Leaders: does your team benefit from synergy or suffer from antagonism?

A draft horse is a large, muscular animal that, prior to the industrial age, was used for pulling big loads. One draft horse can pull an 8,000-pound load. Two draft horses randomly linked together can pull a 24,000-pound load. If the two horses have been trained to work together they can pull 32,000 pounds 

This marvelous phenomenon is called synergy.

Synergy is the energy or force that is generated through the working together of various parts or processes such that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

Antagonism is the extreme opposite of synergism. It is the reduction of energy due to the misalignment, friction, and opposition of individual elements that are connected. The whole becomes less than the sum of the parts. An example of antagonism is the effect between the opposing actions of insulin and glucagon to blood sugar level. While insulin lowers blood sugar, glucagon raises it.

Now, apply these thoughts to your organization.

How team members relate to one another: antagonism………………..……….synergy

The result:                                   dysfunctional                  functional           miraculous

All organizational teams can be placed somewhere on the spectrum between antagonism and synergy. If your team leans far-left, you’re working against each other. If you’re in the middle, team members are probably siloed: they’re not adversely affecting each other but neither are they complementary. Teams on the far-right of the spectrum are doing amazing things together.

Use this spectrum to analyze your organization at all levels. For instance, your team may be working well together—benefiting from synergy—but your team may not be aligned with other teams in the organization. 

A prerequisite for synergy (and an antidote for antagonism) is a clear vision that is shared widely and embraced deeply. A north star. A picture of the future that produces passion. A challenging but credible goal.  

Wholesome communication also helps. Robust dialogue encourages transparency and respect. Lots of face-time with other team members both in meetings around the lunch table will also help.

Basic people skills are necessary. It’s hard to work with someone who is abrasive and insensitive. Team members need to “play well in the sandbox with others” for synergy to happen.   

Your team’s synergy-quotient may be the most critical factor in your organization. Business writer Patrick Lencioni underscores this significance when he says, “Not finance. Not strategy. Not technology. It is teamwork that remains the ultimate competitive advantage, both because it is so powerful and so rare. If you could get all the people in an organization rowing in the same direction, you could dominate any industry, in any market, against any competition, at any time.”

Leaders, I double-dog-dare you to show this post to your team members and ask them to honestly evaluate where the team is on the scale.

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

Join me on an unforgettable journey to the Sacred Valley, Machu Picchu, and the Amazon Rainforest

May 6-15, 2020

In the past ten years I’ve led groups of friends on annual trips to Paris, London, Europe, the Mediterranean, Baltic States, Russia, and North Africa. We’ve never had a malfunction or bad experience; just memorable, life-enhancing moments.

I invite you to join me on a once-in-a-lifetime trip to one of the great historical and geographical countries in the Southern Hemisphere—Peru. We’ll start our trip in Lima, then travel to Cusco—the gateway to the Sacred Valley and home to the Inca civilization. We’ll visit Machu Picchu, one of the wonders of the ancient world. Then we’ll travel to the Amazon Rainforest and spend three days at the Inkaterra Reserva Amazonica lodge in the diverse Puerto Maldonado area. In 2013, it was selected by National Geographic Traveler magazine was one of the world’s 25 best eco-lodges. We’ll travel on airplanes, trains, buses, vans, boats, and shoes.

Mary and I took this trip in July, 2018. It was one of our favorite trips of all time (we’ve been to 47 countries). We always felt safe, the accommodations are elegant and authentic, the food is world-renowned, the geography is diverse (metropolitan Lima, the Andes mountains, Amazon Rainforest), and Peruvians are friendly—the trip was incredible.   

It’s been said that one of the joys of traveling is not only where you go but who you go with and who you meet along the way. This tour group will be limited to 50 interesting ladies and gentlemen who travel well—friends of mine who enjoy exploring great places. 

Travel takes time and money, but it’s worth the investment. You’ll be stretched and challenged, and you’ll learn more about the world in which you live and the life you live in the world. 

I hope you’ll join me on this memorable trip to Peru. 

Here’s a brochure about the trip. PeruBrochure2

Don McMinn

Question: Questions about the trip? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

The pain of pretending

Both my daughters studied violin in high school. They excelled, taking lessons at SMU and playing in the Dallas Youth Symphony. For one concert, they played in the Meyerson Concert Hall (one of the best musical venues in the world). Mary and I were seated in the middle of the hall, our attention focused on Lauren and Sarah. 

