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.



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.

Gratitude: Circle of Impact Conversation Guides

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

Five Actions Gratitude

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

Aristotle wrote,

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

I have written about this idea both here and here.

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

We Say Thanks in Gratefulness.

We Give Back in Service.

We Make Welcome in Hospitality.

We Honor Others in Recognition

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

How To Use This Guide:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Relationship Factor in Johnny Bunko

Johnny Bunko - Dan Pink

After being curious about human relationships for over 30 years, I have not lost the impression that the last great untapped resource in organizations is the interaction of people. (Actually there are two that are untapped, the other is individual human potential for impact. Alas, that is for another day.)

For a moment, place yourself in an office where a sizable number of people work. Two things you'll see. One is people doing individual tasks. The second is people interacting with people. A typical work day is shifting from one to the other.

If you ask people what their job is, mostly likely they will tell you that it is the task work that they are doing.  That is how they are measured to a large degree.

The problem with this is that the quality of human interaction is at a critical factor in how well businesses deal with change and economic downturns.  We don't see our relationships in this way. They tend to be treated as secondary.

The Adventures of Johnny Bunko by Daniel Pink is a career guide.  However, if you read it with an eye to understanding the human interaction in it, you'll learn some other lessons as well.  This is part of the reason why I believe Saying Thanks, Every Day is the right 7th lesson for Johnny to adopt.

Johnny Bunko is an average guy who is stuck in the wrong job because he listened to well-meaning, but wrong career advice. A magical career guide named Diana appears to lead him through six lessons. There are however other people in the story who contribute in various ways toward Johnny finding his path.  With each person, he has a legitmate reason to thank them. Let's do a run down.

Diana - for her sage advice
Parents - for loving him enough to give him advice, even though it was not the best
Boss - for having high enough standards that showed Johnny that he was not suited to be an accountant
Waiter - for asking a question that led to his being given the seven magical sets of chop sticks
Carlos - for being an enthusiastic friend
Yuko - for being the skeptical friend
College counselor - for trying to give him good advice, and failing excellently.
HR hiring staffperson - for giving him the job that would lead to finding his career niche
Lakshmi - for giving him the opportunity by not totally discounting his ability to make a difference on their team
Dave - for being a friend who kept trying with him.

You may think that this is pretty superficial gratitude. And it may be.

Saying thanks is not accumulative, it is transformative.

You can't store it. It can only be used to take a relationship to a new depth. Then you have to say it again.

The deeper our gratitude goes and is expressed, the deeper the relationship becomes. As a result, we have people in our lives who will go the extra mile when we need them to do so.

Saying thanks everyday is one way we explicitly live out lesson # 3 - It's not about you.  Remember what Diana says to Johnny?

It's not about you. It's about your customer. It's about your client. Use your strengths, yes, but remember ... you're here to serve - not to self-actualize.  This project isn't about your stupid pictures.  It's about winning BSN for Boggs.

So I don't matter at all?

Of course you matter.  But the most successful people improve their own lives by improving other's lives.  They help their customer solve it's problem. They give their client something it didn't know it was missing.  That's where they focus their energy, talent, and brainpower.

Outward, not inward.

Exactly. And you're not in this alone. Think about Lakshmi and Dave, or Carlos and Yuko. The most valuable people in any job bring out the best in others. They make their boss look good. They help their team
mates succeed.  So pull your head out of your ... ego. Then sit down with Dave and get back to work.

Every interaction in a business setting is a transaction. We are exchanging ideas, collaborating to make a difference that is needed. We agree to work together. Saying thanks completes the transaction.

But the transaction is much more. It is transformative. It changes things.  When we express gratitude, we build trust. A person who is grateful for what I've done for them, is a person I trust because I understand that they see beyond their own self-interest. That is an important element in trust.

When then do we not see this?  Why do we think that it is all about us?

One reason could be that we are in the wrong place, like Johnny. We aren't doing what we are gifted to do.

Another is that we are afraid, and self-centered, worried about tomorrow, and we think that I have to focus on my responsibilities to get through.

Or, we could think that it is about us, and therefore people are just objects in the way of getting what I want.

If an environment of gratitude is to develop in a business, there also has to be an atmosphere of welcome, of openness, that my gifts and talents have an opportunity to make a difference.

Lastly, we could be stuck in an organization that is poorly functioning.

Circle of Impact- simple

Analyze where you are with the Circle of Impact Leadership Guides .  Look at how thanks and welcome, gratitude and openness fit into the ideology, structure and relationships in your business. If they aren't fitting very well, then you have some indication for where to start to make changes.

