Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Effective Leadership Skills

Nothing in life is neutral. Organizations are based on relationships, and most relationships involve positional power.Think about your workplace. Think about your team. What Vital Conversations can you introduce to create a stronger WE-centric workplace? The following are a list of topics that represent the most powerful dynamics at play in a team seeking to work together towards a common goal. When teams learn to have conversations about these vital dynamics, and learn to build rules of engagement to handle them, they are on their way to becoming a powerful team able to tackle every challenge interdependently.

Let’s explore these potential navigational obstacles – sometimes they are “perceived obstacles” and sometimes they are “real.” As you read, imagine how you might introduce these topics for discussion into your next meeting, project or team engagement. Having conversations openly about how we perceive our challenges, enables us to surface our fears and deal with them head on: these are called Vial Conversations.
  1. Power
  2. Attachment to being right
  3. Old grooves
  4. Fear
  5. Groupthink


Nothing in life is neutral. Organizations are based on relationships, and most relationships involve positional power. Most decision-making involves power and what we often fear most is that someone will use their power in abusive ways. We don’t open up when we feel that we will encounter and engage with other powerful people who have their own self-interest in mind. In environments where acquisitions and mergers are commonplace, or restructuring and re-engineering are day-to-day activities, we often revert to our self-protective behaviors to ensure that in the end we will hold a position of value. Any shift in relationships offers the possibility that someone might be demoted or even fired. It makes sense. Too often changes and reorganizations begin with a “housecleaning.” It’s no wonder when change is afoot that colleagues are concerned about losing rank and power.

Question: What Vital Conversations can you encourage colleagues to have with you to reduce the threat of positional power and create an openness in your communication and opportunities for learnng, growth, and nourishment?

Attachment to Being Right

Under stress, and in the face of dramatic business challenges, we want to have answers; we want to be right about what we believe. We want a feeling of safety and security. We want to live in our Comfort Zones. Yet, this is rarely possible. When we are attached to being right, we defend our point of view. We are not open to learning. We are persuading. We are influencing with a push energy, and most often colleagues will push back. Sometimes our desire to be right accelerates to such a level that we want to be right at all cost, even if it means losing a relationship. Being right provides false confidence in the face of complexity and ambiguity. When we are “all knowing,” we feel superior over others. Sometimes, in the spirit of being right, we explicitly prove others wrong.

Question: What Vital Conversations can you encouarge colleagues to have with you to reduce the negative impact of “righteousness” and the need to be right? How will this positively impact your relationships with others, build trust and openness, and create opportunites for learning, growth, and nourishment?

Old Grooves

When we undergo major changes in our strategies, our direction, and our ability to address marketplace competition, our brain reverts to a default setting. That means that we fall back into old familiar habits and behavior patterns. We are not open to change; we are not open to thinking about new strategies. We close down and fall into the old, worn grooves that feel good—where comfort in the known feels more desirable than facing the challenges of the unknown. When we face rapid change and marketplace shifts, our fear of not having the answers causes unsettling feelings. Human beings have trouble staying open to leaning new things. We want quick answers, and we want closure. Staying open pushes us out of our Comfort Zones. Old grooves are comforting. However, these well-worn, habitual practices, while consistent with the past, are often not right for the future. Old ways of approaching new challenges can undermine success in new ventures.

Question: What Vital Conversations can you encourage colleagues to have with you to reduce the negative impact of old grooves, growth, and nourishment?


Fear causes us to default to our self-protective behaviors. It is not reality that triggers this response, but the “feared implications” of an imagined unfriendly future reality. Feared implications are the often hidden concerns that we all have about how any change in the organization might negatively impact us. They are hidden because they are implications we are generally afraid to discuss. Example: “If they sell our division, I’ll lose my job.” Or, “If I don’t make the cut, I’ll be demoted.”

Sometimes, these are issues we are not comfortable sharing with others, such as feared implications about the motivations and behavior of our boss: “My boss is a jerk. He’s so insensitive. He’s arrogant and doesn’t care about anyone but himself.” In reality, once we learn how to create safe environments in which we can openly share these fears and concerns, we can do something about them. Discussing them openly is the key to change!

