What Do You Make Of The Following?
Recently, Richard and I (along with another colleague) took part in a sales discovery workshop. This is the feedback our colleague (the ‘sales guy’) got from the ‘client’:
Thank you for coming to …….. yesterday. I think we all agree that it was a very positive and useful workshop, which was run extremely well by Maz and Richard (Maz in particular is a very impressive facilitator – we could use him on other projects!)…….
What do you make of it? Did you attribute the success of this workshop to Richard? Did you attribute the success of this workshop to me – the “very impressive facilitator”? Did you attribute success both to Richard and me, yet put me at the front of the stage and Richard more towards the back of the stage? Allow me to share with you how almost all of us would interpret the situation:
Nice job all – particularly Maz Iqbal that is GREAT feedback!
Distinguishing Between A Statement-Description That Is Accurate And One Which Is True
Whilst the client’s statement is accurate it is not true. Why? Think of it this way, the client only got to see-experience the show. The client did not get to see-experience all that occurred. His position to some extent was that of a spectator in the stands watching the play occurring on the pitch. And as such he is not in a position to know-experience the play occurring on the pitch and all that it takes to generate a high performance play.
Why am I pointing this out to you? It occurs to me that there is a profound difference between observations and statements made by those in the stands (‘spectators’) and by those on the pitch (‘players’). Given that almost all that you/i hear-read is spoken-written about is written by spectators. So whilst what they speak may be accurate it is never true. Which means that almost all leadership-management-business advice that you/i are exposed to is misleading at best and damaging-destructive at worst. Why? It gives the illusion of answers whilst hiding that which is hidden in the background and which truly shapes that which occurs.
Who Creates-Shapes Performance?
Take a look at the following video:
I ask you, who-what created the context-space for the performance of the expert? Was it the expert – as an individual? Or was his performance shaped by the context-space created from him by the ‘sales guy’ and the project manager?
Now zoom out and look at the bigger picture: the bigger conversation that is occurring in the room and the performance of the whole group. Didn’t the client also play a crucial role in generating the kind of performance that occurred in that meeting?
Let’s switch back to my very impressive performance as a facilitator. What was my response to this feedback:
@…. It occurs to me that I showed up as an impressive facilitator because the space for me to show up that way was created by @RichardHornby and @……. and the client. The folks from [the client] were great. We were able to co-create a great meeting as there were no egos in the room…..
Am I being modest? No. It occurs to me that I am simply stating what is so: the truth of high (impressive) performance. The truth is this:
The ‘sales guy’ was big enough to let Richard and I shape-lead the workshop. At one point, I told the ‘sales guy’ that I was taking away his right to speak as his speaking, whilst necessary at some point, was inappropriate at that workshop given the challenge we were addressing and the time that we had. The ‘sales guy’ took it as it was meant and did what he was asked.
The ‘project manager’ Richard and I have shared history that goes back to the year 2000. Richard listens to me as a skilled facilitator. In his listening it is simply not possible for me not to show up as a skilled facilitator. He creates the context-space for me to show up that way AND his listening of me also ensures that it is simply not feasible for me to allow myself to let him down. Richard and I are friends! We designed the workshop together – collaboratively and iteratively.
By the time we got to the workshop Richard and I knew exactly who was doing what. And this is important: I got up to facilitate that workshop knowing in my very being that I was totally safe (Richard was holding the safety net) no matter what. And in that space I was prepared to shine.
Ultimately I showed up as a “very impressive facilitator” because all members of the client team sitting around the team allowed me to show up that way. How did they do that? They left their egos outside of the room, the workshop. And as such there was all the space to work collaboratively on the challenge at hand.
The Challenge of Leadership: Creating The Context-Space For Impressive Performance To Show Up
I say that:
- impressive performance shows up when you create the context-space for impressive performance AND only impressive performance to show up; and
leaders are those people who create the context-space for impressive performance and only impressive performance to show up at the individual and ‘team’ levels.
