story you tell yourself.

Find other posts in this series on Situational Awareness:

Three Keys to Situational Awareness

The Speed of Change

The Social Space of Situational Awareness

Social Conformity and Situational Awareness

In the Moment of Situational Awareness

The Story We Tell Ourselves


Values 2.0 Now

Lemhi Dawn 12 9-16-04

Introduction

The following is an updated and revised version of a set of five posts from the spring of 2008 on the topic of Values 2.0. After reading them during my 10th anniversary of blogging, I decided that they needed to be brought together into one longer, more coherent, less fragmented post.

The above photo is symbolic of the values that I write about below. It is taken at the Lemhi Pass along the Lewis & Clark Heritage Trail on the Montana - Idaho border. A place of great meaning to the followers of the story, as well as to me.

The Value of Values

Several years ago, I was involved with a project where values were the focus of the revitalization of the company. In this project, a cross-section of the company developed a values statement that they believed, and I concurred, were representative of the values of the company's people. Their values statement was warmly and enthusiastically received by the company. The efforts of the company's leadership to inform and deploy their values throughout the company earned them recognition beyond their industry as a trustworthy company.

Having gone through this experience, I became convinced that values are a social mechanism for the purpose of uniting people around shared ideas or beliefs.

Whether the idea is integrity or creativity, the idea provides meaning and purpose for people. When that idea is shared with others who also value it, a social context for their relationships is formed that enables them to work through obstacles and achieve higher levels of impact that thought possible otherwise.

The values culture of a business is integral to the healthy functioning of human relationships within an organizational context.  Too many organizations ignore this facet of leadership. They treat values as an ancillary exercise that is elective and marginal in impact. 

Values: Museum Artifact or Living History

Values are ideas that identify what is important to us. In an organizational context, these ideas are intended to project a certain image about the company. Whether the value is being "dependable" or "fun" the effect is to make a statement that describes what the company believes in or stands for. This is the traditional approach to values. They are iconic statements of identity. 

For many people and organizations, this approach treats values as an historical artifact.

You go to a museum, and in the main hall there is a life-size model of a Tyrannosaurus Rex. You walk into a room called The Hall of Values, the first thing you see is a frame with a magazine ad for "ACME Dynamite Company - Dependable Explosions since 1904."  Then there is a statue of a man in a business suit and a sign that simply says "Trust."  At the rear of the hall, there is a display of an auto assembly line from the 1950's with a sign that says, "Innovation."

We see concepts applied to business as a way of distinguishing them from their competitors. We call this branding or marketing, of course. But we treat values in much the same way. They are like museum artifacts.

There is an ancient, historical character to words like "trust", "dependable", or "integrity." They are words that signify a specific meaning.  These words are recollections of a past time. They carrying with their historical meaning, fixed images of the company that are intended to remain as the values impression of the company.

We know when there is a breakdown between the espoused values and reality, when a company sells itself as trustworthy, dependable and operating with the highest integrity, and in the morning newspaper we read of the embezzlement of millions of dollars by a top official. We know that the "espoused values" no longer command attention like they did in the past. This disconnect leads people to believe that the value words are hollow. Have enough of this occurrences, and people believe that this isn't one person or one company but a society-wide or industry-wide culture of corruption. 

It may well be true that 99% of the company's employees are trustworthy, dependable and have integrity.  The moral failures of a few are thrust upon the many whom remain behind to pick up the pieces of a tattered reputation. Values reduced to ad copy or a relic in the company museum set up the conditions for failure.

This traditional approach to values treats values as museum pieces. Leaders are curators of those values. We parade the values out for celebrations, then return them to their rightful place in a glassed trophy case in the lobby. I'm not blaming marketers for this situation. In fact, they may be the only ones who come close to understanding the importance of values that represent the company.

How we utilize values in the future must be very different than in the past. Instead of values being museum artifacts, they need to be living history experiences that take on a life of their own.

Values that are fully realized are not static museum displays, but about the living experiences of the company. If they are historic values of the company, recreating the experiences that led to particular values becoming the company's values may be needed.

For example, I have heard people say that their company used to be like a family. They would say things like:

"We cared for each other like family. We knew each other's spouses and kids. We got together to play softball in the spring and attend company picnics in the summer."

If being a family is a value that is a part of the company's DNA, then create opportunities to be a family. Set up committees to raise money to help "family" members in need. Just don't talk about the glory days of the past when you were like a family. Be a family now.

If values matter, then they will mean more by being intentionally applied to the relationships and processes of the company. The ideal is simple. The application is not so simple.  It requires work to integrate values into the work of a company. Yet that is what Values 2.0 is about.   

The Difference between Values and Value-added

Is there a difference between values and value added?  What is this difference?

Value is a measurement of appreciation, impact or benefit.

For example, I hear often the phrase "value added" which means that the client is receiving more than what they expected. There is a higher level of impact or benefit.  Value can be defined as a Return-On-Investment (ROI) figure. Or it can be something less quantitative, more qualitative.  In those instances, the measure is based on a particular perception of an idea, like a car or a suit being valued as a luxury item.

Values are ideas that define meaning or value.

Typically we'd see values as those ideas that point to a purpose or a standard.  Values unify when shared between people or in organizations, and divide when not. Values create culture. Values guide culture, build trust in relationships, and strengthen a group of people to do the unimaginable.

For example, you are sitting in a meeting and everyone is texting on their phones, not paying attention to the presenter. This typical experience may be widely accepted, but it is also rude. The judgment that the behavior is rude is based on values that govern the social relationships of people. Typically we call this set of values, etiquette.  These values are ideas about what is appropriate behavior in a meeting or other social context. The values of respect and courtesy demand some sort of accommodation to the ever present smart phone.

Values are the ideological foundation of human interaction. They are the fundamental beliefs that create a culture, and as we all know every organization is run by a prescribed culture. Groups that work and those that are ineffective are both so because of various values that are functioning. Those values are either shared ones or at odds with the purpose of the meeting or group. More importantly, their share values are either not acknowledged or not acted upon by the group or organization create ambivalence and indifference in the participants.

Ask any person who works in a large corporate culture, and they can describe values that govern how they work together. 

If you want to provide value-added products and services, ask yourself, "What values am I utilizing to increase my value-added impact?"

Values 2.0, the Interaction Paradigm
We are entering a new era regarding organizational values. It is an analogous to the change that Neville Hobson describes in this video from 2007. He says that the web has shifted. It used to be that websites were "read only ... (and now, we're) seeing a shift to read - write. You can read and write." This is happening through the use of social media. A similar shift is taking place on the values front.

