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Leadership House Call
POSTED AT 3:05 PM ET, 09/ 3/2009

Young and Stymied by the Boss

The Question:

After finishing my professional training a year ago, I started work for a large municipal agency. Fortunately I have a pretty good working relationship with my immediate supervisor. My challenge is that he often chooses to do things himself rather than show his staff how to do them. I think he gets so busy that when something comes up he just doesn't feel he has the time to explain it to me. I'm concerned my professional development is suffering, but I don't know how to talk to him about it. -- Young and Stymied

Dear Young and Stymied,

Regular readers of Leadership House Call might think this sounds like a broken record, but before you do anything, you need to test your assumptions. Check out your interpretation of what is happening. We find in our consulting work at Cambridge Leadership Associates that the misdiagnosis of a situation, or treating an interpretation as fact, is often at the root of failed interventions. You can get into trouble if you operate on interpretations of reality that are not shared.

It does not seem obvious to us, for example, that you have "a good working relationship" with your immediate supervisor. If everything was OK between the two of you, then why is he not delegating and why are you not able to just talk to him about it?

So, first, talk to a few of your co-workers one-on-one. Do they have the same experience with your boss? You talk as if he treats all staff in the same way, but this may not be true. It's possible, for example, that he treats all new employees this way until he understands their competencies better. Or maybe he just treats you this way. Or maybe he does treat everyone this way. The point is: You need to find out, and the place to start is with your co-workers.

Let's assume for the moment, however, that you are on target. This is the most benign interpretation: It assumes your boss's behavior has nothing to do with you personally.

If you are, in fact, open to learning, then you're in a good position to approach him directly. Share your observations about how he's often too busy to train you and see you can, together, identify a couple of small areas in which he can quickly train you. This kind of low-risk experiment may let him see that investing the time to train you may ultimately help him be more effective as well, and you'll get the mentoring and growth you're craving.

[Send your questions to leadership@washingtonpost.com or leave them in the comments section below.]

BY Cambridge Leadership Associates

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POSTED AT 1:07 PM ET, 08/24/2009

Leading a Dysfunctional Family Foundation

The Question:

I'm a newly appointed executive director for a medium-sized family foundation, and I am having a hard time making meaningful changes to the foundation's antiquated programs. The family is content doing things the way they have always been done, but I know the non-profit sector is changing rapidly and that our money has the potential to achieve a lot more. Also, this family's personal issues take up a lot of energy at our board meetings and shape many of the foundation's major decisions.

I want to lead this foundation, but any changes I attempt to implement are bogged down by old patterns and the family dynamic. How can I help the family members make decisions in the best interest of the foundation, and not themselves? -- Enmeshed Executive Director

Dear Enmeshed Executive Director,

You are in the middle of it, for sure. Family foundations often become arenas for playing out deep-seated generational and political issues within the tribe.

But don't leap to the conclusion that the foundation is dysfunctional. Our colleague Jeff Lawrence quips that there is no such thing as a dysfunctional organization because every organization is perfectly aligned to get the result is it currently getting. Your employer family might prefer to have a less effective family foundation that embodies all those unresolved family issues, rather than go through the risk and pain of working out those issues around the dinner table or in a therapist's office.

The first question for you is: How well situated are you to resolve the challenges holding the foundation back? It's a tricky business. An otherwise deeply fractured group can unite in opposition to someone who is raising difficult issues they would prefer to leave unaddressed. Do you have a contract? How about a substantial severance package? Are there good alternatives if you should lose the job?

If you do feel secure enough, then you might structure a process to address these deeply rooted issues. But beware: Once you let the family genie out of the bottle, you will not be able to control the outcome. The results may not be to your liking, either personally or in terms of the direction of the foundation.

A safer alternative might be to use your arrival -- a new beginning -- as an excuse to get some "objective" outside help on the family issues that seem to be constraining the organization's effectiveness. And, by the way, you need to treat your interpretation of things as just that -- an interpretation, not a fact.

There are lots of firms that specialize in advising family foundations and helping them work through issues that are affecting their family philanthropy. This type of consulting practice was more or less invented by our friend Peter Karoff, who started TPI, The Philanthropic Initiative, in Boston in 1989. He was trying to establish his own family foundation, and he couldn't find anyone whose business it was to help people think through these type of problems.

When and how you take initiative on this issue depends on your own formal and informal authority. The more solid your situation, the more quickly you can move. But if you are not a known commodity to the family, and you have not been specifically charged with dredging up these tough issues, then you probably need to address some low-hanging fruit before you take on, or even suggest that you hire an outside firm to take on, the challenge of these deeper issues that undermine the foundation's goals.