I dedicate this ‘conversation’ to my friend Richard Hornby. Richard shows up for me as a shining example of a servant leader. I owe him more than I can ever repay. And I am clear that this world is a richer-better place for Richard being in it.
What is the connection between happiness, leadership and customer-centricity?
A lot has been written about happiness. Not much of it speaks to me. And there are some speakers whose speaking resonates with me. Let’s start by listening to a wisdom master:
Happiness is almost not worth talking about because the instant you turn happiness into a goal it isn’t attainable any more. In other words, happiness isn’t something you can work towards.
- Werner Erhard
Let’s follow this up with the following quote which is in alignment with that which Werner Erhard is pointing at:
Happiness is not a station you arrive at, but a manner of travelling.
- Margaret Lee Runbeck
Many want what are presented as the trappings of leadership. Few get the reality, lived experience, of being a leader and the exercise of leadership. What is the reality? I’d say it something like the following:
Being a leader and the exercise of leadership is not a destination you aim for or arrive at. Nor is it the path that you take. It is a manner of being-showing up in the world and travelling.
If that sounds a little philosophical for you. Then I share the following with you, courtesy of Shane Parrish at Farnham Street:
.. actually leading is different. A leader decides to accept responsibility for others in a way that assumes stewardship of their hopes, their dreams, and sometimes their very lives.….
It is mostly just hard work. More than anything else it requires self-discipline. Colorful, charismatic characters often fascinate people, even soldiers. But over time, effectiveness is what counts. Those who lead most successfully do so while looking out for their followers’ welfare. Self-discipline manifests itself in countless ways. In a leader I see it as doing those things that should be done, even when they are unpleasant, inconvenient, or dangerous; and refraining from those that shouldn’t, even when they are pleasant, easy, or safe.
- General Stanley McChrystal
I’ll leave you with my take on customer-centricity which is manifested in many ways including creating-generating customer experiences that leave customers feeling happy, even delighted, in doing business with you:
Customer-centricity is not a station you arrive at. Nor is it the path that you travel. Customer-centricity is the manner of your showing up (in the world) and travelling.
I wish you a great day. And on this first day of a new year of living for me, I thank you for listening to my speaking. Your existence makes a contribution to my existence. Let’s work together to co-create a world that works for all.
Some work environments are characterised by that which is called psychological safety: a shared belief, by the people who work in the environment, that it is safe to experiment, to give voice to one’s voice, to take risks.
A Thought Experiment On Psychological Safety and Performance
A researcher is researching the link between psychological safety and the number of medication errors made in hospitals. She studies eight hospital units and finds that the hospital units characterised by psychological safety have the highest medication error rates. She reports these ‘findings’ to you.
Imagine that you are the manager responsible for reducing the number of medication errors in these hospital units. How will you determine what course of action you will take given what the researcher has ‘found’? Will your action not be determined by how you make sense of the phenomena at hand: the higher the reported psychological safety the higher the reported medication errors?
Given your management training, you say something like this to yourself: “No surprise here. Where you create an environment for people to make mistakes without fear of punishment, people make more mistakes!”
Given this ‘explanation’ what will be your course of action? Isn’t the course of action shaped, even dictated, by your explanation? Will you not reduce the psychological safety? Of course you will. You will put fear into the hospital units characterised by psychological safety. Imagine you take that course. You track medication errors by person and hospital unit. You name-shame by putting together and making visible a ‘leaderboard’ of those making the most errors. And apply sanctions to those who exceed a certain error rate.
What turns out to be the impact? You find that after a little while there is significant drop in the number of medication errors that end up on your weekly management report. You congratulate yourself: you figured out what was going on, you acted, and you generated your desired outcome.
Let’s Reconsider The Phenomena AND The Explanation
Whilst you, the manager, have been ripping out psychological safety and replacing it by fear, the researcher has been doing some more digging. She had a brain wave and decided to look at independent data.
By looking at this data, she ‘found’:
- The psychologically safe hospital units did not make more medication errors. In fact, the data showed that the higher the psychological safety within a hospital unit, the fewer the medication errors made by the people in that unit.
