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Are you balancing the long term and short term?

Most teams and companies do a poor job balancing the short term and long term focus. I see this without exception in most sectors and regions.

People say all the right things about how important it is to focus on the long term. They say things like: “Markets are changing,” “Customers are asking to consume new things in new ways,” “Technologies have advanced and it requires us to advance too,” and “We need to incubate new ideas and the next generation’s products and services.”

They even say things like: “We need to invest in order to make money and grow,” “We need to be prepared to sacrifice some of our short-term in order to gain the benefits of the long-term,” and the ultimate:  “Our future success depends on it.”

However, in reality, they manage things in a very short-term perspective, focus, thinking, and mindset. Furthermore, they judge and rate the health and success of their business based on short-term performance, events, and results and they react to circumstances based on short-term successes or failures.

Leaders and managers often tell me things like: “We say we should be willing to sacrifice our short-term for our long-term, but instead we keep sacrificing our long-term for our short-term.”

For example, if they had a bad month in terms of performance, they stop longer-term initiatives or put them on alert or hold, and they hesitate to invest in and green-light new initiatives. If they had a good month, they tend to let things continue.

The whole point of having a vision and strategy is to provide teams with a framework and context for thinking about the longer-term future of their business. A good strategy for the future should make people comfortable about setting priorities, as well as making choices, decisions, and tradeoffs in the short-term.

An effective strategy also provides teams and leaders with the courage and confidence to invest in a desirable future that they have outlined and articulated in advance, even when, perhaps especially when they have some turbulence and inconsistencies in their short-term performance.

However, it seems that even teams and companies who have a sound strategy have a tough time trusting it, relying on it, and using it to empower themselves to better juggle their long-term and short-term initiatives.

How is your team doing in this regard?

Five Necessary Areas of Improvement for Your Team

Any organization is a mirror image of its leaders and leadership team. If the leaders operate among themselves with strong and genuine trust, unity, communication and ownership, these characteristics will naturally cascade through the veins of the organization and internalize in its culture and DNA.

However, if the leaders run their organizations and functions as individual silos, rather than a unified team, their people will follow suit.

And, if they have trust issues among themselves or if they are the source of negative, passive aggressive, victimizing or blaming behaviors the same issues will inculcate throughout their teams and the overall organization.

Even if leaders say all the politically correct things in public, their people will watch their behaviors, pick up on subtle remarks and body language, and everyone will line up accordingly.

I often tell the leaders I work with, “Your employees can’t hear what you are saying because they are too busy watching how you are behaving.”

When describing their teams, leaders often make sure to tell me, “We really like each other and enjoy spending time together.” However, when I dig deeper I often find the same dysfunctional dynamics in teams were members like each other that exist in teams that dislike each other. They lack trust, transparency, alignment and courage to have the tough conversations and hold each other to account. In other words, the source of team dysfunctionality is not solely a function of personal likes and dislikes.

There is no doubt that every team is unique and different. The team’s internal culture and dynamic greatly depends on its leaders. It is also influenced by external factors like the type of industry and market conditions.

However, from having coached and worked with hundreds of teams and many thousands of executives, managers and employees, I have seen that there are some fundamental similarities between teams across the board, independent of circumstances.

People often ask me to rate their team’s effectiveness or lack thereof in comparison with the wider universe of teams in their own company, industry and wider Corporate America.

By the nature of the beast, there seem to always be certain areas all teams need to pay attention to if they want to be effective. While some teams have bigger areas of gap in comparison with other teams, there seem to be some common areas that all teams need to improve. I put these areas in five categories:

 

  1. Boldness & Courage – Most teams are not bold, authentic and courageous enough. Instead, they are too cautious and politically correct in their interactions, communications and behaviors.

 

  1. Cohesion & Alignment – Most teams talk a lot about teamwork, cohesion and alignment. However, in reality, leaders, managers and employees think and operate too often in silos, they tend to promote their own priorities and agendas, especially in scarce times and, in reality, people don’t stand in the good of the whole first, even if it is the right thing to do.

 

  1. Ownership & Accountability – Ownership and Accountability are another two of the noble corporate jargons to which people often only pay lip service. Instead of ownership and accountability, people at all levels tend to buy into circumstances a lot, and there is too much excusing, blaming and finger pointing across the board.

