Can We Bring Back Good Faith Collaboration?

As I write this post on July 9, 2016, the USA is in the midst of bitter, extreme political partisanship. Our society at this moment is polarized. This post is not about that, but what’s going on in businesses and other organizations, it seems to me, reflects this larger societal trend. “Compromise” has become a dirty word. There are too many “us and them” mentalities, too many fear-based behaviors, too much demonizing of “them”, or him, or her, and too many adversarial relationships. It’s unhealthy and it’s very costly. People are out of focus. They’re diverting a huge amount of productive time to unproductive behaviors.

As usual, I don’t think I have the answer, but this is a classic situation in which the struggle to find answers — the struggle itself — creates immense value. We must not shrink from this challenge. Without the struggle, answers will not emerge.

I also believe that despite this general trend, there exist positive deviants – situations in which leaders have found a way to move beyond these unhealthy trends. Identifying and studying what they’re doing will help others find solutions that work for them. I hope readers post some best practices that could be helpful to others.

One typical manifestation of this adversarial, “us and them” mentality is the point of view that I’m right and they’re wrong. It’s up to them to change. Let’s let that thinking go. Start from the premise that you can make changes in your behavior that will improve the situation. As a leader, demonstrate the courage to take the first step.

The results you’re getting now are based on the ways you’re doing things now. If you want about the same results going forward, keep doing things the same way. If you want significantly better results, ask, “What can I do differently to improve this situation?”

Here are a few recommendations for your consideration.

As Steven R. Covey taught:

  • First listen to understand. Then be understood.
  • Find a win/win solution. Win/win or no deal.

If you begin by truly understanding someone else’s perspective and motives, it becomes easier to find a win/win solution. Even so, a solution might not come easily. But stay committed to that outcome.

Win/win requires good faith collaboration. Good faith collaboration requires a mindset that some of “their” ideas are better than mine.

Why not start with the intent to find what you can appreciate about “their” ideas? Why not show “them” true respect by soliciting their input about your ideas?

It’s entirely possible to engage in passionate debate without demonizing the other person. One can engage in passionate debate while still acknowledging that the other person has some good ideas. If your intent is win/win, and if you engage in good faith collaboration, passionate debate can lead to superior decisions.

Begin with your own intent and your own behavior. Influence others in your organization through your example.

Thanks for reading. As usual, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Larry Sternberg

How Can You Improve A Relationship When Trust Is Low?

A client recently asked me this question. As usual, I don’t think I have the answer, but I do have some thoughts.

Let’s think about a hypothetical situation that, sadly, is all too common. Suppose you have to work with someone you believe (perhaps for very good reasons) intentionally does things to undermine you. Trust is low. In the normal course of business, he calls a meeting and doesn’t include you even though you clearly should have been invited. Before reading further, take a moment to answer the following questions: How does that make you feel? What do you do?

Now, let’s alter that hypothetical slightly. Suppose a close friend at work calls a meeting and doesn’t include you even though you clearly should have been invited. How does that make you feel? What do you do?

There’s a good chance that your answers for the first hypothetical were very different than your answers for the second one.

In the first hypothetical, you might be upset or even angry. Depending on your style, you might confront that person in an adversarial manner. Or you might not discuss it directly with this person but instead discuss it with others, as more evidence that this person is trying to undermine you. Neither response is constructive.

In the second hypothetical you might well be somewhat upset, but your response wouldn’t be adversarial, and you certainly wouldn’t badmouth your close friend. You’d be more likely to have a non-confrontational conversation about why you weren’t invited, and you’d readily believe it was an oversight. Your response would be constructive.

Our interpretation of someone’s behavior depends on our relationship with that person. When trust is low we automatically attribute bad motives, but when trust is high we refuse to believe that bad motives account for the behavior.

So here’s what you can do to improve a relationship when trust is low.

First, recognize that your feelings do not have to dictate your behavior, and ask yourself, “Suppose the person who did this (whatever “this” is) were my best friend. How would I respond? What would I do?” CHOOSE THAT BEHAVIOR, no matter what you feel like doing. In the case of being excluded from a meeting, for instance, start with the assumption it was an oversight (even if you don’t believe it!) and choose your behavior based on that assumption.

Second, remember that your assumptions about a person’s motives might be mistaken. It’s almost always constructive to ask why… if you ask the way you’d ask your close friend.

I’m not suggesting that this strategy is easy to implement. On the contrary, repairing relationships is really difficult, but it can be done. It involves risk, it takes time, and it almost always requires you to be the bigger person.

My friend Carol Ott Schacht sums up this strategy quite eloquently: “Love ‘em to goodness.”

Thanks for reading. As always, I’m interested in your thoughts.

Larry Sternberg

Are You Surrounding Yourself With The Right People?

Too often in my career I’ve seen managers struggle because they don’t surround themselves with the right people. It’s the goal of this post to stimulate your thinking on this topic. Who are the right people?

I’m sure you’ve heard the advice, “You shouldn’t hire people like yourself.” That sounds like wisdom at a cocktail party, but it’s so oversimplified it’s of no use. Don’t listen to it. You should hire people who are like you in certain ways.