After the concert we went backstage to greet the girls. Sarah was crying. She held up her violin and said, “Dad, when we were tuning at the beginning of the concert, my E string broke. I didn’t know what to do; I was embarrassed and didn’t want to draw attention to myself; so the entire concert I pretended to play, but my bow never touched the strings.”

My heart was broken. I could only imagine the painful mix of emotions she endured: sadness, frustration, insecurity, embarrassment, hiding,   

I’m not sure what alternative she had—should she have walked off the stage and left an empty chair?—but I do know that for 45 minutes she experienced the pain and discomfort of pretending. 

I suppose all of us occasionally need to be temporarily inauthentic; social grace often mandates it (I dislike opera, but if I’m attending with a group of friends, I’m not going to leave at intermission). I’ve written a post titled Sometimes fake it in which I suggest that for professional reasons and for love, we often need to engage in counter-dispositional behavior.

But in general, don’t go through life denying or hiding your true self. Don’t pretend. Discover who you are, be who you are, and associate with people who accept you as you are.

Sadly, many people have never achieved a clear understanding of who their authentic self really is so pretending is their default mode. I’ve written a workbook—Signature Soulprint—that can help lead you in that discovery. 

Coach Don Meyer said, ”Be what you is. Because if you be what you ain’t, you ain’t what you is.” C.S. Lewis was more lyrical in saying, “Be weird. Be random. Be who you are. Because you never know who would love the person you hide.”

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

The difference between managers and leaders

Most organizations are vastly over-managed and desperately under-led. Stephen Covey

There’s a difference between a manager and a leader. One role is not more important than the other, they’re just different. 

In his book On Becoming a Leader, Warren Bennis draws these distinctions:

  • The manager administers; the leader innovates.
  • The manager is a copy; the leader is an original.
  • The manager maintains; the leader develops.
  • The manager focuses on systems and structure; the leader focuses on people.
  • The manager relies on control; the leader inspires trust.
  • The manager has a short-range view; the leader has a long-range perspective.
  • The manager asks how and when; the leader asks what and why.
  • The manager has his or her eye always on the bottom line; the leader’s eye is on the horizon. 
  • The manager imitates; the leader originates.
  • The manager accepts the status quo; the leader challenges it.
  • The manager is the classic good soldier; the leader is his or her own person.
  • The manager does things right; the leader does the right thing.

[From: On Becoming a Leader, Warren Bennis, Basic Books, page 39-40.]

The cumulative effect of this list seems to denigrate managers and extol leaders. But in his book Learning to Lead, Bennis says:

“No organization can function successfully without both roles. The danger, however, is to confuse them, to fail to provide for both and to diminish the potential contribution of each. The difference may be summarized by viewing the activities of leaders as those of vision and judgment – in other words, effectiveness – verses the activities of managers that focus on mastering routines – in other words, efficiency.”

I prefer to use the term “leader” when referring to both roles; there are tactical leaders (managers) and strategic leaders. 

Most leadership positions require a combination of both skill sets. In my current position at the church, I “lead” about 30% of the time and “manage” 70% of the time. I am aware of when I’m switching from one role to the other and I try to balance both roles.

Mastering the skills of management is a prerequisite for leading well. Good managers lean the fundamentals of how an organization works, which becomes helpful when crafting credible vision. The opposite approach—becoming a leader with no management skills or experience—usually produces a detached, oblivious leader. 

To personalize this essay, respond to these issues.

  • Do you agree that there’s a difference between a manager and a leader?
  • Is it advantageous to be skilled at both?
  • Are  you a better manager or a better leader? 
  • Does your current position require you to manage or a lead? 
  • Identify a position in your organization that primarily requires management skills.
  • Identify a position in your organization that primarily requires leadership skills.

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

Virtue is found in moderation

In medio stat virtus (Latin)

Most virtues taken to an extreme can become a vice. For a particular virtue to be beneficial, it needs to be balanced by a different virtue. The Stoic philosophers had a term for this—anacoluthia—the mutual entailment of the virtues; no virtue is a virtue by itself. 

For instance, notice how each of these virtues, if not balanced by another virtue, can be unproductive, but when paired together they create balance.

