By Catherine Hickem
In a world of overstimulation and constant interaction, we have become a culture that is scared of silence. Airpods and earphones keep a steady flow of information, music, entertainment, or communication going all the time. People eat dinner alone, but in front of their phones, so they are not alone. Silence has become the enemy of our culture when, in fact, it is where our power lies.
When we are silent, and we allow silence to surround us, something remarkable happens. We replenish our creative thinking, organize our thoughts, and nourish our spirits. It enables us to become centered and invites us to explore notions that become lost in the rush of life.
In business, silence is a powerful strategy. First of all, silence is an invitation to listen to both what is said and what is NOT said. Often, people miss out on important information because they are preparing their response instead of listening to what is said.
Secondly, many leaders are too busy trying to be heard when they would better off stepping back and becoming curious. The best Fortune 200 CEO I ever worked with was a man who was a man of few words. He has learned the skill of letting his silence be his brilliance. When he did say something, it was impactful, provided leadership, and was valuable.
Third, silence lets us think through our thoughts without competing with other input. Since multi-tasking is an illusion, our minds respond to the opportunity to singularly focus on a concept, goal, need, or person. Leaders who silence the noise to be still with their thoughts bring a more well-thought-out solution or idea.
Fourth, silence plays a strategic role when negotiating a contract. Salespeople who over talk are the ones who typically lose the advantage because it reveals a weak plan, insecurity, or lack of sales sophistication. Silence says one is confident in his offer or position.
Finally, the gift of silence typically reveals a person who is comfortable in his or her skin. They don’t have to be the life of the party or center of attention. They can bring an aura into a room that says they are willing to be a student of life, learning, growing and valuing those who are in their presence.
By Cindy Barber
Brené Brown defines vulnerability, as uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. Often believed to be a weakness, Dr. Brown's research has unearthed that vulnerability is actually our best measure of courage. You may have people in your organization in leadership roles on an org chart, but no one is actually leading without courage. Vulnerability pushes us outside our comfort zone, requires us to disarm ourselves and to be authentic. It makes us say "I don't know" when we don't know. It asks us to try new ideas out, to be willing to fail, and to let go of what people think to pursue excellence. It pushes us to own up to our mistakes, ask forgiveness, and clean up messes we make without blaming others. It is hard, but it is brave, and it is what employees are desperate to see in their leaders.
The following are five leadership competencies that are directly impacted by a leader's ability to be vulnerable, authentic and brave. Are you willing to step out of your comfort zone?
1. Building Trust
To trust your employees or your team is a vulnerable act. To be trustworthy, you must be authentic and consistently choose what is right over what is easy. In his book "The Five Dysfunctions of a team," Patric Lencioni says that trust is the foundation of a healthy team. On a larger scale, it is the foundation of a healthy organization. In organizations with large amounts of trust there is acceleration of everything. Conversely, the tell tell sign of organizations with low levels of trust is departments that act as silos and everything takes forever to happen.
2. Lead Through Change
The vast majority of people we assess are not change agents. In fact, most of us will choose the devil we know over the one we don't almost all of the time. We often hear the laments of "this is the way we have always done things," and a nostalgic longing for the rearview where everything was straightforward. Change is hard in an organization, whether trying to get everyone to follow a new process, embrace new technology, or survive a merger or acquisition. The leaders who are successful in minimizing counter-productive behavior and fear admit that there will be things that will likely go wrong. They are intentional about continuously earning trust and don't try and hotwire it at the last minute with the "just trust me" pleading most of us have experienced at one point or another. They let other's voice their ideas and concerns and focus on empowering their people with the information and tools they need to navigate the change successfully. They are in it with their teams not ruling over their teams to get them from point A to point B.
3. Succession and Growth
You can't promote from a robust internal bench if your high-potential employees are job-hopping like Mexican jumping beans. According to an Economic News Release from the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2018, the median number of years that wage and salary workers have worked for their current employer is currently 4.6 years. That same article cited the median tenure for workers age 25 to 34 is 3.2 years. So how does vulnerability play here? Top leaders and middle managers must have the courage to let go of their own fear and insecurities lest they get in the way of allowing someone to try, mess it up, and grow. When employees are developed and see a path for advancement they are more engaged and less likely to leave.
