Leaders: seek the input of other people

Plus - you must read this novel by Ann Patchett

robust-dialogue-2There is increasing recognition that the problems we face are too complex to be addressed by any single player. Matthew May

One of my favorite leadership mantras is: All of us are smarter than one of us.
Or, said succinctly, “We” is smarter than “me.”

I will never understand why some leaders, when making decisions, act like the Lone Ranger. They make decisions unilaterally. Often, their team is even surprised when the leader makes formal announcements regarding a strategic decision because they had no input into the issue and sometimes no prior knowledge that the issue was even being considered.

In my organization, I have seven direct reports. Every team member is very intelligent and deeply devoted to our organization. Why would I not ask for their input into important issues that affect our organization? When planning or making strategic decisions, why would I not solicit their insight, creativity, and judgment? I value and trust their discernment so much that I seldom make a decision without first seeking their input, and if there is broad hesitance, I yield to the collected wisdom.

Again I ask: Why would I not do this? What possible downside is there?

Robust dialogue is the key to leaders benefiting from the wisdom of others.

Robust Dialogue

Robust dialogue occurs in a group when everyone is encouraged, allowed, and even required to give their honest input on issues. The value of robust dialogue is: Every idea or plan will be improved upon when submitted to the wisdom and input of others. If your idea is a seven (on a scale from 1 to 10 with 1 indicating a bad idea and 10 an outstanding one) and you submit it to robust dialogue, it will become an eight or higher.

Robust dialogue is not just the right thing to do; it is the best thing to do. It’s not just politically correct; it is practically helpful.

The prelude to robust dialogue may sound like this:

  • A leader says to his team, “I’ve got an idea I want to share with you. Please give me your honest thoughts about it.”
  • A leader says to his team, “I need to make an important decision by the end of the week. Before I do, I want to get your input.”
  • A team member has the freedom to say, “I think we’re going in the wrong direction on this project.”

Bossidy and Charan teach that robust dialogue is based on openness, candor, and informality.

  • Openness—people are not trapped by preconceptions; they’re open-minded.
  • Candor—people speak candidly and express their real opinions. Truth is valued more than harmony.
  • Informality—informal dialogue invites questions, mental experimentation, and creative and critical thinking. Formality suppresses dialogue and leaves little room for debate. [Execution, page 102]

Robust dialogue will also help maintain a transparent and healthy workplace. It’s amazing how often there’s an elephant in the room that no one is willing to acknowledge. Clarke and Crossland warn, “Every time your team avoids the critical ‘real issues,’ you lose. Every time the discussion outside the meeting room—physical or virtual—is dramatically different from the discussion inside the room, you lose.”

Robust dialogue will enhance consensus among your team members. Often, we avoid challenging dialogue because we value unanimity and harmony. But when we ignore the tough issues, we inadvertently dilute any sense of consensus. True alliance is achieved only when all the major issues have been identified and wrestled with. Consensus is good, unless it is achieved too easily, in which case it becomes suspect.

You must be intentional about establishing robust dialogue as standard practice among your team. Don’t just give your team permission to engage in robust dialogue, insist on it. In general, people are less inclined to give constructive feedback to higher-status individuals. That’s why they must be given permission, and even encouraged, to speak up.

Explain to your team what robust dialogue is, why it’s advantageous, and establish it as standard practice. Set some ground rules:

  • Everyone should be honest and frank with their comments but also kind and considerate. Don’t be timid about expressing your thoughts, but don’t be tacky and rude.
  • When you proffer an idea and people begin to hack at it, don’t be insecure and defensive; we’re not critiquing you, we’re commenting on the idea. Don’t be “thin-skinned.”
  • On major issues everyone needs to speak. Often, those with an outgoing personality will speak first and most, and those who are quiet and reserved will be reluctant to speak. By soliciting everyone’s thoughts, all voices are heard. Furthermore, those who are most opposed to an idea may be silent in the meeting but sabotage the idea later on. By soliciting everyone’s opinion, potential critics are forced to speak up.
  • Assure everyone that opposing thoughts will not be punished. Robust dialogue will not flourish if people think their frankness may be used against them. Even affirm those who express disagreements and opposition.
  • Make it clear that following robust dialogue, a decision will be made that may or may not satisfy everyone’s input, but that everyone should support the decision. Robust dialogue is an exercise in both open and honest communication and consensus building that should lead to communal support.

It takes a lot of emotional fortitude to establish robust dialogue as an integral part of your organization—if you’re insecure you’ll be reluctant to do so. It also requires emotional maturity—if you’re domineering, self-reliant, narrow-mined, autocratic, or manipulative, robust dialogue will be unsustainable.