For illustration purposes, let's describe the old way of using values as Values 1.0, and this new approach that I'm advocating as Values 2.0.

Values 1.0 are values that are used as boilerplate ideas to serve some abstract function. They represent an idea that is meant to be read without interaction. These words become iconic as representations of the company.

For example, for as long as I can remember, Coca Cola has been referred to as "The Real Thing." This values statement is an iconic label for the soft drink. Is the value of authenticity simply a marketing slogan, or is this representative of the company itself? I don't, and my purpose here is only to show how a value concept can be used in a non-interactive manner.

This was been the basic approach to communication by companies throughout the 20th century. In essence, their communication strategy is the distribution of information to the public.

Values 2.0 are the ideas that give people a reason to engage, interact and unite around a share purpose of who they are and what their organization stands for. Today, this is now the default approach to communication. Interaction with the customer is the key to building a successful brand. It is also the key to changing the internal communication environment of organizations.

These two approaches can be distinguished in this way.

Values 1.0 - Ideas - Icon - Irrelevance

Values 2.0 - Ideas - Interaction - Integration - Impact

Placed in the context of the Circle of Impact, values serve an important role, just as do a clear purpose, a compelling vision and a healthy organizational structure.

Values 2-0-Interaction
Values matter at the most basic point of human interaction, and increasingly in a business climate that requires greater people interaction skills to meet complex demands.  Values are the super-glue that unite people together for the work they must do.

The heart of Values 2.0 is human interaction for action. We are not talking about lovely sentimental ideas that are printed on posters and hung on office walls. We are talking about the ideas of substance that support and guide people in their interactions.

Creating a Culture for Interaction

When The Cluetrain Manifesto came out in 1999, it represented a transition that would come to mark the first decade of the 21st Century. The shift is captured in the first Cluetrain thesis - Markets are conversations.

Cluetrain introduced the idea of human interaction into the discussion about marketing and business, predicting the rise of the social media phenomenon. The book seems a bit obvious now, but a decade and a half ago their book was revolutionary in what it proposed.

Two decades ago, Jim Collins and Jerry Porras' published Built To Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies. One of the first books that took seriously the place of values in organizations.

I find myself returning to both books time and again because of their treatment of values in organizations. They were both instrumental, at the time that I first read them, in my own developing thoughts about leadership and organizations.

In Built to Last, Collins and Porras make an insightful distinction between values and cultural practices. The difference is simple.

Core Values provide a social foundation for groups of people and organizations to change while preserving the integrity of the organization.

Cultural Practices are those practices that have lost their reason for being, yet still command allegiance as the historic traditions of the organization. These are situations where you might hear in a meeting, "Well, we've never done it that way."

According to Collins and Porras, companies that are successful over time, are so because they are true to their core values. The distinction matters because leaders of organizations must push change at the cultural practices level in order to preserve their core values.

Collins & Porras Diagram

Values, whether acknowledged or not, are important to a business. A basic question we must ask is: "How are values important to us?"

When Built To Last was written, the approach to values in business was primarily ethical and utilitarian, asking, "What are the boundaries of what is legal and will not embarrass us?" This approach was inadequate then, and remains so today. The complexity of organizational life has grown, even as web-based transparency has grown, it is much easier to hide the unethical and illegal, and let ethics be a function of public relations.

Without genuine, authentic transparency, companies are really not in conversation with their constituents. The effect of not recognizing the role of values in organizations, like transparency, a business today can lack real awareness and perception of how it is doing.

Today, a business that is not addressing the Interaction Paradigm is behind the developmental curve. Clay Shirky, a smart observer of the cultural implications of the development of social media, says,

... Media in the 20th century was run as a single race--consumption.  How much can we produce?  How much can you consume?  Can we produce more and you'll consume more?  And the answer to that question has generally been yes.  But media is actually a triathlon, it 's three different events.  People like to consume, but they also like to produce, and they like to share. 

And what's astonished people who were committed to the structure of the previous society, prior to trying to take this surplus and do something interesting, is that they're discovering that when you offer people the opportunity to produce and to share, they'll take you up on that offer.

Values 2.0 is a strategic shift from a consumerist view to a more values focused, relationship-centric organization.

The Nature of Interaction

The question remains for us what is interaction? How can we interact about values so that they are more than some abstract concepts that has sentimental personal meaning, and little practical relevance?

Hugh MacLeod writes about the concept of "social objects." Here's how Hugh defines it.

The Social Object, in a nutshell, is the reason two people are talking to each other, as opposed to talking to somebody else. Human beings are social animals. We like to socialize. But if (we) think about it, there needs to be a reason for it to happen in the first place. That reason, that "node" in the social network, is what we call the Social Object.

I see values as social objects that function to united people together. Let us call them "operational values."  These values are ones that are utilized, operationalized, deploy, lived out in the operations of an organization.

For example, if trust is a core value of a company. Then actions of trust would be ones like transparency,

Values function to strengthen, support, guide and protect relationships within a social context. These are the kind of Core Values that Collins and Porras describe in Built to Last.

What are the interaction functions of an organization that are strengthened or empowered by values?

There are three human interaction functions that are enriched by values.

Communication in all its forms.

Decision-making and its implementation.

Evaluation of both people and company performance. 

When values are utilized in an operational sense, they shift from being abstractions for promotion, to practical beliefs that open up avenues of learning and discovery for meeting company goals.

A social object, according to Hugh MacLeod, could be anything. These objects are points of affinity that people share. It could be a local sports team, family history, spiritual beliefs, a music group, or a co-worker's fight with cancer. The stronger the affinity, the more personal the connection, the deeper the values are.  

Social objects are a connecting point. The values deepen and give purpose to the relationship.  For organizations, these social connecting points provide an additional means to quality people for employment.

The relationship starts with the social object - an introduction to one another- and deepens as values are identified.  The relationship finds vitality and sustainability as purpose and vision develop.

From this development, smart leaders will adapt their organizational structures to support the strengthening of the company's social environment.  This is how abstract values become operational values.  It is important that businesses understand what their values are. Not the boilerplate ideas of P.R. materials, but rather the beliefs and attitudes that people have about the company that they share and give them strength and hope.

Creating a Culture of Trust

At the beginning of this post, I wrote,

Values unify when shared, divide when not. Values create culture. Values guide culture, build trust in relationships, and strengthen a group of people to do the impossible.

In a Values 1.0 world, values are treated as Icons, as symbolic emblems that have meaning, but little relevance. In fact, the iconic values are in competition with the actual values of a company.

There is no choice about whether to have values or not. They are the most fundamental expression of who we are as human beings. There is no escaping their impact upon the functioning of any social or organizational environment. When ignored or conflicted, values become a source a divisive constraint on a business' ability to create impact.  When they are utilized as a platform for interaction, they build unity and a culture of trust.

