Tag Archives: leadership

Coaching Leaders to Value and Manage Their Organizational Webs

 

DeLea is like a spider, aware of even the most subtle vibrations across her web.   She is able to predict how emotional energy will travel across her organizational web of stakeholders when she makes a leadership decision.

When one of her senior managers denies her proposal to implement a progressive reading practice in her school, she positively engages her powerful allies across her web to build support for the new practice.  Meanwhile, she re-engages her manager at the level of values and beliefs that she knows they both hold dear.  As a result, the no turns into an enthusiastic yes in weeks.  On her own team, DeLea meets individually with key influencers about the new practice to hear their point of view and subtly appeal to what they value.  When it comes time to formally make her pitch to her team, many strong voices in the room voice their enthusiastic support.   Weeks later when DeLea hears secondhand about a veteran teacher voicing frustration about the practice in the staff lounge, she knows exactly which teachers, support staff, and parents to engage to head off a potential setback. She also engages the teacher in question with the just-right blend of affirmation and high-candor feedback to begin shifting his resistance.

Isabel, a leader at another school, is like a fly caught in a web.  She skillfully builds the schedule and transition protocols for her school’s extended day program makeover.  However, it never occurs to her to question how people will feel about the new program.  She never asks anyone for feedback or shares any details about the plan until unveiling it in a Friday staff meeting. On Monday she is surprised to hear gossip about how she treats people and how arrogant she is to just ”take over” the extended day program.   Hurt and disoriented, Isabel just didn’t see this coming, and she feels like she’s been ambushed.   Isabel has a new appreciation for those who say that leadership is a lonely path.

What separates DeLea and Isabel is organizational awareness. 

DeLea values her team’s emotional energy.  She reads people, trusts her gut, and actively seeks information about people’s beliefs before she acts.   Isabel doesn’t value her team’s emotional energy and so does none of the things that DeLea does to guide her actions.

How do you teach Isabel to be like DeLea?

The first step is to build Isabel’s awareness that the web exists, and that her success depends on her understanding how it works.  Expect resistance!  Leaders who aren’t aware of the web and don’t value it tend to believe that small interactions don’t matter, and that people won’t find out about what they say behind closed doors.

Some take a values stand against caring about the web.  They won’t stoop to paying attention to gossip.  People should just be adults and get over their own emotional reactions.   These leaders need help seeing the impact of the web on their ability to meet their goals.  Coaches can help leaders to unpack their webs by digging deep into a current or past challenge.  Isabel and I drew a web of relationships on a big piece of butcher paper on her wall.  We named the key players and interest groups on her team, and how they connected to each other.  We thought about each person or group individually in terms of what they valued, their relationships, and their power to either support or challenge progress toward Isabel’s goal.  As we worked, Isabel began to see how her actions created dissonance for her people, and how their reactions were actually consistent with what they valued. Isabel’s biggest a-ha: their actions are predictable!  Her resistance melted away as she began to see the power in predicting her team’s reactions and proactively engaging to avoid being ambushed.

Isabel and I then applied the web to moving forward towards her goal.  We began by identifying her supporters.  She was unpleasantly surprised to realize how few she had.  From there we identified which people or groups were most likely to become supporters with some effective engagement from Isabel.

The key to getting that engagement was Isabel’s ability to figure out what these people valued, and what they needed from her. 

One person valued his standing on the team.  He needed an apology, and to be consulted on the new model.   Another group worried about the impact of the new approach on families.  They needed Isabel to affirm this worry and collaborate with them to find a solution.  Isabel had no idea what several people or groups needed, and realized that she needed to go find out.

Next, we focused on the people in the web who were actively resisting the new system.  I supported Isabel to build some empathy for these people—to see the noble story they were likely telling themselves that justified their actions.  Then I helped her understand the tactics these folks were using to influence other stakeholders across the web.  Again, Isabel had to figure out what these people needed from her to move from resistance to motivation, or at least compliance.

As she brainstormed, Isabel was building new appreciation for the range of influencing strategies she needed to embrace to get her organizational web behind her initiative.

