What Is The Access To And The Source Of Mastery In The Exercise Of Leadership

2014 is behind us in a manner of speaking and we are in the first month of 2015. Listen to the news and you are likely to find plenty of challenges: stuff that we, individually and collectively, have to deal with.  If you/i are to show up as human-centred leaders then what is the way to go about being-dealing with these challenges.  This question is the subject of this conversation.

What Is The Access To And The Source Of Mastery In The Exercise Of Human Centred Leadership?

What is the material that a carpenter works with? Wood. What is the material a painter works with? Paint. What is the material that a farmer works with? The land that is farmed. What is the material that a leader works with? Human beings.

What makes a carpenter a great carpenter? Mastery? Yes, I say it takes a mastery of wood (in its many forms) and the tools+techniques that are used to work with-on the wood. Love? I ask you, can a carpenter became a great carpenter without a love of working with-on wood? It occurs to me that the answer is NO!

You may be asking yourself, what has this got to do with human-centred leadership? Everything. I say that a human-centred leader has to love working with-on human beings. I say that a human-centred leader has to attain a mastery over his own being (that which shapes how s/he shows up and travels in life) and the human-condition. What am I getting at? I invite you to listen, really listen, to the following words of profound wisdom into the human-condition (bolding is my work):

Optimism gives a hopeful attitude to life, while with pessimism one sees darkness on one’s path. No doubt sometimes pessimism shows conscientiousness and cleverness, and it may also show experience. But conscientiousness alone will never be enough to overcome the difficulties one meets in one’s life, it is trust that solves life problems.

The psychological effect of optimism is such that it helps to bring success, for it is by the spirit of optimism that God has created the world. Optimism comes from God, and pessimism is born from the heart of man. By what little experience of life he has, man learns, “This will not succeed, that will not do, this will not come right.” For the one who is optimistic it does not matter if it does not come right in the end, he will take his chance. For what is life? Life is an opportunity, and to the optimistic person this opportunity is a promise, while for the pessimistic person this opportunity is lost….

Man’s life depends on the object of his concentration, so if he concentrates upon misery, he must be miserable. A person who has a certain habit of which he does not approve often thinks he is helpless before is as it is his nature. But nothing is man’s nature except what he makes of himself. As the whole of nature is is made by God, so the nature of each individual is made by himself; and as the Almighty has the power to change His nature, so the individual is capable of changing his nature. Among all the creatures of this world, man has the most right to be optimistic, for man represents God on earth, God as Judge, God as Creator ….

A man with optimism will help another who is drowning in the sea of fear and disappointment; while on the contrary, if someone who is ill or downhearted comes to a pessimistic person, the pessimist will pull him down and make him sink to the depths along with himself. On the side of the one is life; on the side of the other is death……. It is no exaggeration to say that the very spirit of God comes to man’s rescue in the form of the optimistic spirit.…..

It does not matter how hard a situation in life may be: however great the difficulties, they can all be surmounted…… the greatest greatest reward there can be in life is the spirit of optimism, while the greatest punishment that can be given to man for his worst sin is pessimism. Verily, the one who is hopeful in life will succeed.

There are two attitudes that divide people into two sections. The one is an ever-complaining attitude and the other an ever-smiling attitude. Life is the same: call it good, call it bad, call it right, call it wrong, it is what it is; it cannot be otherwise…. The person with the right attitude of mind tries to make even wrong right, but the one with the wrong attitude of mind will turn even right into wrong. Besides, magnetism is the the need of every soul; the lack of it makes life burdensome. The tendency of seeing wrong in everything robs one to a great extent of that magnetism which is needed very much in life….. the world is place you cannot enter with a pass of admission, and that pass of admission is magnetism; the one who does not possess it will be refused everywhere.

