What does it take to generate ‘employee engagement’? (Part II)

This post is the second one on a series of post that will deal with the human side of the enterprise and in particular ’employee engagement’.  Why? Because you cannot have a customer-centric organisation that ‘stages’ great customer experiences if you do not create the context that enables your people to show up as ‘being great with customers and enabling greatness with customers’.  You can find the first post which introduced the ‘concept of persons’ here.

The idea is the absolute or why the ‘concept of persons’ is crucial

Let’s kick of the conversation with a quote from the Jose Ortega Y Gasset:

“.. the twelve hundred pages of Hegel‘s Logik are just the preparation that enables us to pronounce, in the fullness of its meaning, this sentence: “The idea is the absolute.”  This sentence, so poor in appearance, has in reality an infinite meaning; and when one considers it as one should, the whole treasury of its significance bursts open suddenly and it illuminates for us at once the enormous perspective of the world…”

If this quote occurs as too philosophical for you then let me share the words of a respected management thinker with you.  Here is what Herbert Simon says:

Nothing is more fundamental in setting our research agenda and informing our research methods than our view of the nature of human beings whose behaviours we are studying…. It makes a difference to research, but it also makes a difference to the design of… institutions”

What is the dominant ‘concept of persons’ when it comes to organisations and institutions?

What is the organisational reality that pervades organisations of all kinds?  Command and control is ubiquitous: in government, in public institutions, in businesses… – in organisations of all kinds.  Look at your experience, not the rhetoric, and you will find that just about every organisation has managers who are conditioned to command (issue orders) and then do all that is necessary (control) to make sure that those orders are carried out.  That is the very definition of a good manager – in practice, not in rhetoric.

What does this unconceal (if we leave aside the interpretation that some people love to exercise power over others) about the ‘concept of persons’?    I say it unconceals the assumption that people cannot be trusted to figure out the right course of action nor to execute that course of action.  Peeling the onion further, I say it unconceals a fundamental distrust of persons / gloomy picture of us as human beings.  I call it the negative/diseased ‘concept of persons’.  You could argue that this issue is related to the lack of competence – that people lack competence.  It goes wider than that, let’s take a look at that.

What is the ‘concept of persons’ that economics takes for granted and propagates?  Homo Economicus: the ‘concept of persons’ as rational self-interested maximisers.  Put differently, people are selfish and act always to do what is best for this self interest irrespective of the impact of their actions on others.

Yet, this dominant ‘concept of persons’ is incomplete – we have yet to factor in Abraham Maslow and his hierarchy of needs:

Maslow gave physiological and safety needs primary importance.  In effect arguing that once we have achieved  bodily well being, ensured our survival and accumulated the right property then and only then does the human being concentrate on the meaning of his/her life and spiritual well being.

So the dominant ‘concept of persons’ became and continues to be:

  1. people are intrinsically selfish so they will look out only for their personal self interest;
  2. people lack the competence to figure out what needs to be done;
  3. people cannot be counted on to do what needs to be done as they are lazy and/or selfish (see 1 above); and
  4. the way to get people to do what you want to do is through the right combination of fear (threaten their survival, belonging and self-esteem needs), reward (money and promotion), and training (to increase their competency).

Is the dominant ‘concept of persons’ in accordance with reality?

Leaving aside the issue of competence (which is easy to deal with) I wish to grapple with the ‘concept of persons’ as intrinsically selfish and whose primary needs are around bodily well being and survival.

The ultimatum game clearly shows that the human being is a social being who takes others into account – indeed he has to take others into account.  Put differently, the ultimatum game vividly demonstrates that the human being is not only self-regarding – not just Homo Economicus!  In the real world, the ‘concept of persons’ needs to envisage the person as self regarding AND other regarding AND process regarding.  That is to say people as real human beings-in-the-world consider others (other regarding) and are acutely sensitive to process especially social processes that mediate relationships between people –  acting fairly, punishing cheaters, one good deed deserves another.…. And as such the ultimatum game should make us question that which economics, management theory and organisation practice takes for granted: the ‘concept of persons’ as Homo Economicus.

Now let’s take a look at Maslow and his hierarchy of needs.  I say Maslow’s hierarchy is at best misleading and at worst wrong!  I draw your attention to that which is so, the thing in itself, unclothed from theory:

  • people risk and/or give up their lives to save others including strangers; and
  • people destroy their bodies and/or kill themselves including people who supposedly ‘have it all’.

