A Legacy that Endures

As a leader, how will your legacy measure up?

Your leadership legacy matters. It motivates people in the way they think and behave, today, and in the future. A lasting legacy sets a course: it adds value, creates positive meaning, and empowers others to carry on—with or without you.

Thousands of entrepreneurs have taken early retirement over the last year, many without a clear succession plan. Some of the vacancies have been temporarily filled by former employees or next-generation relatives, while others remain open.

History reveals it is not uncommon for crisis to create or accelerate significant changes at the top. During the 2008-2009 financial crisis, more than 2,000 CEOs of publicly-traded companies were replaced, according to Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

Legacies at Risk

Based on the succession planning research of Yo-Jud Cheng , Boris Groysberg and Paul Healy, Harvard Business Review (May 2020):

  • 63% of private companies do not have a CEO succession contingency plan in place
  • 69% of companies with less than $50 million in annual revenues lack a plan
  • The need for a succession plan is often more acute in small firms, especially start-ups

According to the researchers, 45% of all the U.S. companies they surveyed do not have a contingency plan for CEO succession, and 46% do not have an effective plan process for CEO succession. The industries most at risk include Health care (61% without a CEO succession contingency plan), Media (61%) IT and telecom (59%), and Consumer staples (53%).

Creating a lasting legacy is no easy feat. Those who succeed develop other executives: they understand what it takes for a successful leader to develop the capabilities to take a complex organization into the future, even in times of uncertainty.

The Makings of a Great Legacy

Your leadership legacy is how people remember you. It’s what they think and feel about you when you leave the room—today, and tomorrow. A great legacy is comprised of five elements:

  • Vision: a leadership vision is a testimony to the leader’s core values and sets the tone for direction and company operations. Leaders who are able to address issues conceptually, think strategically and creatively, and translate complex concepts into reality create a legacy vision.
  • Self-awareness: leaders who are self-aware are sensitive to their blind spots and bias. Great leaders are curious and able to gain new skills and knowledge to address challenges.
  • Relationships: leaders who have the desire and ability to understand others—not just what they say, but the meaning and feelings behind the words—enhance relationships, creativity, and collaboration. When we feel connected to others, especially in a work environment, we experience greater security, are more willing to share confidences, feel encouraged to take risks, and can support one another freely.
  • Perseverance: with the right knowledge (wisdom) and attitude (emotional resilience, realistic optimism, commitment and celebration of small wins), great leaders persevere to achieve positive results.
  • Leadership pipeline: great leaders take responsibility for building their organization’s leadership pipeline. They hold themselves accountable in the process of growing leaders, and recognize and support their developmental needs.

To be sure, employees, managers, and leaders are facing pressure and challenges like never before seen in our lifetime. They must maintain a steady balance between big-picture, long-term thinking with daily demands and problem solving. Building a strong leadership pipeline is important, but it often falls into the category of non-urgent.

Succession Planning in Large Organizations

In larger organizations, a lasting leadership legacy is funneled by line, department, or operating managers. After all, they are in prime position to identify potential, recognize developmental needs, and mentor emerging leaders. They encourage rising stars to take on new responsibilities, even if it means moving onto other lines, departments, or business units.

These front-line managers also support senior executives in defining and creating a diverse, equitable, and inclusive leadership development system for the entire company.  They identify challenges, issues, and practical solutions, passing on important knowledge and information.

Succession Planning in Small Businesses

In small business, a lasting leadership legacy is one of the biggest challenges.

According to a recent article in the Harvard Business Review (May 2020), “The Key to Successful Succession Planning for Family Businesses,” most family firms fail to remain a family business past the second generation. For those that do, gaining support of non-family employees for the next generation of leadership is a key challenge. However, research indicates that family successors are often preferred, as long as they support the existing culture and are well-equipped for leadership.

Preparation, transparency, and accountability are critical for success. When prospective employees understand any foreseen limits in their opportunities for advancement, they won’t feel blind-sided when family members are appointed in leadership positions. Plus, next generation family members who work side-by-side with non-family members can benefit from their experience through training and mentoring. This also allows the next generation family members to demonstrate their competence and accountability.

Develop Your Future Leaders

Great leaders are very mindful and intentional about leadership development. They understand that while financial results define where a company has been, leadership is a key indicator of a company’s future.

The quality of leadership—at every level—has a huge impact on everyday operations, and it determines every employee’s level of engagement. That’s why the best leaders invest in their own development. They:

  • Practice self-awareness. Understand your impact, limits, and challenge yourself to grow.
  • Balance here/now with there/future. Know what got you here. Be fully present.
  • Put people first. Practice compassion and encourage and equip others to succeed.
  • Listen more than they speak. Practice humility: seek to understand, rather than to be understood.

Great leaders also invest in the development of future leaders. They understand how managers grow. You see, they know that training alone is not the key to development; it is job experiences, coupled with coaching, feedback, and mentoring.

Build a Legacy Model

Here is a simple five-step model you can adapt for your organization, regardless of size:

  • Review your methods (and criteria) to identify leadership talent.
  • Identify pathways to leadership: sequences of responsibilities that build capabilities and meet daily operational needs.
  • Recognize each future leader in ways that highlights their strengths, personality, and contributions.
  • Track and assess results, provide feedback and coaching, and when necessary, adjust for changes.
  • Provide future leaders with opportunities to build relationships. When applicable, introduce future leaders to board members.

Line/department/business unit managers should be an integral part of the process. Clear assignment, roles, and responsibilities are key to success. However, it’s not unusual for managers to feel uneasy with the emotional and personal involvement effective talent development requires. Being a good coach or mentor requires knowing and discussing people’s talents and potential in ways that may seem intrusive. A qualified coach can help.

Great leaders exist in every generation. It’s just a matter of finding—and keeping—them. Preparation is the key to filling the leadership pipeline and creating a legacy that endures.

Develop Your Mental Game

As a leader, how is your mental game?
Consider today’s outstanding athletes, such as those who recently participated in the U.S. Open. It’s impressive to see these leaders excel in their field; they are really amazing! Not unlike today’s outstanding business leaders and managers, they overcome obstacles, deal with set-backs and persevere to the end.
After watching a game or two it’s easy to take their impressive skills for granted. After all, they make it look so easy. And then they make a clear mistake.
Such was the case for one such player: with a single swat, he unintentionally hit a ball at a line judge, and was disqualified.
How can such a well-trained, highly-skilled and disciplined leader make such a mistake?
He got caught in a momentary lapse of un-mindfulness, distracted and fueled by frustration. And it happens to the best of us. We lose our clarity and focus.
Clarity and Focus
Clarity is knowing exactly what you want to achieve as a leader: your vision. Focus is knowing and doing the actions required to get you there. Great leaders do the right thing, right now. How?
First, they develop a clear mental picture of their intention. Then, they make a conscious choice to commit to and pursue that intention. And last, but certainly not least, they develop strategies for protecting their intention against distracting feelings or emotions, like boredom and frustration.
Just like great athletes, great business leaders take purposeful action to preserve and strengthen their mental abilities. After all, leaders who work on their brain fitness are less prone to errors. They understand that clarity and focus require three key areas of brain function:

  • Cognition: Education and experience contribute to your cognitive abilities, so wise leaders engage in learning new skills which they practice to improve their processing speed (how quickly they can recall information, names and memories). This allows them to make wise and timely decisions and responses, and, it also inhibits actions that could sabotage their best efforts, like hitting a ball at a line judge.
  • Emotion Management: Learning how to self-regulate emotions, including stress and anger, is crucial for personal and professional success. You see, when an event or action is stored in our memory, the associated emotion is also stored. This unconscious emotional tagging process can influence our clarity, focus and future decision making process.
  • Executive Judgment: This operational part of the brain enables us to receive information, assess our feelings, identify and analyze pros and cons, formulate plans and discern outcomes.

Build Your Foundation
Wouldn’t it be nice to have a true brain enhancement pill that could increase our health, wellness and performance? While research reveals that nootropics benefit cognition, learning and mental clarity, they don’t actually improve intellect or IQ. If you’re not familiar with nootropics, they are a class of substances (natural or synthetic) comprised of vitamins, minerals, amino acids, fatty acids, antioxidants and other herbal ingredients. Nootropics can have some effect on our memory, thinking or other brain functions, but, more non-biased studies (non-brand or product related) must be conducted. In the meantime, we do know that diet, exercise and meditation are key to higher brain function.

  • Diet: in a perfect world, we’d get all the vitamins and minerals we need through a healthy diet of a wide-range of plants that fight inflammation. You see, science has linked many diseases, including those affecting our brain health­, with chronic inflammation. According to an article published by Harvard Health Publishing (November 2018) choosing the right anti-inflammatory foods reduces your risk of illness.
  • If you’re looking to improve your mental game, consider the Mediterranean diet: it’s high in vegetables, fruits, nuts, whole grains, fish and healthier oils. And of course, avoid processed foods, or those high in sugar. Researchers are finding greater evidence linking poor brain health to sugar. So while it might give your brain an initial surge, it’s not the best tool. Instead, give yourself a boost with exercise.
  • Exercise: exercise increases activity in parts of the brain that have to do with executive function. Not only that, exercise promotes the growth of new brain cells. The key is to push yourself (with approval from your health care professional): reach your target heart rate for a period of 20-minutes, totaling a minimum of 150 minutes/week.
  • Why? Aerobic exercises increases blood flow to the brain, reduces stress and improves mood. And, if you are actually enjoying the activity, this only improves your outlook.
  • Meditation: the beneficial effects of meditation for brain fitness are the result of changes in underlying brain processes. Through MRI (fcMRI) scanning, researchers with the National Institutes of Health found that Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), a form of meditation, alters intrinsic connectivity networks (ICNs).
  • MBSR is an attention-training technique that focuses on present moment internal and external experience. It includes breath awareness, body awareness (scanning) and attention to the impermanence of sensory experience. After eight weeks of MBSR training and practice, researchers identified changes in the subject’s brains reflective of a more “consistent attentional focus, enhanced sensory processing, and reflective awareness of sensory experience.”