  • Confidence without humility can lead to egotism and unhealthy self-reliance. Humility without confidence can make you timid.
  • Courage without caution can lead to recklessness. Unbalanced, caution can lead to passivity.   
  • Frugality without generosity can lead to excessive thriftiness and stinginess. Generosity without frugality can lead you to the poor house.
  • Openness can lead to healthy transparency and aid to developing relationships; but it needs to be balanced by discretion.
  • Self-control has its advantages but without some spontaneity you may live a stiff and dull life.

Any strength, out of balance, can become a weakness. For instance, I am fanatical about being on time. Granted, punctuality is a virtue, but my zeal for being on time can consume too much of my attention and may cause me to miss other, equally important issues.  

Philosopher Gregory Bateson expands this thought to include other elements: “There is always an optimal value, beyond which anything is toxic, no matter what: oxygen, sleep, psychotherapy, philosophy.”

Analyze yourself. What are your core strengths? What is the potential downside of each strength? What virtue would balance each of your core strengths? 

So the key is balance; moderation. Extremism and fanaticism excludes alternative ideas or activities and lead to imbalance, intolerance, and narrow-mindedness.

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

Accept people in different seasons of their lives

You’re a different person at different stages of your life.

Ten years ago, when I started working at my current church, I met a man named Bob (I’ll use that name because that was his name). He was a delightful man. He arrived early on Sunday mornings to help prepare the sanctuary for worship; he was friendly and engaging; he had a positive attitude. We had lunch together about every six months and developed a friendship. 

Several years ago Bob was diagnosed with a fast-growing brain tumor and died within four months. 

At his funeral, his brother, who was a pastor, spoke. I was shocked to hear him describe Bob as a difficult person to be around; he even said that family members might have had a hard time attending his funeral. 

After the funeral I emailed the brother and shared my dismay at how he had spoken poorly about Bob. After all, it was the man’s funeral. I’ll never forget his long and thorough reply. It taught me a valuable life-lesson. 

In his early years, Bob was, indeed, a very difficult person to be around. Through the years he had abused his family relationships; some of them were irreparably damaged. In his speech at the funeral, his brother was trying to help family members understand the complexities of the relationships and encourage them to forgive Bob, for their own peace of mind. 

His carefully worded email made sense. It helped me understand what he was trying to do at the funeral. He also affirmed my love and appreciation for Bob and taught me an important life-lesson by saying, “Don we all go through seasons of life. You met Bob later in life; he was different then. But don’t judge others who knew him in a different season.”

In a similar scenario, I once became friends with a man who had made major mistakes in the early days of his profession. Someone who was hurt by his mistakes derided me for starting a friendship with him and suggested that I disavow him and distance myself from him. Was I wrong in pursuing this relationship?

Here’s what I’ve learned. 

  • When we meet someone, accept him as he is at his current stage in life; don’t discount his life because of past mistakes. Hopefully, we’re all progressing and improving throughout our lives. We need acceptance and grace in every season.
  • Don’t judge someone who has disengaged from a relationship that was abusive or unhealthy because sometimes it’s best to sever an abusive relationship and cease all ties. (Though all of us should forgive our offenders, that doesn’t mean we must remain friends with them.) 

Here’s a parting thought: we all have a best friend during each stage of our lives; blessed is the person who has the same friend throughout all stages of life.

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

Explore the universe without leaving your home

I could be bounded in a nutshell, and count myself a king of infinite space. Hamlet

Stephen Hawking is regarded as one of the most brilliant theoretical physicists since Einstein. At age 21 he was  diagnosed with ALS, a type of motor neuron disease. His illness progressed rapidly and ultimately he was confined to a wheelchair, completely paralyzed, only able to communicate by raising his eyebrows when someone pointed to the right letter on a spelling card. 

The disease paralyzed his body, but not his mind. For the next 55 years he worked on unifying general relativity with quantum theory. He also made the startling discovery that black holes should not be completely black but rather emit radiation and eventually evaporate and disappear. For 30 years he was the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge (the same position held by Isaac Newton in 1669).  Hawking died on March 14, 2018, age 76, and was buried in Westminster Abbey’s Scientists’ Corner between Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin. 

Hawking personified what Shakespeare proffered: I could be bounded in a nutshell, and count myself a king of infinite space. 