Let’s listen to Martin Seager (clinican, lecturer and advisor to the government on mental health) and what he says on the matter:

“The selfish gene theory cannot explain the majority of suicides, where no one else is protected.  Nor can it explain the majority of human self-sacrifice which takes place for wider religious and political causes, rather than the protection of small families, groups or tribes who might share genetic material……

All of this means that Abraham Maslow’s famous hierarchy is, if anything, the wrong way around.  Maslow argues that, once we have achieved bodily wellbeing, we can then concentrate on the meaning of our lives and our spiritual wellbeing.  If this were true, then suicide would be almost unheard of; it would be a fundamental violation of the primary survival instinct.  It is truer to say that if our mental and spiritual needs are not met then a mere physical existence is not enough for our species.  Great physical hardship can be endured if there is a spiritual purpose, but without such a purpose a physical existence is often given up….

And finally

I say that the human being is a being who, at some point or another,  is confronted with the question: “Is this all there is?”  That is to say the human being is a being that has an built need to live a meaningful life (a life that matters) with others.  And that includes an urge to sing his song –  to put his natural self-expression into the world.   I say the access to ’employee engagement’ lies in creating the context that allows the employee to get access to his song, sing it, and to do so in the service of a cause/stand that shows up as worthy, as noble, as meaningful.

In the next post I will take a look at fundamental human needs and will bring in Maria Montessori to show what possibilities open up when one shifts one’s concept of the being of the human being.  For those of you who have made it to the end of the post, I thank you for your listening to my speaking. And I invite you to share your experience, your perspective.

Which of these 3 orientations are you taking towards customer experience and customer-centricity?

Job, Career, or Calling?

For some time I have been grappling with how to accurately convey the various ways that a person, a team, an organisation, can orient towards the customer experience and customer-centricity.  In the past I have thought about it in terms of tactics, strategy and philosophy.  And I am not sure that I have been able to convey what I wished to convey.  Given our taken for granted listening I suspect most of you tuned out philosophy as soon as you heard it – philosophy has no place in business right?   Today I wish to share with you another way of viewing the orientation, the stance, that you can take towards customer experience and customer-centricity.

I came across this passage from Shawn Achor’s The Happiness Advantage which opened a new horizon for me and I wish to share it with you:

“Yale psychologist Amy Wrzesniewski …….. has found that employees have one of three “work orientations” or mindsets about our work.  We view our work as Job, a Career, or a Calling. People with a ‘job’ see their work as a chore and their paycheck as the reward.  They work because they have to …… By contrast, people who view their work as a career work not only out of necessity, but also to advance and succeed….. Finally, people with a calling view work as an end in itself; their work is fulfilling not because of external rewards but because they feel it contributes to the greater good, draws on their personal strengths, and gives them meaning and purpose.  Unsurprisingly, the people with the calling orientation not only find the work more rewarding, but work harder and longer because of it. And as a result, these are the people who are generally more likely to get ahead.”

What orientations have I encountered on my travels across the business landscape? 

It occurs to me that many, if not most, approach customer experience and customer-centricity as a chore/burden that has been placed upon them through the customer revolution.    These folks would prefer, at the fundamental emotional level, if business went back to the good old days when customers were powerless and businesses had the upper hand.  So they act grudgingly and minimally – to do the minimum that they think they have to to do to stay in the game of business.  Put differently, the extent of their ambition is to be on par with their competitors.  Why?  Because customer experience and customer-centricity shows up as effort and they have no desire to do more than that which is necessary.  This orientation smacks of the Job orientation and the key driver/motivation is fear.  Fear of declining revenues, smaller profit margins, a tanking share prices.  And ultimately the fear of irrelevance and what that brings with it.

There are a much smaller number of folks (people, teams, organisations) who approach customer experience and customer-centricity in terms of the Career orientation.  These are the folks that think/act strategically.  They take the time to think about what customer experience means to them, their customers, their organisation, their industry.  And they are  committed to being ahead of the pack, their competitors.  The driver is a combination of greed & ambition: to be the most successful and reap the rewards, especially the financial rewards, that come with being the leader of the pack.  Would it be fair for me to characterise American Express this way?  I suspect that Apple, under Tim Cook, has fallen into this category.  And certainly, Jeff Bezos/Amazon show up that way for me.  Does Virgin also fall under this category?

Who is approaching customer experience and customer-centricity as a Calling?  I have yet, personally, to come across a leadership team/organisation where customer experience and customer-centricity shows up as a Calling.  Reading through the literature it occurs to me that Tony Hsieh and Zappos fall into this category.  And so does USAA.  Did Apple under Steve Jobs (the second time around) also fall under this category?  And is it possible that John Lewis is to be found here?

