Unlocking Organisational Magic Through Humanistic Leadership

Let’s imagine that you want to play the sales effectiveness game. What does it take to play this game well – effectively? At a minimum it takes folks in marketing and the folks in sales to play well together – as one team. Take a broader look, play with the time horizon, and you are likely to find that it takes folks in product development, engineering, strategy/finance, marketing, and sales to work well together.

What does it take for an organisation to excel at the customer-centricity / customer experience / customer loyalty game? One way of answering this question is to take a look at what folks nominate as the biggest obstacles in playing this game. Do the following sound familiar: lack of executive sponsorship/leadership, competition (rewards and resources) between folks in different silos, and the lack of employee engagement – ‘us versus them’ even within the folks in each silo, especially between folks in management positions and those who work at the coal face.

When I look at what is so, I do not find a process challenge here. Nor do I find a technology challenge. And I certainly do not see a strategy challenge. I see a people challenge. In particular I see the challenge of creating a context which calls forth organisational magic.

What is the source of organisational magic? Allow me to put that question different: who/what is the source of greatness in organisations – greatness as in generating breakthrough performance-results? Go beyond the dominant ideology of Anglo-Saxon individualism, beyond the Steve Jobs type myth, and you are likely to find that the source of organisational magic is teamwork: genuine teamwork. What calls forth teamwork? Is it technology, for example the latest collaboration technologies? Is it specific teamwork processes, methods, techniques? Or does the access to genuine teamwork lie in the human realm – how we relate to one another? 

It occurs to me that envisaging and articulating a future/possibility that leaves the folks in your organisation inspired-uplifted-elevated is necessary but not sufficient. The leader who is effective must also cultivate a context that calls the folks in the organisation to work well with one another in the pursuit-fulfillment of that future/possibility. Put differently, the effective human-centred leader must call forth, forge, genuine teamwork. 

How do you, as a leader, call forth organisational magic: genuine teamwork over a prolonged period of time and across many different types of people (personalities) in different roles, functions, and business units?

I invite you to listen to the following words of wisdom (bolding mine) from a master of insight into the ‘human condition’ (bolding mine):

I could always tell when an organization was in good shape. I could tell because the manager of the organization would always be talking about how great the people in the organization were. If the manager was talking about anything other than how great people in the organization were, I knew that the organization was in bad shape. The way to manage an organization successfully is to manage it in such a way that you can be proud of the people with whom you are working. You have to find a way to interact with the people with whom you are working in a way that makes you proud of them.”

– Werner Erhard

As one who is in a leadership position are you proud of the people who you find yourself working with? Be honest. Now ask yourself how likely it is that you will call forth the best from folks who, at least at a subconscious level, get that you are not proud of them – that you see them broken-faulty-lacking in some manner.

I say that if you are playing the customer-centricity / customer experience / customer loyalty game then you are, whether you realise it or not, looking to find ways to interact with your customers which leaves them feeling good about doing business with your organisation. 

Given that your organisation is the folks that collectively constitute your organisation the pressing challenge, for you as the leader, is to find ways to interact with these folks in your organisation such that you are left feeling proud of them. And they are left feeling appreciated and proud to be working in an organisation led by you. 

What way of interacting with folks is likely to leave you feeling proud of them, and them proud of you? A great place to start is with the practice of granting an A.

I invite you to consider that you, as the leader, are responsible for each and every person who you find yourself not proud of. How so? Either you failed to put in place the right recruitment practices and people. And/or you have created a context where people you are proud to hire into your organisation end up being turned into people you are not proud of. I am not saying this is the truth. What I am saying is that this is a great (as an powerful, effective) place to stand and operate from. Why? Those who play victim do not make great leaders; great leaders take responsibility for that which is so, and not so. Enough for today, thank for listening.

Note: this conversation was originally published here on the CustomerThink site.

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.