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Why is straight talk so difficult?

I was coaching two entrepreneurs who were partners in a services business. They were very good at what they did and their partnership made them a lot of money and afforded them great market brand and reputation.

However, they had very different personalities and they had an acrimonious relationship for a long time.

Even though their teams had to work closely together, somehow the two managed to navigate the business conversations and activities while staying clear of the need to directly deal with each other on a personal level.

They continued to avoid dealing with their personal conflicts, lack of trust and overall contentious relationship, even though it negatively affected the people under them, as well as the overall effectiveness of their company.

When I talked with each of them alone, they always had lots of blunt criticism and negative comments about each other. But, when the three of us had sessions together, their accusations always seemed watered down. They were not communicating in a straightforward, bold and honest way.

Every time one of them criticized the other I would first ask them, “Have you told your partner how you feel and what you want/need?” and if the answer was “No!”, as it often was, I coached them to go do so.

On several occasions when one of them would report: “We had a blunt conversation and I told my partner exactly how I feel and what I want,” the other would contradict the story and say: “We talked but we didn’t discuss anything new.”

I see this type of dynamic happening in organizations all the time. People can engage in straight talk with me, but then they water it down when they talk to the person with whom they need to have the blunt and direct conversation.

Why does this happen?

From my experience, it is due to one of the following reasons:

  •  People are not clear about what they want to say. When people speak in circles or stumble on words, or when they don’t know which words to use or how to phrase what they mean it is simply because they don’t know what they want to say. Many times, people enter conversations feeling confident about what they want to say but then during the conversation, they realize their thoughts are still half-baked and unclear. People are also unclear when they haven’t quite taken a solid, final stand on something yet. I have seen this happen many times. The minute people become clear about what they believe and want, they always find an appropriate and effective way to say it.

 

  • People are not willing to own what they have to say. They are not willing to own the tough feedback, coaching, assessment or requests they have of others. This may seem a bit simplistic, however, if you net it out, I find that it all somehow boils down to courage. Having the courage to either dig deep and be clear about what we want to achieve and what we want to say, or actually coming out with it even if it may be uncomfortable to the person expressing or the person receiving.

So, next time you find yourself stuck in a conversation ask yourself: “Am I really clear about what I am trying to say?” or “Am I avoiding owning what I have to say?” This will help you move forward.

Even senior executives need to build their team

True Story: I was coaching a senior executive – fictional name: George – who is the head of a big division in a global technology company and he was expressing his frustration about the fact that his direct reports, who are also senior executives, were not gelling together as a team the way he needed them to and the way he expected and hoped they would.

George’s organization went through significant changes in the last year because he was asked to take on an expanded mandate of running one of the key growth areas of the company. As a result, he ended up with a brand new team that was larger than what he had before. He also inherited a senior leadership team that was comprised of more senior executives than he had before.

Being senior executives, each of George’s direct leaders had a sizable organization, budget and mandate in their own right. His leaders were also a collection of highly opinionated people who had type-A personalities and didn’t like to collaborate, share or allow others to interfere with their businesses or organizations.

But, they were all seasoned executives who knew how to play the corporate political game. In leadership team meetings, they all said the right things. However, after the meetings ended, they often paid lip service to what the team agreed to and each went on his or her merry way to do things the way they wanted.

When the leaders had issues with each other, they would come to George and complain to him about their peers, rather than engaging in courageous conversations with their teammates to address and resolve conflicts and issues.

George was not alone in his frustrations and predicament. I have supported many other senior executives with the same challenges and dilemmas.

What I have noticed is that senior executives tend to have a paradigm about their leadership team to the effect of: because their leaders are senior, they should work together more effectively to resolve issues between them. In fact, they are capable of becoming a team by themselves, without needing the help of their senior leader.

Because of this view, many senior executives tend to adopt a management style in which they do not spend enough time with their leaders. Their logic assumes, “their leaders are highly paid senior executives, hence, they don’t need hand holding.” This assumption leads them to leave their direct reports to deal with conflicts, challenges and issues–many of which stem from bigger organizational design issues–by themselves, while they deal with the higher level things.

This paradigm is fundamentally flawed and a big mistake. I have seen it weaken teams many times.

Why?

People are always people and teams are always teams, no matter how senior they are. A team always needs to have a leader whose role is to unify and inspire the members around a common platform and purpose.

In fact, one could make the case that the more senior the executives are, the more crucial it is to build the leadership team as a real team. Senior leaders tend to like their silod independence, even if it comes at the expense of the collective effectiveness of the larger organization. So, without a deliberate and focused effort by their senior leader to gel them as a team, they would happily continue to work on their area and avoid dealing with the conflicts, challenges and issues with their peers.