4. Accountability and Constructive Feedback
The reason we call them hard conversations is because they are hard conversations. We avoid them because we are worried people won't like us, we might hurt their feelings or conflict will erupt. A few years ago, we were working on a safety initiative with some operators on a manufacturing floor. We learned of a guy that climbed on top of a machine while it was running to fix something. One slip and that fellow would have been shredded to pieces. Another employee watched the whole thing and didn't say a word. When we asked the employee, who witnessed this why he didn't stop his colleague, he said that the guy was his best friend and he didn't want to make him mad. While that sounds crazy, this happens all the time in various situations. Maybe you have a manager that wants to build a strong team, but you know that all of her department is complaining about her lack of communication. Do you put yourself out there to tell her? Is it kinder to help her or to let the backchanneling in her department continue? Consistent accountability and feedback are crucial to the success of a department, and a company, and both are vulnerable acts.
5. Excellent Decision Making
Vulnerability in decision making..... hmm...does not sound good initially. However, if leaders don't have the courage to be vulnerable enough to say "I have no idea what to do about this, but we are going to pull a room full of smart people together and figure this out", you often end up with the "know it all" who does not "know it all". The smartest and quickest among us are not always the best strategic thinkers. The very skills that make talented engineers, IT professionals, and finance geniuses tend to fight against their ability to look at something from 10,000 feet, especially during stressful or deadline-driven situations. We all need to be brave enough to ask for a second pair of eyes on something at times in order to make great decisions
The second place that vulnerability benefits decision-making in an organization is in the area of modeling and shared ownership of a problem. One of the biggest frustrations I hear from managers is that their teams wont make decisions. When I poke around a little what I find is that often decisions are ultimately made by the manager in a vacuum. The rest of the team doesn't feel they have the autonomy nor the responsibility to problem solve and make decisions so they don't. Being at least a little vulnerable to say, "how would you handle this?" or "I think this would work - what do you see that maybe I don't?" is a game-changer in getting others to engage and participate in making sound decisions in their departments.
By Cindy Barber
We all want our companies to be successful but are we prioritizing a "Success Plan"? It hit me the other day as I was working on a piece of a succession plan for a client that right there, in that word, was the word success. That was particularly interesting to me because, more and more, at The Dash Group, we have shifted talking about succession planning to succession/expansion planning. To be honest, we have seen just as many companies come to a screeching halt running out of bench strength to sustain growth as they do with a vacated leadership or business critical position without a ready successor.
Maybe, from now on I'll just call it a "Success Plan" because that is what it is and you either have a solid plan, or you don't. It is frightening how many companies don't. I don't believe there is a CEO out there that doesn't know they need a "Success Plan." We hear that the thought of losing a leader, or an engineer that keeps the lights in the plant on, stand out among the things that keep most CEOs up at night. However, week after week month after month and, in many cases, year after year goes by, and the best plan they have is hope. Maybe even a vague idea of who might be able to stand in short-term but usually that person comes to mind for their longevity and experience which usually translates into "about to retire".
I believe there are two reasons leaders don't take the time to make "Success Plans" a priority. One is because they aren't sure how to do it well. The second is because they are focused on sales growth and expansion. So, let's go there for a moment. How much more costly is it to bring in people in to oversee that new division, department or new customer's needs than being able to use the talent you have? The person who has been trained for the technical competencies needed, embodies the values of the company and is well ingrained in the company culture? Likely, that high-potential internal candidate has earned trust, has demonstrated loyalty and is committed to achieving the vision of the company. Yes, in some ways the company may take a step forward, but are you paying enough attention to the step back to hire externally? The cost to find the right candidate, onboard them and spend enough time getting them up to speed? And that is if you hire the right candidate, but that is an article for another day.
How are you planning to make your company vision a reality? Are you actively preparing for success? A well thought out, executable, "Success Plan" may be the most important step you take this year in removing the limits to your success.