And finally

For me, personally, the work that I do on customer experience, customer-centricity and leadership occurs as a Calling.  The blogs that I write, including this one, occur as  manifestations of this calling.  How does the whole Customer thing show up/occur for you?  Job, Career, Calling?

And if you are intimately familiar with the companies that I have mentioned in this post then I would love to hear your thoughts.  Have I classified them correctly or incorrectly?

Customer Experience: how two staff in a wine bar left me feeling great and grateful

After a long week we find ourselves at Dallas/Forth Worth International Airport

It had been a long week, a week full of interviews, workshops, dinners, fellowship and travel from one site to another in Texas.  I found myself at the Dallas/Fort Worth international airport on a Friday afternoon with my colleague.  As there was some time before we would be boarding our flight back to the UK, we found a wine bar where we could sit, talk and drink some wine, together.

We ordered our wine and a friendly lady took our order and promptly returned with two glasses of wine.  Immersed in conversation, with the glass almost full, I found that I knocked over the glass.  The wine glass shattered and the wine poured onto the table and made its way to the floor.  Suddenly, I found myself self-conscious and embarrassed.

An angel shows up and leaves me relaxed and at ease, soaked in humanity

One of the employees noticed our plight and came over to clean up the mess.  She occurred as relaxed and helpful as if she had witnessed this kind of event many times.  As she was cleaning up she talked to me and assured me that there was nothing wrong, that I had done nothing wrong, that the glasses shattered easily.  And I was not the first person to knock over a wine glass.

I found myself delighted and grateful with this fellow human being.  And I told her that.  Specifically, I thanked her for recognising my embarrassment and putting her humanity into the encounter and thus easing my tension and leaving me relaxed.  She got my thanks and I got she got my thanks – we both smiled at each other.

With our humanity in action and rapport established we found ourselves sharing our personal selves.  She told me about her concerns/troubles like one of her parents being affected by Alzheimer’s disease.  And what that brought with it given that she is the daughter.  I found myself  being touched  by her humanity and reciprocated by telling her about my mother and how she is slowly losing her memory….. Then the time came for us to part company – each thanking the other, each grateful for the humanity the other put into the encounter.  I know that to this day I think of that lady and wish her the very best.

Service does not get better than this

With the cleaning up done, the lady that had served us the wine came to the table and brought me another glass.     She placed it on the table, smiled, and told me that it was on the house.  Both surprise and gratitude were present for me and I found myself smiling and thanking her.

Nothing beats the human touch that touches the heart and leaves the customer feeling grateful

It occurs to me that in our data/technology/process obsessed culture we miss the importance of the people who work in the business and make the business work.  Yes, it is the people that make the business what it is. And determine how the business shows up in the experience of the customers.  Yet, customers also have a role to play.  How customers treat the staff in the business and how the staff in the business treat customers makes such a huge difference.

If you want to generate customer advocacy then ..

I say that if you want to excel in generating customer advocacy then you have to excel at generating surprise, delight and/or gratitude.  And the most effective way to do that is to have in place staff that delight in / excel at dealing with customers.  Staff who have that human touch.  My friend Richard Shapiro calls these folks ‘Welcomers’ and has written a book on it: The Welcomer Edge.

And finally

If you happen to be in the International Airport (Terminal D) then pay a visit to The Bodega Winery.  Say hi to them for me – let the staff know that they have a grateful customer who remembers their generosity, their kindness, the humanity.   Tell them I wish them the very best and hope that one day our paths will cross again.

I thank you for your listening; it is your listening that makes my speaking worthwhile; it is your listening that provides the motivational fuel that results in that which shows up here at The Customer Blog.  I wish you a great weekend.  I wish you a great week.  I wish you great living.  And I say, go out and touch a life!  And if you are in business then touch your customer’s lives – that is how you generate advocacy.

What does it take to generate ’employee engagement’? (Part I)

This post is the first in a series of posts in which I will be exploring/grappling with the what it takes to call forth the best from the people in your organisation.   Some refer to this as ’employee engagement’ which in itself suggests/implies that the default state is that of disengagement.

Everyone wants ‘engaged employees’ few create the context for this to show up

If you want your organisation to come up with attractive products and to generate the kind of customer experiences that leave your customers happy, occasionally delighted, then you have to get the people /culture part right.  Getting the people part right, arguably, starts with attracting/recruiting the right people into your organisation.

Once you have the right people, the challenge is to call forth the best from your people.  It is a challenge that most companies fail.  Research and experience suggests that many if not most companies are failing to  call forth the best from their employees; most employees simply show up and do the minimum that they need to get through the day, the week, the month and collect the pay check.

