Conversations and collaboration are the way forward…

if you are interested in creating a sustainable world. This is one of the core messages that I got out of reading Peter Senge’s new book, The Necessary Revolution. This book is a testament to the power of conversation and a must read for anyone interested in being a part of transforming our world. Please read the book review below that I wrote and posted on Amazon.com and on shelfari.com. My message to you? Buy the book and read it. Then act.

This long awaited book fulfills all of my expectations for a manual to help us create the conversations and collaboration necessary to reclaim our world’s health. Over the years there have been quite a few high impact books helping us understand the extent of the challenges we face as we look forward to create a sustainable world. “The Necessary Revolution” steps forward and outlines how to create the partnerships that are needed to unleash the pent up creativity that millions of team members across the world and in all enterprises have been holding back. Peter Senge and team from his organization Society for Organizational Learning come at the subject as world leaders in the austere world of business. It is going to be very difficult for business leaders across the world to read this work and write it off as rantings of an extremist. Peter is one of the top business minds in the world and I do not believe this work can be easily ignored.

For those of us who are disbursed across enterprises and feel like we have little impact on moving our enterprises towards a more sustainable future, this book provides outstanding case studies of work being done across the world by enterprises large and small. Some of the work and the visions of the leaders chronicled in this text are not only enlightening but surprising. After many chapters a “toolbox” is provided to help set the stage for the conversations and collaboration needed to move change forward. And of course, all of this work is set in a framework of systems thinking which is so necessary to be able to see beyond the silos so many are bound by.

“The Necessary Revolution” should be required reading for community leaders of all types, NGO, religious, Government, and corporate alike. As we start to create these critical partnerships and conversations focused on sustainability, I believe that we can quickly change the course that we are on. A must for every person who wants to see a change in our direction. Thank you Peter, Bryan, Nina, Joe, and Sara for this extraordinary work.

Keep up the conversations and let’s work to improve this speck of dust in space for our children and their children and the generations to come. They deserve it.

John

“You can not give away what you don’t own…

…anymore than you can come from where you haven’t been.” This quote by Larry Wilson founder of Wilson Learning and Pecos River Learning is one of the foundation pieces to my work in conversational leadership. If we do not engage those who work for and with us in healthy respectful conversations, how can we ever expect them to do the same with others. It is really quite simple. With the hundreds of books written on leadership you might think that this field is extrememly complex. I just do not see it this way. If we expect our team members to show caring and compassion for our customers and other team members and we do not provide that same caring and compassion for them, we are deluded if we believe they can give away what they do not receive.

Sure some people will simply deliver because that is who they are but we can not expect everyone to have that level of inner peace. And playing the “they should…” game is of no use. Sure everyone “should” have a healthy and robust personal tool kit but just because we wish it were so, does not mean it will be. If we want to be leaders, we must first own our responsibility to those around us to help them grow and develop into the “greatness” they have inside of them. With that level of commitment, our conversations will shift from the “You should have…” to the “I see in you..”. But back to the quote, if we as a leaders have no compassion, no love, no caring, no empathy, no spirit of service, how on earth do we expect to deliver the same to those who depend on us. And for us then to expect these same people to deliver what we can not or will not deliver to them is most certainly demanding of a reality check.

So again this is all quite simple. We need to reach out and engage others in conversations based on compassion, caring, love, empathy, and a spirit of service and once we do so, we just might be given permission to provide insights on performance improvement helping others be successful and helping them help the enterprise fulfill its goals and objectives. This is what conversational leadership is all about. A balance that can only be achieved with a open heart and an open mind. I wish you the best and continue the wonderful conversations.

John.

A Squidoo lens focused on how to lead through conversation

This new Squidoo lens provides a look at my work and interest in a variety of areas where conversation is the foundation. I welcome conversations on any of these topics and welcome ideas where we might be able to collaborate together to change the world.

Conversational leadership: This is where most of my current work as a Leadership Development Manager is focused. I have a deep seated belief that conversation is at the core of relationships and performance improvement.

Sustainability: Social and ecological responsibility are a passion of mine. I will explore and provide a lens into some of the better work in this critical area of focus.

Conversation: I believe that conversation can change the world. I again will explore and provide a lens into some of the better work in this critical area of focus.

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Possibilities: I see greatness in you

Can you imagine the healing in our world if only everyone in leadership saw possibilities in their team members rather than deficiencies? Can you imagine if we all said to our team members, “I see possibilities in you. I see greatness in you. I want to reach out and help you develop the greatness I see in you.” Instead all to often we say to our team members, “You are not good enough. All I see in you are your inadequacies.” I can hear a collective human cry, “Please someone see what possibilities I have and reach out to help me develop my greatness. I do have greatness in me, I am just not sure what it is or how to access it. Please reach out and help me.” And quite honestly, this is the role of a conversational leader. How can you lead if you can not see greatness in others? I just do not see how that can be.

At the end of a three day leadership development course I teach within my organization, we play a video, “Leadership: an Art of Possibility” produced by Groh Productions. This is one of the most powerful videos that I have ever seen. We speak to possibilities throughout the workshop and this video drives home the message that if we were only to see possibilities in our team members, we could help transform their lives. If we can do that, we can help create healthy team member who will create healthy families and healthy homes for our children to grow up in. The possibilities are extraordinary.