Though Hawking lived confined in a wheelchair, he said, “I have lived an extraordinary life on this planet, while at the same time traveling across the universe by using my mind and the laws of physics. I have been to the furthest reaches of our galaxy, travelled into a black hole and gone back to the beginning of time.”

Hawking’s life teaches us that though our bodies are geographically confined, our minds can roam the universe. If only we will let them.

I know a lady who was raised in Farmington, New Mexico which is about 40 miles from the Four Corners area of the United States (the quadripoint in the Southwest where the states of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah meet). From Farmington, one can visit the other three states in a convenient 100-mile drive. But she had never been outside her home state. Oh my…

Many people have never “traveled very far” in their minds; they are content to stay in Farmington. 

That’s why I’m a huge advocate of reading. There’s no place you can’t “go” and nothing you can’t learn if you will simply read broadly and consistently.

This journey into unchartered realms is initiated and sustained by curiosity.  If you’re not curious about what you don’t know and where you haven’t been, you’ll stay at home. Don’t do that.

See below for a video of Stephen Hawkins’ last public appearance.

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

The curse of knowledge, part 2 – control how much knowledge you share

I recently returned from leading a group of 36 friends on a European tour. We visited seven countries in 15 days. It was among the best trips I have ever experienced. Every day was full of memorable moments. 

We did have one regrettable moment in Rome.

Our tour guide in Rome had an encyclopedic knowledge of Rome. Her recall of dates, history, people, and events was amazing. And she spoke passionately. But she talked too much. She gave too much detail about each sight. People can only digest a limited amount of information at a time. Her commentary was so dense, and delivered so quickly, that we couldn’t process it. 

Mid-day I realized that her unreasonably long commentaries were throwing us off schedule. We had only one day to see the Roman ruins (Colosseum, Forum) and the Vatican (Museum, Sistine Chapel, Basilica) and we were running out of time.

My favorite building in the world is St. Peter’s Basilica. It is immense, beautiful, inspiring, and astonishing. Seeing it was to be the climax of our trip. But when we finally stood in front of the church our tour guide said, “Be back here in five minutes.”

Five minutes? Are you kidding? We had been victimized by our tour guide’s curse of knowledge.

Previously I wrote a post—The curse of knowledge—in which I suggested that one type of “curse of knowledge” occurs when a person has such mature and advanced knowledge in a specific area that he cannot remember what it’s like to not have this knowledge. This makes it harder to identify with people who don’t have this knowledge base. It also inhibits our ability to explain things in a manner that is easily understandable to someone who is a novice.

In this post I’m suggesting that our knowledge can also be a stumbling block (curse may be too strong a word) when we’re insensitive about how much knowledge is appropriate to share at a particular time. 

While in Rome, I admired the tour guide’s immense knowledge, but she grossly misjudged how much we were interested in hearing, how much we could digest at one time, and how her excessive commentary would affect our schedule.

This social faux pas is more common than we think.

    • Have you ever asked someone a question, desiring a simple, short answer, but you get a long, complicated one? The person drones on and on, getting stuck in unnecessary minutia. 
    • Have you ever read a book that is just too detailed? For instance, I love New York City so when I heard that David McCullough wrote a book about the Brooklyn Bridge I bought it. But after reading only 25 out of 608 pages I abandoned the effort; I don’t want to know that much about the bridge. 
    • Did you ever have a teacher that knew his subject well but delivered too much information too quickly? In college I took a math class that was advertised as a course for non-math majors, but the professor went so fast that most of us were lost 10 minutes into the first lesson. Bad teacher. I dropped the course.   

Often, we’re the victims of this particular expression of the curse of knowledge, but sometimes we’re the perpetuators. 

Back to the trip. After we finished that day’s tour of Rome we shared a delightful meal together at an open-air restaurant on Piazza Navona. My table shared a nice bottle of Chianti Classico red wine. Knowing that I’m a wine expert, someone casually asked me, “Don, what do you think of the wine?” I proceeded to give a three-minute lecture on the Sangiovese grape, unique aging requirements, etc. I soon realized I was sharing too much knowledge; a simple “This is a terrific wine; the grapes are grown locally” would have sufficed. 

Let’s be more self-aware of how much information is desirable and needed in conversations.

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