Beware of Distractions
Distraction has become an ongoing challenge for many leaders and managers. And it’s not just our devices or technology, rather, it’s often our emotions, or our responses to our emotions.
According to Nir Eyal, an expert on technology and psychology published by Harvard Business Review, and author of Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life. (BenBella Books, 2019) we need to recognize the difference between traction and distraction. Gaining traction requires purposeful action: channeling our energy and focus.
Energy is much more than effort. It is engagement in a meaningful activity, propelled by both internal and external resources. Purposeful action is self-driven behavior; it is self-generated and engaged to generate traction.
Focus is conscious, intentional and disciplined thought and behavior. You see, purposeful action requires discipline to resist distraction, overcome obstacles and persevere in the face of setbacks. Our focus and energy might fall into one of four categories:

    

The Frenzied: Are you highly energetic and enthusiastic about your work, yet distracted or overwhelmed by tasks? How do you feel about deadlines, demands and the tyranny of the urgent? The need for speed may trigger you to act without hesitation, but you could achieve more if you consciously concentrate your efforts on what really matters.
The Procrastinator: Are you feeling low energy and focus? Insecurities and fear of failure may cause you to work on minor details, rather than tasks that could make a real difference for your organization.
The Detached: Are you focused, but without energy? What is the cause? You may be passing on apathy or disdain to your co-workers, sending mixed signals.
The Purposeful: Are you highly focused and energetic? You signal calm, reflective, and able to get the job done, even in chaos.
Boost Your Mental Game
When the going gets tough, how do you develop your mental game?  Answer these questions to boost your energy and hone your focus:
Energy Boosters

  • Focus on one goal. Without judgment or self-censoring, ask yourself:
    1. What is the big picture?
    2. What data, research and strategies do I have and/or need for wise decisions about objectives and goals?
    3. Is my goal well defined?
    4. Where are the limits in my understanding?
    5. How does the goal align with my values and those of my organization?
    6. How would I benefit from a mentor?
  • Build confidence. Consider past personal goals, and ask yourself:
    1. What was my experience with achieving comparable goals? Is it repeatable?
    2. Who is my role model? Can they help me understand what it takes?
    3. Where can I go for feedback and evaluation?
    4. How can I experiment, rehearse or practice critical tasks toward my goal?
  • Practice positivity. Overcome negativity, and develop positive thoughts and feelings by asking yourself:
    1. What are my patterns of feelings and experiences?
    2. How are they related to my thoughts and behaviors about my goal?
    3. Where do I find healthy outlets and support? (hobbies, sports, friends)
    4. When do I experience fun or excitement?
    5. What about my work creates enthusiasm?
    6. Work aside, where do I draw strength? How do I gain balance?

Focus Boosters

  • Harness the power of visualization. Visualize your goal, or objective, and ask yourself:
    1. What does my objective look like? When I need to remember my objective, what simple image can I conjure?
    2. What are the small steps I need to take to reach my goal?
  • Commit to your goal. Make it personal, and ask yourself:
    1. Does this goal feel right for me?
    2. How much do I really want to achieve my goal?
    3. What positive feelings are attached to this goal?
    4. How does this goal align with my values and beliefs?

Boosting your mental game requires a clear mental picture of your goal or objective and a conscious choice to commit to and pursue your goal.

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion: Because Better is Better

How does your organization approach diversity, equity, and inclusion?

While many leaders believe they have taken adequate steps to correct or avoid inequalities in the workplace with policies, promotion, and training, all too often we hear about employees who experience some form of exclusion or inequity, including lack of promotion, outright harassment, and even worse.

Being excluded at work is not fun. Even in times when most people are working remotely, being left out can intensify a sense of alienation, which impacts our happiness and performance. This is even more critical for small businesses: according to a 2019 survey, 52% of small businesses report labor quality as their biggest challenge.

Imagine, then, the impact when co-workers and leaders ignore an ongoing problem.

What if the exclusion(s) were due to your ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation? How do you address diversity, equity and inclusion problems in your organization?

Social psychologist and researcher Robert Livingston, author of The Conversation: How Seeking and Speaking the Truth About Racism Can Radically Transform Individuals and Organizations, (Random House 2021) writes in the September-October 2020 issue of Harvard Business Review that the real challenge is not figuring out what to do, it’s our willingness. We’re able, but unwilling. Perhaps it’s a bit of both.

Trickle-Up Diversity

The concept that diversity will trickle up to the C-level suites is fundamentally flawed.

According to research conducted between September and November 2019 by Mercer, Caucasians fill 64% of entry level positions and 85% of top executive positions, demonstrating a promotion and equity gap. “The representation of people of color (both men and women) decreases incrementally as career levels rise.” Let’s Get Real About Equality (2020, p 22.)

Without equity and inclusion, diversity falls short. According to new research published by Columbia Business School, people need a sense of belonging. Given today’s challenges with an ongoing pandemic, and a polarizing political climate, is this even possible?

The biggest obstacle to hope and change is cynicism and apathy. Don’t let that happen in your organization. We can do better, and better is better.

We need to become aware of the problems, analyze the root-cause(s), practice empathy, and sometimes, make hard choices to the point of sacrifice. But in the long run, when we invest our time and effort in real strategies that work, the return on investment is worth it.

Increase Accountability and Transparency

We are making some progress when it comes to diversity, equity and inclusion.

As Harvard University psychologists Tessa E.S. Charlesworth and Mahzarin R. Banaji found in their research and published in What Works, “New data from nearly 6 million respondents shows that implicit (and explicit) attitudes/beliefs about minority groups can and do improve over the long-term (sexuality, race, skin tone, and gender roles).” They found that over a 10-year period, a widespread change occurred across most demographic groups.

What’s going on in your organization? Track your diversity and increase accountability and transparency with these steps:

  • Complete a SWOT analysis:
    • Collect data over time, including personnel transitions , discrimination complaints and outcomes, and employee surveys:
      • Create a template of questions to be answered anonymously; offer a range of answer choices, as well as an opportunity for a comment.
      • Ensure the survey reaches all employees and that they have adequate instructions and time to complete it.
      • Tabulate the results to establish your baseline.
      • Periodically, re-survey all employees with the same questions.
    • Analyze trends.
      • Compare your data over time, and compare it to other organizations.
      • Where are you seeing improvement in recruitment, hiring, promotion, pay, and retention?
      • Where do you need to improve?
  • Create goals. This is a critical step in the process: it lays the foundation for accountability and transparency.
    • Share your anonymous results with all employees.
    • Celebrate trends as they improve.
    • Establish SMART goals for areas needing improvement.
    • Educate all employees on how their attitudes and actions contribute to results, especially matters regarding inclusion.

Uncover Hidden Hiring Bias

While human bias can change over time, employee surveys often reveal slow progress, especially when it comes to promotion and equity. Here are a few suggestions that work in any organization, regardless of size:

  • Post the position in a broad range of forums, networks, or organizations, including those that work with the under-represented.
  • Don’t discriminate by asking for classification-specific applicants or referrals, rather, include a mission statement and/or diversity statement in your post.
  • Create a diverse interviewer panel, a consistent set of interview questions, and scoring criteria relevant to an accurate job description and essential qualifications.
  • Ask every applicant for their definition of diversity. As a follow-up, ask how they have promoted diversity, equity, and inclusion through their previous work experiences.
  • Document your recruiting, hiring, and promotion process. Retain notes from interviews or decisions on promotions.

If you haven’t already, identify a diversity officer or diversity task force to create hiring and promotion plans, and to review outcomes and disparities. Look to your managers, at all levels, as potential participants in the task force.

What You Need to Know about Hiring Technology

Hiring technology must be carefully designed in order to avoid pitfalls and achieve fair hiring: absent of disparate treatment and disparate impact. In assessing technology, look for:

  • Data that demonstrates fairness throughout all demographics
  • Candidate assessments and selections that are relevant to job requirements
  • Disparate impact testing prior to deployment
  • Ability to conceal demographic indicators from decision makers to enable objective human assessment
  • Tools that mitigate the risk of human bias in decision making
  • Tools that audit for disparate impact

Two important notes: beware of small samplings or group sizes in data sets, and review algorithms. This is critical to demonstrate fairness, objectivity, and relevancy, especially in terms of predicting outcomes and success.

Share your employment composition data and processes with all stakeholders. This includes the criteria for hiring, promotion, salary, bias/discrimination complaints, and how it compares to other businesses in your segment and geography.

Create Safe Reporting Alternatives

According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, over 39,000 retaliation-based discrimination charges were filed in 2019. Unfortunately, many of our complaint systems are not working.

In What Works, researchers Frank Dobbin and Alexandra Kalev report that formal grievance procedures actually slow progress in diversity, equity, and inclusion of minority men and women in management. Instead, organizations and leaders can offer alternatives, including:

  • A neutral party to receive confidential complaints, such as an ombudsperson. Their role is to listen and provide guidance to resolve issues. Developing a pool of well trained and skilled ombudpersons can improve potential conflict of interest risk.
  • An external, third party mediator. Their role is to listen and advise. Mediators are commonly available through an employee assistance program.
  • A dispute resolution department, either internal or external. Their role is to represent—or arbitrate for—both parties in mediation on a variety of issues. However, when there is a power difference between parties, or when termination is the remedy, complaints may go unresolved in a satisfactory manner.
  • A transformative dispute resolution model designed to change the workplace. At its core, this model is designed to change the workplace by improving self-awareness, skills, and accountability through training, and sometimes, in policies and processes.

Of course, equity and inclusion ultimately depend on leadership attitudes. When leaders perceive complaints as threats, they miss the opportunity to gain valuable insights. By balancing speed with quality in finding solutions, they gain insights. 

