Monthly Archives: November 2011

Bridging Gaps of Congressional Proportion

Congressional approval ratings have hit a new low with intractable parties at both ends of the spectrum and a chasm between. This is an excellent lesson in the need for leadership to build bonds, or what we call cohesion in the world of psychology.

Let’s reflect for a moment when an even greater fissure ran through our country, literally, during the American Civil war from 1861 to 1865. After six states joined in 1861 to form the Confederate States of America and secede from the Union, President Abraham Lincoln was forced to declare war in an attempt to reunite the country. In addition, Lincoln’s presidential campaign was a struggle, winning the Republican nomination against bitter rivals William H. Seward, Salmon P. Chase, and Edward Bates.

President Lincoln needed to mend rifts between the Union and Confederacy states, between slaveholders and those against slavery, and between rivals in his own party who wanted him to take a tougher stand for or against slavery. With deft political skill Lincoln brought the rivals Seward, Chase, and Bates as well as three former Democrats into his inner circle, won their allegiance and harnessed their talents to help reunite the country. A moderate, Lincoln took flak from all sides, yet succeeded in gaining popular support for his moderate stances and intransigent position against slavery.

Whether healing rifts of national proportions or those within your local team the concepts are the same. The psychology research on cohesion, the ability for individual team members to work harmoniously toward the same goal (task cohesion) and build social bonds (social cohesion) shows a positive correlation with performance.

So think about how well the individuals on your team are working toward their task and how well they truly enjoy being together. If close working relationships are lacking it’s time to earn your keep. Sit down with your perceived enemies and work to turn them into allies. Focus all individuals on your team to work productively on the important tasks and engage everyone in building social bonds.

• Engage opposing individuals to align toward a unified goal
• Look for shared social ground to build bonds
• Take a stand toward a common purpose, with sensitivity to all parties, and work to resolve differences

Keywords: leadership, cohesion, bond, team, Abraham Lincoln, Congress

• Carless, S. A., & De, P., C. (2000). The measurement of cohesion in work teams. Small Group Research, 31(1), 71-88.
• Chang, A., & Bordia, P. (2001). A multidimensional approach to the group cohesion-group performance relationship. Small Group Research, 32(4), 379-405.
• Goodwin, D. K. (2005). Team of Rivals: The political genius of Abraham Lincoln. New York: Simon & Schuster.
• Griffith, T., Ketcham, H., & Roe, M. (2009). Abraham Lincoln: Life, speeches and letters. Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Editions.
• Hackman, J. R. (1990). Groups that work (and those that don’t): Creating conditions for effective teamwork. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

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The Power of the Big Picture

Yesterday I was reflecting on the loss of a friend whose life was tragically cut short. For me, this contemplation stirred up the duality and power of such an event—and how that power can be utilized in your leadership process.

As we ponder this loss, we can easily get lost in the hollow ring of her soft voice and memory of her sweet smile. But the power in this picture is the role model she played for all whose lives she touched. When we step back and look at the big picture of her life we can see the lessons she taught us—the search for deeper meaning in all events, finding the gifts each person presents to us, and the courage to live a life of giving.

Similarly, when we focus on a single challenging event we can easily become mired in negative energy. If we stop to place the event into the bigger picture it almost always brings reflection and an uplifting sense of purpose. Think Steve Jobs and his idea of putting a “dent in the universe.” In doing so you automatically play to the intrinsic motivation of your team members.

So put the duality to use. Keep a focus on overcoming the individual, challenging event, but also put it into the context of your overall project and how it will move your project forward.

• Use the big picture to play to the intrinsic motivation of your team members
• Maintain a focus for each individual team member their part of the project and how it fits into the big picture

• Have you laid out the big picture, the vision of the project for your team?
• Have you discussed with each team member the importance of their individual contribution?

Keywords: leadership, motivation, vision

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Sovereign Debt, Happiness, and Leading with Difficult Conversations

The global financial markets have been on a roller coaster ride for the last several months, primarily due to sovereign debt issues in Greece and Italy. Observations of the leaders and populace in these countries illustrate two important lessons.

The first lesson is to have the courage to initiate the difficult conversations frequently required as a leader. In this case the conversation is about austerity. Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou has failed to clearly communicate to the general public the ramifications of their situation and the sacrifices all parties must take. While we don’t know that improved communication would have prevented the ensuing riots, it wouldn’t have hurt. Instead, Papandreou vacillated from issue to issue and hid behind the idea of a referendum vote to the general population, abdicating his leadership role. In the end his unwillingness to continue leading in a straightforward fashion cost him his job as Prime Minister.

Italy’s long-time, flamboyant Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, has probably spent more time the last several decades defending himself against scandals than leading the country forward or handling Italy’s economic malaise. Similar to Greece, Italy is unable to continue to service its debt. Furthermore, Berlusconi has been unwilling to clearly articulate the country’s current economic situation, the sacrifices all parties must make to move forward, and a path to economic health.