In a Values 2.0 world, leaders understand that to build their corporate culture around a clearly identified and embraced set of values provides the conditions for creating a culture of trust.

Values - Culture of Trust

This diagram illustrates this connection.

Values are ideas that unify relationships and guide an organizational structure to create a culture of trust.

Is trust really that important? Ask the former employees and shareholders of Enron.  Ask the spouses of politicians caught having extra-marital affairs. Ask your children if trust is important.  In fact, ask them about their friends, or supposed friends, and you'll find that much of what passes for human relationships in a business setting is at the same level as a 15 year high school sophomore. It can be mean, nasty, petty and emotionally destructive. Ask your kids. They understand trust in a more immediate, fundamental way than we adults who play our word games with the idea.

Trust is earned by the integrity and impact of the organization.

The culture of an organization is representative of all the people, not just senior leadership.  The idea situation is for senior leaders to express respect down through the organization chart, while employees express trust up through it. In each case, at the heart of this exchange is a set of values that are shared, mutually believed in, and that create the unity that enable the company to do more.

The application of values is not the ultimate purpose of Values 2.0. It is rather a means to the creation of a culture of trust that elevates the prominence of the social environment to be a place that strengthens the organization. That is the long range purpose of utilizing values as a means to enhance interaction and impact.

The key is to begin. To take this one page conversation guide on Values 2.0 and see how one idea, with one person can become something more than a topic of conversation. Follow the line of thought from Idea to Interaction to Integration to Impact. This is a learning process, and the best learning is transformational. What better way to be value-added.


The End of Binary Faith

2011-04-13 09.47.57

Binary Faith is a faith in opposites.

It is the faith of the modern world in labels. Labels serve to identify who we are and more importantly who we are not.

It is what election campaigns are about.

It is what modern religion and anti-religion are about.

It is about our modern consumer choices.

It is about moral debates, advocacy, outrage and campaigns for righteousness.

Binary faith is based on creating a world of perception in distinctly defined terms of good and evil.

We are all Suckers

In the end we are all suckers. We suck because we believe the labels represent reality. We want to believe, need to believe, and so we believe. And we get sucked into a binary faith that divides the world into good guys and bad, where we are always on the side of good.

We believe in the campaign ads, and the opinion pundits, and the advertising and even our family members and neighbors.

We believe, not because they are right, but because we want to believe that they are right. We want to believe because we don't know what to believe. So, we end up believing just about anything that relieves us of the conflict of having to choose good over evil.

We choose sides because we have never learned how to stand on our own. We let others do our thinking for us. As a result, we never figure out just how manipulated we have become in the modern world of binary choices.

You can tell when people have been hooked by binary faith. Their language is filled with talking points. Simplistic statements that are intended to clarify, set apart, and remove all doubt as to the veracity and validity of their individual faith in this person, ideology, product or group. They are not statements that open up conversation, but are rather closing statements to a case that can only be made by saying, "I'm not like them!"

They laugh, cheer and celebrate when the other side is caught in some humiliating turn of phrase.  Sarcasm and condescension is the core manifestation of the binary trap we find ourselves in. We laugh along with those posing as superior intelligent beings, wanting to be like them. In reality, we show ourselves to be weak, pathetic, ill-prepared to deal with a world that is not binary. It is the basis of both comedy and political commentary today. It is shallow and non-intellectual, condescending to the listeners and demeaning to those who are the subject of derision. 

These people, often quite intelligent, with advanced degrees from prestigious institutions, have stopped thinking, and have become automatons. Automatomic thinking is thinking that occurs in a closed system of self-verifying statements, hermetically sealed off from any real, rational debate about what or who is good or evil. It is built upon the need for confirmation basis to validate one's own superior opinion.

With these closed cultures of opinion, no outliers are permitted. No real questions are allowed. Only those questions that prove the superiority of their group's position over against the inferiority of their binary opposite.

For all the connection between people the internet has brought to our world, it has not solved the problem of binary faith. In fact, it has accelerating its advance as it is easier to find and exclude people who either share or reject one’s faith.

I use the language of faith because in many respects this is the religion of the modern age. Binary faith is a belief system that provides meaning within a cult-like social structure. It is cult-like because for true believers, it is a faith that excludes the heretic and unbeliever.

For faith seekers, binary faith provides a basis for identity and acceptance into a community of faith whose demands are simple. Just believe and never doubt. Total compliance, no questions asked and inclusion is ours.

Modern Day Good and Evil

The supreme problem with binary faith is its inability to be honest about the real world. Binary faith is an answer to a dualistic abstraction of what is good and evil. “We are good; they are evil.” Simple faith for complex times.

The reality is that each person, culture, ideology, nation-state, religion, and political movement is a rich mixture of good and evil. Behind every evil act is some value which has been twisted for evil ends.

There is no way to absolutely separate good and evil as totally distinct entities. They live like kudzu vines intertwined around a forest of trees. Virtually impossible to eradicate the parasitic vines without killing the host.

So it is with the world as it exists. To rid the world of evil requires us to separate it out from that which is good, and then eradicate it. However, this takes us back the old binary trap of only two choices, choose the good or the evil.

But life isn’t so simple. It is much more complex, and the complexity requires us to be alert, reflective and aware of what is present before us.

The problem is that binary faith doesn’t want that. Good and evil are situational choices we make every day. We create good lives by making good choices, and evil by bad choices. It seems like a simple binary choice, but it is not. They are choices of degree and intention, choices of how my personal preferences affect the lives of others, measured in degrees of change and significance of impact.

To make good choices we need three things.

First, we need a community that is open and hospitable to people outside our faith.

The best description of this sort of community that I have found comes from the ancient Christian writer Paul, who in a letter to a church in the Greek community of Corinth that is caught up in its own binary trap. He used the metaphor of the body to describe the kind of faith community this church should exhibit. The metaphor follows a understandable line of thought of contrasting various body parts to show how each is essential to the function of the body. He may be writing about a specific church, but it applies to every faith system, regardless of type. Near the end of this metaphorical reflection, he writes this words.

“On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.” (1 Corinthians 12:22-26)

In a binary faith, we individually determine who is the weaker, the less honorable, the least respectable person in society. These are the people we reject because they represent the other side, or those we feel that must be protected because they are unable to think for themselves and stand on their own.

The result is a faith where suffering is not shared, and honor offered only to those who are most the single-minded and fanatical in their belief. 