 

  1. Creativity & Innovation – In so many teams, people seem to be frustrated about the lack of creativity and innovation. Often, the leaders and managers with the most seniority and experience are the ones most stuck in the past and unwilling to embrace new ideas and ways of doing things. As a result, in most teams, people don’t do a good job challenging the status quo, thinking outside the box and bringing innovation and future-based thinking to the table.

 

  1. Passion & Energy – High energy and passion are missing in most teams. It is not uncommon for team members to struggle to feel inspired and energized. It’s not that people are depressed. However, most people who have been around for a while tend to adopt a more skeptical and resigned outlook. They may think of themselves as “realistic” or “pragmatic”, however, when push comes to shove, most will opt for self-preservation rather than rocking the boat to get things done, even if that is more exciting.

Obviously, not all teams are the same. A few teams stand out because they are strong across the board. Some teams are dysfunctional across all areas. However, most teams are a mix bag of these gaps.

You should self reflect on your own team and determine: How could my team improve?

Photo via http://www.123rf.com/

Why is Leadership so important NOW?

In today’s market environment, thriving and struggling businesses alike seem to be experiencing increasing challenges in competitive, economic and market conditions.

In these times when the business opportunities and challenges are bountiful and the tangible material and physical resources such as budgets, expenses, resources and travel are scarce, most leaders I speak to seem to feel a growing need to unleash and promote the intangible assets. They seek to boost the mental and leadership energy, creativity, ownership and resourcefulness of individuals and the team as a whole.

Leaders often talk about the fact that in today’s environment “the only constant is change.” In this environment, any team weaknesses or dysfunctionalities that could have been avoided or overlooked in stable times can’t be ignored. Obstacles to success must be addressed and fixed in challenging times in order for the team to work at its full potential.

Unfortunately, most individuals and teams in organizations are quite reactive to circumstances, so when things are going well, they feel strong, empowered and focused. But when there is a lot of change and/or circumstances make a turn for the worst – they often lose their cool confidence and inner balance and get into an individual and collective funk.

The longer circumstances stay challenging, the worse morale and confidence usually get. This eventually affects performance and results in a negative way. I am seeing this happen in many companies.

It gets worse when people listen to the media and hear stations like CNN constantly bombarding the screen with gloom and doom. And, the more people hear about companies who are laying off people, the worse this morale and confidence downward spiral gets.

This vicious circle is avoidable when people and teams have the right leadership mindset and competency to self-generate their own attitudes and mindsets, no matter what the circumstances are.

In my last blog I quoted Alan Kay who said “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.”

Can you imagine the possibilities any team could generate when its entire workforce genuinely believes that “no matter what the circumstances are – we can invent our future and control our own destiny?”

Thinking and behaving in this way allows people to own their thoughts, behaviors and actions. It equips and empowers everyone to catch and stop the negative, disempowering and fear-based or stress-based feelings and conversations before they take over. People then can turn a negative dynamic and atmosphere into a more positive, productive and energizing one.

The notion of inventing the future allows people to stay centered and focused when things are turbulent around them.

When people understand the power associated with inventing the future rather than merely reacting to it, they start creating exciting objectives, projects, milestones and events to work on in the present. This creates even greater possibilities to look forward to in the future.

Unfortunately, I still see many team environments in which circumstances are challenging and victim-mentality becomes accepted and rampant. In these situations, people excuse and justify poor performance and low morale.

However, when the entire team is in that same positive, proactive and self-generative mindset, people go out of their way to support, empower and encourage each other to go beyond and behave in an un-circumstantial, un-stoppable way. I have actually seen teams that have used these phrases as mantra’s to become a high performance team.

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.

Ownership: The Key to Transforming Your Team or Organization

Transforming the culture of an organization or team is not easy. It is a long-term process. It doesn’t happen overnight. And, typically, it is not a smooth ride. There are ups and downs, moments of excitement, feelings of progress and success, as well as moments of frustration that things are not moving fast enough or not at all.

There are three typical phases in any transformational process: (1) creation and launch, (2) concentrated effort and execution, and (3) momentum and breakthrough.

The first phase of creation and launch is the easiest phase of the process and typically very energizing. In this phase, people envision and commit to a compelling future state for their organization and/or team, and everyone is excited and hopeful about achieving a great vision.

The second phase of concentrated effort and execution is the hardest and most challenging phase of any transformation journey. In this phase, people have to work hard to start achieving the objectives they took on in the creation and launch phase, while at the same time continue to run their day-to-day business. So, in this phase, people have to manage two jobs – creating the new future AND maintaining the existing. Juggling these two worlds requires foresight, vision and stance.