Why is ’employee engagement’ lacking? 

Let me start answering this question by sharing a zen story.

Nan-in, a Japanese master during the Meiji era (1868-1912), received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen. Nan-in served tea. He poured his visitor’s cup full, and then kept on pouring. The professor watched the overflow until he no longer could restrain himself. “It is overfull. No more will go in!”

“Like this cup,” Nan-in said, “you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?”

I say that if we are to come up with insightful answers to the question of ’employee engagement’ we have to be willing to empty our cups of that which we already know about employees and ’employee engagement’?  I say we have to go further and radically examine our conception of the person: the being of a human being.

How best to illustrate what I am pointing at here? Allow me to share a story as told by Max DePree in Leadership is an Art.

The millwright dies

“In the furniture industry of the 1920s the machines of most factories were not run by electric motors, but by pulleys from a central drive shaft.  The central drive shaft was run by a steam engine.  The steam engine got its stream from a boiler. The boiler, in our case, got its from the sawdust and other waste coming out of the machine room….

The millwright was the person who oversaw that cycle and on whom the entire activity of the operation depended.  He was key person.  

One day the millwright died.

My father, being a young manager at the time, did not particularly know what he should do when a key person died, but he thought he ought to go and visit the family…….

The widow asked my father if it would be all right if she read aloud some poetry.  Naturally, he agreed. She went into another room, came back with a bound book, and for many minutes read selected pieces of beautiful poetry. When she finished, my father commented on how beautiful the poetry was and asked who wrote it.  She replied, that her husband, the millwright, was the poet. 

It is now nearly sixty years since the millwright died, and my father and many of us at Herman Miller continue to wonder: Was he a poet who did millwright’s work, or was he a millwright who wrote poetry?”

What can we learn from this story?

Here is what Max De Pree has to say about the story (bolding is my work):

“In addition to all the ratios and goals and parameters and bottom lines, it is fundamental that leaders endorse a concept of persons.  This begins with an understanding of the diversity of people’s gifts and talents and skills. Understanding and accepting diversity enables us to see that each of us is needed…”

What do I say?  I say that we have to radically rethink and get present to the being of human beings. And it is only when we get to grips with the being of being human beings that we will get an insightful answer to the question of employee motivation, ’empowerment’ and ‘engagement’.  Put more simply, and using Max De Pree’s term, we have to take a fresh, penetrating look at our concept of persons.

Is the being of a human being in the same domain as the being of a computer?  Put differently, are employees, our fellow human beings, simply tools to be used as we wish?   Or is there something more, something unique, that shows up when a human being, an employee, shows up?  Is it possible that it is our taken for granted concept of persons does not honour that which is essential to the being of human beings and thus is the source of the lack of ’employee engagement’?

Instead of jumping to the ready made answers and techniques, which clearly do not work, I suggest that you and I sit with these questions and ponder the story of the millwright.   And let’s continue this conversation in the next post (in this series).  In that post, I intend to take a fresh look at Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

What does it take to be a leader and for leadership to show up? (Part III)

This post continues and completes the conversation on what it takes to be a leader (and for leadership to show up) from an ontological perspective as put forward and taught by Werner Erhard et al. There are three foundational strands to this model: ‘integrity’, ‘authenticity’, and ‘being committed to something bigger than oneself’.  The first post dealt with integrity, the second post dealt with authenticity and this post deals with ‘being committed to something bigger than oneself’. Warning: this is a long post and it takes something to read it.  If you are looking to skim, easy to consume content, then I advise you to go and do something else.

Leadership is a choice you make for yourself

Let’s kick off the conversation through a quote from Werner Erhard et al that speaks to me, it may do the same for you:

“In a certain sense, all true leaders are heroes.  Heroes are ordinary people who are given being and action by something bigger than themselves…… Each of us must make the personal choice to be a hero or not, to be committed to something bigger than ourselves or not, to go beyond the way we “wound up being” and have the purpose of our lives and our careers be about something that makes a difference or not, in other words, to be a leader or not.”

What does it mean to be committed to something bigger than oneself?

First I will share with you how Werner Erhard et al see this and then I will give you two examples to help this way of understanding come to life.  Here is what Werner Erhard et al talk about, relate to and ring-fence “being committed to something bigger than oneself”:

“is being committed in a way that shapes one’s being and actions so that they are in the service of realising something beyond one’s personal concerns for oneself – beyond a direct personal payoff.  As they are acted on, such commitments create something to which others can also be committed and have the sense that their lives are about something bigger than themselves.  This is leadership!”