By the time we were done, Isabel had created a complex visual representation of her stakeholders and their values, power, and relationships.  While this was all done in the context of her after-school system, Isabel realized that she could apply most of this map—reactively or proactively—to other leadership challenges.  We continued to use this map, or create new ones, over time as Isabel continued to build her organizational awareness.   Happily, she is no longer the fly caught in her web, and is on her way to becoming the spider.

Recommended reading:

Organizational awareness primerOur new primer series is written by Daniel Goleman, George Pitagorsky, and fellow thought leaders in the field of Emotional Intelligence and research. See our latest release: Organizational Awareness: A Primer for more insights on how this applies in leadership.

Additional primers so far include:

Organizational Awareness in Action

 

What does it look like when a leader is skilled in the Organizational Awareness Competency? Here are some examples I’ve seen in my work as a consultant and technology executive.

Communicating to Different Interests

One leader at an international financial institution understood the importance of communicating in a way that addressed the needs of different people in the organization. Each group has its own interests and “language.”

As the executive sponsor for a critical program, he realized that he needed to communicate to a wide array of players, each with their own perspective.

He crafted a message to the board of directors, considering their need for a high-level summary, the ability to delve into details as they saw fit, and a focus on profits and impact on the organization’s strategy. He crafted another communication for the shareholders of the company, considering their interests. Then, he addressed the nuances needed to communicate with the news media, the organization’s executives, leadership at the next levels, and the technologists, clerks, administrators, and other people doing the day-to-day operational activities needed to make the program a success.

Each communication was a true reflection of the program, though, at a level of detail, in a medium and language that was tailored to each role and highlighted issues and concerns relevant to each group.

A leader with organizational awareness uses his or her understanding of the nature of the relationships, hierarchies, and decision-making processes to communicate more effectively.

This leader knew that he was more likely to get buy-in from the various groups and individuals because he communicated in a way that resonated with them. He understood their values and how they made decisions. Buy-in then got him the funding he needed and gave him the ability to manage expectations in a more effective way. Therefore, he could be more successful and respected as a leader. That respect translated into greater effectiveness.

Communication is one primary element of organizational awareness.  Another is the ability to take a systems and process view of the organization.  The effective leader is able, on a day-to-day level, to resolve issues by focusing on their causes. This requires recognizing that those causes are rooted in the organization’s structure, policies, procedures and processes. Leaders skilled at organizational awareness have a greater sense of the bigger picture.  They see issues in the context of the complex interactions among departments, individuals and competing values in play.

Navigating Change  

As a consultant, I worked on a project with an international bank to reengineer the process they used to provide large-scale commercial loans to their clients. The bank’s leadership wanted a more automated system better control the bank’s global credit exposure. The organization dynamics we needed to deal with related to the business process as well as the information technology organization and its involvement.

There were a main IT department was responsible for technology applications for the bank’s central office and relatively autonomous  IT departments in outlying regions –  Europe, Asia, and Latin America. That meant there were siloed groups processing and managing credit related data in different ways.

Organizational awareness enabled us to see the potential for communication and decision-making difficulties between those different players in the IT world.

The bank’s leadership of the recognized that there were large personality and political differences between the IT departments and that it was impossible to reconcile those differences in the short-term. So, we crafted a solution that removed the program from the IT world and put it into a newly organized Product Management office. That office would  define, design and manage the program and coordinate the efforts of all other departments, including the IT departments, and vendors involved.   . The IT organizations were doing a great job individually, but coordination among them was contentious.

The product designers crafted an architecture that enabled continued autonomy among the groups, minimizing change in other business areas, while getting the desired result – comprehensive and accurate data that reflected the global exposure to families of companies, countries and industries.  The IT folks could focus on what they do best, and we took the communication and coordination challenges off their hands.

The use of organizational awareness here prevented what could have been a failed program.  Getting the IT silos to work together to design a new system to replace their existing systems would have taken years of tedious effort and a super-human facilitator.  It is likely that compromises among the IT groups, known for vying with one another for control and influence, would have been sub-optimal. By Understanding the character and the different interests of each department, leaders created a solution that was embraced by all, and resulted in a cost effective, timely outcome.