I don’t know about you, but I long for someone, anyone to tell me that they see greatness in me and possibilities that I do not yet see. Sometimes I feel that just because people see that I have my “act together” that I don’t need a helping hand. Each of us can use a helping hand. A mentor to help us navigate the complex waters of the communities within which we work, play, and contribute. I can only imagine what it would feel like to have someone come to me and say, “I see possibilities in you. I see greatness in you. I would like to help you achieve that greatness.”

So my plea to you is to reach out and start this conversation with those who count on you for support. Your friends, your family, you significant other, your children, your employees, your students, and your peers. I believe that you can change the world through the act of engaging in these simple conversations.

I wish you the best and keep up the conversations.

John

Pegasus Conference

I attended the Pegasus conference from Sunday October 4th through Wednesday October 7th. The conference title Amplifying Our Impact: Strategies for Unleashing the Power of Relationship was well defined. The speakers, the break out sessions and the tone of the conference fully honored and supported conversation as the foundation for change in our world. And over and over again, I gained perspective on how I could personally amplify my impact on our world. In particular, I found the partnership with The World Cafe and the Society for Organizational Learning to be very powerful. I had the opportunity to participate in meetings and sessions with both organizations and came away from the conference with renewed hope for our world. I also came away from the conference with new friends and partners, all focused on the work that I love.

There were about 1000 participants at the conference all focused on building communities that focus on learning, systems, and conversation. What an extraordinary experience. I could not have asked for more from a conference. Some of the personal highlights for me included Otto Scharmer, Peter Senge, Juanita Brown, David Isaacs, Nancy Margulies and her wonderful graphic work and then Van Jones who is proving that we can change the world through a focus on solutions rather than problems.

I have provided a link to The World Cafe Blog where Amy Lenzo of The World Cafe has done a wonderful job of capturing the tone and essence of the conference. I will not even try to replicate this fantastic work. I highly recommend that you go to this blog and not only review this post but sign up and participate if your love is around creating conversations that matter.

One of my personal insights was about the emerging field of work around conversational leadership, see my Conversational Leadership model that I talk to, a field that I am fully engaged in and focused on. I first defined this field of work in my paper on conversational leadership, Con versare: To Dance Together, in my last year of my masters program in late 2002. It was so gratifying to know that this field of study is begining to gain some recognition.

Pegasus has another conference scheduled for next year in Boston on November 17-19, titled Systems Thinking in Action, a conference I will surly attend.

I wish you the best and keep the conversations going.

John

The role of conversation in change

As I have been moving into a new position in a new organization, I have been considering the role of conversation in creating positive partnerships. My role is leadership development and as I work with a team of 95 leaders, the frequency, tone, and content of the conversations that I have with my team creates the relationship that I have going forward. Needless to say, trust and rapport is the cornerstone of these relationships and trust and rapport will not happen without conversation.

I have noticed that it is very easy for both me and my internal customers to focus on tasks and forget that the power of leadership comes from being in conversation. Executing tasks is important but will not create a world class organization. So much of my work is involved in creating conversations around questions that drive performance improvement. The relationships that my leadership team have with their team members and the quality of their conversations determine the performance of their operating units. There is a direct relationship between the quality of conversations and the performance and sustainable of performance of the operating unit. Those in leadership who shy away from conversations struggle in performance where those who are in continuous conversation with their team members, have reduced attrition and higher performance.

So the notion that I am exploring is how to reinforce conversation as a leadership practice. How do we create the rewards, feedback loops, and reinforcement that will not only encourage conversation as a leadership practice, but insure that it is happening? My work in the near future will be focused on driving conversation into our culture with the intent to create sustainable performance improvement and substantially reduce attrition of our quality team members.

Conversation and performance appraisals

I copied this post from a forum entry that I made in the Harvard business school working knowledge newsletter. The topic is performance appraisals. You can see the whole topic at http://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/5563.html.

In a perfect world we would talk to each other. Simple, respectful, daily conversations. Have conversations about performance, goals, expectations, rewards, recognition, and about individuals as people. If we all did this, appraisals would not be so traumatic for managers. I suspect that those who in this forum have indicated that they embrace performance appraisals also talk with their team members, not once a year but daily. I too do just that; continuously talk with my team members so that they always know where they stand and where they can improve.

With that said, I seem to remember, maybe someone here can quote the statistics, that 85% of managers do not discipline employees because they do not like confrontation. If that is the case, 85% of managers will always have a hard time with performance appraisals. If this is indeed the case, we can not as managers and leaders simply expect that everyone will jump on the performance appraisal bandwagon. So what do we do?

I like tools and processes to help managers focus on team member’s development. We also might consider aligning our expectations of our managers with their rewards so that they are rewarded for and focus on the development of their people rather than solely focus on management tasks. Add coaching and training in performance appraisals and combine with processes and tools to help with the performance appraisal process and we just might help all managers become effective in the process.