How do you know if robust dialogue is happening in your organization? It’s either happening or it’s not. In other words, if you don’t frequently hear phrases like, “I don’t agree with that” or “What’s another alternative?” or, “Could we discuss that further?” or “I don’t feel entirely comfortable with that”—robust dialogue is not a part of your organizational culture. The absence of differing views, opinions, and perspectives is clear evidence that you need to proactively work to establish robust dialogue as a normal part of organization communication.

Brigadier General Ted Mercer Jr. said, “Feedback is a gift. It’s a way of giving help.” A hardy feedback system will make you, and your organization, stronger.

“In 1997, managers at Samsung didn’t question a $13 billion investment that would take the company into the automobile industry because the idea’s champion, Samsung Chairman and CEO Kun-Hee Lee, was a forceful personality and a car buff. When Samsung Motors folded only a year into production, Lee wondered why no one had expressed reservations.” [HBP Teams That Click, pg. 74]

Question: What are your thoughts about this essay? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Ann Patchett’s novel, State of Wonder, is a wondrous book. It’s not a thriller and no one gets murdered, but her wordsmithing is stunning. Her phrases will make you think, smile, and keep reading. It’s the best novel I’ve read in 2016. You’ll be transported to a foreign environment (Amazon jungle) and read about things like struggling with an 18-ft. Anaconda in a small boat and a C-section performed in the jungle of Brazil. You will never forget her main characters.

When you offend someone, confess and ask forgiveness

confessionRelational offenses are inevitable. It’s not a matter of if you’re going to offend someone, just a matter of when and how seriously. The best and perhaps the only way to make things right is to confess your offense and ask forgiveness.

Her are some characteristics of a good confession.

1. The scope of a confession should equal the scope of the offense.

You should confess to everyone who was privy to a particular offense. If three people heard you yell at your spouse, you need to confess to four people.

If you just think poorly about someone but don’t actually say anything, you don’t need to confess to that person; in fact, doing so might create unnecessary hurt and confusion.

2. Confessions are most effective when we take initiative to confess without having to be confronted.

Can you sense the difference in these two scenarios?

Joan: Hey Bob, got a minute?
Bob: Sure, what’s up?
Joan: When we were having lunch yesterday you said something that really offended me.
Bob: Oh yeah? What did I say?
Joan: It was the comment about my work on the Meyers project.
Bob: Oh, that bothered you? Well, okay, perhaps it did come across a bit tacky. Sorry about that.

Bob: Hi Joan, got a minute?
Joan: Sure, what’s up?
Bob: Yesterday, when we had lunch together, I made a tacky comment about your work on the Meyers project. It was wrong of me to say what I did. Would you forgive me?

In the first scenario, Joan confronts a clueless Bob. In the second scenario Bob initiates the conversation. There’s a huge difference.

3. Be specific; name the offense.

Hurts don’t come in generalities; they are specific. So our confession must be specific. Can you sense the difference between these two statements?

“Honey, if I’ve ever done anything to offend you, would you forgive me?”

“Honey, I realize that I have had a critical spirit toward you. Last night I criticized you about the hotel arrangements you made for our vacation. I should have been grateful that you took the initiative to plan such a nice trip.”

A good confession will mention a specific wrong.

4. Properly address the emotional hurt that your offense has caused.

Offenses are not only technically wrong, they hurt the offended person. So when we offend someone, we should confess our wrong and address the hurt that we caused. For instance, if I yell at my children, I have not only wronged them, I have hurt them. I must deal with both the technical aspect of being wrong and also the emotional dimension. That’s why a good confession will often involve empathetic words such as, “I’m so sorry that I hurt you by yelling.”

You may even want to ask the offended person to elaborate on how your offense has affected him or her.

5. In your confession, use the phrase “I was wrong”; not just, “I’m sorry.”

Just saying “I’m sorry” can compromise and even neutralize a confession. For instance:

  • “I’m sorry what I said offended you (but it wouldn’t have offended you if you weren’t so hypersensitive).”
  • “I’m sorry you feel neglected (but after all, you are overly dependent).”
  • “I’m sorry you were upset by my teasing you at the party (even though everyone else thought my story was hilarious).”

Use the phrase “I was wrong” because it admits personal responsibility for the offense and conveys a sense of seriousness.

6. Don’t dilute the confession.

When confessing an offense, don’t include any statements that would dilute the confession. Do not:

  • Minimize the offense – “Yeah, I got angry and yelled at you, but that’s not the main issue.”
  • Rationalize/justify – “The reason I yelled was…”
  • Blame others – “I wouldn’t have become angry if you hadn’t…”
  • Offer a trite confession – “Okay, okay; I’m sorry.”
  • Ignore the offense – “Let’s talk about something else.”

