Leadership: Screaming Your Way to the Top?

Screaming Teams

When was the last time that a fighting, bickering, self-serving group of people or their leader inspired you to do better, to work harder, or to achieve the team’s goals?

Yeah… probably never. That’s what I thought.

Or how about this…

Have you ever seen a project die at work, and yet no one is responsible for killing it?  Everyone just points fingers, then runs away for cover. How does one maintain integrity in such complex and ambiguous systems?  How do leaders nurture cultures of accountability that keeps poisonous behaviors and practices at bay?

The $10,000 Problem

One afternoon while on a business trip to LA in my ad agency days, the entire team called me on speakerphone.  They were desperate, frustrated and were shooting arrows in every direction. The issue is that our organization sent a direct mail piece with a coupon offer that was only good for that weekend to the wrong zip codes. Oops. Because of a small clerical mistake, we just tossed ten thousand dollars down the drain.  Everybody was in panick mode and defensive posturing quickly changed to offensive finger pointing. 

Who Killed the Project?

My colleagues were at each other’s throats

Account Services blamed the Production Manager. 
The Production Manager blamed the Creative Team. 
The Creative Team blamed Account Services. 
There was much fear was in the air. 
Each person wanted to be seen as competent and credible. 
No one wanted blame. 

Ad agencies are fast-paced and all relevant details are tracked with the precision of an air traffic controller.  They even have groups at ad agencies called traffic departments.  The pressure can feel as though lives hang in the balance. Expectations are high and everyone seems to work on a knife’s edge; no room to make mistakes because one slip and you’re done.  Witch hunts in agencies are not uncommon and those who cannot perform are quickly let go.

This dynamic is a shame because so many talented people are stepped on and removed for reasons that are trite and superficial. Things could be different if a different culture were in place.

Cultures of blame create fear.  These cultures perpetuate competition, defensiveness and evasiveness. Nobody really wins; they just have brief moments of not losing.

In this type of culture, there seem to be even fewer long-term winners and the rest seem to boil in a caldron of blame, infighting, and persecution. (Whew… I am glad that I am out.) I find this type of environment hazardous to one’s health.

Maturity Prevails

On the contrary, cultures of accountability encourage honesty.  When we are deeply accountable, we know that conditions will change, problems may arise, and that we will need to actively adjust our priorities.  Deep accountability is not about doing everything we said we were going to do, when we said we were going to do it. It’s about dynamically managing and communicating. We expect the unexpected.  We make agreements based on the information available to us at that time.

We support our colleagues in this, understanding that they are also managing agreements in these complex systems.  We encourage open dialogue and assume their best intentions.  Obviously, at times, issues occur because of the incompetency or lack of effort of an individual.  These people will become pronounced and obvious in a high functioning team, in time.

We listen for the challenges of our clients, suppliers and colleagues and renegotiate our agreements when necessary.  We stay curious and strive towards improving the process.

So rather than ask who killed the project, consider asking “how can we keep the next project alive?”  Create a virtuous cycle of accountability.

How are you doing at ending back fighting, limiting finger-pointing, and lessening the amount of unnecessary politics in your group? What challenges do you face in halting behaviors and practices that are harmful to your team’s mission? How clear are you and what to do to advance to the next level of productivity & accountability with your team? I’d love to hear your stories!

Add to: Facebook | Digg | Del.icio.us | Stumbleupon | Reddit | Blinklist | Twitter | Technorati

Ashley Munday, Network & Thought Leadership, at
Barrett Values Centre.
Ashley can be reached at ashley@valuescentre.com

Image Source: thumbs.dreamstime.com

Lead Like a Viking

Far SideYou know you do it.  You talk at people, rather than with them.  We all do. But is there a better way? Should we talk like Vikings?

When we talk at people rather than with them, we are probably trying to be efficient with our communications. We have a clear image of what needs to be transferred into others’ heads, and we simply download the data” for maximum efficiency. It’s like pushing the SEND button on an electronic communication and feeling satisfied that it was transmitted, received, heard, and digested correctly.

But why would we try to communicate AT people rather than WITH them?

The answer is that in our minds, we see a path to clarity – the way to efficiency, the truth – by communicating so directly. So, oftentimes we just simply “click to send” our message in haste without much concern or pre-thought for how that message lands or how effective our direct process might be.

Hear Me NowThe problem with this type of one-way spewing is that we are not really communicating. We are only doing a verbal data dump on people. This doesn’t really work well because effective communication takes engaged people, not just a motivated person. We simply cannot communicate alone.

And, unless we have the vision, charisma, and oratory skills of someone like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., chances are that we will have to find better ways to ways to engage people to make our “data” stick.

A Better Way

When we take the time to consider effective communication methods, we are much more likely to get what we want from our efforts.

In short, communicate effectively to win.

In more thoughtful examples of communications, we tend to engage people through more meaningful dialogue. We get more buy-in and more collaboration.

Most of us never really learned how to “do” dialogue. Let’s look back at who did.

Direct communication methods are nothing new.  In the Early Middle Ages, Icelandic tribal leaders who are descendants of Vikings met once a year in what is often referred to as the world’s first parliament, at Þingvellir.  They didn’t communicate solely by messenger.  They didn’t send representatives. They didn’t send emails.  They came together in a circle, at the rift in the continental divide, to have real conversations.

Interestingly, the root of the word parliament comes from the French word “parler” (to speak).

I remember reading a description of the word discussion, likening it to the word percussion, a cacophony of sounds bouncing back and forth. This is a simple and rhythmic communication way to “exchange data.” A higher form of communication called Generative dialogue, on the other hand, creates something new from the shared wisdom of the individuals gathered.

Lead Like a Viking! Have Real Dialogue.

There are exemplary results stemming from real dialogue.  Take the “Guggenheim of Garbage,” designed by Michael Singer and a team comprised of people from divergent backgrounds, like architecture, botany, and ethics.  They’ve created projects that are functional, under budget, more ecologically sound, and amazingly, more beautiful. It would certainly take more than a tribal drum beat to pull off something like this!

Otto Scharmer, of MIT, outlines one dialogue process called Theory U.  Otto shares that “Generative listening requires us to access not only our open heart, but also our open will — our capacity to connect to the highest future possibility that can emerge…You realize that by the end of the conversation you are no longer the same person you were when it began.  You have gone through a subtle but profound change that has connected you to a deeper source of knowing, including the knowledge of your best future possibility and self.”

I know consultants that use NVC to foster deeper listening.  William Ury – Co-founder of Harvard’s Program on Negotiation and Author of Getting to Yes – said “NVC is one of the most useful things you will ever learn.”

In times of economic crisis, it can be easy to see these processes as superfluous.  But, it’s in times like these, that we need to work most effectively together by using real conversations to create real solutions.  It’s Darwinian economics.  It’s our Apollo 13 moment to create the best solutions.

How’s your team going to perform in the future? Are you sending surrogates like emails, memos, sticky notes, or worse to communicate on your behalf? What are you doing to engage your team and have real conversations? How are you going to lead like a Viking?

Ashley Munday, Network & Thought Leadership, at
Barrett Values Centre.
Ashley can be reached at ashley@valuescentre.com

Image Source: soapboxrants.files.wordpress.com


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 43,082 other followers

%d bloggers like this: