On the surface, this blog post is about email etiquette. And if that’s all you take away from it, I hope it serves you well.
But the core of this blog post is really about your integrity.
It’s almost impossible to be in the workforce and not send an email. No matter what email server you use, the components are all the same.
You have a blank space for the subject of the email, a space for whom you’re sending the email, another one for anyone you want to copy in the email (CC), and then you’ll find a space labeled “BCC”.
BCC stands for blind carbon copy. It allows the sender to conceal that the person or group entered in the “BCC” field is included in the email.
It’s a great idea if you use it to send mass emails to a long list of recipients, or to a list of people who don’t really know each other. Unfortunately, this invention went horribly wrong when people started utilizing it as a means to secretly send conversations to third parties. (And I’ve seen people in all levels of organizations wrongfully use it this way—from secretaries to executives.)
In almost every instance where I was included as a “BCC” in a work-related email, a coworker was either trying to cover up their faults in a particular incident, or secretly revealing the disparaging words of a colleague.
Even though some shocking revelations were found by my “blind” inclusion in the conversation, the fact that I was BCC’d said more about the sender who added me into the discussion than the person who responded.
Why does this person see the need to be so sneaky and underhanded? Who’s getting blind copied when he/she sends me an email? Is the sender so insecure that he/she feels invisible “back up” is needed?
You learn at a young age that it’s wrong to talk behind another person’s back if you wouldn’t repeat those same comments in front of the person.
That’s obvious, so let’s take it a step further.
It also shows poor integrity to have a conversation with someone—in person, on the phone, or electronically—and not inform them of all the parties who are included in it.
What are you trying to hide?
If you stand behind what you’re saying, it shouldn’t matter who sees it. And if you don’t have the guts to reveal who’s really in the conversation, maybe you shouldn’t be saying it.
Stir the pot too often, and you’ll end up burned.
A leader without relationships is an individual contributor. Develop relationships by aligning-with and going-along.
Successful leaders stir the pot and build alliances at the same time.
Leaders hate mediocrity, lost opportunity, isolation, and inefficiency. But, don’t forget to love your organization, even as you stir the pot to make it better.
Stir the pot by:
- Learning from customers, vendors, and competitors.
- Developing talent. Those who aren’t growing have to go. Shift people’s roles by giving new opportunities and responsibilities, for example.
- Bringing the outside in. I recently gave a presentation to a Statewide Community Corrections organization. I was the outsider. The fact that I’m not a corrections person was their advantage.
- Standing up for what you believe in, even if it’s unpopular. Great ideas are unpopular, at first. Just be sure to stir with a smile.
Believe me, you won’t always get your way. If you always get your way, the people around you are head-nodding, unthinking, fearful brown-nosers.
The way you respond – when you don’t get your way – reveals who you are.
Seven things to do when stirring the pot fails:
- Explore, don’t defend.
- Support others when they stir pots.
- Go to lunch with those who disagree. Build relationships.
- Adapt as you go.
- Focus on issues more than personalities.
- Learn to let some things go, at least for now.
- Don’t be known as a one-issue leader.
What behaviors cause leaders to get burned? How might leaders stir the pot and not get burned?
Servant Leadership guru, Robert K. Greenleaf, asserted “awareness” is a critical element of successful servant leadership.
He observed, “Awareness is not a giver of solace—it is just the opposite. It is a disturber and an awakener. Able leaders are usually sharply awake and reasonably disturbed. They are not seekers after solace. They have their own inner serenity.”
At first glance, leaders who are “reasonably disturbed” yet experience “inner serenity” seems incompatible. However, inner serenity comes from practicing awareness of both self and others. Let’s explore…
- Self-Awareness and Awareness of Others
The purpose of awareness, from Greenleaf’s perspective, is to fulfill the needs of others and to persuade those being led toward the common good. This journey begins with self-awareness, and that journey can only be charted when we successfully answer questions like: “Who am I?” “Why am I here?” “Where am I going?” “How will I get there?” etc. As we become more aware of self, we are in position to be more aware of the needs of others. We can then help those within our circles of influence become aware of self and others, and so on.
- Awareness That Something Needs to Be Done
Awareness of others is not a one-dimensional sense. When we become aware of a problem, issue, bottleneck, etc., we don’t sit on it. Instead, we actively engage those we lead and apply the scope of servant leader characteristics as a means of holistic development. This is not easy for the busy leader. Then again, a leader who is too busy for those he or she leads is just that—a busy leader, not a servant leader. Ironically, the busy leader typically creates much more systemic stress because it is impossible to be aware of what needs to be done when constantly running to simply keep up.