Good and evil aren’t binary forces. They are complex choices that either create the kind of community Paul illustrates or destroys it. Communities that are not based on demonizing the other are places where one may discover, in one’s self, how to deal with the tension between the forces of good and evil that are within each one of us, and then learn to create goodness in ways that build alignments between opposites.

Second, we need a clearly defined value system.

This value system cannot be binary, but universal and holistic. It must be able to state what is the good for all humanity. It cannot simply be a belief that divides the world into two classes, good vs. evil. Or a system that is simply self-serving.  Many universal, trans-cultural values may require my own self-sacrifice to be fully realized. This is antithetical to a binary faith.

Imagine a political faith or a commercial faith where these values are prominent.

Third, we each need to be persons of character.

This means to live a whole life, not some perception of life based on our political and consumer choices that we've been suckered into. For our identity to be based on who we are, how we relate to others, and how we live our lives each day requires us to not divide the world into good and evil, haves and have-nots, in and out, weak or strong, honorable or dishonorable, acceptable or rejected.

Character comes from daily making choices that elevate the world we live in rather than destroying it through division. These choices are informed by learning to think for ourselves, listening to others and deciding a path in life that leads to being the person that our values say we wish to be. For this to happen, we need to be clear about what we believe and have a community of people who are willing to share in the suffering of people. As a result, it will be a community that also celebrates and honors each person in their advancement in the character of their living.

I realize that this may sound like I'm advocating a kind relativism that is at the heart of the modern notion of tolerance. I am not. I find tolerance, as presently practiced, a condescending mask towards the other, and a faith unable to address genuine issues of good and evil.

I don't believe all people are essentially good or bad. I do believe that some people choose to be evil, violent and destructive, and should be understood in this way. I believe that good resides in each person, yet at war with those inclinations toward evil that fills our world with hatred and arrogance.

I am not saying that all faiths, ideologies and beliefs are the same. I believe that there are a universal set of human values that have always existed that if lived fully would create a better world.  

The End of Binary Faith

The end of binary faith comes in the collapse of faith into no faith and alienation from the connections that bind people together in community. I believe this moment in history is coming. The ideologies and institutions of the modern world are built upon a binary platform. It is not sustainable. What follows is not better.

Our hope is in ourselves to create communities based upon value systems that include all people without dividing them into preferential categories. These communities will thrive or fail on the character of the people in them.

This is part of the future that I see coming. It is not all bleak, but hopeful. It is though because I am convinced that once a person decides to think for themselves, to reject the binary designations of society and create communities of character, then the strength and sustainability of society will grow.

Of course, we must stop being suckers if this is to change. We must stop being manipulated by those who see us as mindless sheep willing to do their bidding.

I am not a utopian. I don't believe that if we are just nice to one another, the world will be a better place. That is a strategy of mindless tolerance of evil that clearly exists in our world.

I am a realist. I see the end of binary faith as a realistic hope for how we might live in peace and harmony in the future.


Relationships in Transition

Transition Point Coaching Logo

A couple of my friends have had adult children who moved back in with them. In one instance, a son returned from a long term overseas assignment to restart his professional career. For another, a son lost his job, and estranged from his wife, moved home.  I learned from both these friends the importance of openness and compassion in the midst of change.

These transitions, for both child and parent, are difficult. The found space that parents retrieved after their children began their adult life is taken over by their children whom they love. The question that nags in these situations is, "What should our relationship be now?"

Transitions in life and work are not simply processes of change and economic reordering of life and work. The social and organizational contexts that encompass them are intensely relational. They strain the well-worn path that relationships built over time develop.

When life altering change comes, and we find ourselves in transition, we need to focus on the social as much as the practical questions of job search and finding a new place to live.

Long-standing relationships develop a predictability that becomes expectation for continuity. Disturb that pattern, and relationships become frayed.

Something as simple as a job change that requires a move can become highly disruptive. It isn't just the one employed who moves, but the whole family who is uprooted to a new place to establish roots in a new place.  If the family unit is fragile, the transition can be more difficult than it should be.

When we enter a transition space moving toward that point where change is made and a new course is set, reflection, communication and a refocusing of values is needed.

Reflection is a form of self-criticism that enables us to see the logic of change in the midst of the transition.

Communication allows us to see a broader picture as we discover how those who are also impacted feel. We listen and learn from them how best to manage the transition.

Refocusing of values serves to ground us in what is matters most to us, which serves to focus our purpose as a vehicle for those values to live.

All of this is best done in open and honest conversation regularly scheduled.

If you are a parent whose adult child has moved home, talk with one another about how this is personally impacting each of you. Discuss what is important in the function of the home, and reach an agreement on the basics of living under the same roof again.  While the adult child is still a child to the parent, and the parent to the child, they are also adults who should share responsibility for living together again.

If you are in transition, and find yourself, living at home again, especially after years away, recognize that you are not reentering the home of your youth. You have entered a social environment that has changed. No longer is this place oriented around the nurture and protection of children. Your parents, while they still love you, have moved through their own transitions into new stages of their life as adults. There is a place for adult children in the lives of their parents. But it must be discovered, and not merely assumed it is an extension of what their childhood was like.

Change is hard. It doesn't have to be as hard as we make it.  All is required is for us is openness for the relationship to be what it needs to be today, not as it was in the past, or wish it had always been. Going through the transition points in our lives are hard enough without our relationships becoming an obstacle to positive change.

FiveActionsOfGratitude
A Support Plan for Relationships in Transition

My proposal is not a widget that fits every situation, but can beneficial in many situations.

Simply apply the Five Actions of Gratitude to how you live together in the midst of change.

This is a tool you can use to negotiate how you live under the same roof again. A simple translation could be something like this.

Say Thanks - At least once a day, with sincerity and specificity.

Give Back - Take responsibility for caring for both the private and shared spaces.

Make Welcome - Be hospitable to one another. Be open to the gifts that you have to offer and receive. Think of this as a new relationship.

Honor Others - Even at the most difficult moments, treat one another with dignity and respect. Be honest, caring and trustworthy. Be apologetic and forgiving. Be kind to one another.

Create Goodness - Establish new paths of interaction and sharing. This is particularly true in the transition is to be lengthy.

Practice these things, and the transition will go more smoothly, and new dimensions of your relationship will emerge.


A Century of Difference

Amazing how much has changed in such a short period of time.

However, I do believe that the principles which people shared, and the way the Circle of Impact can be applied has not changed.

The reality is that our needs for clarity of thought, being present in our relationships, and, genuine leadership are more needed now that ever.

Target

 

The other day I asked the following question as my Facebook status update.

Just thinking about how different the 21st century is compared to either the 20th or 19th. Working on a post about this. What would you all say is the difference? I'm curious.