Let’s just take a look at Tony Fitzjohn (OBE): a conversationist who worked extensively with George Adamson’ and who shows up for me as a leader who gave himself being as a leader through his commitment to something bigger than himself.  Besides putting his life at risk in working with lions (he as badly mauled by a lion whilst working with George Adamson) I want to draw our attention to the following:

“The challenge facing him at Mkomazi demanded all these skills, and more. It required someone who was an experienced wildlife manager, fluent in Swahili, a bush pilot, a skilled engineer and mechanic who could build roads, cut boundaries, strip down and re-assemble 4WD vehicles and plant machinery, set up two-way radio networks, construct and de-silt dams, maintain electrical and power equipment, organize anti-poaching patrols, deal with the bureaucracy, and keep a remote camp supplied. All this, and the ability to establish breeding programs for highly endangered species whilst constructing and repairing schools in the villages around Mkomazi Game Reserve, helping with medical dispensaries and maintaining friendly relations with the local communities…..

Arriving in 1989 with nothing but a Land Rover and a hangover, he put in all the infrastructure himself: an airstrip, 600 miles of roads, dams, electricity, water. He built a house and learnt to fly, married Lucy and had four children…..

His track record includes:

  • Established and stocked the first successful Rhinoceros sanctuary in Tanzania.
  • 30 years of successful rehabilitation of zoo animals into the wild.
  • Gained National Park status for two game reserves.
  • Completed the construction of a new secondary school for 400 children.
  • Provided local communities with clean water supply, dispensary and Flying Doctor service.
  • First successful captive breeding program for endangered African Hunting Dog in East Africa.
  • Ground-breaking veterinary research into disease of endangered species.
  • 20 years of developing and supporting Anti-Poaching Units.

The modern-day requirements of this operation, staffed only by volunteers, means that Fitzjohn has to spend a lot of time traveling in order to raise funds and generate publicity for the project. He lectures at the Royal Geographical Society, schools, zoos, wildlife parks, and talks to diverse groups of supporters….”

If you want a business person as an example then I suggest looking at James Dyson, Anita Roddick, Howard Behar, Tony Hsiesh and Steve Jobs.

Leadership and the valley of tears

Many want to be leaders, few have what it takes to persevere in the valley of tears when nothing goes right, when there is nobody to count on, when there is no help at hand.  I have experienced this myself and can vouch for it.

I remember the pain, the hurt, the tears, the anger, the fear, the criticism, the questioning of my motives and character, the envy,  that I had to deal with when I set up Humanity In Action (small charity) some ten years ago.  And the only thing that got me through it was that the purpose of the charity pulled me through/around/under/over all the obstacles.

I also remember standing in front of the CEO and senior managers and refusing to carry out the CEO’s instructions.  What allowed me to take the risk despite being fearful/concerned about how I was going to pay the bills, support the family that was counting on me?  A calling, a commitment to a stand (“people matter more than things”) and a set of values of how to be in life and how to treat people.

Here is how Werner Erhard et al put it:

“.. without the passion that comes from being committed to something bigger than yourself, you are unlikely to persevere in the valley of tears that is an inevitable experience in the lives of all true leaders. Times when nothing goes right, there is no way, no help is available, nothing there except what you can do to find something in yourself – the strength to persevere in the face of impossible odds…….”

“Is that all there is to life?”

We live in a culture that encourages selfishness and the pursuit of fame/wealth/success.  Put differently we are encouraged to simply look after oneself, pursue one’s personal agenda, and leave others to do the same.  Here is what Werner Erhard et al have to say on that:

Wealth, fame, and the like, are both no more  than the scorecard for success; they are not the source of corporate or personal passion and energy.”

More importantly focussing solely on oneself and one’s personal interests does not mean that one escapes the existential question: “Is this  all there is to life?” This is how Werner Erhard et al have to say on this matter:

“No matter how good you look, no matter how good you’ve gotten your family to look, and no matter how wealth, fame or power you have amassed, you will experience a profound lack of fulfillment….. expressed by the commonly asked question: Is This All There Is?     Dealing with the crisis of “Is this all there is?” lies in having a commitment to the realisation of  future (a cause) that leaves you with a passion for living.

Werner Erhard et al go on to make a powerful point.  A point about discipline, about sticking to one’s stand.  Why does this matter?  Because we swim in a culture that is about ease, convenience, comfort, finding the short-cut and focussing on the short-term.   Here is what they have to say:

“… a commitment to something bigger than oneself empowers not only a human brain’s executive function to avoid “eating the marshmallow”, but works in the same way to empower the corporate “executive function” to forgo “eating the marshmallow”“.