The attitude of looking at everything with a smile is the sign of the saintly soul. A smile given to a friend or even to an enemy will win him over in the end; for this is the key to the heart of man. As the sunshine from without lights the whole world, so the sunshine from within, it it were raised up, would illuminate the whole life, in spite of all the seeming wrongs and in spite of all limitations…. looking at life with a hopeful attitude of mind, with an optimistic view, it is this that will give one power of turning wrong into right and bringing light into the place where all is darkness. Cheerfulness is life; sulkiness is death. Life attracts, death repulses. The sunshine that comes from the soul, rises through the heart, and manifests itself in man’s smile is indeed the light from the heavens. In that light many flowers grow and many fruits become ripe.”

– Hazrat Inayat Khan, The Art Of Being And Becoming

Summing Up

I say the very being of a human-centred leader is is that of possibility (hope), enthusiasm borne of a deep connection with this possibility (of a better world), and optimism no matter what the circumstance. What kind of optimism matters most in a leader? The optimism in mankind and in particular the optimism in the human-beings s/he is involved with, counting on, responsible, and leading.

I leave you with the following thoughts:

– The price of admission to effective human-centred leadership is magnetism – enrolling people in the possibility of a better world awaiting to be ‘birthed-caused-created’;
– The source of this magnetism is deep seated love of and faith in one’s fellow human beings; and
– This optimism cannot be faked – the seeds of it must lie in your very being, and if they are there then this optimism can be cultivated until it blossoms to a fully grown tree.

Want to get a better handle on what it is that I am getting at? I invite you to watch this 5 minute clip of Viktor Frankl:

I invite you to consider that if any human being has attained a profound lived grasp-understanding of human nature it is Viktor Frankl. Why? He is a Jew. He lost everyone during WWII. He found himself in the worst concentration camps. He experienced that which few of us will ever experience. He did not merely survive the concentration camp existence. He came out with a profound optimism in mankind. His book Man’s Search For Meaning, written shortly after his liberation from the concentration camp, is one that I invite you read if you wish to show up and travel as a human-centred leader. Thank you for listening, I wish you an optimistic existence!

Please note that a slightly modified version of this conversation was first published here in December 2014.

Leadership: The Practice Of Granting an A

What way of showing up and travelling (being) lies at the heart of human-centred leadership?

This is the question that I have been pondering over the last month. It occurs to me that it comes down to one’s embodied stance towards one’s fellow human beings and in particular the human being one seeks to lead or is leading.

As a leader what is your stance towards your people? How do you relate to and treat your people? Do you see your people as defective – lacking something is some or other domain? Or do you see your people as whole, complete, and perfect? Do you treat some of your people as A’s, others B’s, many as C’s and some as D’s? Or do you grant each and every person in your organisation as an A and treat him/her accordingly?

What is it that I am getting at here? I invite you to listen to and reflecting on the following (bolding mine):

“Michelangelo is often quoted as having said that inside every block of stone or marble dwells a beautiful statue; one need only remove the excess material to reveal the work of art within. If we were to apply this visionary concept …… it would be pointless to compare one … to another. Instead, all the energy would be focused on chipping away at the stone, getting rid of whatever is in the way of …. developing skills, mastery and self-expression.

We call this practice giving an A. It is an enlivening way of approaching people that promises to transform you as well as them ….

An A can be given to anyone in any walk of life …. When you give an A, you find yourself speaking to people not from a place of measuring how they stack up against your standards, but from a place of respect ….. Your eye is on the statue within the roughness of the uncut stone.

This A is not an expectation to live up to, but a possibility to live into.

– Rosamund and Benjamin Zander, The Art Of Possibility

Allow me to make this real for you. In a recent Customer project, the folks in head office were doing all the decision making and not involving anyone from the branches where customer interactions took place. As I probed and listened I found that the head office folks listened to the people in the branches as being unskilled, lazy, selfish, resistant to change. That is to say that they had granted these folks C’s and Ds. And treated them accordingly – excluded them.