[Send your questions to leadership@washingtonpost.com or leave them in the comments section below.]

BY Cambridge Leadership Associates

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POSTED AT 1:23 PM ET, 08/13/2009

Reality Check: Doing More With Less?

The Question:

The messages from the top of my organization are "do more with less." I was overworked before the economic crisis hit, and now it is even worse. I don't see how it is possible to achieve this commandment and keep up a level of quality I am committed to. Also, having two kids and a wife that I want to spend time with, but also need to support, is emphasizing my need to keep this job! Leaving is not an option. -- How to stay alive, doing more with less

[Send your leadership questions to leadership@washingtonpost.com, or post them in the "comments" section below]


Dear Staying Alive:

Leadership is about making tough choices and helping others do the same. And you certainly have got some tough choices in front of you right now.

Your problem cannot be decided on the basis of a cost-benefit analysis; it is not about the facts. It is tough because at least four of your core values are in conflict: financial security for your family, time with your wife and kids, pride in the quality of your performance, and being a loyal soldier in your firm. All of those values are noble and important, but you cannot honor them all equally in this situation.

Your first step is to reality check. Make sure there are not some technical steps you could take to manage your work load better. For example, there may be some long-postponed efficiencies you could introduce that could help without costing anyone too much.

Then try and assess whether your job will really be on the line if you do not meet the "do-more-with-less" imperative. Perhaps it is more an aspiration than a performance metric and your anxiety is just raising the stakes in your own mind. But if you know deep down that your diagnosis is on target -- that you're being asked to compromise quality and work/life balance -- then proceed to step two.

Engage those around you. This is not just your decision to make in isolation. Your family, your boss, your subordinates and your peers are part of the problem, will be affected by whatever you do, and might like to be part of whatever steps you take next. Listen to them and learn from them. Get a sense of what they care about the most.

Does your boss really want you to sacrifice family time when you are under such stress? Do your wife and kids really want you there more even if it means putting your job at risk? Are your peers in the same situation? Are your subordinates feeling at the edge of their rope, or are they willing to put in even more to help the firm through this moment? Learning where they are, what they care about the most, and how they are ordering the value conflicts they are facing, will help you enrich your diagnosis of what you are up against.

Use this process to begin to get some clarity on how you prioritize those four values (and maybe others I have missed) in your current circumstance. When you have that clarity, you can begin to devise a strategy to honor your number one value. Then you can figure out what courageous conversations you need to have, what allies you need to enlist, and what experiments you need to run in order to, as best you can, honor your most deeply felt commitments.

Here's an example of how it can work in real life. I have a dear friend with four children, still in middle and high school, who recently lost his very big job (and most of his 401k.) He faced the choice of moving to another state for a job that would allow him and his family to maintain their lifestyle or staying in their community with a different lifestyle and accepting an uncertain financial future.

Not surprisingly, my friend's wife and children said they didn't want to move, no matter what. But as they all talked more about it, it became clear they had other priorities that were more important than the priority they first verbalized about staying put. Once my friend got more color on the fears and aspirations of his family, he was better poised to think about what compromises he could make.

With the help of his family, he decided to move, but as he approached his potential new employer he had more focus and attention than before. He proposed some conditions well beyond what they preferred (vacation time, retirement) but within their capacity to deliver.

It was a long and difficult process, but the effort he put in to understanding his own values and those of the other key players enabled him to devise a strategy for making progress, resolving his quandary and minimizing the losses that any one group would have to take. He never knew until it all came together that everyone would stay in the game.

No one said this would be easy. But leadership is an experimental art. Being this thoughtful and deliberate about what you are doing is painstaking work. For you, the effort up front will be worthwhile because the stakes are so high.

[Send your leadership questions to leadership@washingtonpost.com, or post them in the "comments" section below]

BY Cambridge Leadership Associates

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POSTED AT 5:08 PM ET, 07/31/2009

Stop Hating -- and Start Motivating -- Your Employees

The Question:

Q. I am a fairly new senior public manager, currently charged with increasing the performance of the people who work for me. I have repeatedly exhorted them, told them how important it is that we step it up a notch -- several notches actually -- and pushed them to do better. I have very few carrots or sticks to employ, as I did during in my previous career, which was in the private sector. I am really stymied. These folks seem addicted to complacency. -- Complacency-Addicts Manager

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Dear Complacency-Addicts Manager:

It doesn't sound like you are having a lot of fun. But your characterization of the people who work for you as "addicted to complacency" is pretty revealing, of you more than them. As long as you believe your own rhetoric you can be assured that they will resist too.