Balance Speed with Proven Strategies

Leaders can create a culture of equality and inclusivity with best practices and proven methods that can be quickly and successfully implemented with little or no customization and at low cost.

  • Diagnostics: Assess the local context. Your diagnostics should include research on your own business, as well as the local, or relevant, geographic demographics and statistics, including pay scales. This is important for equality comparisons and goal setting.
  • Engage influencers:  Invite willing and able actors, especially managers, in the design process. Ask your managers to conduct reality checks: how does this impact current systems, processes, and ways of doing business?
  • Create your model of change: Take local context into account and identify a target of change. Understand the experiences of specific groups of underrepresented minorities, that one-size-does-not-fit-all, and that minority voices are not heard until they reach 30% critical mass.
  • Build momentum: Begin with the most engaged departments, teams, or individuals. Incorporate bystander training to equip and empower everyone. Celebrate accomplishments as progress is made.

The Key to Inclusion

Diversity and inclusion are not the same. While companies can mandate diversity, leaders have to cultivate inclusion. This begins with a genuine interest in, and for, other individuals.

People instinctively yearn for inclusion; belonging is a part of our hierarchical needs to achieve our potential and peak performance. Our sense of belonging is relative to our sense of security and safety. Leaders who support diversity, equality, and inclusion provide a safe and equitable work environment.

Great leaders get to know individuals. They learn about their unique strengths, experiences, and needs. The best leaders demonstrate their understanding and care by recognizing individuals with respect.

Managers play a key role in this. As Michael Slepian writes for Harvard Business Review (August 2020), “Managers should not only signal that a social identity is valued, but also that the individual is valued, as a person, not just on the basis of the social group they represent.”

Most individuals don’t want to be asked to speak on behalf of their social group; they don’t want to be singled out in this manner. Instead, get to know the individual, and ask them to share their thoughts based on their strengths and unique experiences. People want their social group to be included and their individual self to belong. 

Confrontations that Create a Win-Win-Win

What has been your experience with confrontations? When did you last initiate one?

Confronting someone for their behavior today is no easy feat, especially when emotions are easily triggered and opinions vary. When expectations are left unmet—including protocol infractions, civil disobedience, illegal behavior and everything in between—frustration, lack of accountability, and broken relationships become the norm. But those who foster positive confrontations can create win-win-win solutions.

If you’re like many of the people I speak with, you likely avoid confrontations. And I don’t blame you: we don’t want to make matters worse. But, when we say nothing, we perpetuate the problem (and in some cases, become co-conspirators.)

What if we could make a positive difference?

Most of us are not highly skilled in win-win-win confrontation. We feel stuck between a rock and a hard place. Instead, we can learn and practice positive confrontations: address the issue in a way that supports the wellbeing of self, others, and the relationship between the two.

Calculating Risks and Rewards in Confrontations

Conflicts can range from disappointments (i.e. someone not meeting our expectations) to micro aggressions, to outright dangerous and/or illegal behavior. And yet, we are often hesitant to say anything. Why is that?

Our willingness to speak up changes based on what’s at stake.  In general, most of our daily conflicts boil down to:

  • Priority or value differences
  • Behavior or communication style differences
  • Inequality (or perceived inequality)

In Crucial Accountability (McGraw-Hill Education, 2013), authors Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan and Al Switzler share their 30+ years study on confrontations.  When they asked people why they remained (or became) silent in the presence of an injustice or violation of a social norm, the majority of responses were a version of, “it’s not worth it.” The perception was, they wouldn’t, or couldn’t, make a difference.

But here’s the thing: when a positive example of a successful confrontation is witnessed, people speak up.

According to the authors, “Provide individuals who have been disappointed or poorly treated with something to say and a way to say it that leads to the result they want, and their mental math changes. Better yet, their behavior changes. People now believe it’s in their best interest to step up to violated promises, broken commitments, and bad behavior. And they do.”

Avoid the Blame Game

One of the biggest obstacles in confronting someone is the blame game.

Consider the observation made by comedian George Carlin: anyone driving slower than you is an idiot, and anyone driving faster than you is a maniac. It usually includes the question: “What is the matter with them?!”

When we ask ourselves, “What would lead a rational, reasonable, and reliable person to do that?” we move from a stance of blame to inquiry. We create a safer space for an actual exchange of ideas: the foundation for positive confrontations. When people feel safe, you can talk about almost anything.

People feel safe when they believe that:

  • They are respected as human beings; there is or could be mutual respect for the other
  • There is regard for their goals; there is or could be mutual purpose

Even in situations when you don’t know the other person, you send a message about your level of respect and regard. Positive confrontations require that you set the right tone from the offset. To pro-actively avoid or counter defensiveness, include the use of contrasting statements.

Let’s say, for example, you encounter someone at work who is not wearing a face mask, even though it is a company policy.

Lead the conversation with a contrast, such as: “I don’t want you to think that I am criticizing you, your work, or your judgment. I just want to talk about our company policy regarding face masks, and how we can best support it.” Then, you can state the policy, why it is important to you, and close with a sincere question, such as, “What do you think?”  

Listen to their response, and re-state or re-phrase what you heard them say (in positive terms and language), and ask them to commit to following company policy. Acknowledging their perspective (their thoughts, experience, feelings, and understanding) can go a long way toward mutual support, commitment, and adherence to policy.

Positive Accountability

Positive accountability is the conversation that takes place after someone has made a commitment, and failed to keep it. Like positive confrontations, they often start with the question, “Why?” They become positive accountability confrontations when both parties are able and willing to comply to a solution, and the relationship is strengthened.

Patterson, Grenny, McMillan, and Switzler outlined a three-step process to address bad behavior, un-kept promises, or broken commitments that resulted in unmet expectations: CPR.

  1. Content: identify the action or event that took place (the here and now).
    1. Unbundle the problem. Identify all the elements.
    2. Identify what is bothering you the most.
    3. Be concise: communicate the issue in one (simple) sentence. It could be as simple as, “When you X, I feel Y, therefore Z.”
      For example:  “When you don’t wear a mask, I feel scared for your health and mine, therefore I would like you to wear a mask in this shared space.”

  2. Pattern: when the action or event recurs, address the pattern over time.
    1. Point out the number of times this event took place, what you had agreed to, and how the repeated actions/events affect predictability, respect, and trust.  This is different than pointing out the action or event.  It requires honesty, and respect.
    2. For example:  “It is my understanding that we agreed you would wear a mask in this public space, and this is the second time I have seen you not wearing one. I am concerned that I can’t count on you to keep your word.”
  3. Relationship: how this affects your relationship.
    1. Explore the intentions and consequences with compassionate curiosity (for you, them, and others).
    2. Share your understanding (about the content or pattern), and how you feel about the other person.
    3. Share your objectives: what you want to happen in the future for you, them, and your relationship.
    4. For example: “We agreed you would wear a mask in this public space, and this is the third time I have seen you not wearing one. This pattern is putting a strain on our relationship, and I am concerned about that. I want us to be able to trust each other, and to act with mutual respect.”

Be Aware of Your Stories

It’s easy to become hooked by our emotions, especially when the stakes are higher. That’s why it’s so important to be aware of the stories we tell ourselves before, during, and after a confrontation.

When we tell ourselves that the other person (or organization) is the villain, we often end-up telling ourselves we are the victim, and we engage our amygdala: that reptilian brain responsible for fight, flight, or freeze.

But when we recognize and address our own fears, we are better prepared for a more neutral, compassionate, curious conversation that yields a win-win-win. Curiosity is a key component that helps us find common ground.

Confrontation Best Practices for People Pleasers

Confrontation and holding others accountable is not always easy (or end with the best results!) But if you want to grow personally and professionally, you need to be willing to engage in conflict.

  • Stay in the moment. If you find yourself focusing on, or getting caught in emotions, breathe. Label the emotion: there is fear; there is anxiety; there is anger. If you need to, take a break. Pause the conversation, provide a neutral reason (I’m sorry to interrupt you, but I need to take a quick break; can I get you anything?) Resume the conversation as promised.
  • Listen more than you talk. The majority of your speaking time may be best spent asking questions to gain better understanding. Get out of the way so you can hear what’s important. Pay attention to cues. Notice body language, and what is not being said.
  • Anticipate you will have a positive outcome. There is a big difference between being liked, and being respected. Conflict is an opportunity to repair and strengthen valuable relationships. It also helps you identify malignant relationships, and when absolutely necessary, remove yourself from the relationship with minimal damage.

Confrontation in a Virtual World

Even as we become more accustomed to virtual meetings, we still need to overcome the actual and perceived distance. Here are a few tips to prepare for your positive confrontation and accountability discussions:

  • Create a sense of co-presence: the ability to feel as though you can interact effectively with another person. Know your technology capabilities and limits. Use video, and keep your environment free from distraction.
  • Practice eye contact. While it may feel awkward at first, practice gazing into the camera when speaking, and alternate the camera and view of the other person when they are speaking.
  • Be specific. As Art Markman, PhD, wrote in “How to Have Difficult Conversations Virtually,” Harvard Business Review (July 2019), “the more distant you are, the more abstractly you are likely to think about them.” Positive confrontations in a virtual world require specific feedback, not abstraction. Use the CPR method to outline your discussion, specific examples, and keep you on track. When initiating the invitation to meet, use a contrasting statement to set the tone. Review what you agreed to, and establish next steps.

Follow-Up Best Practices

After a confrontation, you may be inclined to avoid that situation or person again. But positive confrontations that create a win-win-win rely on pro-active follow-up that strengthen the relationship. 

  • Acknowledge the positive confrontation. Today, this will most likely be in the form of an email. Send a thank-you note: for their time, engagement, and honesty. Summarize the conversation and individual and collective goals. If appropriate, reiterate your agreement and next steps.
  • Reach out to build the relationship. Send an email, text, or call on an unrelated matter. This reinforces the message that you care about them, and your relationship.

How is Your Organization Fighting Racism?

How is your organization fighting racism?