As I write these words Steve Jobs pops up: his commitment to creating great products and a legacy overpowered the corporate addiction to making the sort term revenue and profit numbers.  How many times was a product introduction shelved or delayed because the product was not deemed perfect by Jobs?  How many times were ‘complications’ to the supply chain introduced (different colours…) to meet the commitment?

And finally

You might be wondering why I have dived into leadership given that this is The Customer Blog.  Because the move to customer-centricity requires leaders to show up as leaders and exercise leadership.  And it is not any kind of leadership.  It is the kind of leadership that Werner Erhard et al are speaking at. And without this kind of leadership organisations can talk as much as they like, put in as much technology as they like, redesign processes etc and they will still not show up as customer-centric as experienced by the customer.   Honestly, how many of your customers are going to help out your company when it falls on hard times?  How many are going to mourn your company when it dies?  Think RIM (Blackberry), think Nokia, think HP, think Dell……

The shift to customer-centricity requires a genuine shift to being a company that stands for creating superior value for customers: enriching their lives, improving their welfare, helping them with the issues that they are grappling with…  As such it requires a commitment to something bigger than one’s need to make the short-term numbers to collect the bonus cheques.  It requires integrity – keeping one’s promises including those that customers can reasonably expect you to keep even if you have not explicitly promised that promise.  And it requires authenticity.

Enough for today. I thank you for listening to my speaking and I invite you to share your perspective by commenting.  And if these last three posts on leadership speak to you then you might get value out of this blog:  Possibility, Transformation and Leadership. 

What does it take to be a leader and for leadership to show up? (Part II – Authenticity)

Leadership matters.  Whilst there are many ways of grappling with leadership, I value the ontological lens and in particular the ontological model of leadership that has been developed and is being taught by Werner Erhard et al. In this post I continue the conversation on being a leader (and leadership) that I started in the last post.

Warning: authenticity is not an easy conversation

Today, I wish to grapple with authenticity. To grapple with and get authenticity one needs to grapple with human existence (being and doing).  And in particular one needs to suspend one’s existing listening (how one thinks of, relates to) of authenticity.  Furthermore, it takes courage as the conversation of authenticity/inauthenticity unconceals that which we are committed to keeping hidden.  If you are not up for this today then I suggest that you go and do something else.  If you are up for the conversation then let’s begin.

What constitutes authenticity in this ontological model of leadership?

At a superficial level being authentic is being genuine, being real -“the real thing”.  Dive into this, grapple with this, and you are likely to find yourself grappling with the question “How does a human being determine when he/she is being genuine, being real?”  Put differently, “Genuine/real with regards to what exactly?”  Think of it this way,  determining whether this iPad before me is a genuine Apple iPad is a different realm of enquiry to determining if I/you are being genuine/real/authentic in the way that I/you show up in the world.  Yet we need to ring-fence it if we are to grapple with it.

In the ontological model of leadership, Werner Erhard et al are clear on what constitutes authenticity.  They define authenticity as:

being and acting  consistent with who you hold yourself out to be for others, and who you hold yourself out to be for yourself”. 

Notice that central to this definition is ‘who you hold yourself out to be’: not your personality, not your thoughts, not your feelings, not social convention…… How to make sense of ‘who you hold yourself to be’? Think of it as a declaration that you make, a stand that you take on yourself, a commitment to a set of values and/or specific future.

Authenticity is central to leadership and being a leader

How to position the importance of authenticity to leadership?  Perhaps it is best to share the words of Bill George, former CEO of Medtronic, Harvard Business School Professor of Leadership, and best-selling author:

“After years of studying leaders and their traits, I believe that leadership begins and ends with authenticity.” 

I find myself to be in agreement with Bill George, which is why I have put authenticity at the centre:

Werner Erhard et al write:

“Being a leader requires that you are absolutely authentic, and true authenticity begins with being authentic about your inauthenticities, and almost no one does this.”

Did you get that?  The access to authenticity is being authentic (confronting the truth) about where/how you are being inauthentic (not being/acting in accordance with ‘who you hold yourself out to be’).  Yet, almost no one does this.  Do your remember how the business world reacted to Domino’s Pizza decision to come out in 2010 and tell the truth about their pizzas? Surprise, bafflement, astonishment: What, you are going to own up to the fact that your pizzas taste like cardboard!

Inauthenticity is ubiquitous

Inauthenticity is the default setting and state of human existence. You, I and just about everyone is being  inauthentic – at the very least in some ways, at certain times, with certain people and in certain situations.  To date I have distinguished two kinds of inauthenticity.