It actually becomes even more challenging – in the second phase people have to put their heads down and execute on what they took on in phase one, and it usually takes time before they can see the fruits of their labor. I often refer to it as putting in 10 units of effort in order to get 1 unit of progress/results. So, you can appreciate why people need to keep believing and operating with their future state in mind.

Think of it through the “caterpillar-to-butterfly” analogy. In phase one, the caterpillar gets excited about the prospect of being a butterfly who is free to roam with no restrictions. Then, in the second phase, the caterpillar finds himself inside the cocoon and suddenly life doesn’t look as exciting as it did in phase one. In fact, any normal caterpillar can become discouraged quite quickly about the whole butterfly idea. Suddenly, becoming a butterfly seems much less achievable and attractive than before.

This is exactly the emotional roller coaster organizations and teams go through in their transformation process – especially in the second phase.

Here is an example: I was working with a large service company on their transformation. They wanted to take their culture, performance and results to a new level. In phase one, they created a very powerful and exciting future vision and strategy that everyone felt genuinely excited about. Their strategy included initiatives that were designed to change the game in key areas that were important to them.

Then it was time to execute on these new initiatives and it wasn’t easy at all. Every time I would come to the organization for coaching sessions people would stop me in the hallways to brief me on how things were going.

I was getting two different types of reports from different people – some would pull me into their office to tell me how well things were going. Others stopped me to complain and tell me how badly things were going.

Many of the people who were complaining to me about the process seemed to be telling me that “my program wasn’t working.”

This mindset of reduced ownership for the change is very typical in phase two. The problem with thinking that the program is my program is that this is neither true nor empowering. This point of view reflects lack of ownership.

When I help an organization go to the next level, I facilitate programs to bring about change. However, I always make a point to remind people that they are not participating in my program. Rather, I am supporting them in their program. That paradigm of ownership is much more effective and empowering.

In fact, my ability to help the organization in its transformation is in direct correlation to the level of ownership the organization has toward their transformation process. So, I am constantly pushing on that aspect. The power and magic of transformation is in the ownership.

The big question of ownership for any team is: What future are you going to prove right?

It may seem an odd question at first. But, if you think about it – everyone is always proving something right, by default or by design. Either that their transformation will work and therefore is working OR that it won’t work, and therefore it isn’t working. That’s what the phrase – the game is over before it began – means.

When a team owns their process and they are out to prove that it works, they will go out of their way to figure it out. They won’t waste time complaining because that just doesn’t change anything. Think of it as “making lemonades from lemons” rather than complaining that “the lemons are so sour.”

Phase two takes time and a lot of perseverance. It’s not about perfection but about progress – continuing to drive progress and own the journey.

The third phase of momentum and breakthrough is the most rewarding phase of the transformation journey. But it only happens when the team stays the course in phase two. Unfortunately, so many teams fail in their transformational process because they simply don’t stay the course in phase two. They lack ownership, foresight and perseverance.

But, when they do, things start picking up and taking off, and in a hockey stick trend the team starts achieving momentum, results and breakthroughs beyond their expectation and imagination.

Photo by: Laura Bittner

You can have it all if you are willing to do what it takes

Someone wise once told me that there are two things that make people upset: one is that they don’t get what they want, and the other is when they do get what they want.

The first reason always made complete sense to me. I could understand from my own life experience how failing to achieve a goal or expectation could lead to upset. In fact, I have experienced a few of these in my lifetime.

But, the second scenario of being upset due to getting what we want initially seemed a bit more counterintuitive. It’s not that I didn’t or don’t understand the logic. I do. In fact, the more I have had the fortune to achieve success and growth, the more I have experienced the pains of growth, change and disruption.

If I look at some of the recent breakthroughs in my life, there were moments where I experienced them as upsets. For example: “I wanted to grow and elevate my business. Now I have more and bigger engagements. But, now I feel overwhelmed because I have too much work…” “I wanted to build a powerful social media platform, so I started writing and publishing every week. Now I am getting invited to write even more and I don’t have enough time to do it….” I guess that is why they say, “be careful what you wish for.”

I am very ambitious in my life. I want to achieve great things in all aspects of my life. I want to be wealthy, successful in my field, have an extraordinary marriage and family life, and be very healthy and fit. I am committed to having it all. In fact, I believe everyone has the ability to have this kind of life if they want.