A 2017 analysis of racial discrimination revealed no improvement in hiring over time. With all the diversity training and education we have received, how can this be?

To understand the collective dimensions of racism, and how different groups of colors get set-up differently, is a life-long process. Different groups have different experiences, and it’s important to learn those histories.

All people who are not perceived as white continue to experience racism. They experience it in shared ways, and in ways that are unique to their group, and their position to whiteness. However, there is something profoundly anti-black in our culture. It cuts across all groups, and is a form of state sanctioned discrimination.

You see, racism isn’t just about being racist. And it’s not something that just bad people do. Racism is a system of oppression—intentionally or not. And it hurts everyone.

Today, most organizations offer diversity training. But we need to move beyond this. We need to learn how to listen better, learn better, and take better action to correct the systems that support racism. Ultimately, this will strengthen our businesses, those we serve, and our entire society. But most importantly, it’s the right thing to do. Black lives matter. 

Key Terms for Open Discussions

In her book, White Fragility, (Beacon Press, 2018), Dr. Robin DiAngelo shares her research and experiences regarding racism, and how white people often inadvertently maintain racial inequality. You see, often times, when our assumptions about race are challenged, our reactions are counterproductive. Instead, we can learn to identify these responses and engage in open discussions where we really listen and learn. Then, we can take action.

Talking about any issue requires an understanding and agreement on key terms:

Institutional Power: the ability to disseminate your world view to everyone, and to shape how they see themselves, how they see you, and how they see themselves in relationship to you.

Racism: a system of oppression, not an event.

Racist: the traditional definition is an individual who consciously does not like people based on race, and is intentionally mean to them. The three key words are: individual, consciously, and intentionally. This definition actually protects the system of racism. It makes it virtually impossible to talk to the average white person about the inevitable absorption of a racist world view that we get from living in a culture in which it is infused and embedded across all its institutions. This definition is the root of virtually all white defensiveness on this topic. When this is your definition, and someone suggests you may have said or done something racist, the response is to defend your moral character.

Systemic racism: the collective racial prejudice backed by legal authority and institutional control. It is embedded in media, family, religion, education, language, economics, and criminal justice. Systemic racism is embedded in cultural definitions of what is normal, real, correct, beautiful, and valuable.

White fragility: what surfaces when any of the above is acknowledged or questioned.

White fragility is the inability to tolerate racial stress. Racial stress is triggered when our positions, perspectives, or advantages are challenged. White fragility functions to block the challenge and regain white racial equilibrium. It is not weakness per se; it is a powerful means of everyday white racial control as it leverages historical and institutional power to maintain positions. – Dr. Robin DiAngelo

Underlying Beliefs and Myths of Racism

Unfortunately, part of being raised as a white person in our society is to be raised functionally illiterate when it comes to racism. It’s not about being good or bad; nice or mean. According to DiAngelo, the idea that racism is a conscious bias held by mean people is the most effective adaption of racism.

In truth, racism is a system of oppression; it is a complex, multi-layered system infused in everything, everywhere, and probably in your organization, too. Even the best leaders can be blind to it.

Racism is built on a foundation of underlying beliefs, assumptions, and myths, many of which are unrecognized, let alone understood. (And I don’t have to understand it for it to be valid.)

Racism Myths

  • Nice people cannot also act in racist ways.
  • Racism can only be conscious and intentional; unaware good intentions cancels it out.
  • White people who experience oppression/have suffered cannot act in racist ways.
  • My race has no bearing on my perspective on the matter.
  • I have proximity to people of color (POC), therefore I am free of racism.
  • I have no proximity to POC, therefore I am racially innocent.
  • My learning is finished/I know all I need to know.

Other beliefs that support racism:

  • As a white person, I will be the judge of whether racism has occurred.
  • I am qualified to determine whether the experiences of POC are legitimate.
  • If I don’t understand it, it isn’t legitimate.
  • As a white person, I know the best way to challenge racism.
  • I have no accountability to POC, yet I am confident that I am free of racism.
  • White people are objective on racism.

The Real Truth

  • The racial status quo is maintained by white comfort; change will be uncomfortable.
  • Comfort is not the same as safety; white people are safe in discussions about racism.
  • Feedback on white racism is difficult to give; feedback from POC is a gift and indicates trust.
  • Feelings of guilt are normal, and the antidote is action.
  • It takes courage to break with white solidarity; support those that do.
  • Interrupting racism is more important than a leader’s feelings, ego, or self-image. Humility is key. Expect to grapple as you grow.

When a leader is willing to listen, reflect, and learn, change is possible.

How Your Organization Supports Racism

Consider this: most people grow up in segregation. They live their entire life in a segregated neighborhood or community and never have any consistent, ongoing, authentic relationship with people of a different color. For white people, the message is that there is no inherent value in those from whom they are segregated: people of color have no value.

And yet, many white people believe they were taught that everyone is the same. However, this is not humanly possible: socialization does not work in this manner. And unfortunately, this miseducation carries into our adulthood, and in to our places of work.

The Pillars of Racism

  • Individualism: an idea that each of us is unique, and outside of socialization. The belief that society exists for the benefit of individual people, who must not be constrained by government interventions or made subordinate to collective interests. Often equated with the ideology, moral stance, political philosophy, or social outlook that emphasizes the moral worth of an individual.
  • Universalism: an idea that we are all the same. Unfortunately, in the physical realm, universalism functions to take race and power off the table. It denies the fundamentally different experiences of persons of color, and that racism exists. While race isn’t real, the very superficial signifiers that allow us to categorize people are very real and there are consequences. An insistence that we are all the same/one doesn’t allow us to engage with this social reality.
  • White Supremacy: a system in which whiteness, and white people, are central and seen as inherently superior to people of color. It is (typically) not a choice—we are born into it—but we are responsible for changing it, because, the default of our society is the reproduction of racism. It is built into every system in every institution. If we just live our lives and carry on in the most comfortable ways for us, we will necessarily reproduce it. There is no neutral place. Inaction is a form of action.
  • Internalized superiority/Investment in the racial order: internalization of white supremacy and reliance on inequality as further proof, as well as individual and group social security, prosperity, and sustainability. Society reinforces the message, “it is better to be white.”
  • Good/Bad Binary: binary opposition is the system of language (and/or thought) in which two theoretical opposites are strictly defined and set-off against one another. When we (consciously or unconsciously) identify people or groups of people as good or bad, we engage in a divide and conquer strategy. One of the most effective adaptations of racism since the Civil Rights Era is the idea that a racist is a bad person, and if you’re not racist, you’re a good person. This binary is the number one construct that keeps racism in place today and makes it nearly impossible to talk to white people about racism. Our defensiveness comes from the good/bad binary; what we hear is, “you are a bad person.” This binary suggests that one can’t be a good person and be complicit in racism. However, racism is a system that we are all a part of.
  • Implicit Bias: an unconscious thought or preference for or against certain people or groups, which typically leads to outward (explicit) discrimination. According to DiversityInc’s CEO Carolynn Johnson, it is the most insidious problem affecting workplaces worldwide.

Counter Learned Socialization and Implicit Bias in Your Organization

As much as we’d like to believe otherwise, our society teaches racism. And, our institutions often support it. The best leaders examine their implicit bias, take action to mitigate their biases, and dismantle policies and systems that support inequity. Oftentimes, the first step is to recognize our own learned socialization.

Learned Socialization

Consider your own childhood:

  • Was your neighborhood racially diverse? If not, why?
  • Where did people of different (from you) races live?
  • What was their neighborhood like? How do you/did you know this?
  • Were you encouraged to visit different neighborhoods? What about neighborhoods where people of different (from you) races lived? Did you get to know anyone?
  • What were the characteristics of a good school? What about a bad school?
  • Was your school/district a priority or concern for your parents? If so, why?
  • Were all classes (advanced to special needs) equally racially integrated? If not, why not?
  • How frequently were you and your teachers of the same race?
  • Reflecting on your entire life, how often have you been to a wedding that was virtually all white? What about a funeral?
  • What are some of the ways in which your race has shaped your life?

If you haven’t already, complete the Implicit Association Test (IAT), also known as the Harvard Study of Bias (Project Implicit). The IAT measures our hidden attitudes and beliefs. You see, bias and racism rely on our racialization: the grouping of people based on perceived physical differences, most commonly, the color of their skin.

Counter Implicit Bias

Of course, becoming aware of our hidden bias is just the beginning. We need to take steps to counter implicit bias. One technique that works is visualization.

At the beginning of your day, visualize the tasks you must complete. Close your eyes, and picture those you might encounter for the first time. What do they look like? Notice if they are a man, woman, or non-binary. What is their skin color?

Now, picture an alternative. Open yourself to different possibilities, and normalize these: make it expected.

For white people, the immediate future requires us to accept that implicit bias exists. Then, we must be focused on what Black people are really facing. We must break our silence.

Break the Silence of Racism in Your Organization

White leaders face two common challenges in cross-racial discussions:

  • The fear of making a mistake and losing face
  • Certitude regarding racial perspectives (and negating open dialog that results in learning)

To address these challenges, DiAngelo has created a list of Silence Breakers for white people: statements or questions that promote curiosity, open dialog, and learning. Here are just a few examples:

  • I’m really nervous/scared/uncomfortable to say this…and/but…
  • It feels risky to say this and/but…
  • I’m afraid I may offend someone, and please let know if I do, but…
  • I just felt something shift in the room. I’m wondering if anyone else did.
  • I’m still working through/processing this, but right now where I am at is…

Such “I” statements are helpful to keep the responsibility and accountability on the speaker.  They also work well in a group situation, which allow leaders to model the behavior of authentic engagement.

Examine Your Accountability Practices

Leaders must also examine their personal and organizational accountability practices. For example:

  • How do you engage and challenge yourself in a conscious, intentional, and ongoing understanding of your participation in racism?
  • What anti-racism systems of support have you put in to place, for yourself, and groups within your organization?
  • How frequently do you participate in feedback conversations with a person of color, who is not your friend or spouse?