First, there is the kind where I, you, sacrifice our personality, character, spirit, stand in response to external pressures: the pressure to appear to be a certain kind of person, the pressure to adopt a particular mode of living, the pressure to ignore one’s own moral and aesthetic objections in order to have a more comfortable existence. If you take the time to reflect and are willing to be open to that which shows up then you will see where and how often you have trodden this path.  Else read Sartre’s novels – they provide a great access to the inauthentic mode of being/living.

The second kind of inauthenticity is of the kind which is normally hidden from us.  This kind of inauthenticity lies in the realm of what we don’t know that we don’t know: we do not have access to our real reasons for being the way that we are being, acting the way that we are acting, and we ignore crucial facts about own lives (and the world we find ourselves in) in order to avoid facing up to and confronting uncomfortable truths. Spend some time in the counselling room and you will see this vividly: you cannot help seeing how the human being is blind to certain aspects of him/herself. Or just watch the TV series “The Office”.

Heart of the matter: we refuse to confront our inauthenticities

Imagine that you are driving a car and you find that you have a flat tyre.  Having a flat tyre is not an issue provided you are willing to acknowledge and confront the fact that you are driving a car with a flat tyre.  Acknowledging and confronting the fact creates an opening for you to take effective action: to replace or repair the flat tyre.  It is the same with inauthenticity: inauthenticity is not an issue if you and I are willing to confront where/how we are being inauthentic.

Yet inauthenticity is an issue.  It is an issue because you and I are not willing to confront our inauthenticities.  Here is what Werner Erhard et al have to say on the matter:

“..because we avoid at all costs confronting our inauthenticities, we are consistently inauthentic about being inauthentic – not only with others, but with ourselves as well.” 

If you find this assertion hard to stomach then allow me to share with you the conclusion that Harvard Professor Chris Argyris came to after spending 40 years studying human beings and organisations:

“Put simply, people consistently act inconsistently, unaware of the contradiction between their espoused theory and their theory-in-use, between the way they think they are acting, and they way they really act.”

Want to be a leader? Generate the courage to be authentic about your inauthenticities

By now it should be clear that being authentic is absolutely essential to being a leader and the exercise of leadership.  It should also be clear that the default setting of human existence is inauthenticity and as such inauthenticity is ubiquitous.  So one critical challenge of being a leader is to life oneself up from this fallen state of inauthenticity.  This is how Werner Erhard et al put it:

“If you cannot find the courage to be authentic about your inauthenticities, you can forget about being a leader……..The actionable access to authenticity is being authentic about your inauthenticities..”

As a pragmatic course of action it means that you must:

Be willing (and proactive) in discovering and confronting your inauthenticities – where in our lives you are not being and/or acting consistent with who you hold yourself out to be for others AND who you hold yourself out to be for yourself; AND

Tell the truth (to yourself and the appropriate people) about where you are not being genuine, real, authentic – the appropriate people tend to be the one’s that you are most likely to resist telling the truth to.

If you are willing to take this on then take a look at these areas

By virtue of human there are certain domains of life that suck us towards/into a state of being inauthentic. So if you are up for being a leader (or simply up for a life of freedom, self-esteem, courage and peace of mind) then take a look at the following:

Most of us are driven to look good and avoid looking bad.  Werner Erhard et al put it this way “.. most of us have a pathetic need for looking good, and almost none of us is willing to confront just how much we care about looking good..”  Look, how many of us are afraid to ask a question or voice our opinion for the fear of looking stupid, the only one who does not get it?  I say the reason so many of us insist on being right (rather than admit we are/were wrong) is to look good and avoid looking bad.  Where are you sacrificing your authenticity simply to look good and avoid looking bad?  If you do the work you will find a gold mine of inauthenticity here; it would not be going to far to say that wanting to look good and avoid looking bad runs us!

Every single one of us wants to be admired (to be recognised as a person of worth/significance/importance/high status), and yet almost none of us is willing to be with and confront how desperately we want to be admired.  And how readily we will give up our authentic voice, our stand, in a situation where we perceive that being straightforward, honest, genuine threatens us with a loss of admiration.

In many situations, many of us want to be seen as being loyal members of the group even when we are not.  How many of us are playing at being loyal simply to avoid the consequences (loss of admiration, looking bad, being made out to be wrong, being punished) of being perceived as being not loyal, not a team player.  Have you noticed how easily you will sacrifice ‘who you hold yourself out to be’ for the sake of fitting in, being admired and rewarded?  This is how you get ‘groupthink’ and the ‘Bay of Pigs’ fiasco and many others like it in organisations.