- The folks working within units lacking psychological safety hid their medication errors, out of fear of punishment. And as a result no learning took place regarding the causes of medication errors and thus no reduction in medication errors.
With this phenomena-explanation (the explanation and the phenomena have been merged into one here) what course of action do you the manager take? Isn’t the sound course of action dictated by the phenomena-explanation? Isn’t the sound course of action to increase psychological safety in those hospital units (under your management) where fear of retribution-punishment pervades?
Your Actions Are Shaped By The ‘Story You Construct’ To Explain The Phenomena
I draw your attention to the fact that action is the access to influencing the world and generating change-outcomes: only actions cause-shape outcomes. If you think otherwise then don’t breathe and see what shows up!
Notice that your actions are NEVER given by the phenomena itself. That which is, simply is. And is discarded by most of us if we cannot make sense of it. Why? If we cannot make sense of it then we cannot orient ourselves in relation to that which is: the phenomena.
Further, notice that your actions are ALWAYS given by the ‘story you make’, the explanation you construct, about the phenomena.
What does this mean? It means that all the power-possibility lies in the ‘story you make’, the explanation you construct. Why? Your actions are influenced-shaped, even dictated, by the explanation you construct.
What Is The Access To Generating Breakthroughs In Effectiveness-Performance?
The access to generating breakthroughs in effectiveness-performance lies in the domain of explanation: the ‘story that we construct’ around the phenomena at hand.
If we are to construct more insightful stories/explanations (on the phenomena that concern us) then we have to escape the pull of the existing ‘net of understanding’ – the paradigm that gives us being and from which we operate. Listen to Ralph Waldo Emerson:
Every nation and every man instantly surround themselves with a material apparatus which exactly corresponds to … their state of thought. Observe how every truth and every error, each a thought of some man’s mind, clothes itself with societies, houses, cities, language, ceremonies, newspapers. Observe the ideas of the present day ….. see how timber, brick, lime and stone have flown into convenient shape, obedient to the master idea reigning in the minds of many persons ….. It follows, of course, that the least enlargement of ideas …. would cause the most striking changes of external things.
I say that the job of leaders is to generate that ‘least enlargement of ideas’ that Ralph Waldo Emerson is talking about. That is to say make a shift in the dominant paradigm that shapes organisational sense making of phenomena. And thus shapes-dictates their courses of action.
If you are lamenting the state of the Customer Experience like Colin Shaw is then it is worth listening to the following words by Donella H. Meadows:
There are no cheap tickets to mastery. You have to work hard at it, whether that means rigorously analysing a system or rigorously casting off your own paradigms and throwing yourself into the humility of not knowing….
The reason that organisations have not made a success of Customer Experience. And are in the process of killing it, is that the Tops in these organisations have not made the requisite ‘least enlargement of ideas The have not put aside their existing ‘net of understanding’ and so are go about the new in the same old way. Thus, I say that many, if not almost all, Customer Experience initiatives start stillborn.
To conclude: the challenge of leadership is to cast off the already existing ‘net of understanding’ and thus creating a space from which to construct more insightful stories-explanations of phenomena. And thus opening up new courses of action. Course of action that carry risk and also the promise of breakthroughs in effectiveness-performance.
If you found this ‘conversation’ one that resonates with you then I invite you to watch the following video:
Is There Anything Bigger Than The Maximisation Of Shareholder Value?
According to Roger Martin, the third most influential business thinker in the world according to Thinkers50, the shareholder value maximisation revolution was triggered in 1976 by Michael Jensen and William Meckling. How? These economists published, what has turned out as the most cited article ever: “Theory of the Firm: Managerial Behaviour, Agency Costs and Ownership Structure”.
In this article, Jensen and Meckling argued that the professional managers (running businesses) were looking after their interests at the expense of the shareholders. Thus began the shareholder maximisation movement that has since then taken over the business world. And in so doing, all other stakeholders (customers, employees, suppliers, partners, society at large ..) have been viewed-treated as mere resources and/or means of creating-maximising shareholder value.