Examine Your Hiring and Promotion Practices

Review all hiring and promotion practices for unintentional discrimination and disparities. This should be done by a diverse committee, and include three critical components:

  • Collection of data: regardless of the size of your organization, you should be able to sort applicant, hiring, and employee promotion data for any disparities. If you don’t have a system in place, create one now.
  • Analysis of your data: If you find any disparities, determine how and why.
  • Correction of any flaws in your practices: create pre-determined, objective criteria for hiring and promotion. Review for concrete, objective indicators and outcomes to reduce standard stereotypes. This should include: structured resume review, interviews, and evaluations to assess individual contributions for promotion.

What Not to Do

While it’s imperative to have cross-racial discussions, it’s not up to people of color to carry the burden.

  • Don’t ask your Black co-workers/colleagues/employees to point out specific racism to a group of white people.
  • Don’t stop learning. For more information, check out this reading list for leaders, recommended by DiversityInc.com

Finding a New Pace

How has the pandemic affected your pace?

Even the best of the best have experienced challenges in finding their new pace at work. Focus and concentration have been more of a challenge for leaders, managers, and employees. And it’s no surprise: our sense of time has been distorted. Two factors explain this phenomenon:

  • Feeling stuck in a holding pattern
  • Loss of flow

Feeling stuck is not unusual for those who remain at home, or have yet to return to their previous work environment. Research in anthropology and psychology has found that when we are unable to structure or manipulate our experience of time—when our temporal agency is deprived—we feel stuck in the present.

Dr. Felix Ringel, an anthropologist of time at Durham University in England, refers to this as enforced presentism, a term first defined by fellow anthropologist Jane Guyer. And for those who do not know when (or if) they can return to work, enforced presentism continues to alter their perception of time.

Fear also alters our perception of time. According to Dr. Sylvie Droit-Volet, PsyD, who has conducted extensive research on emotions and time, threatening stimuli can distort our internal sense of the passage of time. In Subjective Time (The MIT Press 2014), Droit-Volet points to two significant contributors that distort our internal clock:

  • Changes in internal states in response to the effects of drugs or external stimuli (such as a crisis)
  • Attentional processes: when we pay less attention to time, we experience a temporal shortening effect

Leaders, executives, and managers in situations of great pressure work with qualified coaches on self-management strategies. They focus on four psychological skills that can also be used to manage enforced presentism and loss of flow, whether you have yet to return to work, are working remotely, or have made your re-entry. 

Self-management Skills

Think positively. While this sounds simplistic, our negative thoughts—call it mind chatter or self-talk—erode our efficiency, happiness, and confidence. Notice when you are thinking negatively; when you frame a situation as a problem (and distort it into a much bigger catastrophe). Then, re-think, re-frame, and revise your thoughts to the positive possibilities.

Practice relaxation. Although it may seem counter-intuitive, make time for relaxation: a process that works for you to decrease the effects of stress. For example, I find guided meditation with body scan to be very effective and helpful. Another technique is to imagine a peaceful setting—you’re happy place—and focus on your breath, or mentally scan your body from toe to head. Others find online yoga and Tai chi relaxing. Whatever works for you; the key is to make time for relaxation that is beneficial to you.

Create SMART goals. Most of us have goals at work, but do you have personal SMART goals that reflect your own interests and values? Personal SMART goals can help you stay focused on what truly matters to you, and identify the incremental steps you have taken to reach your goal.

Minimize distractions. Today, this is the most frequently reported challenge. Whether they are external (noises and interruptions) or internal (feelings and thoughts), here are two tips you can implement immediately to help protect your focus and concentration:

  • Use a 30 minute timer. We know that extended sitting is detrimental to our health; add to that tiring mental tasks, and it’s no wonder we are easily distracted and feel exhausted at the end of the day. According to recent study published in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, breaks from just one to nine minutes can help you bounce back from tiring tasks. So, get up, stretch, move around, and take a break. 
  • Re-think the need to meet. Before you send out that meeting invite (or say yes), consider the meeting purpose and time actually needed. For example,
    • INFORM: If the purpose is to share information, send the information via email.
    • DISCUSS: If the purpose is to have a dialog, send relevant information via email, invite them to read it, and request a phone call to discuss.
    • MEET: If your purpose truly requires a virtual (or in-person) meeting, create an agenda that includes: purpose/goals/outcomes, references (the pre-read resources), action items (a spreadsheet works best) and meeting agenda timeline. If you can keep the meeting under 30 minutes, schedule a 15 minute meeting.

As You Return to Work

For many, a return to work is a great relief: a “normal” routine, friendly faces, a steady paycheck. But the pandemic is not over. New routines will replace the norm, friendly faces may be veiled behind a mask, and hours may be part-time. Trepidation is expected. Optimal performance and recovery depend on our ability to address anxiety and restructure flow.

According to Dr. Erika Felix, PhD, a psychologist at UC Santa Barbara, who treats and studies trauma survivors, “Most people will be resilient and return to their previous level of functioning.” But by definition, a crisis is something that exceeds our ability to cope. Fortunately, there are steps leaders can take to help everyone cope better.

Return to Work Requires Anxiety Management

In a recent Harvard Business Review (June 2020) article, Dr. Julia DeGangi suggests three strategies leaders can use to manage anxieties in the work place:

  • Allow greater flexibility in performance management. Avoid over-investing in processes and micromanaging schedules.
  • Communicate clearly. Provide clarity, context, and reinforcement of priorities.
  • Demonstrate mental toughness. This means perceiving, understanding, using, and managing your feelings. It requires appropriate demonstration of emotional vulnerability at the highest leadership levels.

Remember: anxiety can be a sign of productive growth. Leaders who communicate appropriately about messy issues can alleviate anxiety and model resilience. This sets the stage to restructure flow at work.

A New Zone Focus

Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihaly, a psychologist at the University of Chicago, has studied the phenomenon of zone focus or "flow" throughout his career. “Flow” is the zone state in limited form, but has the same attention characteristics. “Flow” is a sample state of entering the zone that leads to optimum performance.

Based upon his research, Dr. Csikszentmihaly theorized that four elements must be present to get into the flow state:

  • Presence of a challenging activity
  • Perception that your skills match the challenge
  • Clear goals
  • Availability of instant feedback concerning your performance

When these elements are present, an "order in consciousness" occurs. And, it is this phenomenon that helps people immerse themselves in an activity, find a new pace, and have fun doing it.

The New Face of Change Management

Leaders and managers are testing their assumptions and abilities in change management as organizations, lines of business, and teams are asked to quickly pivot in their roles and responsibilities. Many employees are being asked to take on additional work, perform new tasks, work in new environments, or under increasing pressure. Everyone is affected.

Even in times of crisis, a swift, top down approach to manage change simply doesn’t work. Two theories explain this:

  • People are hard-wired for homeostasis: we have a natural tendency to resist change, especially change that is imposed. You don’t have to look far to see examples of this today.
  • Change is occurring all the time. Every person, and every process, is undergoing change. Leaders and managers often fail to recognize and tap in to this.

But when all employees are engaged through-out the process of change, meaningful change can occur. Employees who understand the obstacles and principles, have their concerns and questions answered, and can contribute with their experience and knowledge engage in meaningful change.

This is no easy task, especially in times of crisis. Managing meaningful change begins by engaging in, and managing conversations.

The Basis for Meaningful Change

Have you noticed how leaders who speak louder, cajole, argue, and push incur greater resistance?

In their attempt to influence how people behave—their purpose or process—they fail to address the needs, desires, and agendas of those they want to persuade. This approach only serves to foster a closed, or fixed mindset.

For example, leaders and managers of offices that were closed need to examine what changes are needed to ensure employee and client safety. Many factors need to be considered, including (but not limited to) work spaces, processes and routines, new or temporary policies, and the feelings and circumstances of returning employees. While many are eager to return to work, there remains a level of uncertainty, apprehension, and stress in doing so.

Managing meaningful change requires the engagement of each employee in the decision-making of where, how, and when they work. Of course, the level of flexibility may vary depending on circumstances, however, leaders and managers can make a conversation meaningful with two-way dialog: listen, ask, mirror, and reflect back what is heard. Ask what is needed, and discuss anticipated changes. Employees who participate in decisions that directly affect them have greater confidence and adaptability, including necessary physical distancing, the wearing of masks, and other new hygiene protocol.

Leaders who maintain an open-mindset engage to learn. Offer compassion, honesty, and openness. And remember: leaders and managers are role models for the changes they wish to see.

Consider this: the voice of divergence and dissidence can be a catalyst for innovation and growth. Unfortunately, there are times when leaders fail to recognize their worth, or the opportunities they illuminate. Some leaders ignore, dismiss, or go so far as to demonize those who point out problems.

Alternatively, leaders can foster assertive diplomacy: they create environments where it is safe to complain and collaborate on meaningful solutions. Great leaders are masters in emotional conflicts. Rather than resist, they receive and offer feedback to create positive results.

You see, not only are humans hard-wired to resist change, we are also hard-wired to avoid pain and suffering. But these survival traits actually hinder us in creativity and meaningful change, often necessary in high stakes situations.

Effective Assertive Diplomacy

To encourage assertive diplomacy, model the behavior.

  • Listen first. A leader’s ability to listen signals that he values others’ ideas and input.
  • Keep it low. People know where power lies. You don’t need to advertise it. If you model quiet power, you can remain calm when tempers fly.
  • Act decisively. The payoff to reflective assertiveness is decisiveness. You demonstrate strength by acting confidently. Even if you need some time to think before taking action, you can keep people informed about how the decision-making process is progressing.

Consider how Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) responded to the crisis of the Great Depression. Nine days after his inaugural speech, FDR persuaded would be hoarders to return their cash to the banks. Within a month, 2/3’s of withdrawn deposits were re-deposited. The NYSE rebounded, with the largest one-day gain in history.