Look at it from their perspective: Your people had a good thing going, and now you are disrupting their routines. The story they are telling themselves is undoubtedly very different than your story. They do not go to bed every night thinking of themselves as complacency addicts.

Here are five possible interpretations they may be making:

(1) "We were doing fine until he came along. I take pride in being thoughtful, deliberate and competent. He wants to trade off quality for ticking off the boxes."

(2) "If he thinks he is going to move up the food chain on my back, he's got another think coming."

(3) "Managers who come from the private sector are always the worst. They don't understand public sector realities, where there are multiple, competing, and sometimes even conflicting accountability systems."

(4) "Every new boss wants to leave his fingerprints on our division. This is just another flavor of the month, and he thinks he can force us to swallow it just by yelling."

(5) "I'm a manager, too, and while I may not always squeeze the last ounce of performance out of my people, I am empathetic. We are like a family, and we take care of each other."

My guess is that there are factions in this your unit telling themselves each of these stories and maybe some others as well.

So, begin by dropping the "complacency addict" line out of your mental repertoire. Start by engaging these folks where they are, not where you are. Be curious. Listen to their stories for clues as to what they really do care about, what their most noble values are, and what they are afraid of losing. I'm not suggesting that you buy into or accept their behavior, but you do need to understand the reasons behind their resistance to you.

For example, look at story #5. The folks in that faction value personal relationships. They want you to care about them as people, not just as performance engines. They want to be treated more humanely. Learn about their families. Celebrate their birthdays and other memorable occasions. The flavor-of-the-month faction (story #4) wants to play a role in the design and development of the new workforce culture. By working with them, you may have to sacrifice some of what you want, but you will undermine their resistance.

Next, look for allies. They may be few and far between, but you don't need many. They are probably afraid to support you because they fear being ostracized by their resistant colleagues. Work with them. Protect them. Validate them. And reward their hard work in any way you can, even perhaps by expending some of your political capital or hard-earned actual capital.

The point here is that haranguing the resisters from your moral high ground will not work. They think they are on moral high ground as well. It is not about the merits. It is about their fear that the future you want will not be as good for them as the past has been. And for some of them, they may well be right. There may be casualties of your productivity initiative, and how you treat them will affect whether or not their friends in the wait-and-see faction will come along. And without some effort on your part to see things from their point of view, you might become a casualty as well.

Becoming an effective leader is a slow, improvisational, experimental art. You need all the possible tools in your toolkit, not just the ones that worked for you in the past. Good luck to you -- and your employees.

[Send your leadership questions to leadership@washingtonpost.com, or post them in the "comments" section below]

BY Cambridge Leadership Associates

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POSTED AT 12:44 PM ET, 07/15/2009

Confronting Gender Bias Head-on, Part II

The Question:

I am a female in boutique consulting firm and have been working here (and promoted to middle management) for the last five years. Recently, a male -- junior to me in age -- was hired to our firm and quickly promoted to a position equal to mine. I noted from the outset his extraordinary sense of entitlement. That quality, coupled with relationships he has formed with senior males in the firm, has increased his level of responsibility and prominence. At the same time, he is--with shocking ease--delegating tasks to myself and other peers, and has gone behind my back at points to change my work as he sees fit.

While I certainly admire his sense of entitlement and think I have much to learn from it, I am frustrated by how he treats me and has accomplished his stature in the organization. How can I leverage his behavior to my advantage and grow my own sense of entitlement in a largely male atmosphere? -- Female with Seniority, but No Entitlement

[Send your leadership questions to leadership@washingtonpost.com, or post them in the "comments" section below]

Dear Female with Seniority - -Well, we certainly stirred the pot last week with our advice to you, generating lots of comments about how futile, frustrating, and foolish it would be to try to have a courageous conversation with your colleague. Lots of people have scars from trying to do the right thing by having a real conversation with someone, only to experience it as demonstrating vulnerability and giving the fellow another opportunity to take advantage of you.
It is a big, bad world out there, but leadership is about trying to make it better. And that's what we are talking about today.

Leadership requires holding optimism and realism together so that the optimism prevents the realism from turning cynical and the realism prevents the optimism from turning naïve.
But leadership also involves taking some risk. That's why we do not do it more often.

Let's assume here that your purpose is less about your own advancement and more about changing the culture of the firm so that your successors do not face the same situation that you are confronting. How would you go about doing that? How can you exercise leadership on gender equity from a middle management role?

Here are some steps you might consider if you really want to tackle systemic change.

First, get clear about your purpose. Your goal is to elevate the issue of gender equity so that it takes its place high on the firm's agenda and becomes a policy topic at the senior levels of the firm. This position maximizes the chances that your initiative will be successful and minimizes the chances that you will be marginalized for your efforts.