By Cindy Barber
President, The Dash Group
While most people associate the word conflict with something negative, it is critical to be able to have conflict on a team and in an organization. The best ideas or solutions to a problem come from situations where people with different perspectives and ideas are able to voice their opinions, respectfully debate and work together to come to a solution.
Unfortunately, conflict can cause emotions to run high and before you know it, things can spin out of control and team members react rather than respond. We have all seen it and it can get ugly. Typically one of two things happen; either people get loud or passive aggressive or shut down completely. In either case, tension is high and results are low. So what can you do to have healthy conflict?
One thing we do with clients is to help them come up with what we call "Rules of Engagement". These are agreed upon rules that are posted on posters or poster-sized post-it notes in meetings to hold team members accountable for their behavior when conflict arises. These rules help temper emotions and allow for brilliant ideas and solutions to surface in meetings.
To come up with rules of engagement for a team, it is important to create this list in a meeting specifically for this task and not in the midst of a conflict crisis. We typically go around the room and ask each member of the team what they need to feel safe to voice their opinion in a conflict. Answers typically range from a guarantee of no retribution to no yelling to not calling out an individual in front of the group. The list always includes being respectful and making sure talk revolves around the "thing" and not any one person. Non-productive behavior like blaming is typically taken off the table.
When teams consistently adhere to their rules of engagement people are more likely to speak up, listen and consider other opinions. When that happens teams are actually brought closer by conflict and brilliant ideas are born.
By Cindy Barber
Have you ever looked at two companies who do the same (or very similar) things and wonder why one is successful and one isn’t? They both have solid products or services, great marketing, and there is a need for what they are selling but one company seems to always perform better. More than likely there is an organizational health issue involved. Basically, the company is sick. Like a person, an organization is healthy when it is free to function at its highest potential and is sustainable. The sicker they are, the less productive and profitable. Here are some key attributes of a healthy organization:
According to Patrick Lencioni in his book The Advantage, “Addressing organizational health provides a competitive advantage to companies because ultimately health becomes the multiplier of intelligence. The healthier an organization is, the more of its intelligence it is able to tap into and actually use. Most organizations only exploit a fraction of the knowledge, experience and intellectual capital available to them. The healthy ones tap into all of it. Addressing health helps companies to make smarter decisions, faster, without politics and confusion.”
When a person or a family is unhealthy, things get in the way of them operating as successfully as they could. In companies, we say they have an organizational drag – something(s) that pull in a counteractive direction to where the company is trying to move. It is common for the following to create an organizational drag:
It can be challenging to help executives understand that the cost of ignoring organizational health can be devastating. Many of the measures of the health of an organization such as trust, engagement, accountability, and culture are “soft skills”, mistakenly treated too often as unimportant skills. If soft skills are synonymous with people skills and people are driving your organization it is imperative that those skills be highly developed. Regardless of the market space, an organization will never be better than its people. And, unlike the economy, marketplace, competitor behavior, etc., it is the one critical area of business companies have control over.
Those that understand and make organizational health an integral part of their overall business strategy are able to maximize the potential of their company. It is encouraging to see more and more leaders moving in that direction. It is the vision of The Dash Group that one day organizational health will be given the priority that marketing, sales, R&D and other business objectives receive. It is the one investment you can count on to yield a high rate of return both now and for years to come.
 Lencioni, The Advantage, 3/13/12, Wiley
 McKenzie Quarterly, April 2014
What Hurricane Prep Teaches Us by Catherine Hickem
Typically people will get into the hurricane prep mode when they a. believe it is really going to hit them and b. when they think it will be a bad storm. This is pretty indicative of human nature in that we want to minimize dire warnings. We also don’t want to spend money unnecessarily if it bypasses us.