I continually see similar situations inside organizations. The most frequent lapse is the inability or unwillingness for managers to counsel subordinates and give honest, less-than-stellar, performance appraisals. Few of us like to tell someone they are deficient in some way, but it is necessary in order to create a high performance team. Key elements are to be clear and fair. Explain the specific issue, provide a global context, and state specifically what you would like to see and how it will help the team perform better.

The second lesson we can learn from the recent sovereign debt issues is that it is very simple to give something but very difficult to take it away. The riots in Greece are a prime example. Protesters are upset with reduced pensions, lost jobs, and other government cutbacks. Had Greek leaders acted responsibly and provided only what it could afford, the current austerity measures would not have been necessary. The psychology behind this is quite simple, we become happy when we get something, but more unhappy when we lose it than we were at the outset.

• Gather the courage to have the difficult conversations
• You will generate more unhappiness when you take back something you have given

Keywords: leadership, communication, difficult conversations, loss aversion

• Darling, J., & Nurmi, R. (1995). Downsizing the multinational firm: Key variables for excellence. Leadership & Organization Development Journal, 16(5): 22-28.
• Mishra, K. E., Spreitzer, G. M., & Mishra, A. K. (1998). Preserving employee morale during downsizing. Sloan Management Review, 39(2): 83-95.
• Munger, C. (1995, June). The psychology of human misjudgment. Lecture given at Harvard University.
• Tversky, A., & Kahneman, D. (1991). Loss aversion in riskless choice: A reference-dependent model. The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 106(4), 1039-1061.

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Winning with Wise Leadership

We often adore and reward the powerful, impressive leaders while those quietly toiling and continually producing solid results remain unnoticed. I’d like to highlight Ellen Kullman, CEO and Chair of the Board of DuPont as an excellent example of a wise leader who doesn’t find it necessary to flaunt achievements on the media’s center stage.

The seminal research of Dr. Fred Luthans from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in the mid-1980s is a good backdrop for this discussion. Dr. Luthans showed that the most effective managers spent the largest portion of their time communicating with their team, ensuring all members are aware of goals, current status, what is expected of them, etc. and on human resource (HR) management. He compared the effective manager results with those of “successful” managers, those who rose quickly in the hierarchy of their organization, who spent the largest portion of their time networking with individuals outside their team. Managers who were assessed as both effective and successful had a good balance of communication, HR, networking, and traditional management activity.

This compares well with the results of leadership studies by the author of Good to Great, Jim Collins. According to him, the highest level of leadership, Level 5, involves “personal humility and professional will.” In describing leaders who propel companies to consistent profits he often refers to their humility and somewhat dichotomous will to press forward with bold initiatives that at times seem premature and perhaps foolish.

Circling back to Ellen Kullman, she became CEO of DuPont at the beginning of 2009 as the latest recession was well along its precipitous slide. Ms. Kullman’s consistently pragmatic and visionary approach has yielded steady growth for DuPont. She communicates clearly and often, articulating aggressive goals, while maintaining a healthy ego. She has eschewed some of the corporate perks, such as the use of corporate jets for personal travel and listens intently to all with whom she interacts.

We could all do well listening and watching wise leaders such as Ellen Kullman, learning lessons in content, quality, and style of leadership.

• Look for leaders in your organization consistently churning out new products, services, and innovations without heroics or grandstanding

Keywords: leadership, communication, goals

• Collins, J. (2001). Good to great: Why some companies make the leap. and others don’t. New York: Collins.
• Collins, J. (2001). Level 5 leadership: The triumph of humility and fierce resolve. Harvard Business Review, 83(7/8), 136-146.
• Luthans, F. (1988). Successful vs. effective real managers. Academy of Management Executive, 2(2), 127-132.
• Luthans, F., Hodgetts, R. M., & Rosenkrantz, S. A. (1988). Real managers. Cambridge, MA: Ballinger.
• Luthans, F., Rosenkrantz, S. A., & Hennessey, H. W. (1985). What do successful managers really do? An observation study of managerial activities. The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 21(3), 255-270.

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“Occupy” and the Need for Leadership

The Occupy movements have been out on the streets for a several months now yet their goals remain largely unknown to most of us. The reason for this is because they really don’t have any goals beyond generating awareness, and have eschewed leaders and leadership. This is a good lesson for us in the value of leadership.

Leadership provides the most value, and in fact some say is only needed, in times of crises or turmoil. An effective leader will work to create a compelling vision with powerful goals that will attract and align people toward those goals. The messages communicated by a vigorous leader will be crisp and compelling.

While I sympathize with the protesters and agree that we must focus on maintaining a strong middle class, I am saddened that their energy is not as channeled and productive as it could be. If the occupy protesters were to channel their energy into crisply crafted goals such as generating awareness on a widening wealth and income gap, calling voters to action to communicate with their legislators, and providing lucid messages for them to communicate they could become a powerful force.

Without this, they stand to appear as an unorganized, drifting tribe of mavericks, garnering a fraction of the publicity and effectiveness they could, and truly should obtain.

• Leadership provides most value in times of crises or turmoil
• A leader motivates and aligns individuals toward common goals, enhancing group productivity

Keywords: leadership, goals, communication

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