Second, do some reality checking. Quietly and informally, and without specific reference to your own situation, test out with a few trusted female colleagues whether your perception about gender bias squares with their experience. If your interpretation does not resonate with anyone else, you may be seeing gender bias where it does not exist, as several of the comments to last week's post suggested.

Third, marshal your facts. To the extent possible, collect data and anecdotes about the firm's performance on recruitment, retention, promotions and pay. This is culture change not a legal brief, but there will be some people in the firm, not all by any means, for whom these facts will be a necessary prerequisite to begin the work. The other relevant facts are the track record of other firms, particularly those in the same industry.

Fourth, don't go it alone. Look for partners. Women colleagues who feel the same way you do are obvious potential partners, but not particularly effective ones. They, like you, can be easily dismissed because they stand to gain if the initiative is successful. They are more useful to you in handling some of the groundwork than in being out in front. Only if you find you have touched a real nerve, and there is a groundswell of support for what you are doing, will big numbers of self-interested supporters be of value. A meeting with the CEO with 50 women is wholly different, and much more confrontational, no matter what the tone, than a meeting with five.

Here are some potential partners who may be more effective: senior authorities in the firm who have spouses or daughters who work in male-dominated environments; those spouses and daughters themselves; professional peers of those senior authorities in firms who have had a more positive record of promoting women to senior roles; clients who have high-level female leadership; young men in the firm who have spouses or girlfriends who are early in their own professional careers and/or are particularly interested in gender equity issues; and sympathetic allies in the HR department who will have access to data and current examples.

Fifth, find some way to read the senior authority on the issue. He -- and I presume it is a "he" -- will be an important player because of his role. But read him as if you were looking through him to the organization. His perspective will give you a sense of the temperature on the issue in the firm as a whole because his perspective (and his data) comes from a wider base than your own. He sees what you cannot see and hears what you cannot hear.

Sixth, begin to run some small experiments, like lunch meetings to discuss with issue, or a small committee agreeing to monitor new hiring. Figure out how to nurture or place some allies on key committees, such as recruitment and promotions. Create broader interest in the firm around key vacancies, so that those who do the hiring will feel the eyes of more people on them.

Some of these ideas, and some others, were spelled out in more detail in a book called Leveling the Playing Field we wrote with two women which focuses on gender equity in Jewish organizational life which might be helpful to you.

If you decide to take this on, we wish you well. Exercising leadership is risky activity. It is hard work. And it takes a long time. But doing so gives your life meaning and purpose beyond your own individual aggrandizement. Let us know how you are doing.

[Send your leadership questions to leadership@washingtonpost.com, or post them in the "comments" section below]

BY Cambridge Leadership Associates

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POSTED AT 11:16 AM ET, 07/ 9/2009

Confronting Gender Bias Head-On, Part I

The Question:

I am a female in boutique consulting firm and have been working here (and promoted to middle management) for the last 5 years. Recently, a male--junior to me in age--was hired to our firm and quickly promoted to a position equal to mine. I noted from the outset his extraordinary sense of entitlement. That quality, coupled with relationships he has formed with senior males in the firm, has increased his level of responsibility and prominence. At the same time, he is--with shocking ease--delegating tasks to myself and other peers, and has gone behind my back at points to change my work as he sees fit.

While I certainly admire his sense of entitlement and think I have much to learn from it, I am frustrated by how he treats me and has accomplished his stature in the organization. How can I leverage his behavior to my advantage and grow my own sense of entitlement in a largely male atmosphere? -- Female with Seniority, but No Entitlement

[Send your leadership questions to leadership@washingtonpost.com, or post them in the "comments" section below]

Dear Female with Seniority,

Thanks for the question. Is your object primarily your own professional development and advancement in the firm? Or it is about the culture and values of a firm that honors a way of being from employees that tends to be gender-biased favoring men?

These two challenges require more than just one response from our Leadership House Call authors. Leading a culture change around gender-biases from a middle manager role is very different than working to maximize your own growth and development in a less than hospitable culture. They both require diagnostic and action steps, but should be approached very differently. We'll take a look at the systemic issue of working to change the culture and values of the firm next week in part II of our response to your question. This week, we will address how to continue your own advancement and development within your firm.

On your individual challenge, you are actually off to a good start, although it may not feel that way to you. By continuing to do your day-to-day work competently while stepping back and seeing a bigger picture--what we would call Getting on the Balcony--you have already gained insights about yourself and the firm which were not obvious to you before your new colleague arrived.