FDR managed meaningful change by addressing needs. He succeeded by taking action and managing fear.

Managing Fear

Managing fear is not about denying fear or ignoring it.

According Dartmouth’s Distinguished Professor Vijay Govindarajan and Columbia Business School Faculty Director Hylke Faber, authors of a Harvard Business Review article (May 2016), change is about managing fear: fear of the unknown, fear of failure, fear of change, or fear of fear itself.

Have you ever listened to the recording of FDR’s Fireside Chat? While there wasn’t the same opportunities for two-way dialog like political and business leaders have today (from daily press briefings to virtual meetings) FDR laid out the actions and steps to address concerns, without feeding fears, or inciting resistance.

Change Management: The Power of Why

Managing through change can be a real crucible test for leaders today. To be sure, intense, unplanned, and traumatic events have the power to transform leadership abilities. But great leaders can prevent fueling fires, pivot with purpose, and lead others to positive, meaningful change.

The basis of change management begins with an open-mindset. Great leaders manage meaningful change by managing conversations, fear, and taking action. Their vision, ideas, and changes take flight by answering the question, why.

Why taps in to our subconscious thoughts, the part of the brain most responsible for decision-making. It is heavily influenced by feelings and drives for survival. This part of the brain stimulates the thought, “What’s in it for me?” (WIIFM) and begins the analysis of trust-worthiness.

When the request to pivot addresses why and is linked to a higher purpose, listeners can sift (filter on value), sort (decide to align), and take flight (ignite with passion and purpose).

While well-designed changes are required for businesses to pivot, they won’t inspire engagement unless they tap into values and purpose—into the hearts of those they wish to engage. Basic needs, like safety, must be fulfilled, but maintaining motivation and engagement requires something in which to believe. It provides context for all our efforts and sacrifices, and sustains our energy for the tasks at hand.

Align with What Truly Matters

Leaders who manage meaningful change ensure the proposed changes are in alignment with what truly matters:

  • Why we are in business
  • The difference we make in the world
  • Our most important purpose

When this topic comes up with my clients, we discuss the importance to understand, and be able to articulate:

  • Why is this change important to your organization?
  • How is this change important to the people you serve?
  • Why is this change important to all of the employees?
  • What is its functional benefit to customers, clients, vendors, and all stake-holders?
  • What is the emotional benefit to them?
  • What is the ultimate value to your customer?
  • Why is this important to you?

If you don’t know and cannot communicate why you want specific changes, how can you expect employees to engage in changes?

As Rosabeth Moss Kanter, professor of business at Harvard Business School and director and chair of the Harvard University Advanced Leadership Initiative recently wrote in the Harvard Business Review, “Persist, pivot, and persevere, and there’s hope for finding another successful path.” 

Tips for Employees: The Art of Complaining in Change Management

Employees are often in the perfect position to see what doesn’t work in an organization, and are important collaborators in meaningful change. But, it takes assertive diplomacy. There is an art in complaining up, down, and sideways.

Meaningful change management is a conversation on what truly matters to all stake-holders: the employees, their managers and leaders, the shareholders, vendors, and those they serve. Clearly, not all bosses are secure in their authority, nor are all employees comfortable in challenging authority figures. But those who persist; those who are willing to rethink options, assumptions, and focus on ideas, not personalities, can implement meaningful change.

  • Focus on the facts. Everyone is prone to bias and blindspots. Ensure your points are based on fact-based evidence, and be prepared to back it up with verifiable resources and research. Dig to find other points of view so you are prepared to counter them.
  • Test your assumptions. Before presenting your ideas to your boss, find people who can play devil’s advocate and explore your assumptions. They will either disprove your premise and prompt you to rethink your course of action, or they will validate your path and boost your confidence.
  • Understand the difference between correlation and causation. When there isn’t a lot of research or science, correlations may be the only evidence available. But, just because there’s a link between two issues doesn’t mean one provoked the other.

Just as leaders and managers should begin their appeal for change with why, so should the employee. Why is this issue important to you? Why is it important to those you serve?

When sharing your opinions, differentiate between facts, perspectives, and feelings. Use “I” statements:

  • “I have found…”
  • “I believe… “
  • “I feel…”

Select your audience. To initiate and collaborate on meaningful change, you need to engage with other collaborators: someone who has the desire and power to collaborate on a solution. Before you choose your audience, be clear on your goals. Do you want to vent, build a coalition, identify collaborators, or prepare and test your complaint?

Identify solutions. Be prepared to contribute to collaborative solutions for your complaint. Identify the outcome you are seeking, and the action you are proposing. Always emphasize the solution when describing a problem.

Choose your tone and emotions. A complaint usually arises from an emotional place. However, communicate in a calm, rational manner. Appeal to emotions with direct, factual information that reference the values under which your organization operates.

Successful Change Management Today

We’re facing unprecedented times as we pivot in the ways we do business. Many leaders are paving the way for others to follow, sharing lessons learned and common mistakes that can be avoided:

  • Communication is inefficient, often one-way.
  • Plans are developed top down.
  • Change is incongruent with organizational values and culture.
  • Support and resources (emotional, physical, mental, spiritual) are inadequate.
  • Negativity is not managed.

Managing Negativity

You don’t have to look far to see negativity today. Images and words are everywhere. While it is critical that we don’t ignore problems, we do need to understand and manage the impact of negativity.

Negativity has a greater effect on our well-being (our psychological state and processes) than positivity. As John Tierney and Roy F. Baumeister point out in their new book, The Power of Bad (Penguin Press, 2019), “The negativity effect is a simple principle, with not-so-simple consequences. When we don’t appreciate the power of bad to warp our judgment, we make terrible decisions. Unrecognized (and unaddressed) the negativity effect can promote fear, phobias, tribalism, and resistance to meaningful change.”

Great leaders manage negativity with a few key principles and techniques.

  • Recognize and acknowledge negativity: in the images you see, the words you hear, the tone you use. Consider alternatives, and refer to and/or share these through-out the day.
  • Showcase good news: specific images, stories, and/or headlines of employees modeling desired behaviors and achieving positive result.
  • For every proposed change, point out four things that will remain the same. These could refer to mission, values, purpose, policies, processes, places, people, etc.

Negativity narrows our focus to why something is wrong or won’t work. It prompts immediate, survival-oriented behaviors, including resistance to change. In contrast, a positive mindset broadens our perspective; we feel better, engage, learn more and expand our creativity and productivity.

Tough Times, Wise Decisions May 2020, Content for Coaches and Consultants

In a time when “flattening the curve” requires universal participation, when, how, and who to re-open requires tough decisions. Wise business leadership is needed more than ever before.

There’s no shortage of talks, posts, or tweets on our need for wise, capable leaders who pursue the common good; who balance big-picture thinking with next-step management. But predicting outcomes becomes much more complex as systems and people interact in unexpected ways.

We need our leaders to do the right things, in the right way, against the right time frame. The real stand outs can navigate intrinsically complex circumstances, make smart decisions, and inspire others to do the same.

Two challenges commonly surface in complex circumstances: unintended consequences and difficulties in making sense of a situation. Unfortunately, many leaders tend to overestimate the amount of information they can process: humans have cognitive limits. More than ever, leaders need input from others to grasp complexities and determine how they affect other parts of the system.

A leader must be able to keep the big picture in clear view, while attending to all of the small executions that will lead to the right outcomes. They need wisdom.

Wise Leadership Defined

Socrates believed that wisdom is a virtue, acquired by hard work: experience, error, intuition, detachment and critical thinking; and that the truly wise recognize their own limits of knowledge.

Wisdom is also a paradox: based partly on knowledge, shaped by uncertainty; action and inaction; emotion and detachment. Wise leadership reconciles seeming contradictions as part of the process of wisdom, for wisdom is a process.

“Wisdom is not just about maximizing one’s own or someone else’s self-interest, but about balancing various self-interests with the interests of others and of other aspects of the context in which one lives, such as one’s city or country or environment or even God.” ~ Robert J. Sternberg, Wisdom, Intelligence, and Creativity Synthesized (Cambridge University Press, 2007)

Wise leadership is a combination of elements, including intelligence, self-awareness, acknowledgement of personal limitations, humility, patience, and emotional resilience. To put it in the simplest terms, wise leadership is the ability to think and act using knowledge, experience and understanding, to make good decisions.

According to Sternberg, “leaders are much more likely to fail because they are unwise or unethical than because they lack knowledge of general intelligence.”

Six Abilities

Professors Ikujiro Nonaka and Hirotaka Takeuchi shared their research on the six abilities of wise leaders in the Harvard Business Review article, “The Big Idea: The Wise Leader.” They found that it isn’t just uncertainty that challenges leaders, rather, it’s leading people to adhere to values and ethics. They point to six essential abilities:

  • In complex situations, wise leaders quickly perceive the true nature of the reality; the underlying issues for people, things, and events taking place now, and projections for future consequences. Their explicit and tacit knowledge (honed by a love for learning), perspective (broadened by open-mindedness and their habit of asking “why?”), and creativity allows them to envision a future before jumping to decisions.
  • Wise leaders practice moral discernment: they make decisions about what is good for the organization and society, and act on it. They strengthen their discernment with:
    • Experience (especially facing adversity and overcoming failure)
    • Adherence to values/ethics (self-awareness of values and ethics, which are modeled in business and organizations)
    • Pursuit of excellence (not to be confused with perfection) 
    • Learning (a breadth and depth of subjects, including history, philosophy, literature, and fine arts.)
  • They enable symbiotic learning by providing opportunities to interact closely with—and between—others; wise leaders develop relationships, and the spaces to nurture them. Today, that may mean more virtual meetings and the development of new groups, teams, and networks, as well as technology skills.
  • Wise leaders use applicable metaphors and stories to communicate their experience and understanding into tacit knowledge that all can understand. Great stories describe relationships (between people, places, times, or things). They don’t have to be long, but the right story, at the right time, can call others to take right action.
  • They nurture wisdom in others through mentoring, apprenticeship, and distributed leadership. Mentoring focuses on learning to achieve competence, proficiency, skill, know-how and wisdom. Apprenticeship focuses on sharing experiences, contexts, and time.
  • Wise leaders bring people together and inspire them to take action. They understand and consider differing points of view, emotions, needs, and the element of timing. Wise leaders embrace the paradoxes of life; they refrain from either/or thinking, and cultivate a both/and mindset.