Yes, creating a dynamic in a team where the leaders are running the day-to-day operations of the business, as well as dealing with conflict and issues among themselves without needing their senior leader to baby sit them and mediate between them is a desirable state. However, if a leaders wants to create that reality they must first spend enough time in collective leadership team meetings and one-on-one coaching and development sessions with their leaders in order to ensure that their team has the right level of collective trust, cohesion, communication and team spirit to work more independently as a strong unit and take the game to the next level.

The role of a leader is always to build their team. At all levels! This is something they must never outsource to others or neglect.

4 Steps to ensure mergers and/or acquisitions fulfill their purpose

I often work with organizations and teams that are going through, or have gone through, internal or external merger or acquisition.

Unfortunately, it is a known fact that most mergers or acquisitions fail to fulfill their desired or anticipated potential. I read a statistic, which stated that the archives of the Wall Street Journal show that upwards of 80 percent of mergers and acquisitions fail to fulfill the strategic goals that justified the merger and/or acquisition within the expected timeframe. In many cases, the resulting organizations are less effective and less successful than the original two by themselves.

My personal experience and observation have led me to believe that this failure is due to the fact that most teams and organizations don’t invest enough time and effort in the cultural, personal and human aspects of their integration. Rather, they focus almost exclusively on the content and process and they often end up with a well articulated plan that is disconnected from the actual reality.

I have supported many integration efforts and I have found that there are four specific steps that any team or organization can take to ensure their merger or acquisition will work and fulfill its purpose:

1. Establish an environment where people can communicate and dialogue about the merger and/or acquisition (M&A) in an open, honest, authentic, courageous, and effective way.
● M&A efforts are often stalled or undermined because teams and organization try to quickly address the redundancies, overlaps and duplications, including the nuts and bolts of reorganizing, restructuring, and scaling inside an environment and atmosphere of mutual suspicion, guardedness, and defensiveness, as well as lack of trust, respect, and open, honest, and effective communication. Trying to do things fast often slows things down because people say all the politically correct things, but then they walk away paying lip service to the integration effort.

2. Elicit genuine ownership on both sides for the success of the M&A.
● In most M&A’s, one party feels ‘taken-over’ or victimized by the other. While this dynamic is understandable, it undermines the ability of both organizations to succeed in their integration. From the start, it is critical for the leaders to create an environment in which everyone on both sides of the aisle genuinely owns, feels committed to, and is accountable for the success of the integration process and its outcome.

3. Make sure both parties have an opportunity to complete their respective pasts in an honorable and empowering way.
● Each team or company has its own unique legacy of culture, brand name, competencies, ways of doing things, heritage and identity, which its people often feel proud of and attached to. In order to move forward into a new shared identity, people need to ‘complete their respective pasts’ – or differently said: ‘grieve for the end of an era.’ But when both sides, especially the acquired, feel respected, heard, considered, included, recognized, and validated for their legacy, it creates space for all parties to generate the next chapter as an even-greater one.

4. Align the combined teams around a new shared future and identity that embody the best of both cultures and operations.
● To create a reality where the new whole is greater than the sum of its historical parts, the two teams and organizations have to articulate and align on a new bold and compelling shared future which both parties equally own, feel committed to, accountable for, and energized about. Unifying the teams around a shared future and identity will immediately create genuine excitement and urgency on both sides to clarify, align, streamline and scale roles, functions, structures, and responsibilities. When creating the future, it is important to consider and include the positive attributes and uniqueness of each organization in order to avoid the trap of one company feeling crushed by the other.

How Great are YOU willing to be?

Maybe that seems like an odd question to ask. Who wouldn’t want to be Great?

Perhaps it’s not as straightforward as it seems.

It is my life’s goal to ignite, energize and empower people. In fact, it’s my job, and most of it is in the workplace. My work is about empowering people; reminding them of who they are and how great and able they can be. When people are empowered in the workplace, it spills over into other areas of their life – work, marriage, parenthood, family, and social circles.

But I have noticed that often people are not that eager to become empowered.  Despite what they say they don’t seem to be interested in experiencing themselves as powerful, great, resourceful, and larger than their circumstances.

The logic is clear: if they accept themselves as enabled and unstoppable, they are admitting that they have the capability to create and produce much more than they do today. Unempowered people have less opportunity in front of them, and more excuses for why they can’t do things. They experience themselves as smaller than their problems, so they always have a way out.  They do not challenge themselves to change or think beyond their comfort zone. This is an easier and safer way to live. If they become empowered, if they begin living courageously, they have to bring innovation and resourcefulness to all aspects of their life. This could be scary.

However, the cost of staying unempowered is dear.  Self expression and confidence are eroded. And there is a constant feeling that “maybe I am missing something. Maybe I’m not living to my full potential.”

By simply confronting the benefits and costs of living unempowered, people regain their ability to choose. They begin to see that it is possible to choose courageous living, and to regain their self-expression.

Are you afraid to fully express yourself? Are you willing to choose empowerment?

How great are YOU willing to be?