Recommended reading:

Organizational awareness primerOur new primer series is written by Daniel Goleman, George Pitagorsky, and fellow thought leaders in the field of Emotional Intelligence and research. See our latest release: Organizational Awareness: A Primer for more insights on how this applies in leadership.

Additional primers so far include:

Honesty Under Pressure: When to Ask For Help As a Leader

 

As leaders or managers we often find ourselves in a reactive frame of mind when we are under a great deal of pressure from self or external sources. Remaining in this reactive state can cloud the mind, diminish creativity, or isolate you from your team, and it is not conducive to an effective response to the situation. Developing a degree of self-awareness so you can notice your tendency to move towards a reactive posture in the moment – and consciously choosing to shift to a more interactive mindset – is essential in a leader.

In my early 40’s, I was involved in an interaction that served as a transformative experience in my development as both a manager and leader. The experience involved shifting from a reactive to an interactive mindset.

I was working as a CFO for a small company that manufactured ski-tuning machines in Waitsfield, VT. We were in the process of negotiating the sale to a much larger company. As is often the case in situations like this, I was negotiating the sale, but was going to lose my job as the acquirer already had a CFO. I was under a great deal of pressure both in negotiating the deal and in figuring out what I was going to do next. My wife, Patty, worked as a house manager in a respite house for people on hospice. She worked the 4pm to midnight shift.  Most days we had transitional childcare to cover any gaps in my being able to get home to take care of our two children and and Patty having to leave for work. Transitional childcare wasn’t always an option, and on this day, with the sale looming and pressures building, I had to get home early because the sitter was only able to stay for a short while.

When I got home I paid the sitter and tried to get the kids gathered, focused, and out to the car to get one of them to an appointment. I was running late. Trying to get them out of the house with whatever stuff they needed wasn’t working. I was getting frustrated. I’m normally a fairly soft-spoken person, not inclined to lose my temper unless pushed, but on this day and in this moment I felt pushed beyond my limit.

I can remember the moment as vividly as if it were this morning. Kids churning in the kitchen, leading me to yell in anger, and then it happened. My son stood in front of me, my daughter just behind him and he said, “Poppy it’s not okay for you to talk to us like that!”  It was as simple as that.

In my childhood, a response like his would have gotten me a slap across the face and an admonition not to “talk back” to my parents. For reasons I will never understand, I experienced what I can only call a moment of grace, of emotional self-awareness, a moment between hearing and reacting in which I realized he was right. I said, “You’re right. It’s not okay for me to talk to you like that.” I sat down on the floor and shared with them some of the pressures I was under, and in sharing I was careful not to ask them to take care of me. I just wanted them to understand that there was a lot going on and I needed their cooperation. It wasn’t about them, but in their frenzied state they aggravated my stress. What happened next was also a surprise. They both looked at me and he asked, “Why didn’t you tell us?” They jumped to their feet, ran upstairs, gathered their gear and were out the door and in the car in minutes.

I’ve thought about this often over the years. In our roles as leaders of organizations we are often under significant and unshared pressures from a variety of sources. As with my kids, it is important to be clear with those around us that it isn’t their job to take care of us. That’s our job. But we can share with our teams when we need help, or support. This is as important in a leader as in a co-worker.

Two aspects of this have always stood out to me in this illustration. One, the courage it took to speak up, and second, the importance of self-awareness. There are appropriate times to acknowledge a non-productive situation, and shift to an interactive posture.

While our management positions give us power and authority, they will never make us leaders. 

The choice to listen and hear the opinions of others while under pressure and being able to have an open and interactive mind, sharing the pressures you are facing with your team, empowers them to participate in solutions.

Recommended reading:

Our new primer series is written by Daniel Goleman and fellow thought leaders in the field of Emotional Intelligence and research. See our latest release: Empathy: A Primer for more insights on how this applies in leadership.

Additional primers so far include:

Leader Empathy: The Key to Effective Relationships

 

In my article on Positive Outlook, I quoted a senior manager at a large US hospital network who described how mindfulness helped her minimize negative reactions to workplace experiences. This included an ability to remind herself that she was often not fully aware of the needs and motivations of others, and therefore should not rush to judge their intentions. Like the other 41 leaders I interviewed, her in-depth discussion of this topic showed an improved capacity for the Emotional and Social Intelligence (ESI) Competency of Empathy.