- Servant Leaders Work Through Correcting Things that are Wrong
Since servant leaders are as Greenleaf notes, “servants first,” as opposed to “leaders first,” the true servant leader refuses to ignore what is broken. He or she will not simply hope a situation resolve itself, but will proactively point out specific, observable behaviors or outcomes that fall short of desired performance. The attitude is not “I told you so.” Rather it is one of “because I want you to succeed…” or “because you are important to this organization…” that contributes to self-awareness versus self-doubt—or even cynicism.
Practicing self-awareness in self and others takes time. Depending on the role you play, you may or may not have that luxury. Do not lose heart. If you are aware that you are too busy, communicate that to those within your circle of influence and invite them through their self-awareness to create a complementary environment that proactively contextualizes awareness for the greater good.
Some moments of impact happen unexpectedly. They are a surprise, and they can be life altering.
But, some moments of impact can be “designed.” And that is the key word. Such a moment is “designed” from start to finish. From the place you hold the conversation, to who you invite into the conversation, to the rules of engagement in the conversation, these gatherings are ones in which everything matters! Moments of impact, in other words, do not usually happen by accident. They are carefully planned – designed.
This is the premise of Moments of Impact: How to Design Conversations That Accelerate Change by Chris Ertel and Lisa Kay Solomon. And they call these moments of impact strategic conversations. From the book:
Strategic conversations are creative and collaborative problem-solving sessions designed to address an adaptive challenge.
(Hmm – if only we had some adaptive challenges these days!)
In reading through this book, this simple truth struck me: it is foolish to hold a planning retreat, or a problem-solving retreat—one in which you will fly folks in, and carve out a day or more of collaborative time—without actually preparing in the smartest and most thorough way possible for such a gathering.
In other words, considering all the person-hours to be spent in that room, you should probably invest quite a few hours beforehand not just preparing the agenda, but also designing the entire process that you want to make happen.
The authors warn against the foolishness of just expecting a strategic conversation to happen. I fully agree, and I think that reading this book is a very good place to start.
Here’s what I have learned (and experienced): the right conversations can be magical; the wrong conversations can be deadening. And the conversations that never happened (those needed-though-avoided conversations) can have such negative ripple effects that there may never be any salvaging done after such damage.
In this book, after reminding us of the VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity) world we now live in—I first read about this in Get There Early by Bob Johansen—the authors call for a well-designed strategic conversations process. This process revolves around five core principles:
- Core principle #1 — Define Your Purpose
- Core principle #2 – Engage Multiple Perspectives
- Core principle #3 – Frame the Issues
- Core principle #4 – Set The Scene
- Core principle #5 – Make It An Experience
Of course, the book fleshes out these core principles and provides a clear process to follow to help you design your own strategic conversations.
This book has plenty to say about how to approach many conversations throughout your work life, but I would call this a must-read before you plan one of those “we’ve really got to deal with this stuff” retreat-length meetings.
Professional Speaker & Writer
Co-founder, First Friday Book Synopsis
One way to create a coaching culture in your organization is to intentionally become a conversational partner with the people you lead.
I don’t mean making small talk about celebrity gossip or your favorite sports teams. I mean that good leaders and coaches are constantly expanding the horizons of others by introducing them to new ideas, stimulating their attention with stories, and engaging their creativity with thought-provoking discussions.
You may be thinking, “I don’t have time to stand around and talk to my employees all day long because I have a job to do, and for that matter, so do they!” Right, I get that, but there’s a way to do this without hurting productivity. In fact, I believe it’s an important way to sharpen the saw so that productivity stays high. CEO of Strategic Government Resources, Ron Holifield, is a master at doing this. I’ve watched Ron do this, and I’ve seen the impact that it has on our culture at SGR. Here’s what you can do:
Email links to your employees of interesting and innovative articles about your industry or area of expertise.
Leaders today have to be curators of great information. Ron is constantly finding great articles; and when he finds one that is relevant, he emails it to us. Sometimes it goes to the entire company. Sometimes it just goes to a smaller number of people to whom it relates specifically. As a result, it creates great dialogue (although sometimes brief) between him and employees about a particular concept. It becomes a part of the “library” of information at SGR. I’ve noticed, too, that it also causes other employees to do the same thing with each other.
There are some easy-to-use web tools that do much of the work for you. I use Scoop It, StumbleUpon, and Twitter to locate articles, blogs, and stories about leadership issues that interest me. I read them for my own benefit, and when I think that it relates to someone else, I share it. Other colleagues do the same thing. What’s the result? We are constantly engaging with a new concept, an innovative idea, or an inspirational story. It may not be coaching per se, but it creates a culture where people are open to learning, and that may be the most pressing need.