Forced ranking is quite another thing altogether. It is a tool and a process so it does help facilitate the performance appraisal system. In a perfect world it would be unnecessary I believe. I am uncomfortable with the process because it seems like a substitute for regular conversations…an easy way out. I have seen other performance appraisal tools and processes that are robust, easy to use, aligned with corporate goals and objectives, and are effective without forced ranking. So for now I am a bit ambivalent about forced ranking.

Untying financial increases from the performance appraisal is one way to create a less threatening environment for managers. Tie financial increases to enterprise and/or team performance with a component of personal performance. Tie to skill, competency, or education improvement. There are several ways to go about this. Probably a matrix approach would be best. Just as with executive compensation, if you reward only on one dimension, you will see all decisions skewed in that one direction. If the rewards are balanced and are designed to drive fulfillment of the goals, objectives, values, and vision of the organization, the negative stress created by out of alignment expectations and rewards will be greatly reduced.

I was asked today how I would handle a disciplinary issue with an employee

I thought about this question for a few moments. Do I use a formula? Do I have specific steps that I have memorized? What do I do? I have a conversation with the employee, plain and simple. We sit down for a respectful conversation and I explore what I could be doing to help this person succeed. Do they need more resources to excel at their work? Do they have roadblocks in the way of doing an exceptional job? Have I provided clear and unambiguous expectations? Does this person know what success looks like? Only after exploring a variety of issues, all of which I have control over, do I then explore what the employee brings to the table as far as baggage. And what kind of baggage am I looking for? Willingness and ableness to do the work assigned. If a person is willing and able, I can teach them to be successful at almost anything. But none of this happens without simply sitting down and talking.

Just think how you feel when you are called into someone’s office that has the power to remove you from your position? Regardless of how you feel personally about the person, the person does have this power over you. If they threaten and attack you, my guess is that you close down, don’t listen, or if you do listen, you are fuming. You are investing all of your energy guarding, defending, protecting, and maintaining. There will be no resolution. And of course this person who has power over you is absolutely not accountable for their decisions and actions. It is all your fault. I would love to be inside your heart right now and feel what you are feeling. My guess is that you have relived situations just like this.

Now imagine this same person asking you to sit down for a respectful conversation. You talk, he/she asks questions, understanding develops, and learning happens. You both explore your part in the issue at hand. No ego driving the process just a sincere desire to establish understanding and a resolution that will be shared and actually work. Good for the people and good for the enterprise. This is what conversation is all about.

Create learning conversations with your team members and build respectful relationships. Happy conversations.

John

Self management and leading change through conversation

How many change efforts fail due to a lack of communication? In Kotters book, Leading Change, he talks about not being able to over communicate. And this does not simply mean sending out memos and directives, this means talking with people at all levels of the organization. Asking questions, listening, sharing ideas, and engaging with team members, in other words being in conversation with others. This is how we learn and create change. This is how we can change the world and create healing in our communities.

It is always a frustration to me that so many people who call themselves leaders, refuse to talk with others. They may have their small circle of elite supporters, but they are not out engaging with the community. I have not fully figured out what the problem is. Are they so insecure that they are afraid to find that others might disagree with them? Is it simply easier to bark orders and demand action? Certainly if one explores leaders from around the world and in any type of community, one will find that the great leaders engage with the people in the community. Their leadership may come in many styles, but more importantly, conversation is what they do share in common.

There was a recent series of answers to a question posed in the Harvard Business Review Working Knowledge posed by James Heskett, Are We Ready for Self-Management? As Jim says in his summary, the predominant reactions to notions of self-management explored in this month’s column could perhaps be described best by two words, “enthusiasm” and “skepticism.” He used my comment to sum up the thoughts of many:

But John Inman’s comments suggested a concern that was more strongly voiced by others, when he commented that “if you are a command and control manager… keep away from self-management… However, if you can ask and not tell, engage people in learning conversations, coach, develop, and create a clear picture of the result, you probably will be thrilled with the result…”

The ability to drive self management is driven by the ability to be in conversation with team members. See the full treatment on this topic at http://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/5507.html#forum-summary.

Keep up the conversations.

John

Does an e-mail substitute for a conversation?

This happens to be a major frustration of mine. Rather than a meaningful face to face or over the phone conversation, people launch a cryptic e-mail. And many times this e-mail is not respectful or considerate. I happen to be one of those odd people who will always return an e-mail or a voice mail and only on rare occasions do I flake out. However it has gotten to the point that I actually send people thank you e-mails or voice mails for actually responding to me. What has happened to courtesy in our relationships? Are we really so very busy that others are of no importance? What I of course would far rather see all too often is someone walk down the hall and talk with me directly. Far less misunderstandings etc. And we build relationships and we learn and we build trust and we actually save lots of time.

So here is John’s rule for communication. If it is only data or something that must be documented, or distance or time zones are an issue, then an e-mail will do. If it is at all important or urgent, at the very least launch a voice mail. But if distances or time zones are not an issue, stand up and go talk with the person.

So what are your pet peeves on communication and where does conversation play a role for you? Have great conversations this week.

John