Empathy is one of the Social Awareness competencies in the twelve-competency Leadership Competency Model developed by Daniel Goleman and Richard Boyatzis. Empirically linked to leadership performance, Empathy is present in leaders with an understanding of the motivations of others, and the ability to relate to differing perspectives.

Strength in this competency is also demonstrated by leaders who:

  • Listen attentively
  • Are able to understand unspoken or confused attempts at communication
  • Engage in actions indicating a sincere interest in others
  • Have an increased capacity to respect diversity

There are three types of empathy, each playing a role in building stronger relationships with others. The first is cognitive empathy, which refers to an intellectual awareness of the feelings, opinions and thoughts of others. Emotional empathy is the second, described as an ability to share the same emotional experience as another person. The third type is compassionate empathy, exemplified when we make efforts to help based on our understanding of the needs and feelings of others. The way we apply the three types of empathy also requires balance.

Specifically, being able to help those we empathize with sometimes requires emotional detachment. However, if this becomes a habit, it puts us at risk of becoming indifferent.

How Empathy Integrates with Workplace Activity

The leaders I interviewed described a strong relationship between their development of greater empathy, and significant improvements in the quality of their relationships. These improvements contributed to a variety of successes, largely due to the importance of having support in the workplace. The leaders credited Mindfulness with assisting in these improvements, specifically for the role it plays in directing attention to self-awareness. It was through this awareness that participants began to free themselves from unfounded beliefs about others, and improve their ability to relate to coworkers.

A senior leader at a family-owned global Industrial Manufacturing firm elaborated on the positive effect that being more empathic had on his leadership effectiveness. He reported becoming better able to recognize both the triggers and early signs of stress, anxiety, and conflict in his employees. This empathic awareness helped him to minimize these issues, and identify opportunities to help others calm themselves and focus. He said, “If you have a mindset where you really honestly care about other people, what they’re feeling, what they’re thinking, you will be much more attuned to that… feel the tension that somebody has maybe a little bit more. Just being a little bit more perceptive.”

Another leader, who has held senior and executive roles at one of the largest organizations in the world, emphasized the importance of having a better understanding of the needs of others. That leader said, “You can understand through empathy what is the other person’s concern and you can influence by helping. You know, in business you are supposed to create win-win scenarios… If you are able to focus your mind, and you are able to understand the needs and business requirements of the other person, you can create opportunities for them.”

Leaders also credited empathy with helping them engage in more collaborative behaviors. For example, they were more able to minimize the interference of judgment and bias, thereby improving the quality of their interactions. This openness was also linked to an improved ability to understand the true intentions behind the communication efforts of others.

How Can You Develop Greater Empathy?

Improving your ability to empathize with others helps you become aware of the mental and emotional resources that are wasted by thoughts, beliefs, and feelings that have no factual basis. Such awareness can be the starting point for reducing unproductive reactions in the future that lead to conflict or missed opportunities for collaboration. It can also prompt you to obtain accurate information directly from people, and invest in developing better interpersonal relationships.

You can strengthen your capacity for all three types of empathy by asking yourself a simple set of questions:

  1. How do you think a certain person feels about a specific event or topic?
  2. How would you feel if you were in their position?
  3. What facts do you have upon which to base your answers to 1 and 2?
  4. What is your plan to obtain accurate information from that person?
  5. How can you avoid coming to such conclusions in the future?

Regularly asking questions about the thoughts, feelings, and needs of others is a great way to build strong relationships and demonstrate empathy. The leaders I interviewed commented on the value that arises from engaging in this simple activity, for example: “My experience is the first thing that people really want is to be heard.” When developing empathy, keep in mind that insincerity will have a harmful effect on relationships. A number of leaders told me that they failed at half-hearted attempts to display empathy, and others stated that their coworkers could sense their level of sincerity. For these reasons, consistent empathic behavior is important, as is following up on commitments that arise from related conversations.