It is an important question if we are to effectively lead into the future. Here are some of the ideas shared. (Thanks Jenni, Pat, Richard & F.C.)

The social aspect... communication in a heartbeat

The entirety of the gross data and factual information within the world is within your 1.5lb. laptop.

Less face to face social interaction. Less informal group social interaction. More social interaction at a wire's length.

Too many businesses have forgotten ... being the people business.

19th more face to face ... 20th letters and telegrams ... 21st email, mobile phones and social networks - instant responses, less thought - little or no opportunity to convey intent except by emoticons that have become part of the language. This is a change so significant that I think it's as big as the printing press being developed.

In summary, these friends are seeing changes in technology, relationships and communication. I agree. These are the core differences that are impacting us daily.

If we use my Circle of Impact framework, we can identify others. This is a valuable exercise because it helps us in two ways. First, in seeing the transition over the past two hundred years, and second, to give us an idea of where to put our energy and resources for the future.

Circle of Impact

Using the Circle of Impact to Identify Change

Ideas: The Importance of Clarity.

Today, ideas matter more than ever. In the past, the communities and places of work were fairly homogeneous, not as culturally diverse as today. Now we need to be very clear about our values and purpose, and be able to effectively communicate them in visual and tangible ways.

In the past, we could measure our business by the bottom-line, and have a pretty good idea about whether we were succeeding. Today, if we are not clear about the impact we are creating, the purpose of our businesses / organizations seem vague. Impact is the difference that matters, and distinguishes us from others in the same industry. The core meaning of impact is the change we are seeking to create, and how we know when we have.

Lastly, is having a vision that is clear about what each person brings to the mission of the organization, and by that I mean, understanding what is their potential contribution. Then knowing how it is aligned with the operating structure to produce impact. And thirdly, each member of the organization being able to articulate that vision from their own place within the organization. Same vision, different expressions of it.

Relationships: The Importance of Being Present

Today, the person who is prejudiced, condescending and exclusive toward people and other cultures is viewed as backward, narrow and insecure. Openness and welcome are important behaviors that leaders and their organizations need to exhibit.

This mindset, so to speak, is really just an entry level attitude toward relationships. At the core, what made for a healthy relationship two hundred years ago, does so today. A year ago in a post, Honor and the Lost Art of Diplomancy, I wrote,

Diplomacy is the practice of respect applied in places of diverse cultures. It is the ability of one person to be able to empathize with another person, even though their cultural, ethnic and philosophical backgrounds are not similar. ...

This type of respect is a form of humility that places the dignity of the other person ahead of one's own perogatives. It is what I see missing in much of the social and civic interaction that takes place in our society.

This aspect of relationships has always been true. The difference today is that it has to be treated as one of the strategic initiatives of the business. How the business relates to the person and the culture will have a huge impact upon how well they do.

In addition, the importance of respect, honor, dignity, and trust are now functioning within a social environment where technology mediates our relationships more and more. This is one of the most significant changes of the past two hundred years. And as one of my Facebook friends noted,

... instant responses, less thought - little or no opportunity to convey intent except by emoticons that have become part of the language. This is a change so significant that I think it's as big as the printing press being developed ...

This means that the quality of our relationships is really a matter of the person we are. Our character, integrity and values matter more than ever. They do because with many people we only have a moment to convey the depth of who we are. If we come across as shallow, narcissistic, unempathetic, or distracted, then we may never have a chance to change that impression. 

The impact of all this change in relationships and social context is that we must constantly be present with our best selves, if we hope to build relationships for the long term. To be present means that our first inclination is not to tell our story, but to ask questions to identify their story. When we know who they are and what they value, then, with genuine integrity, we can tell our story. We are able to do this when we truly approach each person with dignity, respect and trust.

Structures: The Importance of Leadership

A major change over the past two hundred years is in how businesses organize themselves. In the past, the industrial model depended upon a standardized, formal structure. Today, the complexity of doing business has placed a greater burden on workers to be problem solvers and initiative takers. The expectation that workers take greater responsibility is changing what it means to be an employee. In effect, this shift is a change in what is leadership.

In the past, leadership was a position, a title which often was personalized into a heroic narrative of the senior executive. Today leadership has become the impact that each person has within the business structure. It depends upon their ability to communicate, problem solve, relate well to others and contribute in ways beyond their job description. In effect, the skills of leadership are now the skills of an entrepreneur, and are needed by everyone within the structure.

With this shift, a company where more and more employees have the capacity to take initiative to lead, the quicker the company will adapt to changing situations with customers and in their industry.

The Difference that Matters

Here are five actions we can take.

1. Be clear about the Four Connecting Ideas of Values, Purpose/Mission, Vision and Impact. Develop an elevator speech for each, so that when the moment arises you have something clear to say.

2. Develop Ideas in Conversation. Identify three to five people with whom you work, and often have lunch, and begin to share your ideas with them. You may want to share this post with them, and see where the conversation goes. The idea is to learn through collaborative reflection.

3. Volunteer with an Organization that Serves People in Need. I have found that working with people who have lived through or are living in hard times gives me perspective on myself. I learn to appreciate what I have and gain the ability to respect those whom I may have not been able to see any value. The resiliency and adaptability of people who are in need provides us a window into our own capacity to change. 

4. Develop a Set of Questions to Ask Everyone You Meet.  What sparks your curiosity? This is how the Circle of Impact was developed. I asked questions of everyone I met. Once the Circle became clear, I began to use this as a framework for my discussions with people. Now it is printed on my business card. Do this is to take initiative because your desire is to make a difference.

5. Go Slowly on Beginning to Take Initiative. Yes, leadership is an initiative taking function. But not all organizations have embraced this idea. In fact, many think that relinquishing control over employee freedom to lead ends with chaos and confusion. It certainly can if there is poor communication and coordination between members of a team or department. Understand, therefore, that leadership in this perspective needs alignment between the three dimensions of leadership - Ideas, Relationships and Structure.

The last thing to say is that while the changes over the past two centuries have been great, the core attitudes and behaviors that make for effective leadership remain the same as always. The primary difference are the changes in the social and organizational contexts that have come through technological innovation and the growth of life and work on a global scale.


Networks in Transition

Transition Point - without Title

Networks are the new management mantra. The back story to this development is the increasing importance of healthy relationships for the sustainability of organizations. I've seen this coming since the mid-1970s with the realization that relationships are the vehicle through which life works.

The science of networks is growing in sophistication and practicality. It is truly amazing to see what the data on networks can reveal. That said, networks are not the end point. They are a transition point to something else.

