We Are All Difficult - So Build a Heart to Take the High Road

Every leader, every day, deals with difficult people.  And yes, you as a leader are also at times difficult to deal with.  Let’s face it, we are all very complex creatures - we have egos, we have blind spots, and we do things that will inevitably annoy others.  For some, developing the heart to deal with complexity in ourselves and others is an energizing life journey.  For others, it is demotivating, accompanied by painful memories of remorse, self-doubt, and denial.  As a leader, you can build and condition your heart to take the high road in handling adversity in relationships.  I suggest three critical mindsets to take you to a higher order of thinking and acting.

Mindset One:  Integrate, don’t split.  Peter Drucker said the job of a manager is to, “identify the strengths of the people you lead and focus on these.”  Rarely is a person the complete embodiment of “jerkiness.”  If you think someone is completely messed up, that leads to arrogance and anger on your part, and you fail to see any short comings in yourself…it’s always the other person’s fault.  Cultivate the mindset of asking,  “What is the core strength of this individual?”  “How can I appreciate and leverage these strengths?” 

Integrate the good and the bad, the strengths and the weaknesses, into one whole view of a person.  For instance, I’ve done a great deal of work with entrepreneurs.  Many of them have been over confident, have high drives to be in control, appear wonderful when you first meet them, and as time goes by, they are fearful of sharing, want to remain in control, and lack insight into their own idealized views of who they are. In other words, they can be really hard to deal with.  If I focus on the negatives, I will make no progress in being of help.  If I focus on their positives, such as the willingness to take risk, a relentless drive to never say die, and a great ability to cast a positive vision that others want to follow, then I can bring awareness to the entrepreneurs of what they are missing in key situations.  If the leaders don’t know I appreciate their strengths, they will never trust me with their weaknesses. 

Mindset Two:  Don’t condemn differences in personality style —  affirm these differences.  As I  like to say in coaching situations, “Opposites attract, they just don’t always get along.”  A principle in human relations is that the greater the difference, the greater the probability the relationship will go sideways.  In fact, extreme opposites often find that their relationships become debilitating, both in marriage and in work.  For instance,  if you are a high control, direct, and high goal oriented individual dealing with a more impulsive “cat like” personality that loves independence, there is a high probability each of you will begin seeing the “negative” traits of the other.  At this point it’s easy to become judgmental and describe behaviors as “dysfunctional” and “counter productive”.  Learning to affirm your differences in style is critical.  Your relationships become what you can see in others and build up, not tear down.  I co-authored  an instrument called Your Style of Influence, which has helped countless teams understand vast differences in style.  The assessment often creates the “big  aha” - people see why they are fighting, and can then transform conflict into a productive exchange of complimentary strengths.  

The third mindset is the most critical and I will take it up in my next leadership post coming out early next week.  

Please - write your comments below if you want to add some color to what I’ve said here.  It’s always appreciated by me and by others.   

The Power of Questions at the Front Line

I write to transformational leaders — or those who aspire to be one — because you are the catalysts for change.  Transformational leaders have internalized the power of connectedness.  As a part of gaining mastery, you have to get out of the office and engage ….   all while communicating very high standards of excellence.  Evaluate yourself against three powerful questions that can transform you as a leader - 

Get out of your office and ask, “How can I help you?”

Doug Conant, while he was CEO of Campbell Soup Company, knew that if he was going to transform the company culture, he had to get out on the front lines and ask the simple question, “How can I help you?”  He asked it continually of his employees, his suppliers, and his customers.  In his excellent book, TouchPoints, he outlines how Campbell Soup Company went from a culture of low engagement to a culture of high engagement.  On Doug’s first day at work, a company wide meeting was held to introduce him as CEO.  Doug made a promise that became known as the Campbell Promise:  Campbell Valuing People, People Valuing Campbell.  He knew that leaders must show they care about the employees’ agenda before employees would care about the company’s agenda. Through literally thousands of “valuing” connections, Doug was able to establish a new direction for the company and build a lasting legacy.

As a CEO, you know you need information from the front lines and you only get the truth if you show real interest and concern.  A simple question, asked with the intent to learn, is empowering and highly motivating.  People knew Doug Conant cared, had high expectations, and was committed to getting them what they needed to do their job.  Doug knew that each of his interactions represented an opportunity to build or tear down confidence, to motivate or demotivate, to build urgency or create resistance.  Doug knew the power of positive connection, one person at a time, and demanded it from each of his managers.   

Get out on the front lines and ask, “Why are we doing it this way?” 

Mark McKenzie, the CEO of Senior Care Centers, a large skilled nursing company in Texas, often asks, “Why are we doing it this way?”  He asks with the intent to learn, not to criticize.  He knows that as the company grows, which it is doing rapidly, it  will need new systems and new structures, and all of these need to be aligned with outstanding patient care. Mark is building a culture of asking WHY and getting everyone engaged in the joy of being heard, seeing things change, and measuring progress.  

Get out to your farthest perimeters and ask the question, “How are we doing in living out our values?”     

Stanley Bergman, the CEO of Henry Shein, a 10 billion dollar global medical supply company, visits each company office at least once per year in every part of the globe.  He meets with the country leaders and the product teams. Yes, he has great financial controls and excellent budget targets for each country and each product line, but as he says, most importantly, it’s about connecting with the people. The questions he asks people are most often about the values and how they are being lived out.  He might ask a salesperson, “How are we doing as a company in living out our values to best support you?” He wants the truth and he communicates he is there to listen. His entire non-verbal message is, “I care about insuring you are getting everything you need to do your job well, and that we show you respect all along the way.” 

In every office he visits, he makes sure he and his top people make a connection with every person in the building when they pay a visit.  They leave no one out. He repeats continually a story of what Henry Shein is doing and will do. He is tireless in his commitment to showing respect to each and every person.  

Three questions, three stories. All with the intent of building high trust teams in the new connection economy.  Every interaction in the value chain either adds value or subtracts value.  Your job as a transformational leader is to model how each interaction adds value.   When observed, others will follow.