Recommended reading:

Our new primer series is written by Daniel Goleman and fellow thought leaders in the field of Emotional Intelligence and research. See our latest release: Empathy: A Primer for more insights on how this applies in leadership.

Additional primers so far include:

For personal interviews, see the Crucial Competence video series!

Leadership Isn’t Just For the Higher Ups

 

Anyone can be a leader, given the right motivation, support, and environment.

AJ is one of a large staff of ultrasound techs in a busy city hospital. When the other techs have a question about how to do an unusual exam, they ask AJ rather than approach their often-cranky supervisor.

Everyone in the firm knows Lisa, even the people who aren’t on her team. Officially, she’s an engineer who does technical background work related to the high-end buildings the company designs. Unofficially, Lisa is known for creating a positive climate through her upbeat energy and open-hearted concern for her coworkers.

Sean works as part of a virtual team of investment analysts across the United States, one of several US-based groups employed by a global bank. Highly engaged in his work, Sean has made a point of getting to know members of other teams as well as to learn about who’s who at company headquarters.

What do this ultrasound tech, engineer, and investment analyst in common? Each is a leader, even though their official position does not include a managerial role. Others in their companies look to them for some form of leadership, whether it is technical expertise, emotional support, or knowledge about organizational dynamics.

Regardless of job title, anyone can be a leader in an organization.

Of course, some people have titles and responsibilities that position them as someone who is in charge. Yet, in most organizations, there are also people who take on leadership roles in any position. They are actively engaged in their work and influential in their interactions with others. They take initiative in sharing their insights into how things get done.

Sometimes, like with AJ, leadership shows up as task expertise. Often, it takes the form of someone exercising emotional or social skills. As Daniel Goleman writes in his collection, What Makes a Leader, emotional and social intelligence are key competencies that distinguish high-performing leaders from their more average peers. Lisa and Sean each demonstrate several of the twelve Emotional and Social Intelligence Competencies.

In her interactions with others in her company, Lisa shows skill at Positive Outlook and Empathy. Through her listening attentively and expressing her positive views, Lisa influences the work of others and acts as an informal leader in her company.

Sean clearly demonstrates the Organizational Awareness and Achievement Orientation competencies. His drive to achieve translated into him taking the initiative to build relationships outside of his team. Although not the formal leader of his team, Sean’s connections with members of other teams and awareness of the top tiers of the company mean that he can provide important information to his team.

Who are the Leaders in Your Organization?

When you hear that question, do you immediately visualize the organizational chart and the CEO, division heads, managers, and team leaders?

Or do others with less obvious leader-type jobs show up on your personal list of the leaders in your organization?

What leadership qualities do you see in those “not-in-a-formal-leader-position” leaders?

How are you a leader in your organization?

Ask yourself these questions, and ask your co-workers. Listen to your own answer and pay attention to what your co-workers say. Everyone can take on a leadership role, regardless of formal job description. Listening well to others and taking the initiative are both key steps to leadership, whatever form it may take.

What’s your next step?

Recommended Reading:

emotional intelligence mattersWhat Makes a Leader includes Daniel Goleman’s bestselling Harvard Business Review article of that title, along with many other influential writings on the topic of leadership with emotional intelligence.

A great read for any aspiring or rising leaders!

empathy in leadership

Empathy in Leadership: Coaching Leaders to Manage Their Stories

 

When leaders struggle with staff morale or direct reports failing to thrive, a lack of empathy is the lead domino.   These leaders forget that, as humans, we tend to make decisions based on our stories about other people.  These stories impact our every interaction with others because we can’t hide the emotions behind them.  Our stories also determine our broader management tactics, which can be as wildly off the mark as our stories themselves.

Negative stories about others that we hold as leaders come from what Heath and Heath call the “Fundamental Attribution Error” (Switch, 2010).   The simple idea:  it is “our inclination to attribute people’s behavior to the way they are rather than the situation they are in” (180). The error, of course, is that situations are far more likely to impact behavior than character traits, and this approach can lead to unnecessary conflict or losing high-potential employees.