The first transition

If you step out, look back, you'll see that for most of the past couple millennia, organizations have been structured as hierarchies. I've posted on this before.

Hierarchy of  Structure

This hierarchies look basically like this image.  There is leadership, with a level of  middle and supervisory management, followed by everyone else. This is an over simplification.  The point though is that the structure was organized for order, efficiency, and bottom-up accountability.

This hierarchy has been the primary form of organizational structure since human beings began to organize themselves. Some form of this hierarchy will always exist. However, it will be different.

Into the context of organizations appears a new phenomenon called a network of relationships. This is a new form of human organization that exists as connections without a designated location for these relationships. These are the kind of relationship that populate social media networks. They are virtual and intermittent, lacking comprehensiveness and continuity.

Prior to the advent of modern communication technology, the highest form of network was a local community of residents.  This ancient form of the network was based on physical proximity. Think of an Amish barn raising where all of one's neighbors come to your farm to construct a building that serves a family's need for sustainability.  Of course, no one talked about their local community as a network, but that is essentially what it was.  The connections formed a tight bond of closeness that made it difficult for outsiders to join. Today, networks are the opposite, loose, open configurations where the social bond is in the moment.

Hierarchy of Connection

Today, this network of relationships looks like this.  It is not primarily based on living near one another, but rather being connected through common interests. The sophistication of these networks is enabled by the data mining that modern computer technology provides. Social media provides the most practical and universal means for these networks of relationships to develop.

These networks are driven by the science of connection and its viral nature. There are great possibilities for impact when a network is mobilized for a cause, when an influential hub (person) sneezes and the whole world catches a new pair of shoes, or when one person posts a video of some random guy dancing, and it is shared globally millions of times. This is the power that this form of network connection holds.  This, however, is a feature of contemporary networks of relationships, and not the potential, ultimate end.

Two shifts

Networks are a basic infrastructure of the future of organizations. Where hierarchies are based upon position and role within an organization, networks are based upon who you know, and the ability to turn those connections into action.

To understand networks is to be aware of a couple shifts that have taken place over the past century.

The first shift is the elevation of the individual to a place of centrality in their own network of relationships. In this respect, being member of a community or an institution means less today than it did a generation ago. This individualism is a product of living in a society of choices made available to all who have the means as a consumers.  Today's consumer mindset sees organizations and networks existing to meet my purposes and desires. It is social in a limited, not a comprehensive sense.

The result is that much of the emphasis on networks is focused on developing them for one's own purposes as a universal platform for marketing the individual to a world of individuals.

A second shift is the emergence of the network as a place of virtual habitation. We live online, and our relationships are online, and our identity is formed online, and our life is lived online. What the old hierarchies and old local communities offered was a physical place to live one's life and to develop the habits and practices that provided a basis for a sustainable society. There is a reason why cultures survived centuries, even millennia, without the modern technologies that we have today.  These cultures of the past were communities rooted in a specific place, organized around specific traditions that helped people know how to live a life of contribution and meaning within that specific context. Many of the habits and practices that provided sustainability during the pre-modern era have eroded away as we taken up residence online. Today, everything can be done online, not requiring anything more than a wifi connection to be connected to a network of social profiles of people whom we only know as they choose to present themselves online. 

The significance of this shift is seen in the difficulty that people who are not highly engaged in an online network of relationships find in dealing with people who are not used to face-to-face human contact. Frankly, they do not understand the patterns of interaction and communication that take place through social media platforms. As a result, they are missing the necessary capacity to be persons of influence who can make a difference on a global scale.


Three Desires-Impact-NoFill
These two shifts inadequately address the fundamental desires that people have.  Those desires are for our lives to be Personally Meaningful, for Happy, Healthy Relationships, Socially Fulfilling and to Make a Difference that Matters. All of this can happen through our online network of relationships. To do so requires that they become more than simply a place where I daily project my personality into noise of the online social world.

The Next Transition

These changes are why I see our current fixation on networks of relationships as a transition point between the old hierarchical structures and what comes next. What comes next is a recognition that we are more than the constructed persona of our diverse social media profiles. We are real people who have lives apart from the online world.

The next iteration of the network is for them to become more communal. By this I mean that the relationships transcend the virtual to be transformational. For this to happen, there must be a personal stake in the relationship that moves beyond what I get from it. It goes to what I give to make it work.  In this respect, the next transition is a return to the old communities of proximity where being a neighbor meant that we were actively engaged in the care and sustainability of our community of common welfare.

SharedLeadershipImpact
There is a sharedness of these communities of relationships as seen here. When I speak of "leading by vacuum," it is a way of talking about how we each bring our own gifts and talents to the network of relationships, and in so doing, the network transcends the virtual to become something greater.

In this scenario, the individualism of the network is transformed into a community of relationships who share a common purpose or goal for their relationships.

For example, the Flow Ventura Global Triiibes Retreat  brought together people from around the globe, most who had never physically been together before. We knew each other online. The event would never had occurred had the relationships been simply virtual and individual. Instead, over a period of time, our relationships came to increasingly matter more and more. We were more than virtual connections. We were friends whose daily interaction online mattered in how we live in the dispersed places where we reside.  In other words, knowing one another online was insufficient for the sustaining of our relationships. We needed to be together in the same place, face-to-face, and side by side.

The retreat as a result was transformational for many of the participants.  Many common points of interest explored in the conversations and presentations elevated the shared values that transformed our once virtual network of relationships into a community of friends whose relationships matter to one another.

Facilitating The Transition from Network to Community

For a network to transition into a genuine community requires leadership. It needs people who facilitate and coordinate the interaction that is needed to build a community of relationships. Conversations within these networks need to clarify the shared ideas of purpose and values that are a basis for a shared vision of impact, and a common commitment to share the responsibility for it. Each provides a way for the relationship to transcend superficial connection to one that is meaningful, fulfilling and makes a difference that matters.

This is the future that I see emerging. I see it as the logical evolution of networks of relationships to become more communal than social. That does not mean it will happen in every place.  It does mean that it is possible. That it is a choice fueled by our desires for a certain kind of life that transcends the shallow superficiality of much of what we experience each day.


TransitionsOrgStructure
PDF of this guide now available
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Measuring Leadership

Circle of Impact
There are no real measures of leadership.

Well, they are, but what we use are not real measures.

What we typically measure is management, not leadership.

The management of people, products and processes. 

That is different than leadership.

Management numbers may ... may ... have a relationship to leadership. But it needs to be defined.

So, if you are going to measure leadership then you need to define what it is, and define it in such a way that you can measure it.

 

Defining Leadership

Here's how I define leadership.

Leaders take initiative to create impact.

Each word is intentional.