But, what I am learning is that living a life oriented around having it all comes with tolls in the form of focus and intentionality, as well as being unreasonable, working hard and doing what it takes. It’s a very empowering price to pay for those who want this type of life. But, it is not for everyone.

For those of you who are on this same path or who want to get on this path, I want to lay out a few personal thoughts and discoveries about what is needed to achieve these ambitions.

Planning – I am finding that in order to make everything work, I have to plan my life in a much more deliberate, rigorous and sometime non-conventional manner. Often this includes setting a detailed schedule that includes specific times for when I’ll wake up, eat, exercise, spend time with my family members and go to sleep. This lifestyle is not for those who like to “go with the flow” or “be spontaneous.” People think that rigorous planning precludes spontaneity. It doesn’t. In fact, it can enhance it. When I am spending time with my wife, family members or clients, I can be fully present and engaged without worrying about things I am not doing or should be doing. Planning gives me freedom.

Team – You can’t have it all alone. You need your loved ones and professional team members on board with you. First, if you don’t they’ll likely get resentful and upset at some point when you reach the inevitable areas of turbulence and your plans are not working smoothly. This will slow or hinder your ability to have it all. Second, you need their genuine alignment, enthusiasm and collaboration to be a part of creating and living the great life you are building with and for them. Otherwise what’s the point? Thirdly, there are people in our environment who have skills that are mission critical for our well-being, happiness and success. We want to make sure they are fully engaged with us in our vision and values.

Innovation – Every time I hit a wall or obstacle, typically its something like – “I have too much work and I don’t have enough time or wherewithal to do everything” – my first reaction is suffering and upset. Then I remind myself… or to be honest often my wife reminds me…that “life is good” and the problem I am experiencing is a function of success not failure. Then I quickly start thinking about “given my vision to have it all, what new practices or structures do I need to put in place to enable me to fulfill everything I am up to?” For example: I have been traveling quite intensely in the last year so I have instituted a practice of taking my young daughter to lunch once or twice every week to have personal father-daughter time. Also, I go out with my older son every weekend for coffee for a couple of hours for father-son time. Even though these activities are planned, they are so enjoyable and all of us look forward to these every week.

Courage, as well as a positive and optimistic outlook – As you can imagine, the journey of an ambitious life isn’t always smooth and things don’t always go according to plan. In fact, sometimes it seems like things are not on track or nothing is working at all. But, I have noticed that the more I stay unconditionally focused on my vision and do my best at all times, things seem to always fall into place. It is one of these mysteries that I have learned to trust and depend on. It requires stamina for a marathon, not a sprint. And this way of living requires having faith and trusting myself, my vision and the universe (call it God if you want) to be on my side, give me luck and help me fulfill my dreams. All this requires courage to stay the course and not sell out on the important things, no matter what. I listen to my internal commitment versus the external circumstances and always look at things from a positive and optimistic point of view—especially when the immediate evidence seems otherwise.

Do you have the conditions to take your team to the next level?

When an organization or team wants to generate a bolder and more compelling future and strategy, and rapidly and powerfully take its game to the next level it has to address two dimensions: the “content” associated with the future or strategy, and the “context” associated with the future or strategy.

The content means making sure that there is a clear, precise, robust and well-structured game plan, which for most teams is in the form of a strategy or set of objectives. The leaders must ensure that everyone on the team understands the strategy in the same way.

In so many organizations and teams this seemingly simple step is not achieved in a powerful and effective way. Typically the strategy is too high level, vague or conceptual, and different team members have different ideas, interpretations, agendas and priorities about the direction, methodology and destination.

I started working with a new division of well known successful global telecommunication organization. As part of learning about this division I set up interviews with all the senior executives and a hand full of managers that report to them. One of my interview questions was “Do you have a clear vision and strategy that everyone understands, is aligned with, owns and works passionately together toward?

Most people answered “No!” And, many added with frustration or discouragement “It’s really hard to get alignment. We sit in meetings discussing our strategy about specific initiatives. We leave the meeting thinking we have agreement and then everyone goes off to their area and does what they want anyway.”

Some leaders said “Yes!” but when I asked them to elaborate on the vision or strategy, their description was either extremely watered down and high-level or there were significant discrepancies between people’s descriptions on key areas.

I see this dynamic in many successful teams and organizations.