Are You Committed To Something Bigger Than Yourself?
What does Michael Jensen say on the matter today? Let’s listen:
“I have a bad rep on this kind of thing. Because people think that all I want companies to do is to maximise the value of the stock. First of all that is false, it’s not what I ever said. But I guarantee you if you are talking about maximising the right value, which is the total value of the firm, if that is all you’re doing you won’t maximise value!
You’ve got to be committed, the company has to be, the firm has to be, committed to something bigger than itself. That will light people up. And cause them to be attracted to your organisation. Passionate about it! They’ll find something in what you’re committed to, the company is committed to, that satisfies them, lights them up and excites them. And that’s a HUGE missing component of what’s going on out there in the world ….”
- Michael C. Jensen talking on leadership at the Simon School (talk published on Mar 17, 2014)
If you are interested in listening to Michael Jensen and Werner Erhard share their ontological-phenomenological model of leadership at the Simon School then here is the associated YouTube video:
Does The Concept Of Integrity Apply Only To Non-Human Systems?
This post continues the conversation (blog and comments) that started with the following blog post: Revisiting Integrity: Why Do All Human Systems Lack Integrity?
To summarise, I say that integrity in the sense of whole and complete (unity between word and action, between the ‘parts’ and the whole) is essential to workability and performance of all systems including human systems. If you want to get a sufficient understanding of Integrity as I am speaking it then it is essential to read this post: Integrity, Leadership, Communication and Performance – The Most valuable Post You Will Read This Year?
Max J. Pucher disagrees. He says that ‘whole-complete’ is an idealistic interpretation and does not apply to human systems:
“Maz, I propose that it is not allowable to use a physical system concept of integrity (whole-complete) for human systems. Physical systems such as a car have a well-defined function/output and therefore integrity is defined to perform as designed. Human systems have no such function and the output is purely based in individual perception. Therefore ‘whole-complete’ is an idealistic interpretation from a single human perspective and will most likely not agree with many others….”
As I promised Max, I have been thinking about his assertion. And now I share with you what showed up for me. I find that Max’s view is commonplace, I came across it just today. And I find myself in disagreement. Allow me to share with you that which shows up for me as I get to grips with the coal face of human existence.
What Does The World Of Aviation Disclose Regarding The Integrity of Human Systems?
Let’s consider NASA’s shuttle program. Yes, this program involves amazing technology-equipment. Who produces this technology? Who configures it? Who works it? Who addresses issues with it? Human beings. OK, the equipment is ready, in place. Is that all it takes to take a number of human beings, put them in space, keep them there, and then bring them safely back home? No! It requires a large number of people, in different roles, of different temperaments, of different genders, of different ages to work together as one. What do I mean by one? I mean integrity as in being ‘whole-complete’ at the level of the system they constitute. Which is why there has only been one disaster to date.
Why did this disaster occur? Because the integrity (wholeness-completeness) of the system was compromised. Some ‘parts’ (people) did know of the issue and the associated risk. Some ‘parts’ (people) escalated the known issue. Other powerful-dominating ‘parts’ of the system choose to ignore the voices-concerns of these ‘parts’. And, they also choose not to care for the needs of other ‘parts’ (astronauts) to return safely to Earth.
This is my point. Where there has been a focus and commitment to integrity (wholeness-completeness of the system) the shuttles have launched and returned safely. When integrity was sacrificed, disaster struck, the astronauts died.
Now consider the world of air travel. Don’t the passengers count on the integrity of the system? Don’t they count on people to make sure that the airplanes are safe to fly? Don’t they count on people to ensure that the airplanes have the right fuel – type and quantity? Don’t they count on the pilots to be competent and fit to fly the plane? Now look behind the scenes, what else has to be in place? How about the air traffic controllers – on both sides of the trip? You get the idea: all of these ‘parts’ have to work together for air travel to exist as it does. And the system works. It is rare for the system not to work, for a crash to occur. And when it does, an investigation occurs, lessons are learned, sanctions applied where necessary, new operating policies and practices put in place.