You now know what behaviors are being rewarded and those that are not. Trying to be "one of the boys" is not beyond your capacity, but may well take great effort on your part, stretching you beyond your comfort zone and core skill set. In most organizations, playing by the majoritarian norms is a challenge for people in minority factions, whether those factional distinctions are about gender, race, ideology, age, work style, emotional needs, or any of the other values and characteristics that make each of us unique. Those in the minority are often risking some of their own individuality, leaving some of their uniqueness behind, in order to make progress. That's not an issue for those in the majority faction. As our friend and distinguished Harvard colleague Linda Kaboolian puts it: "the privilege of being privileged is not having to recognize your privilege."

And now, in addition to being a role model, your new colleague has presented you with a great opportunity to practice the "sense of entitlement" that you say would like to exhibit more often. Get back on the balcony and observe what is going on in your firm. Have the senior authorities authorized this individual to direct work to others or review and change the work of others? If not, and he is simply taking up this task on his own, remind yourself that you are entitled not to be delegated work from him and entitled not to have your work changed without your knowledge and consent.

While on the balcony, take a moment to see what is missing within your firm. Look out above your working relationship with this one individual, and identify if there is a place where you can be proactive and begin to act entitled to take up something new. You have an institutional knowledge having been there for the last 5 years, use that to your advantage. In your question, you revealed to us your ability to make a diagnosis from the balcony that is reflective of your actions or inactions. Use this hard-to-develop skill to thrust forward your own inaction, feel entitled, take a risk, and do something that you see your firm desperately needing.

Having a courageous conversation with him, on your terms, is your second step toward a different way of working. Tell him that you want to buy him a drink after work or get coffee with him. Begin full of admiration and respect for his rapid ascent and burgeoning profile in the firm. Then test out your hypothesis that a professional, collaborative relationship between the two of you is in the firm's best interest and will be less time consuming and more productive for all involved. If he agrees, make it clear that you will find it difficult to have that kind of a relationship unless his behavior toward you changes.

Speak candidly about whether he believes that such behavior is necessary for his star to rise and work to remain curious about why he treats you the way he has. Stick with objective data so that you can minimizing your own interpretations if you bring up past occurrences to illustrate your point. Bringing him into the diagnosing discussion about the most efficient ways of working with each other will hopefully remind him that you both are trying to achieve a common purpose, the success of the firm.

Stay tuned for the second part of our response to this question next week: How can someone in a middle-manager role confront gender-biases in the workplace? Is culture change possible?

[Send your leadership questions to leadership@washingtonpost.com, or post them in the "comments" section below]

BY Cambridge Leadership Associates

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POSTED AT 9:31 AM ET, 06/29/2009

Can You Succeed Under Poor Leadership?

The Question:

I work at an organization that has poor leadership (inconsistent communication, lack of vision, etc). Can I still succeed in my own job under these circumstances? Or is my only hope trying to effect change on the leaders above me? Or should I just leave? -- One Foot Out the Door

[Send your leadership questions to leadership@washingtonpost.com, or post them in the "comments" section below]

Dear One Foot Out the Door, It sure doesn't sound like you are having a lot of fun.

We're not clear what role you have in your organization, but our experience suggests that if you are right, and the firm is heading downhill, it will be hard for you to emerge untarnished unless your part of the enterprise is discrete and can be independently assessed. Good athletes on poor teams, like the Chicago Cubs Hall of Fame shortstop Ernie Banks, sometimes go on to great individual careers because their own performance can be observed and measured independent of how well the team as a whole is doing.

But this whole line of reasoning is pretty self-absorbed. Lack of leadership does not occur all at once or exist in a vacuum. You seem to be just about ready to throw in the towel, but before you put this experience behind you, here are three tough questions to consider:

(1) What's your piece of the mess? If you are part of the organization, no matter how much you are doing to try to make change, you are part of creating the current reality, so there must be some things you are doing, or not doing, that contribute to the lack of leadership you describe.

(2) What about your own leadership? The opportunities to exercise leadership are independent of position, not the exclusive prerogative of those at the top of the food chain. What smart risks have you taken to get the senior authorities to see what you see? What experiments have you run to try to lead change? For example, have you sought out and then mobilized potential allies?

(3) What have you learned? Why did your diagnostic skills let you down so that you did not see this coming until it was seemingly hopeless? What are your blind spots, vulnerabilities and triggers that you are now aware of so that you will not end up in this same situation somewhere else down the road?

Often seeing bad leadership in action is what motivates us to step forward and become leaders ourselves. If you work through this situation with determination and integrity, it may become a foundational moment in your own development as a leader.