I had never met any of the folks in the branches. Yet, I granted them A’s just as I granted the head office folks A’s. After several weeks of encouragement, the head office folks invited several people from the branches into the discussion – to review the prototype that had been built and provide feedback. What was the outcome?

The folks from the branches were delighted to be asked for their point of view. The came to head office, they worked with the prototype, they provided useful insights into the way that work occurred in the branches and suggested a number a tweaks that would make the prototype useful and thus increase adoption. In the process respect and relationship were cultivated between all and a bigger team was created. The leader of the head office team became enthusiastic about my suggestion: involving the folks at the customer coalface early and deep in the analysis and design of any and all changes to the ‘way we do things around here’.

Listen To These Words of Wisdom: Transformative Wisdom

I wish to end this conversation by leaving you with the following words of wisdom (bolding mine):

The freely granted A expresses a vision of partnership, teamwork and relationship. It is for wholeness and functionality, in the awareness that for each of us, excess stone may still hide the graceful form within…

The practice of giving an A both invents and recognises a universal desire in people to contribute to others , no matter how many barriers there are to its expression. We can choose to validate the apathy of a boss, a player, or a high school student and become resigned ourselves, or we can choose to honor in them the unfulfilled yearning to make a difference ….

When we give an A we can be open to a perspective different from our own. For after all,  it is only to a person to whom you have granted an A that you will really listen …

In the measured context of our everyday lives, the grades we hand out often rise and fall with our moods and opinions. We may disagree with someone on one issue, lower their grade, and never quite hear what they have to say again.  Each time the grade is altered, the new assessment, like a box, defines the limits of what is possible between us.”

– Rosamund and Benjamin Zander, The Art of Possibility

Summing Up

It occurs to me that a human-centred leader calls forth the very best from us through the ‘granting of an A’.  Through focus-alignment s/he amplifies the power of this ‘very best of us’ in the service of a possibility that leaves us (human beings) elevated: moved, touch, and inspired.  And thus creates a context that call forth the extraordinary accomplishment from a team of ordinary human-beings.

I thank you for listening to my speaking and wish you a great day.  If you find yourself inspired to show up and travel as human-centred leader then I encourage you to get hold of a copy of The Art of Possibility.  And learn-embody the practices that are outlined in this delightful-transformative book.

Please note: an earlier version of this conversation was published in November 2014 at CustomerThink.

Can Human-Centred Leadership Provide An Access To Love And Profit?

The Human Something That Makes All The Difference In Human Relationships

“I remember how one day a foreman secretly gave me a piece of bread which I knew he must have saved from his breakfast ration. It was far more than a small piece of bread which moved me to tears at the time. It was the “human” something which this man gave me – the word and the look which accompanied the gift.

—Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

Here is a man existing in a concentration camp. He is aware that he is being worked towards death. He finds himself starving – day after day. Yet, when he receives a small piece of bread what moves him is not the bread itself. What moves him, what leaves him grateful, is that “human” something which is brought forth and given life in the ‘word and the look’ which accompanies the gift of bread. The human something which transforms Viktor Frankl’s being from that of a thing to that of a human being.

Have we created a space for this human something to show up and dwell in the world of business?

You may be tempted to think so given all the talk of relationship, of service, of engagement, of collaboration, of partnering, of loyalty. And I am confident that many in the business world actually believe so. Yet, Look beyond this veil and you are likely to see a desert of genuine-meaningful-cooperative relating: within the organisation, and between the organisation and its customers, suppliers and partners. Behind the veil of words lies a transactional context where just about everybody finds that the most functional behaviour is to look after oneself. Where does the problem lie? Who is responsible for not putting this human something into the game of business?