7. Ask forgiveness.

For a confession to be complete, we must ask to be forgiven. The best way to do this is simply to say, “Will you forgive me?” Hopefully, the offended person will forgive you.

If he or she does not, and you have genuinely and properly confessed, you have done all that you can and should do; it is now the other person’s decision whether or not to forgive you, but regardless of his or her response, you should be free from guilt.

Question: What are your thoughts about this essay? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Seek happiness, not just joy



Compared to joy, happiness has gotten a bad reputation. Particularly among Christians.

In the recent past (30-40 years) we have been taught that there is a significant difference between joy and happiness. Happiness is a temporary emotion; joy is an abiding attitude. Christians have joy; the “world” is relegated to mere happiness. In a nicely written article, author Randy Alcorn debunks this misunderstanding. He makes it clear that, biblically, there is no difference between joy and happiness. Click here for the article.

But for a moment, let’s explore the premise that joy may be deeper and more enduring and happiness is short-lived and momentary. Okay; what’s wrong with that? They both sound good to me.

I value, even pursue, moments of happiness.

  • Several months ago I shared a meal with 27 friends in a restaurant in Helsinki. We talked, laughed, and ate reindeer tongue. To this day, I pause and smile when I reminisce about that time.
  • My wife and I walked, slowly and uncovered, through a pouring rain in New Orleans until we were soaked to the bone. What a wonderful moment.
  • I am happy when holding my hands around a hot cup of coffee on a cold morning.
  • When my grandson falls asleep on my chest and his breathing syncs with mine, it is a fleeting but transcendent moment.

If you seldom have “happy moments” you might not be looking for them. (See my post on the Badder-Meinhof phenomenon.)

A story is told of a monk who, while out walking one day, is confronted by a ferocious, man-eating tiger. He slowly backs away from the animal, only to find that he is trapped at the edge of a high cliff. The tiger snarls with hunger and pursues the monk whose only hope of escape is to suspend himself over the abyss by holding onto a vine that grows at its edge. As the monk dangles from the cliff, a mouse begins to gnaw on the vine. If he climbs back up, the tiger will devour him; if he remains clutching the vine he faces the certain death of a long fall onto jagged rocks. The slender vine begins to give way, and death is imminent. Just then the monk notices a lovely ripe wild strawberry growing along the cliff’s edge. He plucks the succulent berry, eats it, and says, “This lovely strawberry, how sweet it tastes.”

At the core of my being, I do want to possess a steady and enduring sense of peace, contentment, and hope—perhaps we can call it, joy. But I also value moments of relief from the unrelenting stress and pressure of life—perhaps we can call it, happiness.

Let’s embrace both.

Question: What are your thoughts about this essay? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Leaders: Lead

Only 5 openings remain for the Sept. 21-22 Lead Well workshop

Lead2.001When in a position of leadership, lead.

My impatience peaks when I’m at a stoplight and there are several cars in front of me and the light turns green and the person at the front of the line doesn’t move. Arghhh… I usually honk.

I start an imaginary conversation with this person: “Ma’am, sir, do you not realize that because you are at the front of the line, no one can move until you move? Therefore you must be doubly attentive. You’re wasting everyone’s time by not acting responsibly and quickly. Move it…”

My contrived conversation is therapeutic; I feel better after venting my frustration, if only to myself. But this reoccurring scenario also reminds me of a basic tenant of leadership: when in a position of leadership—lead.

Leaders, your team and organization are waiting for you to act. You’re at the front of the line. They won’t move until you do. If you’re passive, they will be, too.

When do leaders move and where do they go? Leaders move because of and toward, vision.

The sine qua non of leadership is having fresh vision. Vision is a picture of the future that is better than the present that produces passion. If you’re in a position of leadership and you don’t have credible vision you may be managing but you’re not leading. Good leaders are obsessed with developing good vision because that’s what “turns the light green” and dictates where you “drive.”

Leaders also take initiative; they have an agenda; they want to get from point A to point B; they are dissatisfied with the status quo.

Vision + initiative = progress.

Warren Bennis said, “Action without vision is stumbling in the dark and vision without action is poverty-stricken poetry.” Leaders need both vision (where we are going) and initiative (let’s start moving in that direction).

The analogy I’ve created is not exact, but it will work. The next time you’re stopped at a streetlight and the light turns green and the person in front doesn’t move, let it be a reminder of the fact that leaders must lead.

When you’re at the front of the line and the light turns green—go.
When you’re in a position of leadership—lead.

Question: What are your thoughts about this essay? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Only 5 openings remain for the Lead Well 2-day workshop – September 21-22, 2016 in the DFW metroplex. Two intense days of life- and career-enhancing training. More information click here.