Initiate

    Leaders start, engage, facilitate, act, do and take the first step.

Create

    Leaders generate processes, products, systems, relationships, openness, cultures, opportunities, or the next ones, and they adapt, form, and bring into existence what is new, needed and necessary.

Impact

    Leaders make a difference that matters by creating change.

 

By this definition any person can function as a leader. What does this mean for those people who are in executive and supervisory roles in traditional vertically integrated hierarchical organizational structures?

It is simple.

Executive leaders initiate the creative processes which produce leaders who initiate to create impact.

This means that executive leaders are measured by the leadership of those for whom they are responsible. This is quite similar to what we have thought of as management, but there is a difference.

The difference is that the management of efficiency, predictability and consistency requires control those who work for them. The reality is that this is a fading reality. Businesses are rapidly changing, by necessity, and our understanding of leadership needs to catch up.

The Three Dimensions of Leadership

Now if everyone simply initiated change in a random manner, then greater chaos would ensue.

Therefore, an integral part of executive leadership is coordinating the leadership of others. Executives do so through three principal areas: Ideas, Relationships and the context which each person has through the social and organizational structures of their work.

In other words, leaders facilitate clarity around the Connecting Ideas of Purpose, Values, Vision and Impact. They facilitate the communication and coordination of the actions that follow the organization's purpose. 

Executive leaders build a culture of shared leadership through the shared responsibility for the organization's defined purpose, values and its vision for impact.

As a result, leadership spreads out through the company. We can see a better connection between the company's purpose and the means to achieve its bottom line. Better communication, and a greater sense of community between the people in the company, fosters a culture that adapts more quickly to the opportunities and obstacles that present themselves every day.

Measuring Leadership

So, how do we measure leadership.

First, we define the change we want by defining the purpose of the impact that we seek.

We track change. We track the changes that we see in how the Connecting Ideas are being use. We track change in how people communicate and work together. And we track changes in processes as they adapt to new circumstances.

Second, we identify and track employee initiative.

We track the connection between communication and issue resolution. If people are taking initiative to resolve issues at their own point of responsibility, then you are seeing the spread of leadership in the company.

Third, we track the speed of change.

How fast does it take for an idea to be enacted? The key to this returns to the Connecting Ideas. These ideas provide a context of understanding that can guide the initiative leadership of people.

Ultimately, the measure of leadership is the number of leaders who have been formed and nurtured by the company, and the collective impact of their shared leadership.

By growing a leadership culture of initiative, a company can become a community of leaders whose impact is far beyond what it was when everyone was being managed to just do their job.


The Benefits of Adaptive Learning

IMG_2801

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.


Parallel Structures of Networks of Relationships


Structure - Collaborative into Hierarchy
One of the questions that continues to dominate many of the conversations that I have with organizational leaders is the one related to how they should structure their business.

For example, yesterday in a conversation with a friend and client, we discussed the role of the administrative assistant in his business. Like many small businesses, this role has shifted from an essential one to a discretionary one. Many employment positions have gone away because the benefit does not match their cost.

The issue isn't whether the tasks that these people do are not valuable.

The issue is whether the role as defined is.

This is a picture of the shift being taken in many places from a traditional hierarchical business structure to one that I call a parallel one. This parallel structure is a network of relationships.

Hierarchy-NetworkRelationships

As you can see by this chart, there are some real differences between the traditional approach to organizing a business, and one built around relationships.  This shift is hard for everyone who has spent their work life in a hierarchical structure.

In the traditional approach, a person is hired to fill a position. That position has a job description that outlines the specific tasks and responsibilities that they are to do. The employee's expectation is that is what their time at work will be like each day. Completing tasks that are assigned through the organizational design of the company. Responsibility is passed down to the employee,while authority is held at the top. This system worked well during an era of easy growth and social continuity.  It does so because the ultimate purpose of the organization is institutional integrity.

In a network of relationships parallel structure, the job description is also relational. It means that the individual's character and engagement with people is part of what makes them a valued employee. Some may think this has always been true. And that is correct. These parallel structures of relationships have always formed when a specific need emerges. But they were seen as temporary or adhoc, not a permanent or essential part of the organization's structure.

What We Want

The greatest business failure of the past thirty years has not been scandals or financial collapses. It is the failure of business to understand the value of their employees. This failure originates in the structure of businesses.

If employees are functionaries in an administrative, production system, then their value is diminished, by let say at least 30%, and in some cases twice that.

If the business is organized to create order, then employees are hired to comply with that order. Institutional integrity becomes the goal of the organization.

However, in a network of relationships model, people bring much more to their work. This is what the team building movement has been teaching us for a generation. How people relate and work together is a key ingredient in an organization's success.

I suspect though that here again the value of the individual to company is still not perceived well.

If you were to sit down with each employee for coffee and talk about their lives, you would find what I am finding. There are three things that they want. Everyone says them differently, but they can be summarized simply. 

Life-Work Goals
People want their lives and work to be

Personally Meaningful,

          Socially Fulfilling, and

                    Make a Difference that Matters.

This is what we all want. We want the values that matter to us to be central in how we live. We want some kind of purpose for our lives. There needs to be a point to it.

We also want our relationships to be healthy and whole. We don't like conflict. We don't like to be manipulated, to be taken for granted, or to be used for someone's selfish purposes. We want to walk into work hopeful and excited about the opportunity to share my day with the people with whom I work.

We want to feel at the end of the day that we did something that made a difference. Listen to what people say when they talk about a good day. One where they accomplished something. They overcame a challenge or an obstacle and succeeded at it. Also, they did something for someone else that was appreciated. It made a difference. There was real satisfaction in helping solve person's problems. That's what we want.

The Circle of Impact Connection

The lesson for me when I began to see this picture emerge is how congruent it was to the three dimensions of leadership that I had identified as the Circle of Impact.

Circle of Impact- simple
The three dimensions that command every leader's attention are Ideas, Relationships and Structure. We tend to segregate them, thinking that it is easier that way. Instead it creates confusion and greater complexity. That is why the four Connecting Ideas - Purpose or Mission, Values, Vision and Impact - are essential tools for helping link together the three dimensions.  And it begins by clarifying the Connecting Ideas.

The Circle of Impact applies to both kinds of structures, traditional and parallel, because this is a basic, fundamental understanding of all organizations, regardless of type. Every organization must address its ideology, its social context and how the business is structured to achieve impact. All of them. However, here's the difference.

The parallel structure, described above, is a Network of Relationships. Just like in a traditional hierarchical setting, this organizational structure requires attention to the Connecting Ideas, relationships and the organization of their work.