Notice, that the pilot of an airliner that crashed and killed passengers would not get away with pleading “Your honour, I am only a human being. You can’t expect me to follow the rules, each and every flight, regarding how much I drink before boarding the plane and taking the helm.” No, if he was found guilt of breaking the rules, he would go to jail. Notice, no party that is essential to the game of ‘safe air travel’ would get away with shirking its role and responsibility. Why? It is simply not acceptable to compromise the integrity of the system. And if there are ‘flaws’ in human beings, in themselves, then the designers of the system are charged with coming up with the means to address the ‘flaws’ through checklists, equipment, technology….
Why Does The Lack Of Integrity In Human Systems Persist?
Werner Erhard et al assert that this lack of integrity exists because we do not get the impact of the loss of integrity on the workability and performance of a system. And I find myself to be in agreement.
Werner Erhard et al assert that this lack of integrity exists because we misunderstand integrity. We make integrity to be ALL about morality: right and wrong according to the moral norms of the group/s we find ourselves living amongst. And in so doing, we are not present to integrity as the fundamental basis of workability and performance: integrity as a state/condition of a system – state of being whole-complete, a unity. I find myself in agreement.
It occurs to me that there is an even bigger-deeper, more fundamental, cause for this lack of integrity in human systems. What is this cause? Max provides a clue when he says it is not allowable to use the concept of integrity (as the condition of wholeness-completeness) for human systems. It occurs to me that when it comes to integrity and human systems, we accept and are comfortable with defeat before we even start. What do I mean? Allow me to share an extract from another blog post ‘The Myth of Scarcity: That’s Just The Way It Is’:
“That’s just the way it is is just another myth, but it’s probably the one with the most grip, because you can always make a case for it. When something has always been a certain way, and traditions, assumptions, or habits make it resistant to change then it seems logical …. that the way it is is the way it will stay. This is when the blindness, the numbness, the trance, and, underneath it all, the resignation of scarcity sets in. Resignation makes us feel hopeless, helpless, and cynical. Resignation also keeps us in line…….
That’s just the way it is justifies the greed, the prejudice and inaction that scarcity fosters in our relationship with money and the rest of the human race…”
- Lynne Twist
What Does It Take To Call Forth Integrity From Human Systems?
If we are the ones that defeat ourselves when it comes to calling forth integrity from human systems, then the answer to this question lies in us: specifically, in our collective way of being/showing-up in the world. Let’s listen to the wise words of Lynne Twist once more:
We have to be willing to let go of that’s just the way it is, even if just for a moment, to consider the possibility that there isn’t away it is or a way it isn’t. There’s the way we choose to act and what we choose to make or our circumstance.”
- Lynne Twist
Consider air travel. Would there be any air travel if all of us had simply accepted that man is not meant to fly on the basis that if he was meant to fly then he would have been given wings. Everything starts with one or more of us being called forth and stepping into a possibility. The possibility of integrity in human systems is a real one. Will you and I embrace and embody that possibility? Will your team embrace-embody that possibility? Will your organisation embrace-embody that possibility?
Why Pay Any Attention To The Integrity of Systems: Human, Mechanical and Hybrid?
I invite you to consider that your customers are painfully aware of where your organisation is not in a state of integrity. Why? Because customers experience the effects of this lack of integrity: promises made in marketing-sales but not kept by the product itself; being passed around from one person to another, one team to another, and having to go through the same dance all over again; promises made by one part of the organisation and not honoured by the others part/s…. I say that if you want to play the joined up game of Customer Experience then you have to work on the integrity of the ‘system’ – the whole organisation including all the key partners whose performance impacts the end customer and shapes her experience.
Finally, I invite you to not kid yourself. You cannot claim to be 90% pregnant and get away with it. Why not? Because you either are pregnant or you are not pregnant. The same is the case for integrity: either the system in question (e.g. the organisation) is in a state of integrity or it is not.