The antidote is what I have come to call the noble story. This idea has its roots in the concept of noble purpose, which I learned in my coaching training at the Teleos Institute.  The basic premise is that we all believe we act from “noble” intention, which we can connect to our core values.   If we believe this is true for others as much as it is true for ourselves, then we must call into question stories that assume negative intent.  This offers us a path to connecting with people we struggle to believe in.

Much of my coaching involves helping school leaders connect personally with teachers and parents who have disappointed them, who are actively resisting them, or who just don’t share their race, class, gender, or philosophy.  Empathy comes into play often. A principal’s job is to create the conditions for students and teachers to learn in their buildings, and the core emotional conditions they must create are based on trust through relationships.  You can’t fake caring and trust, so it’s my job to teach principals how to build it with everyone.

The key is to help these leaders replace their negative stories with the noble story that the other person holds about him or her-self.

This line of coaching begins when I hear my leaders start to explain their report’s behavior with their negative stories.  I hear things like, “How is it that an adult who went to college doesn’t know how to ____,” or “he’s not a good fit here because he doesn’t (care/try/believe) enough. “When I hear these kinds of comments I ask the following questions to raise self-awareness:

“How does that story serve you, and how is it getting in your way?” 

 “To what extent do you think that they are aware of how you are feeling?”

“What impact do you think that assumption has on your staff member?”

Leaders usually get to the unpleasant answers themselves, but if they don’t, I remind them of Daniel Goleman’s concept of the emotional loop:  you can’t fake or hide your true emotions.  People know how you feel about them.  And the impact of not being “believed in” on one’s ability to learn—especially when learning includes an adaptive challenge—is debilitating.

From here, we start our work on self-managing stories.  This is where we build the “muscle” to manage negative stories and create noble ones.  The following are steps that any of us can use to develop this muscle.

Showing Up To Connect: A Self-Management Exercise to get to Empathy

  1. List 3-5 things about the other person that is part of your negative story. What are your emotional triggers behind this story?   How can you manage them?
  2. Make a list of the real challenges this person is facing at work and/or in life. Connect each one to an emotion they are likely experiencing that may be contributing to the challenge at hand. What can you genuinely empathize with?
  3. Write a list of at least five aspects of the other’s noble story that you also value. These may include:
  • core values or character traits that you can respect about them
  • current strengths
  • past growth and success
  • the intentions that drive their actions that you can respect
  1. List the things that you want for the other as a person (i.e. as another human being in this world that is trying to do this work and life a happy life).

After taking these steps I ask my leaders to write them as a narrative.   I ask them to share it with me, and then I ask them what emotions they are feeling toward their staff member.   Leaders notice a significant change of emotion from our past conversations, and even from right before doing this exercise. This is a sign of developing empathy, and it comes with a new approach in how the leader interacts with their team.  With this motivation, I charge them with:

  1. Revisiting their “Noble Story” narrative before their next meeting with their report.
  2. During the meeting, asking questions about their report’s own noble story.  Leaders should listen for what they missed or don’t understand, holding the intention of building their noble story.
  3. Affirming what they hear and adding pieces of their own narrative.

Leaders usually report an instant shift in the energy of their relationships.  This is just a beginning of course.  Over time I work with leaders on developing the muscle to hold their story even when people struggle or disappoint them in some way.

Feeling empathy for the people we lead is not the silver bullet to accelerating growth or building team morale, but I have found it to be the foundation for both.  People need to feel that their leaders believe in them and trust them enough to take learning risks.  They also take the cues from leaders about how to treat others.

Recommended reading:

Our new primer series is written by Daniel Goleman and fellow thought leaders in the field of Emotional Intelligence and research. See our latest release: Empathy: A Primer for more insights on how this applies in leadership.

For personal interviews, see the Crucial Competence video series!

Cognitive vs. Emotional Empathy: Daniel Goleman Explains

Empathy is important in any context, whether in leadership or in life. In this video, an excerpt from Crucial Competence: Building Emotional and Social Leadership, Daniel Goleman explains the difference between cognitive and emotional empathy, and how this can impact leadership capacity.

 

For more on Empathy, see Empathy: A Primer.