It sounds simple, but that’s the genius of it. We don’t have lengthy reports to fill out on each article or response forms on how it applies. We just talk about it. But if you believe that an organization becomes what it talks about—and I do!—then getting your people to talk about the right things may be the right place to start.
In the television news industry, I learned there are two words you don’t necessarily want to hear—shake up.
A “shake up” was when management decided to rearrange personnel to fit their current needs. The morning show producer may become the 5 p.m. producer, the 10 p.m. producer may become the noon show producer, etc.
You could always tell by the demeanor of the employee whether he or she believed the move was a promotion or demotion.
Those who thought they moved up in the hierarchy had an instant confidence about them. Meanwhile, those who perceived that they received a demotion sulked and started giving less effort to their finished product.
“Shake ups” weren’t always directly correlated with our talents. Sometimes management just wanted to try something new on a whim, sometimes we reorganized to adjust to someone’s new work schedule, and sometimes the more seasoned veterans were asked to move to the newscasts with lower ratings in hopes of raising viewership.
Then why was effort and attitude so directly correlated with a slight change in title?
Well, ego was probably a big part of that; but the other part was because some of the staff wrongfully built their identity around the title they held.
”Whatever your life’s work is, do it well. A man should do his job so well that the living, the dead, and the unborn could do it no better.”
– Martin Luther King, Jr.
Titles are made to distinguish your job from the next person’s, but it shouldn’t have so much clout that it affects how well you do your job.
Focus on the work you do — not the title you’re given — because your legacy won’t be what’s on your nameplate, it’ll be what you did while that nameplate was on your desk.
In the world of public sector innovation, there’s room for many possibilities and all players. What there isn’t room for is complacency. The public sector needs innovation and innovators. As students and practitioners of public administration, I ask you three questions:
- What’s your innovator’s manifesto?
- What’s your approach to innovation?
- How are you making local government better?
Innovation occurs on many fronts. The students in the class I teach in public sector innovation are focused on three types of innovation.
First, innovation can emerge through improved processes. Often, this type of innovation is made possible when employees learn the underlying skills of process improvement, systems thinking and project management. In Naperville, Illinois, employees who became skilled in these techniques were able to dramatically improve the system for new land development by eliminating over 100 antiquated and non-value added steps—while making public processes more inviting and clear.
Second, innovation can come as a result of an alternative service delivery (ASD). As described in the book Alternative Service Delivery: Readiness Check edited by Kurt Thurmaier, ASD includes managed competition, interlocal agreements, and service consolidation.
Typically, the types of innovation described above serve to sustain public services and do not significantly curb long-term costs. The focus is on effectiveness.
However, for the public service administrator who is willing to go deeper, a third and more fiscally-focused type of innovation is needed. Welcome to disruptive innovation (DI). Today, DI in the public sector is rare. DI is well presented by Deloitte Press in the manual Public Sector Disrupted.
DI necessitates openness about an underlying problem—that in the public sector we tend to keep asking for more money for essentially the same products and services—a proposition that is losing its appeal. Paraphrased from the manual:
“DI requires a new perspective where government responsibilities and customers can be seen as a series of markets that can be shaped in ways to find and cultivate very different, less expensive—and ultimately more effective—ways of supplying public services….
Disruptive innovation trades off pure performance in favor of simplicity, convenience… and ‘good enough’ solutions at a lower price.”
All public sector innovation requires a commitment to excellence. Deep innovation, however, will require public administrators who are more courageous—perhaps even radical—focused on long-term change, experimental in their disposition, and willing to encourage their teams to grow significantly new skills.
The results will be a permanent shift towards lower costs and a new type of public service effectiveness.
In this series of blog posts, we are discussing Robert K. Greenleaf’s Servant Leadership theoretical framework for leadership development. In this post, we discuss the characteristic of the servant leader as a healing influence.
In The Servant as Leader, Greenleaf writes, “There is something subtle communicated to one who is being served and led if, implicit in the compact between the servant-leader and led, is the understanding that the search for wholeness is something that they have.”
- Healing is perhaps the most powerful principle.
“Searching for wholeness” is probably not in your job description. I certainly doubt it is a performance review metric. However, the parts that comprise the whole are directly and indirectly developable by the conscientious leader and those being led. For example, an organization can purposefully focus on physical wellness; strategically push emotional intelligence development; intentionally monitor restorative time for inner development, etc. In order to create such a culture, however, leaders must personally desire wholeness. If you are not whole, how can you effectively facilitate wholeness in others?
- Wholeness is attainable.
Before elaborating, it is important to note that within its overarching context, servant leadership differs from other leadership approaches by de-emphasizing the common top-down hierarchical style, and instead emphasizing collaboration, empathy, trust, and the ethical use of power. I assert that wholeness is only attainable if leaders desire and develop these characteristics.