[Send your leadership questions to leadership@washingtonpost.com, or post them in the "comments" section below]

BY Cambridge Leadership Associates

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POSTED AT 10:11 AM ET, 06/18/2009

Finding Optimism Amidst Layoffs

The Question:

I am the Director of Human Resources for my company, and I have been playing an active role in the layoffs that have occurred over the last eight months. I am having these difficult conversations with peers and people I have worked with for years, and it is taking a toll on me.

What's more frustrating is my other role is to keep up morale even after these layoffs have occurred. Our staff seems pretty demoralized, and to be frank, I am too. We are far away from the culture we once maintained with seeming ease. What can I do to perform my roles better? -- Demoralized

[Send your leadership questions to leadership@washingtonpost.com, or post them in the "comments" section below]

Dear Demoralized,

Sadly, your experience is shared by many others. Maintaining the morale of those who remain after layoffs is a critical priority. If your company is asking fewer people to do more, then their commitment to the organization must remain undiminished for those new roles to work. We are working with several organizations dealing with this issue, and here are some of the key points we've learned.

First, it is in your interest to make the layoff experience as positive possible for those who are losing their jobs. Allocate not only your time and attention, but also whatever transitional support you can offer, such as professional career counseling; temporary office space, phone and computer access; and continuation of some benefits beyond what is legally required. The give-me-the-keys-and-our-security-guard-will-escort-you-to-the-door approach may minimize the risk of any destructive retributive behavior, but it will cost you dearly down the road.

Expending this extra energy on lay offs is more than the right thing to do: It's a tactical advantage for you. How you treat those on their way out affects those who remain behind. You want those folks to leave those difficult conversations with you saying to their friends, "Obviously this was no fun, but the HR director made me feel like a real professional, and I think she really cares about my future."

Second, personally invest in those who remain and be a strong advocate for your organization to invest in them as well. Little things mean a lot, as the cliché goes. Buy people community lunches. Give people long weekends, maybe half days on Friday during the summer. Celebrate small wins.

Third, keep communication open so issues do not simmer under the surface. Are you on Facebook and Twitter, communicating more with people in your organization? Are you walking around more than you did before? And are you using your leverage as chief morale officer to get other Big Feet in your organization to do the same?

Fourth, look for ways to signify your belief in the future. People will look to you and other senior authorities in the organization for clues as to whether they should be optimistic. The day after GE cut their dividends for the first time since 1938, the stock hit a 10-year low. In a very real way, CEO Jeffrey Immelt showed the organization that he was investing in GE's future during this difficult time when he personally bought 50,000 shares of stock. What can you do to show you expect the organization to be thriving in the future?

Fifth, think of your job as having to exercise leadership up. The Big Feet you work with and for will be focused on the current turmoil and will have a harder time than usual thinking about the long term. They need your help remembering that if they only focus on the short term, they will only be around for the short term. They need to model the behavior they are asking from others, take some of the pain, commit to the future, and be optimistic and realistic at the same time. Your subtle prodding will help them do that.

Sixth, and finally, take care of yourself. It is easy to think of taking care of yourself as self-indulgent in the midst of the current reality, but it is even more important to the company now than ever before. Make sure you are getting enough rest, exercise, love and affection, and good food. You need to be at the top of your game. Nothing less than your best will enable you to lead your organization through these difficult times and emerge stronger individually and collectively than before the downturn took hold.

BY Cambridge Leadership Associates

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POSTED AT 3:36 PM ET, 06/ 9/2009

How To Break Down Silos and Make Collaboration Happen

The Question:

"I work in a highly technical environment, and it's hard for me to get people to pay attention to each other, as they would all much rather work alone. How do I raise enough heat in the organization to get others to consider changing how they operate and begin working together? We need a stronger organization, not a group of individuals functioning in silos." -Stronger together

[Send your leadership questions to leadership@washingtonpost.com, or post them in the "comments" section below]

One of the biggest lessons from the challenges we face right now -- from the economy to the environment -- is that optimizing the pieces does not necessarily optimize the whole. This seems to be true in your own organization, and the image that comes to mind is that of Frankenstein's monster, who has all the working parts but is not fast or agile enough to escape the dangers coming after him.

Your question, then, is the challenge of the moment: How do we get people to work outside their silos for something larger? From our consulting work, we see a difference in the resilience of those firms that are highly fragmented compared with those that are collectively engaged.

Let's assume, Stronger Together, that you do not have formal authority over everyone to make them work together. You cannot simply command them to work together. Using what influence you do have, then, how can you motivate your peers to move out of their comfortable positions and prompt those above you to also look for a solution?