Let’s listen to what Susan Scott says on the matter (bolding mine):

“The problem isn’t out there. It’s in here. We want employees to be engaged and feel included, while we ourselves are detached, distracted, disengaged, focused on our to-do-lists. We want others to bring that elusive, coveted “discretionary effort” in the door with them every day, but we don’t have the time to engage in conversations that enrich our relationships with them. We are busy, not to be found. And even when we are willing to spend more time with people, we don’t want to get to close to them. After all, there’s professional distance to maintain. Conversations and meetings that create actual intimacy make us nervous and uncomfortable. Besides, intimacy requires too much upkeep on an emotional level, and conversations and meetings that really engage and include take too much time…. When you disengage from the world, fail to include it, the world disengages too, in equal measure. It’s a two-step process, you and the world, you and your organisation. Your colleagues, associates, employees lost interest in you because you’ve lost interest in them. Calling them associates isn’t enough. If you want to engage and include the people who surround you at work, then gain the capacity to connect with them at a deep level – or lower your aim.

– Susan Scott, Fierce Leadership

What Can We Learn From the Events That Occurred At Market Basket?

It occurs to me that when it comes to the human something and the exercise of human-centred leadership (which embodies that human something) we can learn something from the events that have occurred at Market Basket. What happened? According to the Boston Globe (27th August article):

“For six weeks, we were mesmerized by the sight of thousands of grocery clerks, cashiers, and other workers protesting at stores, on Facebook, and on the front pages of this paper. They did so at great risk, without the protection of a union, not because they wanted higher wages, but merely the return of their beloved boss, Arthur T. Demoulas.”

The CEO of Tesco was ousted in July 2014 due to poor performance. Not a single employee turned up at company headquarters to demand his return to the CEO role. So why is it that thousands of employees did turn up at headquarters and demand Arthur T’s return? What makes him beloved – so highly loved? I share with you some quotes that I have come across on the net, from the likes of the Boston Globe and the LA Times (bolding mine):

“He’s a tremendous human being that puts people above profits. He can walk through a store, and if he’s met you once, he knows your name, he knows your wife, your husband, your kids, where they are going to school.

– Tom Trainor, District Supervisor

“He’ll walk into a warehouse and will stop and talk to everyone because he’s genuinely concerned about them. He cares about families, he asks about your career goals, he will walk up to part-timers and ask about them about themselves. To him, that cashier and that bagger are just as important as the supervisors and the store management team.”

– Joe Schmidt, Store Operation Supervisor

“Artie is a people person, who places people before profits; he cares about you as an individual. There’s good pay, good working conditions, good benefits. That’s why people people don’t leave.

– Joe Garon, Buyer

Leading From Any Chair: Acknowledging The Acknowledged Leaders

One can ‘lead from any chair’ according to Benjamin Zander the conductor.  Put differently, any one of us can exercise leadership no matter which position (chair) we occupy in the organisation.  That is what the folks at Market Basket have shown.  I wish to acknowledge those who show up for me as the unacknowledged leaders. The supervisors who took a stand and risked all to getting “Artie” reinstated, knowing that they were likely to be dismissed. And found themselves dismissed:

  • Tom Gordon, grocery supervisor;
  • Jim Lacourse, buyer;
  • Joe Garon, buyer;
  • Steve Paulenka, facilities and operation supervisor;
  • Tom Trainor, distribution supervisor;
  • Joe Schmidt, operations supervisor; and
  • Dean Joyce, warehouse supervisor.

How to end this conversation?

What is a fitting end to this conversation? I share these quotes with you:

Every man has to obey the voice of his own conscience, and be his own master and seek the Kingdom of God from within. For him there is no government that can control him …”

– Gandhi

“This is my commandment, that ye love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.

– Jesus (John 15:12-13)

The voice of my conscience calls me to work with you to co-create a world that works for all, none excluded. My conscience calls me to show up and travel in a manner that elevates my fellow human beings: to put into the game of life that “human” something that left Viktor Frankl touched, elevated.  It occurs to me that this is the true meaning of Social not the watered down selfish twittering that passes for social.

What about you? What does the voice of your conscience call you to? What is the possibility that it speaks and are you listening to it?

Please note that a somewhat modified version of this conversation was first published on CustomerThink in  October 2014.