However, the truth is there are always competing interests. Many leaders do not have time to facilitate wholeness due to demands from various stakeholders which may lead to a “the fact that you are struggling is your problem” mindset. While struggles may indeed be the direct result of an employee’s choices, the servant leader attempts remedy before dismissal. Otherwise, personal and organizational wholeness remains perpetually elusive.
- Words are the greatest healing force.
If you are to be a healing influence, you must speak a healing vocabulary. Often, your actions are even more powerful. For example, servant leaders avoid favoritism at all costs. They value the scope of humanity that comprises their enterprise. Take a quick inventory. Do you only focus on the input of a select group of employees? Do you mine accolades from your organization’s universe, or do you exclusively focus on shooting stars? Do you live by a “do as I say not as I do” mantra, or is your message congruent with what you model?
The servant leader as “healer” is not easy to verbalize in business terms. However, if we are to truly lead, then we must choose to be in the wholeness business. Begin by choosing personal wholeness, then speaking a healing vocabulary, then purposefully facilitating individual and organizational wholeness. The results will speak for themselves.
Every organization has a formal organization and an informal one. That is simple fact. And it needs both of them. The trick is making sure that both are in good health and functioning together—in alignment.
That’s just one of the many useful insights from Startup Leadership: How Savvy Entrepreneurs Turn Their Ideas into Successful Enterprises, by Derek Lidow. Useful book! He talks about the reality of these dual organizations. Getting both right greatly enables execution. And where there is no successful execution, there is no success. From the book:
A well-conceived organization, in both its formal and informal structures, focuses the entrepreneurial ideas and actions coherently throughout the enterprise (or organization), helping everyone understand what he or she needs to do to help the enterprise (or organization) succeed…
Chaos reigns when there is a significant misalignment between the formal and informal organizations…
As it turns out, the informal organization can make decisions faster than the formal one…
He describes how that, regardless of the “who” on the organizational chart is supposed to make a key decision, that “who” actually always talks to this person, who is talking to that person. And all of these “informal” relationships and interactions actually shape the decision making. Thus, alignment of the “two organizations” is crucial, and misalignment is costly.
In his chapter on Organizing to Succeed, he makes this terrific observation: as an organization grows, you change from “huddles” to a more formal meeting structure “with an agenda and a fixed set of attendees.” But don’t miss the point—regular meetings of key people are essential. As I say often:
“You accomplish what you meet about.”
This book is a logical book—meaning it takes you through a step-by-step process on what an organization needs to do at each stage of development, all in pursuit of turning ideas into successful projects and operations, well-served by its developing organizational structure. And this all revolves around successful actions taken by the leader—the leader practicing leadership.
Professional Speaker & Writer
Co-founder, First Friday Book Synopsis
In my last post, I suggested that authenticity is arguably the most important issue in whether people will or will not follow another person. When you think about the fact that it is often considered a synonym of such words as credibility, sincerity, and integrity, it’s really no surprise. Our society craves authentic leadership.
One of the most important ways that you demonstrate authenticity is to speak with your own voice, or as some have put it, “Find your leader’s voice.”
Preschoolers love to play dress up in mom or dad’s clothes. It’s cute when a three year old tries to walk in daddy’s shoes, but we don’t take them seriously. Likewise, it’s easy to see when someone is “dressed up” in someone else’s leadership clothes. We can easily see that they are not speaking out of who they are—their own experiences, their own journey, their own crucible. Consequently, we don’t take them seriously, and we intuitively resist following their lead. After all, if they don’t have enough confidence in themselves to trust their own voice—why should we?
Psychologist James Dobson wrote about this phenomenon in the context of romantic relationships in his book, Love Must Be Tough. He pointed out that when a would-be lover sort of throws himself/herself at a person’s feet and begs to be loved, it tends to drive the person away. In a similar way, when a person tries too much to be like another leader, rather than being who he/she really is, it seems to communicate a message of desperation that almost begs people to follow. However, it doesn’t work. People see through it and are repulsed by, rather than attracted to that leader. They may comply, but they will not follow.
So how do you find your own “leader’s voice”?
I believe the most important part of this is to think for yourself. When I was in my twenties, a veteran leader in his sixties said to me, “Mike, there will never be a shortage of people who are willing to do your thinking for you, but never let them. Always think for yourself.” I have found that if you do not think for yourself, you cannot speak as yourself. To me, the key to being an authentic leader is to synthesize what you read in books and observe in other leaders, including your bosses, but to contribute to it by adding your own thinking and your own journey.
When you do this, you speak out of your own crucible, your own experience, and your own dark place that you have conquered. People can sense it; they respect it; and they respond to it.