The Process for Tough Decisions

Simple systems are extremely predictable and require few interactions or interventions. And while complicated systems have many moving parts, their operations are predictable; there are clear patterns. Complex systems may operate in patterned ways, but their interactions are continually changing.

Wise leaders continuously assess and adjust for new data, as well as all of the possible consequences of a change:

  • Identify subject matter experts and resources. A wise leader relies on data, but also ensures that the right questions are being asked, to (and by) the right experts.
  • Collect accurate, verifiable, and reliable information. Recognize interests, goals, and values to create context for the data.
  • Evaluate and annotate findings. While you may be tempted to discard information that may be unreliable, incomplete, biased, etc., save the information with notations for future reference.
  • Create time and space to reflect on the information. Examine it with your mind, gut, and heart, by asking yourself:
    • “What is socially just?”
    • “Who stands to benefit the most?”
    • “Who is most at risk?”
    • “How will this impact the future?”
    • “What are the impacts today?”
    • “What is the right thing to do, right now?”

Sometimes, taking more time before acting is the wisest thing to do. To be sure, action is important. But give yourself time to embrace the elements that make you wise, as well as the paradoxes:

  • Recognize your limits, and ask for help when needed. Act with humility and courage.
  • Acknowledge feelings, practice temperance in expression, and strengthen your emotional resilience.
  • Allow time and space for others, as well as self. Be patient, forgiving, and show mercy.
  • Practice compassion and fairness. View situations as they are, with a dispassionate, clear eye of human nature.
  • Demonstrate your ability to cope with adversity: be brave, persistent, and act with integrity.
  • Embrace ambiguity, practice gratitude, and cultivate hope that more shall be revealed.

The Wisdom of the Crowd

If you have wise subject matter experts, research indicates that their aggregate knowledge will exceed the knowledge of any one individual expert. But there’s a caveat: diversity and process.

As researchers from Duke University found, averaging cancels error when the crowd wisdom is based on two factors:

  • Diversity: your subject matter experts should bring diverse perspectives. For example, one expert may focus on short-term goals, and the other on long-term goals.
  • Process: your subject matter experts should not be influenced by others before sharing their findings.

When making decisions, you’ll also need to decide how much weight you give to their wisdom, as well as yours. This also comes in to play when you can’t find enough qualified subject matter experts, or when there simply isn’t a model or path to follow. That’s when wise leadership is put to the test.

In highly complex systems, when there is information overload or not enough pertinent data and analysis, how do you make high-stakes decisions?

In October 2019, Harvard Business Review author Laura Huang published an interesting article on the topic. According to Huang, it’s important to recognize two factors: what is the level of unknowability, and what is the context.

When there is just not enough information (when the level of unknowability is high), and, when there is not a proven model or schema (when there is not a map or context), you’ll need to use your inner wisdom.

Wisdom of the Inner Crowd

Researchers recently shared their findings on how the wisdom of the inner crowd can boost accuracy of confidence judgments.

“Analytical and simulation results show that irrespective of the type of item, averaging consistently improves confidence judgments, but maximizing is risky…our results suggest that averaging—due to its robustness—should be the default strategy to harness one’s conflicting confidence judgments.” ~ Litvinova, A., Herzog, S. M., Kall, A. A., Pleskac, T. J., & Hertwig, R. “How the ‘wisdom of the crowd’ can boost accuracy of confidence judgments,” Decision, February 2020

These finding suggest that similar to the wisdom of the crowd, averaging yields better results. Of course, navigating through a pandemic is new for most leaders. But, wise leaders are keen observers, have learned how to recognize patterns, and rely on mental models. They challenge themselves to make tough appraisals and learn from the consequences. When it comes time to reflect on the information they’ve gathered and analyzed, they apply the wisdom of the inner crowd.

Wise Leadership and Emodiversity

Are you experiencing brain fog? Or, maybe it’s a combination of brain fog, pierced by a wide range of emotions. This is no surprise; stress can wreak havoc on our cognition and emotions. But take heart: wise leaders benefit from emodiversity.

In the May 2019 issue of the Journal of Experimental Psychology, researchers published their findings on emotions and wise reasoning. In the past, theories suggested that the downregulation of emotion may lead to better decision making. But new research finds that recognizing and balancing emotions stimulates insights, and better reasoning.

Emotional awareness is key. Knowing what you feel, and how often you experience the feeling, may be more effective than knowing why.

A Wise Leadership Journal

If you aren’t already, keep a journal. Give yourself permission to write your thoughts and feelings for a minimum of five minutes, without any editing: no grammar, spelling, or content corrections. Allow yourself to go longer, if needed.

A journal will also allow you to track your inner crowd. As Dan Ciampa wrote in Harvard Business Review, “The More Senior Your Job Title, the More You Need to Keep a Journal” (July, 2017), learning what is important and what lessons should be learned happens after the fact. It allows for more meaningful, and productive, exploration of alternative solutions.

The Balance of Positive and Negative Emotions

Wise leaders understand that both positive and negative emotions work in the decision making process. Positive emotions open us; they expand our social, physical and cognitive resources. Negative emotions serve to limit our thoughts and behaviors; they help us to focus and act more decisively in times of stress or crisis. But an imbalance can sap our energy and lead to brain fog.

Research conducted by organizational psychologist Marcial Losada, PhD, along with psychologist Barbara Fredrickson, PhD, finds that a 3:1 positivity-to-negativity ratio is ideal for optimal functioning. Wise leaders track their ratio, and when needed, increase positive moments.

To reduce the impact of negative moments, practice mindfulness meditation; observe your thoughts without judgment. If you are getting caught up in negative thinking, try these tips suggested in Fredrickson’s book, Positivity: Groundbreaking Research Reveals How to Embrace the Hidden Strength of Positive Emotions, Overcome Negativity and Thrive(Crown Archetype, 2009):

  1. Recognize and counter negative thinking habits (always/never, most/least, internal/external).
  2. Distract yourself from rumination.
  3. Practice mindfulness (observe without judgment).
  4. Limit your exposure to bad news streams.
  5. Avoid gossip and sarcasm, and increase positive feedback to others.
  6. Practice gratitude, and smile more.

Wise leadership envisions the best possible future for everyone. As Stephen S. Hall writes in Wisdom (Random House, 2010),

“In an age of reason, thought will seem like wisdom’s most esteemed companion. In an age of sentiment, emotion will seem like the wisest guide. But when human survival is paramount, social practicality and science are likelier to lead us through to better times.”

How to Cultivate Realistic Hope

In times of uncertainty, we often turn to the news media, leaders, and experts for answers. Conflicting reports weaken our trust, creating more uncertainty. As more bad news continues to stream in, we turn away.

To distract ourselves from intrusive ruminations, nagging guilt, loss, and trauma, we seek relief. Many of us use distraction techniques: we focus our attention for two minutes on a pleasant memory, image, or even a focus on our breath.

However, some of our distraction behaviors do more harm than good. Often impulsive (and sometimes compulsive) we develop binging behaviors to numb us from our thoughts and feelings. Such behaviors include activities like binge-watching series, compulsive-eating/drinking, or worse. These behaviors further separate us from others, and any real sense of hope.

Instead, we need to ease our emotional pain and prevent the problem from becoming worse. We need to cultivate realistic hope.

Realistic Hope

Realistic hope is not based on the perspective that everything was, is, or will be fine. To the contrary, hope is about a breadth of perspective with real, specific possibilities that call us to action.  

In Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities (Haymarket Books, 2020), Rebecca Solnit writes: “Hope is not a sunny, everything-is-getting-better narrative, though it may be a counter to the everything-is-getting-worse narrative. You could call it an account of complexities and uncertainties, with openings.”

Unrealistic Optimism

Unrealistic optimism, or false hope, is not based on critical thinking. To be sure, there are benefits of being optimistic, but optimism without any real basis or plan to support it is a hollow promise; it is not the same as realistic hope. False hope is not clearly linked to realistic planning for the future.

Hopeful People

Hopeful people understand that what they do matters, even if they do not know how it will matter, or for whom. In times of uncertainty, they embrace the unknown and the space it creates to shape the outcome, individually and collectively. Hopeful people recognize uncertainty, think of new pathways around obstacles, and take action.

Recognize Your Loss, and Arrest Despair

In a time of social-distancing, physical-distancing, isolation, and quarantine, we are at greater risk of loneliness, which has serious implications.

We are wired with a fundamental need to connect with and feel accepted by others. This can explain why some of us are willing to risk the suggested guidelines, rules, and even laws regarding “stay-at-home.” When social-distancing interrupts this need from being met (because of lack of opportunities to maintain or create supportive relationships), it can have a powerful and detrimental effect on our physical and psychological health: loneliness, loss, and despair.

Researchers Louise C. Hawkley, PhD and John T. Cacioppos, PhD, describe loneliness as a distressing feeling equivalent to physical pain. Their study, published in 2010, found that left untended, loneliness has serious consequences for cognition, emotion, behavior, and physical health. Loneliness can even shorten our life expectancy.

Understand Despair

In psychology, despair is the feeling of hopelessness: that things are profoundly wrong and will not change for the better. Despair is one of the most negative and destructive of human affects. During difficult times, despair is common.

Typically, despair dissipates over time as a crisis is resolved. But when a crisis goes on for an extended period of time and despair doesn’t dissipate, it becomes chronic: it impairs our functioning and quality of life. When such despair is profound—when we feel existentially helpless, powerless, and pessimistic about the future—we may be experiencing clinical despair: we feel hopeless about life and the future.