Networks of Relationships are formed around a Shared Mission and Shared Responsibility, where leadership, authority and responsibility to contribute are shared.

From this perspective of Shared Leadership, the responsibility of the individual is to take initiative to create impact. This is the most basic contribution of the team member. And because the group is organized as a network of relationships, their collaboration and communication is an essential focus of their relationships.

Three Contributions

Most of us have experienced team work where there was a genuine experience of coming together as a group of shared purpose and contribution. And most likely, we see these experiences as the exceptions in our lives.

Let's return to my conversation with my friend and client about the administrative staff person in his office.

How can this perspective about parallel structures, networks of relationships, shared mission, shared responsibility, shared leadership and impact fit into his traditional business structure?  

It begins with recognizing that each individual has unrealized potential waiting to be released. Everyone of us wants to work in an environment that is personally meaningful, socially fulfilling and makes a difference that matters. If that is so, then the first step is figuring out how those three personal goals can become the basis for the contributions of each person.

As a result, each person contributes that which is personally meaningful. Each person contributes in their interpersonal interaction that which is socially fulfilling. And each person contributes out of their own talent, expertise and character of personal initiative those actions that create the impact that makes a difference that matters.

For each person to do this means that the social structure of the business must change. And this shift is based on what each person shares with the whole of the organization.

SharedNetworkRelationships
Here's the insight that is a key to understanding this organizational change. Because these networks of relationships are parallel structures, they can work along side of, and even within the traditional structures of hierarchy. In fact they always have. But rarely as a core strategy, but rather as a tactical approach to team work. 

We can see this is the way businesses define positions of employment. Instead of focused on contribution, the emphasis has been task oriented. As result, the value of the employee is not realized, and it makes the case for reductions in force must easier to make.

The future belongs to these parallel structures. Let networks of relationships form. Let them take collective initiative to make a difference that matters, then new vitally and impact will emerge.


The Age of Connection

Hierarchies Three

Three images of hierarchy.

A Hierarchy of Structure.

A Hierarchy of Relationship

A Hierarchy of Connection

A transition is taking place between these three hierarchies. Each hierarchy provides a kind of order that helps it meet its goals.

The dominant one for at least the last two millennia has been the hierarchy of structure. It is the model of virtually every organization from the Roman Empire to every corporation operating on the planet today. It is so accepted as the default way organizations are structured, that it is virtually impossible to think of them in any other way.

Hierarchy is the water to us who are the fish.

The hierarchy of relationship has popped out of the surface as the defacto structure of social media.  A relational orientation challenges the principle of the hierarchy of structure by tearing down boundaries that exist in traditional corporate structures.  This is a hierarchy of numbers though, not structure.

How many people are following you on Twitter? How many friends on Facebook? The number of people that follow you translates to influence. The more people you know, the greater your influence. At least is the claim. Frankly, I don't see it. There is a pretty shallow understanding of relationships operating here. But for those breaking out of the confines of structure, a structureless hierarchy of relationships is freedom, and welcome one.

While relationships matter, they don't matter if you can't get your thousand Facebook friends to do something. The notifications and requests I receive everyday from people following me on Twitter, wanting to connect on LinkedIn or be friends on Facebook tells me that the hierarchy of relationships isn't truly relational. Rather it is just the next generation, albeit in a more sophisticated package, of traditional mass marketing.  You still have to have a story and a product that is worth talking about.

As of today, I have 1087 Facebook friends. Most of them are just binary code signatures. Most I wouldn't know, even if they walked up to me with a nametag on. The fact that Facebook and Google can suggest people to friend, places and businesses to frequent, by their knowledge of my linking and the kinds of things I search for online is just another way of understanding that this is really isn't relational breakthrough. It is just the old numbers game in a new form. 

Of course, it was necessary for the hierarchy of relationships to appear as a transition stage.  It points to the changes  that are happening as the old hierarchy of structure is replaced by the emerging hierarchy of connection.

The Nature of Connection

If you have read anything over the past decade about network theory, then you'll understand that the connection between people creates an environment that the typical organizational structure cannot. It is a boundary-less environment, open to activities that mobilize the connections between people in ways that are hidden and resisted in the old hierarchies. The key difference between a connection between people and just an online relationship are the values the elevate the relationship to action. This is the nature of connection.

Here's an example.

Recently I was at a party of some friends with whom I had only known online. We live on different sides of the United States. At this party were people, with whom I had also had some online interaction through these friends. Each of these encounters with these fine people at the party were amazing conversations about things that mattered to us. This wasn't just a social affair. A meet and great, and forget about it twenty minutes later. We connected on a personal level that mattered to us.  These encounters happened because we sought them out. We were intentional in meeting one another in a way that established a real connection.

You know how it is at a party. Often it is just a bunch of narcissistic babbling trying to convinced the other person of your significance. Why don't people understand that when they make the conversation just about them, that they come across as shallow, boring people. If they are truly significant people we'll find out in more subtle ways as we explore our common interests.

There are two things to understand about the nature of connection.

Structural Hole 2

First, it requires a person to be real.

By that I simply mean someone who can enter into a relationship which is respectful, mutually beneficial and has the potential to grow and mature.

Second, it requires some common ground upon which the relationship can grow. 

This commonality must be significant enough to absorb the changes that happen in people as they grow.

An additional key is to realize that the core commonality are values, not activities. We may all love the Red Sox, but our different values about life and work may make it difficult for the relationship to grow beyond a narrow superficiality.

None of this is really calculated as important in either the hierarchy of structure or hierarchy of relationships. It gets in the way of the business purpose of corporate and social media structures.

Leadership and Connection

The old hierarchies were based on someone or group being in charge. They created order, delegated responsibilities, and managed processes. They were efficient. With the hierarchy of connection, we have something different emerging. Leadership isn't a position at the top. Instead, it is something each person in the circle practices and contributes. 

Through their party, my friends brokered an opportunity for many of their friends to meet one another for the first time. Through these connections new leadership emerges for their businesses and community.

Leadership at its simplest is the personal initiative that makes a difference that matters.

The most significant initiative that you can take towards another person is to care about them. Treat them with dignity and respect, and act towards them with humility and integrity. Where these values exist within the hierarchies of structure and online relationships, you have leaders who are taking personal initiative to make a difference in the lives of other people. They do so essentially off the clock and in spite of what is expected.  These are the leaders with the greatest influence.  In the future, they will be those who understand how to establish real connections between people, building networks of leadership who each are taking initiative to create change and have an impact. They will be making the difference that matters because they are establishing connections based on shared values that bind people together for the shared experience of leadership. This is the emerging age of connection. This is the future of organizations, communities and society.