Thursday, October 29, 2009

I have always felt it is a privilege to facilitate conversations with adults by cultivating a safe open learning space. While I studied long and hard to be a psychologist, I am also proud to be an educator/trainer.

A participant on an interpersonal skills program this week approached me at the end of the course and thanked me for helping him see he had an anger management problem. He asked for some strategies to help him on his way to conquering that "problem." I was somewhat puzzled initially as we had never directly talked about such an issue and would never have done so in the company of twenty other participants. However he went on to explain the work we had done on Emotional Intelligence struck a deep resonant chord in him.  He admitted his wife had said he would "hate the program" when she found out his boss had sent him on it as she thought it would be far too "touchy feely" for him.

Isn't it wonderful and oh so humbling to be reminded of the fact that we cannot presume to know how someone else will react or respond in a given situation and how wonderful to be in the room with people when their insights trigger some real behaviour change for the good.

Have you had such moments? Have you been there when someone had a profound insight they were prepared to act upon? Were they able to follow through?

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Tough Corporate Lessons in a Tough Sport!

The locals are celebrating this week in the wake of Melbourne Storms’ victory over its New South Wales rival. Most would agree that to appear in four consecutive grand finals and win two as the Storm has now done is an indication of sustained excellence in anyone’s language. It’s worth asking how an organisation sustains exceptional performance in a demanding context. Theirs was a ‘Greenfield’ culture 11 years ago when they began and everything they created was built from the ground up. This was not the case for the team administered by their CEO Brian Waldron before he came to the Storm. Three years ago he was running the St Kilda Football Club; a club marred in the past by controversy, with a reputation as a disco culture in the 80’s and early 90’s and quite lucky according to its former coach, Grant Thomas, to exist after more than a century of dismal finals results. Not every organisation has the luxury of building their culture from scratch. If we take both St Kilda and the Western Bulldogs as examples, one valuable and reassuring lesson for us is that even organisations with long standing underperforming (even torrid) legacy cultures can change.

How do we drive a winning culture?

  1. Organisations must have a clear vision. Their people need to ‘get it’. For footy clubs this might be paraphrased as “winning premierships on a sustained basis” and perhaps also “making our players into better people by the time they leave our Club”. Whilst these visions may also be accompanied by tribal passion, big dollars, high player profile, their formula is compelling as a blueprint for any successful organisation.
  2. Organisations must remember to inspire their people about why the business exists and successfully attach a social or moral cause to strategic goals. People have to connect emotionally with why they do what they do. That is, they need to be ‘moved by it’. Too often leaders dwell on what has to happen i.e. business results and forget to keep spruiking the “why” it matters.
  3. We are seeing more evidence that high performing and professional sporting teams ruthlessly guard good culture and continue to demonstrate they will not tolerate below the line behaviour. Whatever the organisation’s code, their people need to ‘live by it’. It appears that Carlton has made good on its promise to trade Brendan Fevola. Every organisation has their rainmaker, their number one sales person, their talented high profile stars but what price if the organisation continues to tolerate or tacitly condone sexual harassment, bullying, expense rorts or any other form of counterproductive workplace behaviour. What message does it send to clients, suppliers and “players”, when the ends justify any means?
What do vastly different but successful enterprises have in common?

Yes, a football club in any code enjoys important differences to other enterprises. Government agencies and public companies are not trying to ‘win flags’ nor can they easily ‘delist’ players but they are most certainly trying to kick goals, need a diverse team to do that and teamwork, discipline and focus to get there. They also need to manage their brand, attract sponsorship dollars and talent. They need to create the optimal environment for success; enabling critical success factors and removing impediments to that success. Being clear, intentional and consistent about the vision and the expected behaviours to go with it are hallmarks of enlightened organisations serious about sustained success and “premier” reputation.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Now to Lead When the Honeymoon's Over

Barack Obama was inaugurated as President of the United States amid much emotion hope and optimism. If one compares his famous acceptance speech on Election Day with the speech he made on Inauguration Day, the contrast is striking and relevant to all of us who lead change. His “Yes We Can” campaign stirred, inspired and seduced his people and for the record I believe he is authentic in his desire to bring about change in his country and greater peace to the world. However, it was only once he was truly in the chair he spoke of the critical need for people to pull together, to temper their enthusiasm with realism, to contemplate the enormity of the task before them all and remind them it would indeed take much time. Obama knows the importance of Expectations Management.

Some who are inclined to greater cynicism would say he trivialised the challenge until he had won the race. However he had to deploy one of the most fundamental of strategies in early ‘therapy’ for people whose esteem and efficacy was low - the “transfer of optimism” (see Gerard Egan, the father of counselling therapy).

Obama faced staunch public opposition in Congress this week; accused of lying. He responded rather than reacted, a trait of a leader high in Emotional Intelligence yet the opposition was very public and very real. A leader has to be willing to do the hard stuff, despite the discomfort they create and the resistance they may face.
In a world where young people demand low ‘power distance’ between themselves and their bosses and where engagement is prized, how challenging to strike the balance between being a leader and a friend; how critical to manage expectations and not put ourselves continually in a position of having to defend and apologise or backtrack. These are some of the skills of strategic influence and they must be enacted authentically to have any chance of sustained success.