We’re talking about the issue of fit. Direct reports who are the best natural fit for you will definitely be like you in certain ways. One of my clients, a hotel general manager, had an intense drive for continuous improvement. He was never satisfied. If his direct reports didn’t share this drive, they were not a good fit for his style.

Difficulties arise when managers mistakenly look for things that shouldn’t matter. Is the person an enthusiastic sports fan? Are they in my generation? Are they a morning person? Were they in a sorority? In most cases, you should be completely unconcerned whether someone is like you in these respects.

Here are some things to consider when thinking about who’s right for you.

  • What kind of person thrives under your unique leadership style?
  • What weaknesses/deficiencies can you just not tolerate?
  • How will this person fit with your team?
  • Is this someone you’re willing to trust?
  • Would you look forward to working with this person every day?
  • What strengths do they bring that compliment your strengths?

The last item, complimentary strengths, is the area in which you should very intentionally seek people who are not like you. This is how you produce synergy.

If you can answer the questions listed above, you can determine whether someone is the right person to report to you, and you can quit worrying about the degree to which they’re like you or not like you.

Thanks for reading. As always, I’m interested in your thoughts.

Larry Sternberg

How Do You Celebrate Thanksgiving?

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, and even if you aren’t American I invite you to participate. It’s not about religion, it’s not about patriotism and it’s not about gifts. It’s about thankfulness, appreciation and gratitude.

As leaders, we’re trying to make things better. So we spend most of our time focusing on problems, on what’s wrong, on what we’re dissatisfied with, and what needs to be improved. Our brains are wired to see what’s wrong and this wiring has great survival value. Furthermore, dissatisfaction is intensely motivational. People who are satisfied with the status quo are not motivated to pursue improvements. So there’s a very healthy sense in which leaders are never satisfied, and that’s a good thing. But we can overdo the focus on what’s wrong. We can become hyper critical.

Because of our brain’s wiring, we have to work to focus on what’s right. It requires intention. Think about the people you truly care about. Everyone else is focusing on what’s wrong with them. When it comes to people, you can make a decision to focus on what’s right about them.

And during this season of Thanksgiving, you can write them notes about what you like about them, why you appreciate them, and why you’re grateful to have them in your life. Think about it. When was the last time someone wrote you this kind of note? How did it make you feel? Doesn’t happen very often does it?

You probably think you don’t have time to do this, with all the time you’re spending on what’s wrong. But you know the truth. You make time for things that are important to you.

My mother used to say, “Larry, tell me you love me.” I’d reply, “Mom, you know I love you.” And she’d say, “Yeah, but I like to hear you say it.”

I’m sure there are people who’d like to hear you say it. This is an important part of leadership. So I invite you to participate in Thanksgiving. It only takes a few minutes. Write a couple of notes of appreciation and affirmation. I promise it’ll be richly rewarding.

Thanks for reading. Happy Thanksgiving.

Larry Sternberg

Do You Embrace the Ebb and Flow of Relationships?

Many of us carry around the notion that relationships between two people should be 50/50. The burdens should be shared equally, and also the rewards. Well, that would be nice, but that’s not reality.

In reality, on any given day one person in the relationship puts in more and carries more of the burden, even though the rewards are equally shared. Relationships have an ebb and flow. Some days 60/40 in one direction, other days 70/30 in the other. And this might not even-out over time. But the rewards might be equally shared anyway. Is this fair? Is this equitable? Interestingly, yes.

As a leader, you have separate one-on-one relationships with each of your direct reports. And each person has different needs. One, for instance, needs public recognition, another needs to vent every other day, a third needs strong, clear direction and follow-up. Great leaders put the needs of their people ahead of their own needs. Great leaders understand that often they must do more of the relationship “heavy lifting” in order to help their people thrive.

In any relationship each person brings different needs and capabilities to the ebb and flow. It’s extremely unlikely each person will contribute equally. Don’t seek equity. Just ask yourself the following question: “Is the value I’m getting out of this relationship worth what I’m putting in?”

This ebb and flow also exists in your personal relationships. On any given day the contributions from each person will not be 50/50. During a given period of time, more might be asked of you. You might have to be more forgiving, more courageous or more disciplined. Whatever.

In all cases personal and professional you need to be clear about why you’re in the relationship. Because the “why” informs the value you receive.  Value, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. Once you’re clear about the why, you can answer that question. “Is the value I’m getting out of this relationship worth what I’m putting in?”

If your answer is, “Yes”, why worry about whether the other person is getting more than they deserve? If their rewards were reduced, how does this help you? Why not have an abundance mentality?

If your answer is, “No” make a change.  If you can’t change your relationship, then accept it, embrace it. Stress arises from resistance to what is.

So don’t seek a 50/50 balance in any relationship. That’s not reality. Have an abundance mentality. Embrace the ebb and flow.

Many thanks to Kim Shirk for suggesting this topic.

As always, thanks for reading. I’m welcome your thoughts.

Larry Sternberg