Having reread Johnny Bunko to prepare this post, I'm more aware of the relationship dimension that is important to the story. I'm more convince that Saying thanks every day can create a revolution of thanks and welcome that transforms how our businesses function. It is one of the few certain keys to future success.

Please vote for Saying Thanks Every Day. Send a message to the world that gratitude and openness are the new rules of professional relationships. (Voting has closed.)

The end of institutional convention and the beginning of the age of welcome, with a new afterword


Gifts that Make a Difference

I know two middle school age boys who are both pre-Autistic or have Aspergers syndrome.  They live in different cities in different parts of the country.  They are different in almost every way. One is has the wildest imagination you can imagine. The other is the sweetest kid you'll ever meet.  These kids are typically viewed as "special needs" children. Based on my relationships with them, I think this is a misnomer based on institutional convention that handicaps them in ways that it shouldn't.

Each of these boys is gifted. Their gifts are different. They don't follow traditional social conventions. This does not mean that they are less than human. My life is enriched each time I am with them.  They both have gifts that makes a difference.

I've been thinking about them lately. Thinking about how their giftedness in a typical institutional setting would be missed.  They don't play by the rules. They don't color in the lines. They don't talk like everyone. They seem awkward, but not to themselves. They are just two boys following their separate interests. I credit their parents for creating an openness with their sons that they can live a new normal kind of life. They could have easily handicap them by forcing them into traditional institutional conventions.

Welcoming Their Gifts

These boys and their parents represent to me the future of organizations. Instead of requiring gifted people to follow convention, we should welcome them to contribute their gifts.

Creating a welcoming environment for people to give is an essential task of every leader in the 21st century.

This is a huge dilemma for organizational leaders who find themselves managing institutional convention instead of enabling the giftedness of their people. I know this sounds a bit idealistic. It is not.  It is simply a reflection on the reality of our time that institutions that do not change, do not surivive.

It is why I'm excited about the future. This recession is going to purge a lot of that institutional convention out of the organizational system of the world. We are in the mess we are in because leaders followed convention instead of opened up their businesses to the gifts of their people.  When greed for money and power take over, the ability of an organization to thrive in hard times is severely constrained.

As I've thought through the implications of my Johnny Bunko Challenge 7th lesson of Say, Thanks, Every Day, I've come realize that saying thanks and making welcome are ways we open ourselves up to others. This is what leaders must do.

We must open ourselves up to people whose gifts are not conventional but are needed. Being open does not mean being open-headed. It simply means that leaders must create an environment where the gifts of people are coordinated for the benefit of the organization. Leaders need to become facilitators of individual creativity and giftedness, than delegators of responsibility.

Let the Age of Welcome begin.

Create a Revolution of Thanks and Welcome today. 

When the economy returns to a robust state, and it will, those businesses that have welcomed and embrace the giftedness of their people will lead their industries in new era of growth.

Afterword, five and a half years later.

I wrote the above words in late 2008. Never in my wildest imagination could I have imagined that the very opposite of what I see, described above, would happen. The shrinkage of jobs in the US over the past half decade is a systemic problem. It isn't just a political, social or economic problem. It is a business, education, law enforcement and social services problem. It is a problem that is individual and collective. It is a problem that is complex and not suseptible to resolution simply by government mandate.

In my opinion, at its root is a moral problem. It can be seen in two ways.

First, as the United States government has moved to an modified open borders practice, we are finding our society flooded with non-skilled, or low-skilled immigrant workers for jobs that do not exist. In effect, they enter under the false premise that they enter a society that is prepared to welcome them as new citizens. These children, families, individual men and women, and gangs that enter are testimony to the failure of globalism as a development strategy.

To be a welcoming society requires this purpose to be shared by the people. While there is little that any of us can do on the borders, there is much we can do locally to create an environment of welcome.

Therefore, the second aspect of this moral crisis is that we need to acknowledge our own responsibility. What I write above about the importance of a living ethic of welcome is even more important today than when I wrote it five years ago.

This responsibility begins in our local communities where we create new ways to help people learn the skills and gain the experience to stand on their own, support their families and become contributors to society. We must create the conditions in our local communities for economic growth that enables job growth to happen. We need to support the schools systems, the non-profit community, and the religious community as each address the needs of the community. And we need to elect politicians who are able to see beyond their own partisanship.

For a transformation of our moral purpose to happen, we must overcome our own fear, selfish and divisiveness towards those who have differing opinions. The complex global issues that face the world community today are little different than the ones that face local communities. The difference is that we can all impact our local communities. It is a choice to ignore the decline, and build new welcoming institutional forms that enable new immigrants as well as long time residents to find a better life for themselves, their families,and, our communities.