The good news if you are up for being a leader

So far this post might just show up in your listening as ‘bad news’ and leave you deflated/resigned/cynical.  So I want to share another quote from Werner Erhard et al:

“We are all guilty of being small in these ways – it comes with being human.  Great leaders are noteworthy in having come to grips with these foibles of being human – not eliminating them, but being the masters of these weaknesses when they are leading.”

And finally

If you wish to get a taste of authenticity/inauthenticity (and its importance to the human condition) then I recommend reading Book VI:The Russian Monk, Chapter 1:The Elder Zosima and His Visitors, Section (d) The Mysterious Stranger, from Fydor Dostoevsky’s masterpiece: The Brothers Karamazov.  If you have the hardback edition by Pevear and Volokhonsky then the page number is 301.

In the next post in this series I will take a look at the third foundational strand of the ontological leadership model: being committed to something bigger than oneself.

For those of you who have made it this far, I thank you for putting into this conversation that which it takes to be in this conversation.  I am grateful that you exist and that I have the privilege of being in this conversation with you.  I look forward to listening to your perspective, your experience on authenticity.

What does it take to be a leader and for leadership to show up? (Part I)

“Leadership is the capacity to give the world something that did not exist before.” Peter Block

Right now our organisations and institutions need leaders and leadership not just managers and management.  Yet management is widely distributed and leadership is rare.  And, most of what passes for leadership education and training is not fit for purpose. What is the basis of my assertion?

Why I say current leadership education is not fit for purpose

When reading through leadership material (books, courses…) I am struck by an experience I had some years ago.  The challenge in coming into the organisation was to build the capability of the organisation to sell and deliver data mining/customer analytics services.  This meant getting to grips with the customer analytics training course.  As I read the course material and talked with people who had taken the course my heart sank.  Why?

Because the course was all to do with theory and such left the participants with a bag full of concepts.  And absolutely no hands on experience in doing data mining and building predictive models.  As I result I spent three months designing/writing a new course from scratch: a course designed to leave the participants with the experience of being data miners / predictive model builders. In short, too many leadership courses espouse theory rather than call forth the participants to be leaders and exercise leadership.

Hence, in this series of posts I am going to share the work of Werner Erhard et al on the ontological model of leadership.  Having participated in a similar course (SELP), I can say there is no substitute for doing the work that is necessary to show up as leader.  The work is not easy – struggle with self and one’s existing way of being is necessary – and that is what makes it valuable.  So in this blog series I can only shares the distinctions and point out the direction.  Let’s start.

What are the 3 foundational strands of the ontological model of leadership?

The three foundational elements are integrity, authenticity and being committed to something bigger than oneself.


What is Werner pointing at when he speaks integrity?  Here is my take on it.  He is pointing at integrity as the state of being whole and complete.  That is to say words and behaviour are in perfect alignment.  What is the access to being in integrity?  “honouring one’s word”.   Notice that “honouring one’s word” is distinct from “keeping ones word”.  What is the difference?

You can honour your word by going full out to keep it. And if you know that you are not going to keep your word then right there and then you tell the person/s who are counting on you (and your word) that you will not be keeping your word.  And you clean up the mess that you have made.  This is how Werner puts it in his words:

“What would your life be like, and what would your performance be, if it were true that:

You have done what you said you would do and you did it on time.

You have done what you know to do, you did it the way it was meant to be done, and you did it on time.

You have done what others would expect you to do, even if you never said you would do it, and you did it on time, or you have informed them that you will not meet their expectations.

And you have informed others of your expectations for them and have made explicit requests to those others.

And whenever you realised that you were not going to do any of the foregoing, or not going to do it on time:

You have said so to everyone who might be impacted, and you did so as soon as you realised that you wouldn’t be doing it, or wouldn’t be doing it on time, and

If you were going to be do it in the future you have said by when you would do it, and

You have dealt with the consequences of not doing it on time, or not doing at all, for all those who are impacted by your not doing it on time, or not doing it at all.

In a sentence, you have done what you said you would do or you have said you are not doing it; you have nothing hidden, you are truthful, forthright, straight and honest.  And you have cleaned up any mess you have caused for those depending on your word.”

Why is integrity important?  What contribution does it make?  A leader is in relationship with people.  Integrity as in “honouring one’s word” develops/grows trust and creates workability and thus contributes to performance.  If you want to explore and get a better grip on integrity as Werner speaks integrity then I suggest that you read the following posts:

Coming next

In the next post, in this series, I will explore “authenticity”.  Authenticity is critical to leadership and so I have put it in the centre of the diagram (above).