The context means making sure there is a team dynamic – some refer to it as: culture, environment or mindset – in which everyone can truly be open, honest, authentic and courageous, and an environment in which people genuinely feel “in this together”, even if they don’t all report to the same boss, which is the case in any matrix management environment; an environment in which everyone is excited about the game and feels genuine ownership commitment and accountability toward the bigger success.

In most teams, including the most successful ones, most people feel the exact opposite way. They describe the dynamic of team communication as more cautious, calculated, politically correct and held back. Even those who feel that the team can discuss everything in an open and honest manner often add the caveat “discussions are not effective and they frequently don’t lead to concrete decisions that everyone fully own and is aligned behind.” Or “when we do make decisions we don’t track them and follow through.” These symptoms are always lagging indicators of lack of authentic ownership in the first place.

Addressing the content alone will at best produce a dynamic of unenthusiastic compliance. But often it produces frustrations, fear and resignation. This will be insufficient for achieving a new, more powerful game.

I see so many managers who ignore or are blind to the importance of building a strong context in their team. They manage their teams in a command-control style believing that if they oversee all the details rigorously they’ll eliminate the likelihood of shortfalls and ensure all the key milestones are met. This behavior comes from a paradigm of “I don’t trust my people to own the game and do whatever is needed to ensure success” And, these managers are right! Their behavior is self-fulfilling. It causes people to operate in a mode of fear, resentment and compliance. People do the minimum to get the job done but they don’t apply half their passion, commitment or resourcefulness to the game.

Attending to the context alone will also not sustain because un-channeled enthusiasm will not be productive over time. When people will realize that progress and results are not being achieved they’ll quickly become discouraged and cynical.

I worked with a general manager who was a great guy. He had great character, empathy and integrity. When he stood in front of the troops he always motivated everyone. In short, everyone loved him. But, he wasn’t able to translate his vision into action and results. So, he started to lose his credibility. After a while, people started to roll their eyes when he spoke and it wasn’t long before he was let go.

So, if you want to elevate your team to the next level you have to address both the “content” and “context” aspects associated with the new future direction or strategy you want to bring about.

Are you having the courageous conversations?

The senior leaders of a large and successful technology company wanted to improve their overall effectiveness as a team, including their communications and meeting productiveness. The leaders acknowledged that their conversations and meetings were not where not effective and that included:

(1) The short-term financial updates and immediate fire drills always took over the meeting’s agendas and the team never got to discuss the more strategic topics of opportunity and change,

(2) When the leaders did get to the discussions the same few team members always dominated the conversation and other team members felt unable to contribute,

(3) The team debated issues endlessly without reaching conclusions, alignment and decisions,

(4) Important decisions that affected everyone were made behind the scenes with the same few inner circle team members, and

(5) When the leadership team did make a collective decision (especially change-related) people often didn’t comply, follow up and/or reinforce.

The senior leaders had frustrations with, and complaints about other colleagues in the team. However, for the most part they blamed their boss, the CEO for not “making the meetings productive”, and not “empowering the senior team to make the key decisions”

Meanwhile, the CEO was frustrated because his senior leaders were not having the necessary conversations with each other. They needed to work together and behind the scenes between the meetings to confront things, resolve issues, align on strategies and plans, and hold each other to account for decisions that were made in prior meetings.

Instead, people were escalating the tough issues to him, expecting him to resolve and make the decisions, even on issues the leaders were fully capable of, and empowered to solve. As a result, people felt the meetings were a waste of time because most of the time was spent on reviewing updates and reports, confirming decisions and other mundane topics that could have easily been handled elsewhere.

In short – The leaders were simply avoiding having the courageous conversations.

I see this dynamic at all levels of seniority in most (all) organizations. People want things to change, they want more empowerment, responsibility, involvement and authority, but they are not willing to step up and have the courageous conversations with stakeholders, team members and each other.

Yes, these conversations can be messy, unpredictable and uncomfortable; they could cause tensions, conflicts and even deteriorate trust temporarily or permanently. But the cost of avoiding them – for the leaders – is not being able to provide leadership, make the difference and drive change. And, for the organization, not functioning on all cylinders.

So, how do you change this?

It starts with people owning up to their avoidance of courageous conversations. In next week’s blog I’ll share a framework that works for teams and individuals for starting to take on the courageous conversations.

I will also share the end of the story of the technology leaders and how they generated a meaningful breakthrough in their courageous conversations.

 

Stay tuned…