Yet, looking at the storms from the rear view perspective, companies can learn a few strategic lessons from these stressful events. First, if organizations will do their due diligence when hiring, they will greatly improve their chances of hiring the right people. Finding the right person to sit on the right seat of the bus will take time, money, and intentional energy. Resumes can be padded, interviews can be a ruse, and references can be bought. Great hires require spending time getting prepared to examine the potential candidates through a variety of filters. Is he the right fit for the culture? How is her judgment and decision-making ability under stress? Is he comfortable in his skin? Can he tell you a time he failed and what he learned from it? These are just a few of the insights needed to know if you are on the right track.
Secondly, another way to prepare is to know who you are looking for in the role. Do you want a similar leader to the one who just left or do you need a totally different type to energize the division? What does the team need to achieve a new level of excellence? What would the peers say is needed in the role? While no one group can dominate the hiring process, knowing these needs provide clarity and improves the likelihood for a good fit.
Lastly, prepping for a storm is easier if you know what the major characteristics are in the storm. Is flooding a concern or is the issue more connected to wind and tornados? In hiring, information such as the competencies for the position are as important as the job description itself. What skills are needed in this role at this time in this stage of the company’s life cycle? Some leaders are better at launching new initiatives while others are better at steadying the team. Simply knowing this aspect of the company’s need will help define the focus.
The more the hiring team can have a prepper mindset, the better the likelihood the right person will be hired and a disaster prevented. Thanks Harvey and Irma. You were good for something!
Values Based Companies Always Win!
By Cindy Barber
Catherine and I spend a lot of time working with executives on defining their organization's values and integrating those values throughout all layers of their company. Too many times we see company values displayed as artwork on the walls of reception areas or offices but the people who pass them day in and day out can not tell you what they are, from memory, or even what they mean. More often than not, we get blank stares when we ask questions like "how would your vendors or customers experience your company's values?". To some leaders, values may seem unimportant or they may have been important back in the early days when mission and vision were being defined, but have lost their meaning somewhere along the way.
Values are an important part of an organization's culture because it guides the behavior of everyone based on what the organization holds as being most important. It becomes part of their identity and brand. Most people know "what" their company does and, from an operational standpoint, they have a general idea of "how" things happen at least from a high level. Where things seem to fall apart is in the behavioral part of doing business, especially when things get stressful. Organizations that have values as the foundation of their company culture and hold their leaders and employees accountable for behavior that aligns with those values always win. Let me explain.
I will use an example that The Dash Group has faced. We have a two part process. After we assess a company and give developmental recommendations, our job is finished unless that client wants to retain us to do their developmental work. We don't always agree to do the developmental side with everyone who wants to bring us in because of our own company values. Yes, we turn down business. We have no real choice because two of our values are integrity and courage. If we know a client isn't teachable or ready to tackle organizational health, we would not be in our integrity to engage with them. We may walk away and loose in one respect but we know it is brave, it is the right thing to do, and we walk with our integrity in tact so it is never a total loss. When we are awarded contracts with companies who really want to be their best and are ready to roll up their sleeves and do the work, we can jump in the boat with them and win by gaining a client and win knowing we did it sticking to what we believe in. It is a win win.
Companies that make hard decisions based on their values gain the respect of their vendors and customers and build an enormous amount of trust among their employees and those they work with externally. When those companies suffer a loss, they are able to rebound much faster because their integrity has not been compromised and the internal health of the organization has remained in tact.
The Strength in Vulnerability
By Catherine Taylor Hickem
Several years ago, I attended a company event the CEO had pulled together for the purpose of innovation and creativity. She wanted to instill in her people the importance of being industry leaders in change and breakthrough thinking. It was my first experience with this organization and I was not familiar with the culture.
As I listened and observed the gathering, I quickly noticed how quiet the participants were. There were the notable participants who loved to talk and always had input but for the most part, the employees were quiet.
By the end of the event, the CEO was so frustrated that she took over the event and told them what she specifically wanted instead of embracing what they had developed in the 3-day gathering. She was annoyed by their failure to rise to her expectations and as a result, the participants left the meeting feeling defeated.
What is fascinating about this experience was the CEO did not believe in transparency, vulnerability or authenticity. She encouraged her leaders to keep their cards close to their chest and wanted them to refrain from showing their weaknesses to their subordinates.