Arrest Despair

Viktor Frankl, an existential psychiatrist and concentration camp survivor, described despair as meaningless suffering, and created a simple formula to identify it: despair equals suffering without meaning: D=S-M. Finding meaning can arrest despair.

For example, recognizing self-defeating behavior and taking steps to correct the behavior can create meaning. Similarly, when clinical despair stems from undiagnosed clinical depression or bipolar disorder, the meaning (or reason) for suffering is identified. Of course, in either example, when despair persists despite treatment, additional support is required.

As C.G. Jung once said, "We cannot change anything unless we accept it."

If we are ignoring, or denying our loneliness, sadness, anxiety, or despair, we are cutting off our true selves, and drifting toward clinical despair and depression. Instead, we must recognize feelings and loss: our circumstances, thoughts, and feelings. This often requires great courage. And you don’t have to do it alone. A qualified coach, social worker, therapist, or doctor can help, and many are now available for video or virtual sessions.

Clinging to false hope, which may serve the valuable purpose of survival for a period of time, ultimately prevents moving past the despair of trauma. Instead, cultivate realistic hope.

How to Cultivate Realistic Hope

In these difficult times, it’s no easy task to balance the reality of the fear, anxiety, and suffering that is occurring, and simultaneously cultivate realistic hope. How do they stay so grounded?

Authors Angela Wilkinson, PhD, and Betty Sue Flowers, PhD write in Realistic Hope: Facing Global Challenges (Amsterdam University Press, 2018) that hope is possible because of our evolved, functioning brain (the frontal cortex communicating with the sub-cortical regions), a perspective or belief about possibility (a space for potential fundamental change and social progress) and a focus on the benefit to public and private good.

As C.R. Snyder writes in The Psychology of Hope: You Can Get There from Here (FreePress 2010), “Hope is the sum of the mental willpower and waypower that you have for your goals.”

Willpower: In this sense, your willpower is your driving force; it is your mental energy that will propel you toward your goal. It is your determination and commitment: your grit. Often times, your willpower is the story you tell yourself, about yourself: your self-talk. A strong willpower sounds like, “I can,” or “I got this,” or even, “let’s try this.” People with a strong willpower are willful: they focus on what they will do, rather than what they won’t do.

To maintain your willpower, pay attention to your self-care. Establish and maintain new routines that foster positive energy and cultivate realistic hope.

Waypower: Your waypower is the course you will take; it is your mental capacity that you will use to reach your goal. Your waypower allows you to adapt and adjust as necessary; in essence, it is your perception of your ability to create thoughtful, flexible, and realistic plans.

If you want to cultivate realistic hope, you need an objective framework of the problem. Expert opinions are critical: unbiased and relevant, in breadth as well as depth.  Empathy and dialog are key to gain perspective.

Second, you need to vision alternative futures, or scenarios, to develop a vision for the future, or goals. Accurate data, analysis, and modeling over time make it realistic.

Goals: Your goals are the outcome that you imagine. Knowing exactly what you want to achieve, and how long it will take, keeps you motivated. Establish smart goals and contingency plans (if/then planning) to maintain momentum. 

Act With Realistic Hope

We are in the midst of a grand transition, facing problems without borders and governments without solutions. But, the good news is that there are efforts underway that offer realistic hope: solutions can be found. In many cases, those involved in finding solutions are international entities, ad hoc groups, non-governmental organizations and individuals. These individuals cultivate realistic hope.

Hopeful people recognize the challenges, their purpose, and a time horizon. They commit to act and complete the process, over and over again. As our knowledge expands, as new stakeholders emerge, and as mind-sets change, the framing of the problems will also change, and relevant scenarios will need modification. Together, we can do this.

What do you think? What are you doing to cultivate realistic hope? What steps are you taking to act with realistic hope?  I’d love to hear from you.

When Your Values Shift

Everyone knows how important it is to “know yourself,” yet how often do we reflect on why we do what we do? (Or for that matter, what we did?) Do we really understand our motives and values?

Before we even graduate from high school, most of us have participated in interest inventories and career aptitude tests. By the time we graduate from college, our interests, studies, and skills have aligned. We anticipate we’re on a path best suited for our personality, talents, and education.

And yet…most of us don’t recognize the extent of our complexity. Our personal preferences and unique sense of values are buried under layers of expectations and demands. To add to the complexity, our values shift over time.

When we identify as, or claim to be, a specific type of person (kind, caring, and genuine), but our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors indicate otherwise (we are resentful, rude, and just want other people to fall into line), we may be unaware of our true values.   

Of course, we are quick to notice when we see this happen in others. Our perception may be that they are inauthentic, manipulative, or fake; maybe even a hypocrite.

When our own behaviors are incongruent with what we claim to value, many of us have a physical reaction: a twinge, cringe, or moment when our body says, “no!”

But just as common, we learn to ignore these uncomfortable feelings. Eventually, we stop paying attention. We become mistaken about our own identity, unaware of the shift in our values.

This can manifest in a mid-career crisis. Our careers are moving along at a satisfactory pace, and one day we wonder, “How did I end up here?”

How Your Values Shift

In reality, our values are dynamic. With enough time or experience the hierarchy of our values can change. Typically, the shifts occur as a result of:

  • New knowledge
  • Social values and attitudes
  • Personal experience

In a 2015 study, researchers Valdiney V. Gouveia, Kátia C. Vione, Taciano L. Milfont, Ronald Fischer studied more than 36,000 individuals across five geo-social regions and found that regardless of gender, values substantially change through-out our life span.  

Why This Matters

Your values are the underlying foundation of your inspiration, vision, and motivation. They help you set a course to what you believe truly matters; they guide you to purpose and fulfillment. Understanding when and how they shift will help you make adjustments and improvements—in performance, satisfaction, and happiness.

Understand What Drives You

Our ideas of self are molded at a very early age. Parents, care givers, and teachers encourage certain behaviors that help us integrate with our peers. We are encouraged to go-along, to get-along.

Unfortunately, even well intentioned adults can send messages counter to our actual nature or personality type. “You are so good at following the rules,” doesn’t acknowledge your ability (and desire) to question arbitrary or unfair rules.  We develop a limited, if not warped, sense of self.

In reality, we are remarkably complex. Our environment and social context contribute to the actions we take; they influence our values and motivations.  

According to Johnmarshall Reeve, PsyD, in “Understanding Motivation and Emotion,” (Wiley, 2018), “Through our unique experiences, exposures to particular role models, and awareness of cultural expectations, we acquire different goals, values, attitudes, expectations, aspirations, and views of self.”  

What Is Driving You?

All humans have four basic drives that are embedded in our genetic DNA and remain active in us today:

  1. The drive to acquire
  2. The drive to bond
  3. The drive to learn
  4. The drive to defend

These basic drives have helped in our survival as a species. But, what drives us beyond mere survival? How do we go from survive to thrive?

Hierarchy of Values

Based on their research, Drs. Eduard Spranger and Gordon Allport identified a hierarchy of values, when in certain combinations shape our interests and level of satisfaction:

  • Aesthetic:  A drive for balance, harmony, and form
  • Altruistic:  A drive to help others; for humanitarian efforts
  • Economic:  A drive for economic or practical returns
  • Individualistic: A drive to stand out as independent and unique
  • Political: A drive to have influence; to be in control
  • Regulatory:  A drive to establish order, routine, and structure
  • Theoretical:  A drive for knowledge, learning and understanding

Understanding your individual hierarchy of values—how you rate each value, and how they combine—can help you understand what drives you, and how you can go from survive to thrive.

What Are Your Values Today?

At some time in our life, most of us feel the need to assess our values: what is truly important to us. Unfortunately, we often avoid this task; it’s much easier to keep doing what we’re doing. But then something happens that jolts us out of our complacency.

It could be the loss of something (a promotion or position), or someone (a loved one, or respect of a colleague). Or, a more minor event that illuminated something was just not right: new knowledge, understanding, or perspective. It’s time to examine your values.

The most current version of Drs. Allport, Vernon, and Lindzey’s instrument to measure value hierarchy  (IMX Values Index, or VI profile) has been updated with seven dimensions:

  • Aesthetic: Each experience is judged from the standpoint of grace, symmetry, or fit. Contrary to the theoretical dimension, life is seen as a procession of events; each enjoyed for its own sake. Chief interest is in the beauty of life.
  • Altruistic: prizes other persons as ends, and is therefore kind, sympathetic, and unselfish. Contrary to the political dimension, love is itself the only suitable form of human relationship.
  • Economic: interested in what is useful and practical; focused on security and bottom-line results. In some instances he may have regard for the regulatory dimension, but frequently conflicts with other values.
  • Individualistic: seeks to express uniqueness and be granted freedom over actions. Contrary to the political dimension, seeks neither power nor control of others or the environment in general, but rails against subjugation by any external force.
  • Political: interested primarily in power and control, whatever the vocation, and is the most universal and most fundamental of motives. Prizes personal power, influence, and renown.
  • Regulatory: seeks unity. Often described as mystical, yet directed towards achieving structure, order and to be one with they system.
  • Theoretical: interested in the discovery of truth. Divests itself of judgments regarding the beauty or utility of objects, and seeks only to observe, reason, understand and systematize knowledge.

The two highest dimensions are the most inspirational. The middle three are situational: in certain circumstances they might be a factor. The two lowest scoring dimensions are actually de-motivational, and important to note.

A qualified executive coach can help you rate these seven dimensions, and identify the 21 combinations that influence interests and drive behavior.

For example: if you score high for the altruistic dimension, but are average in the economic dimension, you may be inclined to give away your expertise or products, or even compromise on your salary requirements. Knowing this about yourself can help you plan how and when to say “yes.”

And this is just one example. Identifying your values today will help you understand what drives you, what motivates you, and what inspires you. It will help you become more effective in everything you do.