There are other types of protective behaviors that hold us back:

- Fear of giving up control
- Fear of success
- Fear of failure
- Fear of the future
- Fear that nothing will really change

Question: What Vital Conversations can you encourage colleagues to have with you to turn fears into possibilities and create opportunities for learning, growth, and nourishment?


While research suggests that team decisions are formulated on better judgments than those made by individuals, this is not always the case. When Groupthink is at work, the group may limit its wisdom and make misguided, wrong decisions. It is a process for gaining consensus at all cost. While Groupthink may sound like it’s a positive process for getting everyone onboard, it really is not. It’s actually a covert process for, in some cases, strongly intimidating those with different opinions to cave in and agree with the majority. On the surface, Groupthink appeals to our notions of WE-centricity; however, it is a different animal altogether—it is I-centricity disguised as a WE!

Groupthink has a metalanguage, or a hidden line of communication among the team, that suggests “you better go along with what the top dog, the boss, or the company wants” or you will be rejected from the group. Groupthink sets the norm of compliance in place and limits innovative thinking, pushback, and challenging conversations.

Groupthink also forces convergent thinking, which limits exploration, closes down options, and hides inconsistent data from the group’s review. Since groups often seek consensus, those individuals with differing points of view often feel like they need to abandon their divergent ideas for fear they will be rejected by their peers. And because such rejection can go beyond the ideas themselves to personal rejection, we often don’t risk opening up. Sometimes good ideas are squelched well before the important gems surface.

Groupthink screens out some of the most important data that could prompt a new course of action. When pressured by time, judgmental postures, and a few powerful talkers, the group literally stops thinking together and adopts a singular course. By eliminating the potential conflict, the group might also eliminate the higher truth.

Groupthink forces out novel contributions, conflicting ideas, and unique participation, often at great expense of a forced decision. It causes premature closure and convergent thinking, and it can have a negative impact on the quality of decisions. Handled properly, however, a divergent group process can help a team keep minds open long enough to spark breakthroughs in thinking. This is the challenge—and the opportunity—in group decision-making.

Question: What Vital Conversations can you encouarge colleagues to have with you to reduce the negative impact of Groupthink and create opportunities for opening up to learning, growth, and nourishment?

How Fear Closes Down Organizational Space

In the face of group pressure, telling the truth, speaking up, and holding a different point of view takes courage. Encouraging positive pushback and courageous vital conversations enables colleagues to break the Code of Silence, mitigates against fear, and creates a platform for building team success.

WE-aving It All Together

When given a choice, most of us would prefer to create positive change rather than inhibit it. At the same time, our instinct to protect our territory and be fearful of the enemy are triggered when potential changes are contemplated. The natural fear of the negative impact of change (i.e., “I may lose my job”) often triggers fear and the perception that “something is being done to me that I won’t like.” The unintended consequences of these fears are a cycle of behavioral posturing that turns into resistance to change. Why? Because these dynamics create power-over rather than power-with relationships.

The healthiest state of being is when we feel vital. Vital Conversations are power-with conversations where both parties agree to face their biggest challenges head on, agree to be open to influence, and agree to work the difficult issues without letting fear erode their relationship. It’s easier to say that it’s someone else’s fault than it is to work through the dynamics and have the kind of discussions to get to the heart of a problem. In many companies that are experiencing growth and cultural challenges, the essence of the problem stems from fear of speaking up in the face of authority—the fear of opening up and getting pushback. Vital Conversations enable us to create safe spaces for greatness to emerge.

In many cases, people are afraid to push back in the face of five powerful dynamics in the culture. When you make these dynamics visible, you help remove the stigma of pushback and enable people to open up and take risks with one another that release positive energy into the environment.

 Judith E. Glaser is the Author of two best selling business books:

Creating WE: Change I-Thinking to We-Thinking & Build a Healthy Thriving Organization - winner of the Bronze Award in the Leadership Category of the 2008 Axiom Business Book Awards, and The DNA of Leadership; and the DVD and Workshop titled The Leadership Secret of Gregory Goose

Contact: 212-307-4386

1 comment:

lisamarieelliott said...

Thanks so much for the post, very helpful info.