The answer lies in the reality that there is no reason to do anything differently without a compelling purpose. Your task is to focus your peers, followers and superiors on a greater purpose, one that makes sense for your organization.

If you are successful, the focus of that heat will be on organizational priorities or norms and not on you as an individual raising a ruckus and trying to push people to do something uncomfortable and risky. Here are a few heat-raising questions to help move people out of their silos into collective engagement.

1. What are the risks of continuing business as usual? Most of us are well trained in evaluating the risks of taking an alternative course and not in the risks of continuing with the status quo. However, we hear over and over again that individuals find themselves out of jobs or firms go out of business after becoming complacent in the way work is done and not changing as the context changes.

2. What are your competitors doing while you sit in silos? Many of us have a competitive instinct and are very reluctant to think of ourselves as average or outdated. Putting data in front of your colleagues about how your competitors are working differently and getting better results can light the fire and encourage people to step outside their comfort zone.

3. What are the gaps between the espoused values and exhibited behaviors? Anonymous surveys are a great way to generate data on the gap between what your company externally purports and what is actually going on. Most organizations will formally state that they value collaboration, but do people actually see this happen in everyday interactions? When you have this data to start with, getting people to respond in some way is easier.

4. How are the performance objectives outdated for success? If you want people to collaborate, yet the metrics for success are based on individual performance, your company is in conflict. Changing performance objectives are a big task, but without it, your company's rewards and behavior will remain misaligned. To raise the profile of collaboration, one organization we know gives time for the most collaborative staff members to engage with the board members and brainstorm around organizational strategy.

To get people out of their silos requires both a carrot and the stick approach. The only answer is to use both to find ways to engage the hearts and minds of those you work with to do something different.

[Send your leadership questions to leadership@washingtonpost.com, or post them in the "comments" section below]

BY Cambridge Leadership Associates

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POSTED AT 10:23 AM ET, 05/29/2009

Wal-Mart in Chile: How To Be a Successful Change Leader

The Question:

On January 23, 2009, Wal-Mart became a 58% owner of D&S, Chile's largest chain of supermarkets, by purchasing $1,400 million of D&S in a public offering of shares. This began their first step to expand operations in Latin America.

Small suppliers in Chile are concerned about Wal-Mart's low-price policies and what it means for them. A Wal-Mart executive for Latin America (let's call him John) feels this is an issue between the local managers and the suppliers. At the same time, D&S' unions are acting defensive because of stories about Wal-Mart's mistreatment of employees in the United States.

How should the in-country D&S manager (let's call him Roberto) deal with the suppliers and the unions as they adjust to Wal-Mart and its policies? - Anxious About the Future

[Send your leadership questions to leadership@washingtonpost.com, or post them in the "comments" section below]

Well, Anxious About the Future, your friend the in-country D&S manager Roberto has got himself in the middle of a complex transition from a Chilean-owned to Wal-Mart-owned business. It is no surprise that both the unions and the suppliers are anxious about the future, which must seem fraught with uncertainty given Wal-Mart's power and reputation.

For Roberto, the leadership strategy here has nothing to do with the rightness or wrongness of whatever Wal-Mart is planning. It is all about relationships.

John has obviously delegated all the messy work of dealing with the unions and local suppliers to Roberto, but if I were in Roberto's position, I'd spend a lot of time taking John's temperature. When you are in a role as a change agent, the most critical relationship you can have is with the person who put you into that role.

Just this week I was consulting to a client who was brought in as a change agent. He was fired by the board that had hired him because the board wanted him to lead deep change without ruffling any feathers, an impossible task. The long-time employees who were suddenly being held accountable for their performance were able to turn the board against him, even though he was doing what he thought was their bidding and doing it well.

Roberto needs to constantly monitor John to make sure that he is not putting himself and his position at risk by stirring up too much resistance. He cannot expect the Wal-Mart executive will tell him exactly what his boundaries are, or how much distress the system can tolerate. There is just no way for John to know this until it happens. The good news is that Wal-Mart has lots of experience with disgruntled employees, suppliers, and external agitators. The bad news is that the D&S stock purchase is a new venture for the company, and they will be experimenting themselves.

The first rule here, and for all change agents, is to stay in very close touch with senior authority. Watch for subtle signals that you are pushing too hard (as well as for signals that they have your back and maybe you are not pushing hard enough - although the later is less often a problem.)

Now, let's move address the anxious suppliers and unions in Chile. For both these factions, their anxiety is perfectly understandable. This behemoth has entered their world, shaking up their normal routines. Roberto, as a change agent, must begin by acknowledging their discomfort, empathizing and not trying to convince them to stop worrying.