It would have been powerful for this organization if the CEO had stood before her people and shared a personal story of defeat and the lessons on creativity she had learned as a result. Another significant moment would have been if she had asked several of her leadership team to share a time in their careers where they hit a wall but the outcome produced a new process, new door of opportunity, or new insight. Moments like these are prime occasions for leaders to be transparent with their people, lowering walls and raising trust. The participants needed inspiration about how to go from stuck and defeated to inspired and thinking creatively. The CEO taking the opportunity to relate to her people; sharing something about herself in a situation similar to theirs to bridge the gap and show that she wasn’t just directing these employees, but actually got them and had been where they are.
Brene Brown is one of the fastest growing thought leaders of our day. She is a shame and vulnerability researcher who currently has 3 books on the best-seller list. Her research shows that when people are willing to be the most authentic version of themselves, they will have freedom to tap into their unknown parts and explore possibilities they did not know existed.
“Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.”
― Brené Brown
Leaders who can admit mistakes, be empathetic with their people, and live comfortably in their skin without needing to pass themselves off as perfect will be far more likely to create a culture of growth and change. Being innovative involves the risk of being wrong and making mistakes but having the courage to explore, wonder, and be curious. Employees will take risks if they will be safe with leaders who support their vulnerability, aka courage.
Years ago an engineer made a 6 million dollar error in a technology company. That CEO was asked if he was going to fire the employee for such a large mistake. The wise CEO responded that the company had 6 million dollars invested in this employee and they had a lot to learn in order to glean from this error.
Brené says it best when she said “Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren't always comfortable, but they're never weakness.”
May we be the change agents to redefine the “V” word so we can have stronger, more empowered clients with greater impact on those with whom they have been entrusted? I think we are at least a part of the journey that can shine the light on the possibility of what can be.
To discuss the level of vulnerability in your organization, contact The Dash Group for a consultation.
Is Perfection Standing in the Way of Excellence?
By Cindy Barber
When I am working with leaders I see that, for sure, the most exhausted, burnt out, stressed out among the bunch tend to be the perfectionist crowd. While some wear perfectionism as a badge of nobility, what they don’t realize is that that “badge” is actually not only standing in the way of excellence and meaning but it is undermining their ability lead. Many people think of perfectionism as almost an elevated state of excellence but that is dangerous thinking because the two have significant differences. In the case of the perfectionist, author and researcher Dr. Brene brown in her book Daring Greatly calls perfection the 200 ton shield. What she has found in her research is that perfection is the attempt to deflect criticism and judgment. Perfection is externally motivated and is driven by what others will think. If we look perfect, have perfect work habits, perfect kids, perfect bodies, perfect homes, we won’t open up ourselves to criticism. We won't open the door to experience the shame that tells us we aren’t enough. In short, perfectionism’s focus on others opinion stands in the way of innovation, creativity and the very connection leaders need to have to be effective.
Excellence, on the other hand, is internally motivated. Its driver is not focused looking excellent but on being excellent. Not perfect, but a constant state of improvement and refinement. Excellence is adaptive and allows for failure, examination, reset and walking forward to become better. Perfectionism’s message is "be", while the message of excellence is “become”. We can’t achieve excellence if we are holding onto perfectionism because excellence is a process of always looking to grow and become better. It requires vulnerability, struggle, honest assessment and healthy self-talk. Because excellence rarely happens in a vacuum, it requires connection with other people, with similar values, walking the path of excellence with you. It often needs accountability.
More often than not, perfectionists, and I am a recovering one myself, will say that they don’t hold others to the same standards they hold themselves to. However, I would like to pose a question to those of you who struggle with this. Do you think those you lead feel the freedom to take risks and possibly make mistakes in the service of striving for excellence, innovation or creative solutions if what you are modeling for them is perfectionism? The old adage that actions speak louder than words is certainly true of leadership. In a perfectionistic culture, there is no room for flow and waters become stagnant. In a culture with excellence as a core value, the opposite is true. There is movement, flow and energy. It may sometimes be messy and risky but it is inspiring.