Then, work hard to manage their expectations. They are likely to see Roberto as an advocate, one of their own, a Chilean, who will protect them against the risks of the transition. But the D&S manger's role has changed. He's a Wal-Mart executive now. Roberto has one foot on the dock and one foot on the boat, and he needs to help all the worried factions adjust to his new role. He can still be helpful, especially after he establishes his bona fides with the new regime, but Roberto will not be able to be their single-minded advocate.

Finally, Roberto should spend lots of time with the unhappy groups. Once a week, have a beer or a cup of coffee with the head of the suppliers' association and the head of the union. Go to their meetings and listen hard. The D&S manager's role is to begin sorting out what is most important to each group, asking what is essential and what is expendable? What is the real amount of anxiety the factions are feeling? This data will be very useful as Roberto navigates this new terrain and the changing roles and relationships.

Anxious about the future, thanks for your question. It is not an easy role that your friend finds himself. Wal-Mart, the suppliers, and the unions will be expecting him to be most loyal to them. While Roberto's paycheck comes from Wal-Mart, his usefulness to Wal-Mart will depend in part on his relationship to those in direct contact with him, John, the unions, and the suppliers. To survive, Roberto will have to help all those factions understand the new and complex realities they all are facing.

[Send your leadership questions to leadership@washingtonpost.com, or post them in the "comments" section below]

BY Cambridge Leadership Associates

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POSTED AT 7:29 AM ET, 05/21/2009

Staying Productive in a Crisis: Lessons from Health Care

The Question:

My industry, health care, is under pressure and in the spotlight, with the stimulus bill, H1N1 (swine flu), and discussions about the sky-rocketing cost of health care. In this intense environment, I worry our decision-making will be disjointed.

At leadership@washingtonpost.com or enter them in the comments section below]

Dear Hopeful,

Crisis leadership has two phases: the emergency phase when your task is stabilizing the situation, limiting the damage, and buying time. When the triage is over, you can enter the adaptive phase, when you work to solve the underlying issues.

The temptation here is to treat the emergency phase only and, once things are looking better, to ignore the much tougher adaptive phase. This won't work, just as throwing away your anti-biotics when you start to feel better, rather than taking the whole course of medicine, may lead to getting sick again. As a leader, your job is more than just handling an emergency calmly and restoring equilibrium: that would make it too easy for people to return to the status quo with a sense of complacency.

Rather, you need to handle the emergency with an eye to keeping people's attention on the ongoing adaptive work to be done. This means making the most of these pressure-cooker moments. After all, if you've got the heat turned up, you might as well cook something. And, in fact, without such heat and pressure - what we call "disequilibrium" - you might find it hard to get your organization to make changes in the first place.

The question, as you write, is how to turn this disequilibrium into something productive. Since the level of urgency in your sector, health care, is already high, the main concern isn't how to turn up the heat, but how to direct the urgency in useful directions.

Your challenge is to draw attention in your organization or community to the thorniest problems, like cost containment, access, quality of care, and patient safety. You want everyone focused on these issues because finding solutions will depend not some big fix from an authoritative expert, but rather widespread experimentation among many different individuals and organizations involved in health care. For examples of how radical improvements can come from unexpected sectors, see Steven Spear's "Fixing Health Care from the Inside, Today," where he describes health care managers borrowing ideas from the Toyota Production System to improve patient care.

Here, then, are your two tasks:

First, challenge the media to direct the public's attention beyond the immediate emergencies and illuminate not only the widespread problems, but the possible solutions. This means working all your press contacts and having a clear communication strategy. You have the advantage that health care issues affect everyone, either directly and indirectly as a patient, friend, or family member. In your own organization, focus on the two or three long-term issues you think need the most attention, and continually make the connection between these bigger issues and today's crises.

Second, encourage people, both inside your own organization and across multi-constituencies, to run numerous small experiments - for example, a different one on each floor of a hospital or each county in a state. Evolutionary biology sets the stage for the process of experimentation, enabling thriving species to flourish in new and challenging environments. Our experience has supported this, showing us time and again that organizations that thrive during complex times are the product of widespread experimentation. Leadership requires diminishing the shame associated with experiments when they fail. Communicate clearly to your organization and those in your industry that by running these experiments, and monitoring their progress, new learning and growth will come to health care.

As you unbundle the big adaptive issues into smaller pieces, and distribute them widely in the health care system, you orient people's attention and also, importantly, provide them with a sense of agency. We hope, for all of our sakes, that you and other health care leaders are successful in managing these changes.

[Send your leadership questions to leadership@washingtonpost.com or enter them in the comments section below]

BY Cambridge Leadership Associates

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